The Salem News
---- — George Orwell’s “1984” is the expression of a mood, and it is a warning. ... We present our society as being one of free initiative, individualism and idealism, when in reality ... we are a centralized, managerial and industrial society, of an essentially bureaucratic nature, and motivated by a materialism which is only slightly mitigated by truly spiritual or religious concerns.
— Erich Fromm, 1961
Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.
The heavily fortified, $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration — an effort which was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.
— Jonas Bamford, Wired online magazine, March 15, 2012
Just as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby” is back on the best-seller list because of the movie remake, Orwell’s “1984” is popular again, probably because of people who’ve been thinking about it while watching the news. I still have my aged paperback version, one of the books I read when I was young and first acquiring my fear of Big Government.
I relaxed for a while when Ronald Reagan was our president and Margaret Thatcher the leader of George Orwell’s homeland; when the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War with communism ended. But our Government kept getting Bigger.
In the early ’90s, my partner, Chip Ford, wrote “High Tech and the Age of Intrusion,” in which he deplored the broken promise that our Social Security card would never be used for general identification and warned that database marketing can someday be used against us.
In 2002, I wrote in a column opposing the creation of the Department of Homeland Security: “According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Pentagon is building a system called ‘Total Information Awareness’ that would effectively provide government officials with immediate access to our personal information: all of our communications (phone calls, e-mails and web searches), financial records, purchases, prescriptions, school records, medical records and travel history.”
The “total information awareness” that was supposedly “killed by Congress” in 2003 has been creeping back. A year after the Bamford story was published in “Wired,” National Intelligence Director James Clapper was asked by a congressional committee about collection of American-citizen phone data: He said it wasn’t happening. Later, when we learned from a young whistle-blowing NSA employee that indeed it is, Clapper said he had given the “least untruthful” answer possible.
The whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, told the British newspaper The Guardian the truth — which wasn’t news so much as a challenge to official lying. Now Snowden is hiding out in Hong Kong, with supporters of data-mining doing their best to discredit him: He was called a traitor by former Vice-President Dick Cheney, and in case you don’t immediately agree with that characterization, there’s been a suggestion that he might sell secrets to the Chinese — or maybe he’s been a spy for China all along!!
Please. Do we all look that stupid?
Maybe we do. Maybe we are. Let’s have a test. Which of the following arguments by political/bureaucratic leaders do we believe?
1. The IRS didn’t target conservative groups for delay on getting tax-exempt status.
2. If it did, this would only be the action of two low-level employees in Cincinnati, and no one in Washington, D.C., knew anything.
3. National security requires the government to secretly monitor reporters’ phone calls to learn their confidential sources.
4. The assault on the consulate at Benghazi was caused by an anti-Mohammed video.
5. No one knows what really happened and why: not the president, not Hillary Clinton, certainly not the CIA, which was there.
6. There was no fraud during the 2012 election, so there’s no reason to have photo-identification to vote. And according to the U.S. Supreme Court, the states have no right to demand that those who vote are even citizens.
7. We need to get involved in the civil war in Syria. John McCain has met with some rebels and knows which ones aren’t likely to turn against us if they win, the way the “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan did.
8. We should raise the national debt limit again. We can get the money from “quantitative easing” (i.e, inflation), or we can borrow it from those same Chinese who we fear are trying to get data from Edward Snowden.
9. Orwell’s Big Brother was right: “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”
Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a Salem News columnist.