It is a fortnight since the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first broke with revelations of a “previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats” announced to the world by Glenn Greenwald writing in the Guardian on Friday 7th:
The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.
On that very same day I was heading down the M1 motorway to Watford with a friend to protest against the Bilderberg meeting taking place at the Grove hotel. A meeting that evidently has extremely close connections to those same “internet giants” who have been enabling the NSA as well as our own GCHQ to covertly snoop into every aspect of our lives. Indeed Google were already busy having their very own “private gathering” inside the same grounds of the very same hotel on days either side of the Bilderberg confab. In spite of being so closely connected to the inner circle of the Bilderberg clique, and thus to the very people who are engaged in this rampant abuse of our civil liberties, here’s what Google officially said to the Guardian:
In a statement, Google said: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”
Plausible deniability, in other words, and it gets better:
Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. “If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,” one said.
An Apple spokesman said it had “never heard” of Prism.1
I imagine he’s probably never heard of those Foxconn factories in China with the suicide nets either.
Driving down in our van together we were missing the coverage of Snowden’s document release but then again we already knew all the most important details of the supposedly breaking story. That we are all now living under constant internet and telephone surveillance being old news to any who have cared to search within the margins or else entirely beyond the mainstream news. Since if you are familiar with the names of William Binney or Tom Drake, to name but two former NSA whistleblowers who have both featured in earlier posts, then Snowden’s document dump comes mainly as confirmation of prior knowledge. Details added, yes, but nothing substantially new or remotely surprising.
As we approached the M25 we had entered a twenty mile section of the M1 with CCTV cameras (unless we were both mistaken) fitted every hundred yards along the hard shoulder and funneling our way ahead to London. Having not driven along this newly refurbished stretch of the M1, I felt a growing unease at this additional and less anticipated evidence of where our society is so obviously heading, thoughts which were also combined with something more primal: a loathing of being so tightly boxed in. My friend said he felt similarly unnerved. The claustrophobia of high surveillance was creeping both of us out.
At Junction 8 we turned off and from there onwards followed the softly spoken instructions of our satnav. As patient as she was mellifluous, surely ‘Emily’, the satnav babe, was on our side, but hang on, what’s this…?
A secret ‘Big Brother’ operation is allowing officials to pinpoint the exact location of thousands of vehicles with satellite navigation systems.
The controversial scheme is built into the small print of a contract between the Department for Transport and the satnav company Trafficmaster.
Currently the ‘spy in the sky’ system is limited to some 50,000 drivers who have Trafficmaster’s Smartnav system.2
And that story was released back in 2007 so god knows what Emily gets up to these days… the flirty little snitch! Still, at least she knew the whereabouts of where we were heading, reliably delivering us to the entrance of the Bilderberg Fringe designated campsite where we were soon spotted by a warden who politely but promptly informed us that we were actually the wrong side of the hundred acres of scout parkland. In view of the latest child protection laws, the protesters, he informed us, were being located well away from the scouts and with access guarded by a couple of police vans on 24-hour patrol outside the gates just in case.
So we turned the van around and, without Emily to guide us now, aimed a little across country, down some forest tracks, and eventually coming to the proper site. It was dusk and we were soon parked up in a beautiful corner of the rolling Hertfordshire countryside, brewing up some teas and pulling out the camping chairs to idle the rest of the evening beside the white blossoms of the hawthorns and the brighter flush of ox-eye daisies. A lovely spot for camping, quiet and secluded, and also close enough to the main field to mingle with other campers who as darkness fell had put together a makeshift bonfire from pallets and entertained themselves with beers and music. It was odd to think that this accidental mix of people had all come along with the same singular intent. There to vent a little of our collective spleen directly towards the secretive banker-CEO-politico hobnobbing which was already well underway but happening five miles away inside the plush Grove hotel.
In many ways it was turning into a rather beautiful weekend. Beautiful weather, beautiful location and the following day, a beautiful gathering of common humanity hollering our peaceful but intransigent dissent across the lines of G4S security guards and towards the high security steel perimeter that surrounded the hotel half a mile away in the distance. Did the Bilderberg delegates hear our cries from our small but thronging paddock of free speech? I think they most probably did. Were they remotely listening to what any one of us had to say? Of course not – what do you think this is… a democracy or something?
