Two major points were proven on Monday, August 19th, 2013. The first: the United States government will intimidate and bully whomever they please if they are deemed a 'threat to national security.' The second: that the CIA and NSA will also leverage power on other nations for the sake of their own interests. This matter was illustrated by a recent event documented by a number of major news sources: while travelling through Heathrow Airport, David Miranda, an innocent civilian, was detained under the UK's terrorism act for just under 9 hours. It is important to note that 9 hours is the maximum limit for detaining an individual under that very same act. David's belongings were all taken from him, including a laptop, game console, and USB thumb drives.
The reason for this? David Miranda is Glenn Greenwald's partner. Glenn Greenwald is a journalist for The Guardian in the UK. He recently broke the Edward Snowden story about the NSA's telephone tracking program PRISM, as well as their incredibly invasive XKeyscore data-tracking system. These programs are essentially extralegal affairs, with no real basis in law outside of secret courts devised by the executive branch of government. Greenwald has helped expose these programs in his recent reports, and this personal harassment is clearly a result of his investigation.
The United States Constitution is the founding document of the nation, one that has been both copied and castigated by many different groups. Yet, the First Amendment is one of its most important provisions. It reads as follows: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
It reads like lawyer-speak, but its main purpose is meant to allow for people to openly criticize their government if they feel it is necessary. Glenn Greenwald, who is still an American citizen, has a grievance with his government. He believes the NSA programs are damaging and invasive, a tool that might now be considered necessary, but could soon transform into something far more dangerous. He, as a member of the press, articulated these concerns through his column. Now, because he exercised that right, the United States government is aggressively trying to intimidate him with tactics that are currently legal, but well outside of any moral boundaries.
So what happens to innocent civilians who are falsely deemed a 'terrorist' threat? Ask David Miranda.
Despotism or tyranny is often bandied about by those who wish to make some sort of dramatic proclamation about the current state of the United States government. Names like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, or Hitler are invoked in relation to President Obama, which is meant to conjure images of a terrible and evil regime. The problem with such comparisons is that the brutal reigns of these world leaders were dramatic in retrospect, as if an immediate change suddenly swarmed a nation and thrust these men into power. The unfortunate truth is that the loss of freedoms and the rise of tyranny are slow and lack dramatic punch.
The United States government has become far too big and is now involved in almost every aspect of its people's lives. It has now been left to make ethical judgments for its citizens and is losing its ability to judge itself. If the government is involved in making personal decisions in our private lives, it must aggressively assert itself as the unquestionable moral authority. The U.S. administration’s handling of the Trayvon Martin case, as well as Attorney General Eric Holder’s blatant whitewashing of an old speech to conceal deliberate lies by the Department of Justice, have clearly illustrated this elitist attitude. Critical citizens have now been deemed threats, as is the case with Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and David Miranda. Personal freedoms have been taken to protect the nation under the aptly named Patriot Act. Now, ultimately, the government has assured that an artificial veil of "safety" must be everyone's primary concern.
All of these moments, every one of them, have been covered—albeit poorly—by major news sources. They are treated like isolated incidents, something that illustrates only small flaws within the entire system. But they are all part of the painfully slow, careful descent into a world with much less freedom and privacy than we have ever experienced. The end of democracy is not a single event, but the result of many people with the best intentions being filtered through a flawed system. It is not all about guns and tanks in our streets, led by a purely evil, moustache-twirling leader. It is instead a slow encroachment of boring bureaucrats and convoluted paperwork that invades every aspect of our lives as they slowly take away all of our inherent freedoms.
To quote T.S. Eliot, "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper."