As Julian Assange and Bradley Manning have discovered, being a whistle-blower is not for the faint hearted. Now Edward Snowden has become the latest fugitive of US imperialism, his only crime being that he told embarrassing truths about the US government.
The spy programme “Prism”
Edward Snowden exposed, what has been known in many circles for years. That is, that the US government together with the UK government has been attempting to conduct surveillance over all internet traffic. This has been going on for some time, since the very birth of the Internet itself. It is worth remembering that ARPAnet, the predecessor to the Internet was developed by the US military.
Obviously, most people were unaware of this. In particular they were probably under the illusion that governments would only spy on “terrorists” and criminals while leaving normal, law-abiding citizens alone. This has now been shown to be false.
All internet traffic that go through either the UK or the US - and that is almost all traffic - is being monitored. This is the kind of behaviour that most people would expect from China or Iran, not from a western country. Yet, this is really exactly the kind of behaviour we could expect from the secret service. Their aim is to help politicians, army officers and multinational corporations to get one up on the competition. The temptation to listen in on all of the competitor’s communication which passes through your country must be very great.
Furthermore the purpose of this is also to protect against the “enemy within”, as they see it. They often make a lot of noise about monitoring right-wing extremists (Nazis, religious fundamentalists etc.). Yet, the main groups they worry about are left-wing groups. In Britain, The Guardian has revealed, the London Metropolitan Police keeps a list of 9,000 activists who are under surveillance. Certainly, a few right-wingers are among them, but given that the far-right in Britain can mobilise a couple of thousand at most, it is undoubtedly mainly trade union activists and other people active on the left that make up the bulk of these 9,000. Incidentally, very few of these 9,000 have got a criminal record.
The diplomatic wrangle and hypocrisy
Just like Wikileaks, the Prism scandal has caused the US and the UK significant domestic and international embarrassment. Undoubtedly other countries operate similar systems. Details of the Chinese, Iranian and Swedish systems are public but with all certainty the Russians, the French, the Germans and all the other great powers do the same thing. In comparison with the US and the UK, however, the others have a small problem, though. Whereas the bulk of the world’s internet traffic passes through the former, very little international traffic goes through Germany, Russia or China.
This fact is one of the main reasons behind the recent complaints by the German government and the European Commission. They are not keen on the US spying on them. For it is not only enemies that the US spies on, but also allies. The French and Germans are trying to carve out an independent position using the European Union.
Originally, in a typical bull-in-a-china-shop-fashion, the US government demanded the Chinese give up Snowden when he was in Hong Kong. Once he’d moved on to Russia, where he appears to be at the moment, they demanded the Russians release this “criminal”. This was a rather foolish thing to do. The Russians and the Chinese do not like being treated like play things of US imperialism and they made this very clear in public statements.
The Russian foreign minister expressed his displeasure at the tone of the US:
“We consider the attempts we are now seeing to blame the Russian side for breaking US laws and being almost in on the plot totally baseless and unacceptable, and even an attempt to threaten us.”
The Chinese and Russians can’t pass up a chance of poking a finger in the eye of the US at the moment. The hypocritical remarks of US imperialism regarding “democracy” and “human rights” in China and Russia have now gotten a well-deserved response. The Chinese government, which is no friend of human rights, or any other rights for that matter, declared through its mouthpiece The People’s Daily that:
“In a sense, the United States has gone from a 'model of human rights' to 'an eavesdropper on personal privacy', the 'manipulator' of the centralised power over the international internet, and the mad 'invader' of other countries' networks”.
Incidentally, the Hong Kong authorities have now explained that the reason they couldn’t arrest Snowden before he left China was because the paper work submitted to them had the wrong middle name. If you believe that, you’d believe anything.
Vladimir Putin, for his part, also took the chance to give the US a good kick:
“Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they are fighting for the spread of information,” he said. “Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they will be put in prison?” (The Guardian)
Putin certainly hasn’t suddenly become a convert to human rights. Rather he has in mind the various political opponents of his that are wanted for tax-fraud in Russia, but are currently living a life of leisure in the UK and the US. Two can play this game, is what he is really saying.
The US, sufficiently reprimanded, had to retreat. John Kerry appealed for “calm” from his Russian “friends”. If you wanted to be “technical”, he said, there is no extradition treaty between the Russia and the US; however, there are also “norms of conduct” and upholding “the rule of law”.