In truth I’ve been struggling to decide what to write about the Bilderberg protests ever since I returned. The media, of course, knew exactly where to point its cameras. Alex Jones was bound to provide them with a story and offer a further distraction to the main event. Duly he obliged, goaded into action by the smug Andrew Neil and his supercilious sidekick David Aaronvitch (who ironically enough was once awarded the Orwell Prize – how Orwell must be turning in his grave). His latest rant going viral once again and thus overshadowing the more considered position of Tony Gosling who had sparred with Neil on the same subject only a few days earlier:
But then, Neil and Jones weren’t the only ones playing games over the Bilderberg weekend. For instance, the police liaison officers convivial mingling with the crowds was another little game with different rules. Likewise, the men in sharp suits who were milling around the gates of the Grove before drifting across to be matey with those of us enclosed within our little pen were part of yet another form of the same game. In response to all this or else for more provocative reasons, some of the protesters were playing parallel games of their own. Making entertaining announcements over their personal megaphones or more simply befriending those who helped to keep us under restraint.
And perhaps the one time the protesters really got the upper hand in these ongoing games was when two small children breached the security cordon and briefly ran amok. The G4S guards were clearly flustered and at a total loss to know what to do. Sure the meeting was taking place half a mile away across a canal with only one small bridge crossing and firmly sealed behind the newly installed and heavily patrolled perimeter fence high on the hill in the distance, but just what might have happened if these children had been permitted to run loose… might others have been inspired to boldly follow their lead?
Maybe if we sent all the kids out ahead, perhaps followed soon after by the pensioners and the disabled, then such a diversionary tactic might just be enough to keep the troops of security guards and mounted police sufficiently preoccupied for the rest of us to make a proper assault on the castle walls! I’m fairly sure I wasn’t alone in thinking such subversive thoughts… although these were just games of a purely imaginative kind. The single person who did in fact embark upon such daring act of civil disobedience having already been promptly captured; foiled within seconds by the lines of blue. She hadn’t stood an earthly. So why then had we all been submitted to airport-style security checks before being allowed entry into the paddock? Well, it was just another part of the games being played, as was the enormous police presence that accompanied some of the protesters, keeping an eye on their later pub rendezvous many miles away in a different village. Being followed hither and thither by security vans was all part of the festival, and of course we all enjoyed the romp no end.
Which basically sums up the lasting lesson of Bilderberg 2013 for me at least; that all of the many impositions and cruelties inflicted upon the downtrodden populations of this world by a small but dominant gang of well established oligarchs can actually be maintained only by virtue of such tacitly accepted games – games being so absolutely vital for ensuring that the world goes on working in the unjust way it does, with tyranny being so much more effectively instilled and ensured through disingenuous smiles and knowing winks than by any amount of armed security guards and steel fences. The fences and the guns being reserved for emergencies only and if the herd should ever get too out of control.
“One pro-transparency campaigner has had enough” wrote Charlie Skelton in his final Bilderblog for this year’s event, continuing with a quote:
“For too long, those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account.”
Who might that have been, you may wonder. Perhaps Michael Meacher, who was the only parliamentarian with the gumption to directly address the protesters gathered at the gates of the Grove. Well, no actually…
This particular critic of closed-doors government is a certain David Cameron, speaking shortly after taking office. “This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture,” he said, “and it’s called transparency.”
And Cameron wasn’t alone in his humbug:
Cameron wasn’t the only one swinging the wrecking-ball of transparency inside this year’s Bilderberg. He was joined on the end of the chain by Jessica Mathews, who sits on the advisory council of Transparency International, and James Wolfensohn, who’s on the advisory council of Transparency International USA. Together, I’m sure, they were lobbying hard to open up this last bastion of murky politicking to the sunlight. If they could find the time between seminars.3
Click here to read more of Charlie Skelton’s summary of this year’s Bilderberg.
When I got home to Sheffield I had some explaining to do. Principally I needed to account for why it was I’d let myself get so sunburnt during the weekend. Now the strict answer was that due to the security checks and the long tailback that had resulted (many of the protesters, we understood, having been turned away at the entrance) I hadn’t been able to return from the paddock to pick up the sunscreen we’d rather foolishly left behind in our van. Not a terribly romantic answer and so I improvised. “A battle scar,” I told my nephews and niece when they asked me later, “received at the cost of fighting against the Bilderbergers.”
“Why are you fighting the Build-A-Bears?” my niece objected. “I love the Build-A-Bears” she added. “Not Build-A-Bears,” I explained, “but Bilderbergers…”
“What do they make?” she asked me. What do the make…? I hesitated. How could I explain to an eight year-old what the Bilderbergers make? “War,” I said bluntly after a pause. With both General Petraeus and Kissinger in attendance it seemed like a fair if simplified version of the truth.
