PRISM: The US Government is mad at Bradley Manning for doing to it what it is Doing to All of us | Informed Comment
Bradley Manning, who spilled the beans on the US blowing away of unarmed Iraqi journalists and overlooking war crimes by the US military and allied Iraqi troops, released thousands of low-level cable messages. He has been charged by the US government with thereby being a traitor, giving aid and comfort to the enemy. It is not clear which enemy benefited from the catty remarks in some embassy cables, or how exactly their revelation harmed national security. What did happen was that millions of people in the US and around the world discovered some of the more egregious sins of commission and omission of the US government, especially with regard to Iraq. The treason charge against Manning is outrageous, and has been pursued because otherwise what he did is not obviously very serious and even a military judge might not return a severe sentence. While the scatter shot character of his revelations may be troubling, some of what he revealed was government crimes, for which Americans should thank him.
It turns out that Manning, in making government correspondence available for us to read, was just turning the tables on the US government, which The Guardian and the Washington Post today reveal has a back door called PRISM into all our internet communications (emails, over-the-internet phone calls, browser search history, etc.) with 9 major companies, including Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! (but not, interestingly, Twitter). The program is detailed in a Powerpoint slide presentation for initiating new NSA employees into its workings.
The sordid police states that have a paltry few tens of thousands of domestic spies monitoring the activities of ordinary citizens turn out to be minor players in this game compared to the home of the brave and the land of the free. Eat your hearts out, North Korean secret police and Baathist mukhabarat in Syria!
The NSA is supposed to use the back door only for communications going abroad or originating abroad, but it only has to be 51% certain that there is a foreign component. That is a low bar. But anyway nowadays how many of us have no email or social media communication with people living overseas? In practice, domestic communications will inevitably be swept up in this program. And, someone should explain to me why Americans’ correspondence going abroad is suddenly without Fourth Amendment protections? The FBI appears to be deeply involved in the operation, and how likely is it that, say, Occupy Wall Street activists or environmentalists haven’t been subject to surveillance? Apparently, unlike with the case of the Verizon phone call records, the NSA has access to the content of emails, not just records of to whom they were sent. In any case, meta data like who you are talking to is in most cases *more* important than content, as Jane Mayer explains.