Glenn Greenwald on the Price of Government Secrecy (Moyers interview)

Bill Moyers interviews Glenn Greenwald on the high cost of government secrecy.

The blurb for the show:

“The violent Boston rampage triggered a local and federal response that, according to journalist Glenn Greenwald, adds a new dimension to troubling questions about government secrecy, overreach, and what we sacrifice in the name of national security. Greenwald joins Bill to peel back layers that reveal what the Boston bombings and drone attacks have in common, and how secrecy leads to abuse of government power.

“Should we change or radically alter or dismantle our standard protocols of justice in the name of terrorism? That’s been the debate we’ve been having since the September 11th attack,” Greenwald tells Bill. “We can do what we’ve been doing, which is become a more closed society, authorize the government to read our emails, listen in our telephone calls, put people in prison without charges, enact laws that make it easier for the government to do those sorts of things. Or we can try and understand why it is that people want to come here and do that.”

Greenwald also talks about the limitations of government surveillance as an anti-terrorism tactic, and draws a parallel between the Boston bombings — which he calls a “political event” — and U.S. drone attacks.

“There certainly are cases where the United States has very recklessly killed civilians,” he tells Bill. “So at some point, when a government engages in behavior year after year after year after year, that continues to kill innocent people in a very foreseeable way, and continues to do that, in my mind that reaches a level of recklessness that is very similar to intentional killing.”

Producer: Jessica Wang. Editor: Rob Kuhns. Associate Producer: Lena Shemel.
Photographer: Dale Robbins.”

9 Responses

  1. Juan – the problem with citing Glenn Greenwald:

    “We can do what we’ve been doing, which is become a more closed society, authorize the government to read our emails, listen in our telephone calls, put people in prison without charges, enact laws that make it easier for the government to do those sorts of things.”

    One of these things is not like the others. Put people in prison without charges … big problem, but outside of a few people (Manning, under military law, the prisoners at Guantanamo, who were at least arguably combatants, and Padilla) where has this happened? Even “Johnny Taliban” taken prisoner in Afghanistan in 2001 or 2002 was tried and convicted. As you and others have noted, we have tried and convicted far more people than we’ve held in Guantanamo. If his point is that Guantanamo should be closed, I completely agree. But really, our government is not arresting people and holding them without charges. Where this has happened, it’s an anomaly. (And not unique in our history – see, e.g., the treatment of “IRA gunman” Joe Doherty, who was kept in custody in spite of court orders granting him asylum. Did this lead to the collapse of the American justice system in the 1980’s? Did we all lose our freedoms back then?)

    Arguing against the stupidity of our approach to fighting terrorism with overblown rhetoric is self-defeating.

    I will also say that the issue with reading our e-mails (as if anyone is reading our e-mails, algorhythms are used to flag word combinations – the same is being used to scan phone calls) is the potential for abuse, not preserving perfect fidelity to a pristine notion of our rights to be free from government intrusion. And clearly there is a potential for abuse. But no rights of citizens are without exceptions.

    My town has a number of cameras used for surveillance (my mayor, who expanded the placement of cameras earned a “Worst Person in the World” award from Keith Olbermann for it) has caught two murderers using them. I am undoubtedly on reams of film captured by my local government. Being filmed walking down the street has done me no harm, while putting away two killers has made me safer. I’ll take that trade. As we know, the Boston bombers were caught with similar cameras (albeit privately maintained). It’s abuse of these tools and harm to innocent people we should be worried about with these things. Not they’re existence.

    • “…outside of a few people”…? How many would it take to alarm you?

      “…who were at least arguably combatants…” Their cases have never been argued.

      It is my feeling that if there is potential for abuse in the surveillance business, we should forego it, in it’s present manifestation, human nature being what it is. And I can’t agree that no rights of citizens, or should I say rather, human beings, are without exceptions.

    • @DanG: There’s been a lot of observations about how people who trade (seemingly happily and willingly, “two killers for constant surveillance” — that only gets more intrusive over time) their “rights” for “security” deserve and will get neither. (Unless those two are serial killers, the stats are pretty clear that murder is mostly a singular-event crime, emotion-driven and done to someone known to the killer — not a lot of risk avoided there.)

      As to abuses of state power, in arresting and detaining, there are little reports like this,

      link to thinkprogress.org

      and this bit of weirdness,

      link to nytimes.com

      And of course there’s the whole “prison industrial complex” thing and the activities of The Innocence Project and I guess a narrow and “legalistic” reading of the argument would say that the many people wrongfully detained and wrongfully convicted at least had the “benefit” of the legal process, kind of like the Occupy people beaten, penned, dragged and held by fiat.

      Tell you what: I was going to say that you can go ahead and feel free to trade away your rights for some spurious “security,” but the problem with that is that means MY rights go away, too. Because the kinds of people who end up running the state-security apparatus do not draw nice distinctions between those who make your argument and concessions, including people who from their positions in the world are comfortably and at least presently immune to the effects of the long, slow slide into autokleptocracy, and those of us who don’t care to have that done to them.

      • And just for fun:

        “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself — anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.”

        — George Orwell, “1984”

        And remember the “horror of the democracies,” responding viscerally to images of all those Chinese, waving that Little Red Book, smiling wide, all those district commissars looking searchingly into all those faces for any sign of “deviance…”

  2. What is the difference between intentionally killing noncombatants and firing missiles at medical personnel who appear on the scene of an earlier missile attack?

  3. Glen Greenwald says that the US has recklessly killed civilians. To relate this to an earlier topic, do we know how many of the US personnel involved in those killings were actually motivated by militant Christianity? If someone wanted to kill a bunch of Muslims, he might join the military and be able to do that without being called a terrorist.

  4. “Greenwald also talks about the limitations of government surveillance as an anti-terrorism tactic………and drone attacks.”

    Drones are coming to America and creating a firestorm with opposition coming from the ACLU:

    link to bangordailynews.com

    The Ann Arbor Chronicle this week reported this week that the City Council in that municipality was considering an ordinance at its April 15th meeting that would regulate police surveillance, including unmanned “aerial vehicles”.

    It seems that American law enforcement seeks adoption of the drone as an aerial visual surveillance device. How long before someone in the United States begins advocating armed drones patrolling our cities in the name of law enforcement?

  5. Greenwald says “privacy is the area in which human creativity and dissent and challenges to orthodoxy all reside”, and “only when you can engage in behavior without being watched is that where you can explore, where you can experiment, where you can engage in creative thinking, in creative behavior.”
    These things are true, but there’s more. Imagine that the government thought you were suspicious, and deputized your neighbors to use cameras, gps, and drones to monitor everything you said and did. Like if the Chinese had high tech during Mao’s time. If you flirted with someone, picked your nose, bought a fetish magazine, or told someone you loved them, -your neighbors would watch, laugh, and discuss as if it were just another reality show. Two of the things that would disappear from your life would be intimacy and fun. Life without privacy is really worthless.

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