One may legitimately ask which came first, the leak or the flood? We’ve all heard of Noah’s flood, yet there is no mention of it starting with a leak. However, as this has been a week of flooding and a week of leaks, I’m looking for somewhere to dip my weary pen. As tens of thousands are evacuated from southern and eastern regions of Germany, as Prague and Warsaw brace for more rain, as the Rhine swells ominously and its flow rate nearly triples, we barely notice another flood, but a virtual one this time, that is breaking forth from a single, apparently well-informed and apparently well-intentioned leak. Our liberties are under threat. Gasp!
This year’s Bradley Manning is called Edward Snowden. Who thinks up these names? Like Julian Assenge or Paulo Gabriele (Paul, the apostle of dogma vs Gabriel, the angel of annunciation), these are the kind of monikers Grisham might invent for his typically lone heroes working against the institutional grain. Are we being written? Are we in a book? Is this all just part of the Red King’s Dream? Have I run out of question marks? I hope not, as I shall need a few more before I’m done.
Mr Snowden would have us believe - and so far he’s convinced The Guardian
- that the CIA is spying on all our emails, phone messages, Facebook status changes (yes, that’s how boring life can be for a self-respecting spook) and even Google searches. If, like me, you mostly use Google to check the spelling of East European countries, German philosophers, Russian poets and Asian politicians, I can only imagine how deliriously misleading all our combined search content must be. Caught somewhere between “St Cecilia + hypocaust”, “karaoke + North Korea”, “Sharapova + lingerie” and “Metternich + butterscotch”, the average CIA eager beaver, even with superb software at his disposal, is going to be as thoroughly flummoxed as I was at the age of eight, ignorantly reading the bindings of encyclopaedias bearing such tantalising legends as “Halifax Jihad” or “Delusion Edison”.
As for Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing gesture, doesn’t it come a little late? I mean, up pops this young, ex-CIA guy in a respectable if slightly left-wing British newspaper in Anno Domini 2013 to tell us that US intelligence agencies are snooping on all our electronic communications ... Heavens to Murgatroyd! Who would have dreamt of such a thing? After all, they only own
the internet; why on Earth would they want to know what people are actually using it for? And this devious, dastardly spy system, or policy, or programme or whatnot of theirs is even called Prisma. How evocative, how wonderfully Ian Fleming! Indeed, the whole thing is so twentieth century that we can hardly keep ourselves awake reading it and the internet campaign to declare Snowden a true patriot for “leaking” this stunning bombshell has so far only harvested about 20,000 signatures. Were we meant to rush to the barricades upon hearing the news, lobby our MP or invest in encryption technology stocks?
I can barely stifle a yawn; it’s so business-as-usual. Maybe that’s because I was a much younger and possibly wiser man - if the wise are more sceptical than cynical - when I first learned (back in the early 80s from my uncle Haviland, of course) about Echelon, the British Government’s way of paying back all the help they get from the Yanks on security and military support issues - in particular for backing them up over the Falklands - by listening in on all electromagnetic signals throughout allied Europe and communicating the juicy bits to Washington and Langley. With the arrival of the European Union and the internet the definition of electromagnetic was widened and the juicy bits got a whole lot juicier as well as more voluminous. I’ve already written about this in “Good Science”
some time ago ... It already feels like years. But for those who weren’t paying attention at the time or for any new readers I may have acquired since, here is what I wrote as an addendum to that week’s column about reviving a dead cat by playing it “The Sundays”:
“PS: Some of you are probably wondering why I have not taxed my pen with the fall from grace (was he ever in it?) of Rupert Murdoch or the demise of the “News of the World”. Other than the fact that a couple of Beano Arnolfini’s less salubrious friends are now without a crib, I really cannot find anything particularly inspiring to say about the whole tawdry business, except that I fail to see what all the bloody fuss is about!
Police getting phone taps from the press, press getting tapping authority from the police, journalists hacking into the phones of the living and the dead, government profiting from all this (at least tangentially), so what else is new? UK secret services have been doing exactly this for decades on behalf of the NATO security project “Echelon” and it’s even more subversive sister “Gladio”. So let’s get real here, this was just another excuse to kick Rupert and hit the tabloids. Monitoring and cross-referencing all our phone calls, instant messages and emails for the benefit of the world’s major economic and political power has long been a standard tool of the covert and overt policy kit. So please don’t go getting all your knickers in a twist about the callous invasion of a privacy you never even had
. Politics has become the art of the plausible, my dear Otto.”
The Otto I refer to there is Bismarck, a man who would have had little sympathy for Snowden’s libertarian gesture in the first place and furthermore, as the originator of realpolitik (at least by nature if not by name, for the word was coined in the 1850s by Ludwig von Rochau), would have still less sympathy for the CIA’s latest whistleblower since his rather unlikely choice of safe haven has become known. For if there is one place in the world where diverse secret services have always been able to do business, it’s Hong Kong. The former British protectorate has traditionally been a clearinghouse for both soft and hard intelligence of any colour and at any price. It is surely the last place a man in fear of his life would choose as a refuge. The enclave is home to a well-funded and deeply entrenched gang culture with a highly idiosyncratic code of values. A human life in Hong Kong is maybe worth slightly more than one in Macao or Manilla, but that’s not saying much. And since the protection of Lex Britannia was withdrawn, along with the broad shoulders, fast mouth and big fists of Chris Patten, there is really no one left to stand behind when cudgels are drawn and mere thuggery is loosed upon the world. Methinks Mr Snowden, when he evokes a record of noble service to free speech in Hong Kong, is either pulling our leg or harbours suicidal intent. I’m sorry to say that his next leak may well be one of bodily fluids.
© Edwin Drood
, June 2013
See also: O tempora, o mores: an even leakier week
, Edwin Drood's Column 25 June 2013.
Illustration: photo by © David John