What happened to human rights and freedom of speech? Usually US secretaries of state are very keen to raise such matters. Maybe Kerry is not so keen to mention these things as he was visiting the arch-reactionary regime of Saudi Arabia. Or, it might be because in this circumstance, he and his government wanted to trample all over precisely such principles.
Incidentally, on the question of the “rule of law”, the British government recently returned a Saudi Prince to his (Royal) family. He had been serving a prison sentence for beating his servant to death in London. Now, obviously, under the “rule of law”, if you are a Saudi Prince, you cannot sit in a British jail like any other person. Rather, a prison exchange agreement was hastily cobbled together, and the Prince was returned to Saudi Arabia after serving only one year. The hypocrisy of these people is astonishing.
The US government is not pleased with Ecuador's stance and has put heavy pressure on the country. It has threatened not to renew a trade treaty which is set to expire in July. It is clear that losing the concessions would be a blow to the Ecuadorian economy, which is highly dependent on the US for its cut-flowers and fruit exports. It amounts to saying that unless you hand over Snowden we will make tens of thousands of workers in your country unemployed. Now, President Rafael Correa has come out sharply against the US, and rightly so. The imperialist bullying is completely disgraceful. He rejected the concessions and instead offered a donation of $23 million for human rights education in the US. This is also a response to the millions of dollars the US pour in yearly into so called “human rights” groups in Latin America, who in reality are reactionaries of the worst kind.
The President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, who has offered to consider Snowden's asylum request, in a speech expressed his sympathy for the people of the US and added that he is not "anti-US" and that if the same logic was followed then the US government would be deemed to be "anti-Ecuadorean" as they are still harbouring those responsible for the banking crisis in Ecuador in 1999, in spite of requests to have them extradited. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro made a similar point, pointing out that the US has refused to extradite self-confessed terrorist Posada Carriles to Venezuela. There is one rule for small countries with left-leaning governments and another for imperial powers.
The trial of Bradley Manning
If anyone would like to have an idea of what awaits Snowden if the US gets hold of him, it’s enough to look at Bradley Manning. After arresting him in May 2010 for having been the source of the Wikileaks’ cablegate documents, the US military kept him under torture conditions. He was not allowed to sleep, he was kept isolated from other prisoners, he was only allowed one book and one magazine, and he was constantly harassed and humiliated. This lasted for almost a year, until the pressure became too much for the US government and it put him in more normal prison conditions.
It seems that this treatment broke his spirit because Manning has pleaded guilty on most of the charges. He has also accepted part of his trial to be held in secret. Apparently, the US government has magnanimously agreed a maximum sentence of 16 years in return for Manning pleading guilty to 10 out of the 22 charges.
Still the state is actively pursuing the remaining charges. The reason is probably to prepare the ground for a trial against other people who are or have been involved with WikiLeaks, like Julian Assange. The latter have now effectively been under house arrest for a year.
Scandals and the struggle for socialism
Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning are not Marxists. They probably don’t consider themselves socialists either. Still, their leaking must be seen in the context of the broader struggle against capitalism and imperialism.
Is it a coincidence that the scandals that are rocking the establishment are being revealed in the midst of the deepest economic crisis for decades? How come Snowden manages to get so much attention for saying something that has been widely known for more than a decade? Far from being a coincidence, the scandals that are now being revealed are a symptom of the pressure that is building up in society. The economic crisis is manifesting itself as a crisis of the whole regime.
The scandals are gradually whittling away at the consciousness of the masses. They remove the mask of democracy from capitalist states and expose the naked class rule that lie beneath. This is the real crime of Assange, Manning and Snowden. Something the Russians and the Chinese do not condone either. They take the opportunity to score points against the US, yes, but they are not prepared to grant Snowden anything other than safe passage. The only countries so far that have offered to consider a asylum request from Snowden are Venezuela and Ecuador. This is not an accident. A decade of revolution has pushed the governments of these countries far to the left and they are the only ones who are willing to stand up for the whistle-blowers. The Ecuadorian government has taken a brave stand and the labour movement across the world should support it in this.
As Marxists we are not surprised by these revelations about spying. Any class society has to rely on spies, informers, corruption and deceit in order to keep a minority ruling over the majority. We support all those who are fighting to expose the rotten system that we’re living in. Although we might not agree with everything that Snowden and the other whistle-blowers say, their revelations serve to remove the illusions of the masses. It thereby objectively prepares the ground for the overthrow of the present society.
- No more threats to Ecuador!
- Release Manning and Assange! Drop all charges against Snowden!
- No more secrets! Open the records of the spy agencies!