Pattis-Norm
Norm Pattis ()

Did you catch the news that Eric Holder and the geniuses at Justice persuaded a grand jury to indict five members of the Chinese military? The superhackers are charged with computer crimes: they’ve been snooping in the electronic entrails of American corporations, by golly. That’s a federal crime, the administration claims.

I guess it’s only a crime when others hack us. When we do it to ourselves, we call it patriotism. What a stupid prosecution.

The administration will never prosecute Gen. Keith Alexander for his various crimes, including lying under oath to Congress and directing federal employees to violate the civil rights of Americans. Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency, is a man on a mission: He wants to collect every possible bit of data about everyone—including you. Yet when asked by Congress about the extent of federal snooping on Americans, he denied that the NSA was collecting data.

We now know, thanks to Edward Snowden, that Alexander is a liar. And we now know, thanks to Snowden, that national security officers routinely intercept the shipment of computer hardware, secretly opening the packages, installing spyware, and then resealing the items before returning them into the stream of commerce.

I read this latest bit of information in Glenn Greenwald’s book on Snowden, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State” (Macmillan, New York, 2014). Cynic that I have become, I was stunned. Interfering with the mails is a federal offense. Monkeying with a private company’s property is the very definition of corporate espionage. And yet there is Alexander’s army of sleuths, routinely raping the Fourth Amendment in the name of patriotism.

Read this short book. It is chilling, chock-full as it is, with copies of materials apparently distributed to the boys and girls—mostly recent college graduates, I suspect—overcome with the thrill of their new security clearances. Greenwald shows page after page of PowerPoint presentations informing snoops about how to troll for data. The items have the look and feel of an Amway presentation: Go team. Save America. Win Tupperware bonuses.

There are some 30,000 NSA employees spread around the country, with tens of thousands more subcontractors here and abroad. The goal? To collect every keystroke, to develop algorithms permitting them to spot terrorists before, perhaps, the terrorists even know their own deadly intentions.

I’ll never understand those calling for Snowden’s head on a pike. The man is a hero in my view. His decision to shed light on the cancer in our midst should earn him a Nobel Peace Prize, not a jail cell.

Greenwald was the journalist Snowden chose to make public this material, and Green–wald choose The Guardian, a British newspaper, to serve as the vehicle to expose to the world the extent of the NSA’s reach. Alexander, stung by the disclosures, then called for limits on press freedom.

In another time in our history, the likes of Gen. Alexander would have been tarred and feathered. Just why we coddle this war criminal is a mystery. Perhaps the Chinese will do us a favor and indict him. He snoops on the Chinese, right? He directs others to install malware in the computers sold by American companies. He has an army of spies intent on ruling the world’s data mines with invisible fists.

No one can live without illusions. The human condition is too terrifying, even without the likes of al-Qaida. It’s difficult to read Green–wald’s book and to see what we’ve become. There was a time in which a book of this sort would be met with outrage over what it discloses. In our time, we’re outraged by the fact that Snowden told the truth. We’ve come to prefer the illusion of security. This illusion is costing us our freedom. Someday we will realize it.•