Meanwhile Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, has been involved in quite a caper of his own, leading the American government a merry dance in an almost nostalgic game of Cold War cat and mouse. Landing first in Hong Kong and then taking a flight on to Moscow, the news media is now altogether consumed with speculation about when and where he’ll most likely turn up next, whereas some others, perhaps most notably Naomi Wolf, are also questioning Snowden’s motivations. Is he really who he purports to be?, asks Wolf, with the unstated implication being that his adventures might in some way be part of a “limited hangout” operation; a convenient way to leak out minimal information primarily to the advantage of the spy agencies involved. As a further response, some are already asking who Naomi Wolf really is… here for example is Dave Lindorff offering a counter-offensive in last week’s Counterpunch.
In my opinion questioning the motivation of both parties is perfectly legitimate, since after all I cannot vouch for either Wolf or Snowden, having absolutely no personal association with either one. Wolf’s speculations may indeed be wild and self-promoting, as Lindorff asserts, yet the fuller verdict on Snowden surely remains unclear. For though his release of the Prism documents was undoubtedly in the public interest, and for that reason alone he ought to be protected from any subsequent prosecution, yet as I pointed out above, the evidence he presents adds surprisingly little to what we already knew or might easily have presumed.
What Snowden unquestionably has achieved, however, is to put the matter of public surveillance under the mainstream spotlight. Yet does this alone automatically affirm him as our new hero for freedom and democracy? For there might indeed be, as Wolf tentatively points out, a more hidden agenda going on behind the scenes, and whether or not Snowden is a man of integrity, he may still be an unwitting dupe. This leak, which serves to apply extra pressure to Obama, might, for instance, help with forcing the beleaguered President’s hand in other areas. It could be that by such means, Obama may now be further pressured into engaging in all-out war on Syria – one conflict that Obama has so far managed to steer clear of. Snowden’s leak becoming the straw that finally broke the camel’s back…
That said, charging Snowden under the Espionage Act strikes another fierce blow against freedom of speech, issuing a chill warning to other potential whistleblowers who may contemplate speaking out in the public interest, and thereby further trampling on the tattered remains of the American constitution. It is right therefore that those who stand for freedom ought to back Snowden’s actions and demand that he is pardoned of any crime, but it is also wise to be cautious of all those who cross from behind enemy lines. So let’s also remind ourselves that Snowden worked for the NSA and though we may like to believe that a leopard can change its spots, the associated proverb helpfully cautions us not to wish to be deceived…
The truth is the truth and yet the truth gets harder and harder to find. Take Bilderberg again, which commentators like Andrew Neil assure us is just a private club, and nothing to bother our silly little heads about. Ken Clarke, answering questions in the House of Commons (see below), playing a similar gambit. But then why the cover up for so long, we may legitimately ask, and why does the BBC even now continue to stick with the party line (of “nothing to see here”) rather than asking the tougher questions directly of the Bilderbergers themselves?
As a consequence, when we desire to uncover any meaningful facts about Bilderberg (starting with its actual existence) we are instead forced to turn to the alternative media, and the same goes for most other pressing issues including, to stick with the pertinent illustration, the rise of the surveillance state. The BBC reporting next to nothing when William Binney and Tom Drake were spilling the beans about the NSA, but some years later totally seduced by the story of Edward Snowden. The best we can say is that this is too little too late: closing the stable door after the horse has well and truly bolted.
And the emphasis is also shifted. Stories not to reveal more about Bilderberg or to challenge NSA and GCHQ surveillance, but instead about what Alex Jones believes about Bilderberg or intrigue surrounding the continuing flight of Edward Snowden. The news becoming the metanews and the important message being lost in all the hubbub. In such a fashion we are cajoled into accepting the unacceptable. These kinds of reporting of the news helping to get us more accustomed to the idea of clandestine political gatherings and of the secret services spying into every area of our personal lives. The media playing their own considerable part in the very same game… tricking us into masking our fears with our own false grins as we laugh along with the lies and feign delight in our own deception.
An article published in last Wednesday’s Washington Post [June 26th] offers further reasons to be cautious when it comes to Ed Snowden’s motivations. Entitled “Four years ago, Ed Snowden thought leakers should be ‘shot’”, it begins as follows:
Since he publicly acknowledged being the source of bombshell leaks about the NSA two weeks ago, Ed Snowden has portrayed government secrecy as a threat to democracy, and his own leaks as acts of conscience. But chat logs uncovered by the tech news site Ars Technica suggest Snowden hasn’t always felt that way.
“Those people should be shot in the balls,” Snowden apparently said of leakers in a January 2009 chat.
Click here to read the full article by Timothy B. Lee.
Here is the best video compilation of the Bilderberg Fringe event I have found uploaded: