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16 April 2015

Glenn Greenwald on Shadow Government

Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World, Tom Engelhardt. Haymarket Books. Kindle Edition.


It was more than a year ago that I was first contacted by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. He contacted me by email. He was anonymous. I had no idea who he was. He didn’t say much. He simply said he had what he thought would be some documents I would be interested in looking at, which turned out to be the world’s largest understatement of the decade.

When I asked Snowden how he got himself to the point where he was willing to take the risk that he knew he was taking, he told me that for a long time he had been looking for a leader, somebody who would come and fix these problems. And then one day he realized that there’s no point in waiting for a leader, that leadership is about going first and about setting an example for others. He decided he simply didn’t want to live in a world where the US government was permitted to have such extraordinary powers and to build a system that had as its goal the destruction of all individual privacy—that he could not in good conscience stand by and allow that to happen knowing that he had the power to help stop it.

The goal of the US surveillance state is to make sure that there is no such thing as actual human privacy, not just in the United States but in the world. That’s its intent. It does that by design. What we are really talking about is a globalized system that prevents any form of electronic communication from taking place without being stored and monitored by the National Security Agency. It’s not just journalists but also dissident groups and Muslim communities that have been infiltrated and monitored. The government is deliberately working to create a climate of fear in exactly those communities that are most important in checking those in power.

I really don’t think there’s any more important battle today than combating the surveillance state. Ultimately, the thing that matters most is that the rights that we know we have as human beings are rights that we exercise. The only way those rights can ever be taken away is if we give in to the fear that is being deliberately imposed on our world. You can acculturate people to believing that tyranny is freedom, and that as a consequence their limits are actually liberties. That is what this surveillance state does, by training people to accept their own conformity so they no longer even realize the ways in which they’re being limited.

As Rosa Luxemburg once said, “He who does not move does not notice his chains.” The point of Tom Engelhardt’s important work at and in Shadow Government is to help us find the way to break those chains.

—Glenn Greenwald