In the midst of all this, various events have the potential to exert near-dominance over the public consciousness; take, for example, the recent acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. That conversation is still raging all over the country at the moment, both on the web and in the streets, as hundreds of thousands of people rise up in protest over what they consider to be a brutal transgression of justice.
While it certainly merits a considerable degree of attention, the Zimmerman trial and the subsequent fallout have shifted much of America's focus away from many other, equally dramatic events that have been taking place simultaneously: the ongoing Bradley Manning trial, a failed discrimination lawsuit that set women's rights back a few decades, and of course, the massive NSA leak investigation of Edward Snowden, just to name a few.
So many things are happening and being immediately documented, compiled, and distributed that the process of separating the “wheat from the chaff”, as it were, becomes even more a matter of opinion, when stories both large and small make national attention with imperceptible rhyme or reason.
Beyond all of that, there are so many things that get almost completely overlooked by everyone that their numbers stretch beyond measure; millions and millions of moments deemed significant only by those one or two passionate souls that deem them fit to catalog. Many of them are quite trivial at best, if not utter nonsense by any standard of journalistic integrity. But some offer key insights into the nature of things, subtle glimpses behind the seemingly impenetrable veil of secrecy that surrounds our government from the most unlikely of sources. Consider the following:
On July 2nd of this year, a little-known blog called “The Mob And The Multitude” posted an article written by a young woman known only as 'Madiha' titled “The NSA Comes Recruiting”, about her recent experiences dealing with NSA recruiters as a student at the University Of Wisconsin. She ended up engaging with them in a heated debate, with two of the other students at the seminar following suit. A fourth student managed to record a large chunk of the conversation with their iPhone, and submitted it to Madiha via SoundCloud for use as a frame of reference for this article.
(to listen to the conversation, click here)
The only thing more remarkable than the serendipitous coordination and unflinching courage of these young people is the information they obtained, particularly on the definitions of certain key terminologies used internally by the agency. When asked to clarify whether certain EU member states (like Germany, who recently discovered they were under massive surveillance by the NSA) are considered to be 'adversaries' of the American government, the following exchange took place:
NSA RECRUITER 1: I’m focusing on what our foreign intelligence requires of [us], so...you can define 'adversary' as [an] enemy and clearly, Germany is not our enemy, but would we have foreign national interest from an intelligence perspective on what’s going on across the globe? Yes, we [would].If you're wondering why the NSA doesn't just come out and ask Germany to share their intelligence information with American officials, then you're beginning to see why this answer is so deeply problematic. Something as routine as a request for metadata doesn't seem so innocuous if handled publicly, but clearly, we didn't want Germany to know we were snooping around in their records. Germany stands to make a bundle if the Trans-Pacific Partnership comes to fruition, so it seems the 'theater of war' has now extended to international trade negotiations. Why would we need a back door into Germany's telecommunications network, unless they are now considered an economic 'adversary'? The term 'disturbing precedent' fails to describe how incredibly insidious this actually is.
MADIHA: So by "adversary", you actually mean anybody and everybody. There’s nobody, then - by your definition - that is not an adversary. Is that correct?
NSA RECRUITER 1: That is not correct.
Now, we all know that the NSA has considerable power at their disposal, but they don't act independently. This idea of the US being in an 'adversarial' relationship with other world powers has to come from somewhere, right?
NSA RECRUITER 2: We do not generate the intelligence requirements. They are levied on us, and so if there is a requirement for foreign intelligence concerning this issue or this region or whatever...Whether that’s 'adversary' in a global war on terrorism sense or 'adversary' in terms of national security interests or whatever – that’s for policymakers, I guess to make that determination.So there you have it: 'adversary' has been added to our government's official lexicon of elastic words and/or phrases that can be stretched beyond credulity to fit any definition required of them, resting comfortable beside “terrorism” as one of the worst offenders. These terms form the backbone of many of our current political institutions, for they can be used to mean what they need to mean when they need to mean it, and can be applied to whomever or whatever they need to be applied to. Again, 'disturbing precedent' doesn't quite cut it here.
MADIHA: So, 'adversary' is basically what any of your so-called “customers” as you call them – which is also a strange term to use for a government agency – decide if anybody wants, any part of the government wants something about some country, suddenly they are now internally considered or termed an ‘adversary.’ That’s what you seem to be saying.
NSA RECRUITER 2: I’m saying you can think about it using that term.
In addition, it would seem as if the NSA's lackeys would prefer to lockstep for the agency in the Nuremberg fashion, and then drink their cognitive dissonance away in silly costumes at karaoke bars. According to Madiha, one the recruiters discussed what appeared to be the fairly insular social habits of NSA employees, saying “[she] can imagine that [the NSA social network] also exerts a lot of social pressure and works as a kind of social closure from which it would be difficult to escape.”
STUDENT A: I have a lifestyle question. [Y]ou seem to be selling [what] sounds more like a colonial expedition. [T]he “globe is our playground” is the words you used, the phrasing that you used, and you seem to be saying that you can do your work, you can analyze said documents for your so-called 'customers', but then you can go and get drunk and dress up and have fun without thinking of the repercussions that the information you’re analyzing has on the rest of the world.Clearly, NSA employees only think as much as they're paid to, otherwise these two snake oil salespeople would have been better prepared to answer questions like this, even if it was with outright fabrications. Perhaps those with a true gift of gab won't settle for the recruiter pay grade? Who knows.
NSA RECRUITER 2: I’m not sure what the –
MADIHA: I think the question here is do you actually think about the ramifications of the work that you do, which is deeply problematic, or do you just dress up in costumes and get drunk?
NSA RECRUITER 2: That’s why the context - when I was talking about reporting information, the intelligence that we get - reporting it in the right context is so important, because the consequences of bad political decisions by our policymakers [is] something we all suffer from.
But there you have it, folks: this is what we're dealing with in regards to NSA business practices. A hive-mind that does what it's told from on high, through an ever-expanding vocabulary of doublespeak that would have Orwell spinning in his grave. When the day is done, they drink away their autonomy and sing songs for the glory of the Party, allowing the cacophony and the community to numb their ability to think critically about their employer's reprehensible behavior. In the words of “Student B”:
STUDENT B: I’d love to read the opinion of the FISA court that says that one of the NSA’s programs was violating the 4th Amendment rights of massive amounts of Americans, but it’s a big ol' secret, and only people like you, who will not talk with their wives when they get home about what they do all day, are able to...protect us from the ‘terrorist threat’. But let’s let everyone here hear more information about karaoke.