Carlo's Corner: US shameless in its demands for Snowden

June 28, 2013
Hong Kong, June 13.

You have to hand it to the United States authorities. When they were caught red-handed engaging in almost unimaginable levels of illegal spying and espionage against citizens and governments around the world, they responded, rather than sheepishly apologising and begging forgiveness, by furiously demanding other governments hand over the man who exposed its crimes against them.

It is like being caught at the scene of a murder with the murder weapon in your hand and shouting at police: “This is an outrage! I demand you give my knife back!”

Presumably, after the US’s demands on other nations that were the victims of the crimes exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, NSA's vast spy program picked up a sudden outburst of uncontrollable laughter emanating from the general direction of the rest of the world.

In response to threats from US politicians to cut trade benefits over Ecuador's consideration of an asylum application by Snowden, Ecuador's government denounced the threats as blackmail and cut them itself.

Instead, Ecuador's communications secretary, Fernando Alvarado, announced US$23 million in Ecuadorian aid to the United States to provide “human rights training” to combat torture, illegal executions and “attacks on peoples’ privacy”.

The US response is, at the time of writing, unknown.

The wonderful thing about Ecuador's elected government is — like the left-wing, anti-imperialist governments in Venezuela and Bolivia — it survived a bid by the US-backed opposition to overthrow it in a coup thanks in part to mobilisations by the poor, who have benefited from social spending funded by taxes on large Western oil giants.

Strangely, this did not make President Rafael Correa's government any friendlier towards Washington.

Things are awkward at home too. After former NSA contractor Snowden leaked the details of the wholesale spying on US citizens, President Barack Obama rather amusingly said he wanted to have a “national conversation” about the until-then secret spying program. This was a bit like being caught in the act of cheating on your partner, and saying: “Ah, shit... can… can we talk about this?”

But you shouldn’t waste your time, as part of any “national conversation”, in communicating your views directly to the US government. It has already got them all logged. There is no need to double up.

Australia is far from a bystander in all of this. The Australian intelligence services are part of the “Five Eyes” global spy ring — Sorry, that’s “multilateral agreement for cooperation in signals intelligence” — with the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

It is not surprising, then, to read on ABC Online that, “One of Australia's most senior spy chiefs says the threat that local intelligence might have a rogue insider like Edward Snowden is real and one that security agencies are increasingly concerned about.”

This is pretty concerning. What I want to know is how it possible is that our secret services could potentially harbour an individual with a conscience, a commitment to basic democratic principles and the courage to act upon them. I thought they had screening processes to prevent this sort of thing.

We should take this seriously, because the comment came from Steve Meekin, who is the deputy secretary of intelligence and security and “directly responsible for the operations of the Australian Signals Directorate — our equivalent of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States”.

So, if he thinks Australia's NSA-equivalent is at risk of suffering from Snowden-like leaks, then there may well be a strong risk that the crimes — sorry, “intelligence operations” — of our secret services may one day be exposed for all to see.

To translate the article: The bastards have something to hide and they are very worried it could come out. Their best hope is that there is no one with a conscience working in the secret services, but these days you can never be sure.

It is shocking, but it seems in this day and age, you just never know when someone will be gripped by an irresistible desire to do the right thing.

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