Privacy Died, and People Didn’t Even Know It
The KGB alumni portion of the following, which sounds realistic, is actually fiction; the NSA portion, which sounds like science fiction, is actual news from the real world.
It’s June again, and around the globe, in the northern hemisphere, alumni groups are gathering. In Russia, the KGBAA (KGB Alumni Association)--former officials of the Soviet Union’s “Committee for State Security”--held their annual reunion this week at the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, nearly 22 years after the agency’s dissolution in 1991.
The prevailing mood was surprisingly upbeat, full of nostalgia for “the good old days.” In their heyday, KGB agents monitored and infiltrated dissident political, artistic, and environmental groups. Agents not only spied on the members but urged them on to illegal and even violent acts which would justify harsh crackdowns by authorities. The KGB also tapped phones, opened mail, paid informers, arrested people without charges, held them indefinitely, tortured them, and occasionally killed them.
This year the KGB alumni have watched events unfolding in their old enemy, the U.S., with heightened interest.
The tone was set a few months prior to the reunion, when documents were released showing that FBI “counterterrorism agents” spied on the nonviolent Occupy Wall Street movement nationwide. Not only that, but they shared their information with the very banks, corporations, and Wall Street firms people were protesting against.
“The government’s response was stunningly effective,” marveled Andrei S. “You had spontaneous nonviolent protests against the corporate stranglehold on government springing up all over the country, with the potential to change everything, and government security forces, coordinating with corporations, municipal governments, and local police, absolutely crushed the movement!”
“It was like old home week!” exclaimed Leonid Z. “Anyone who objects to something done by the government is an enemy of the state, and thus a potential terrorist.”
Even more entertaining to the ex-KGB men was breaking news that the U.S.’s National Security Agency (NSA) has been gathering the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers. This was followed almost immediately by a report that AT&T and Sprint customers had also been spied upon. And to cap off the week, it was revealed that the NSA has access to e-mails, search histories, websites visited, links followed, and live chats for customers of Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo, and Facebook.
“We thought the breakthroughs were spy cameras in satellites, and drones with surveillance cameras to fly over houses and yards, checking to see who’s coming and going,” said Boris P., “but comprehensive, unfettered access to people’s phones and computers....” He shook his head in admiration.
“Technology,” nodded Mikhail B; “it’s wonderful. Let’s face it: compared to these guys, we were dinosaurs.”
The KGB alumni, to a man, were envious of the NSA’s ability to spy on even the most casual, private, and intimate communications of virtually every citizen in the U.S.
“Can you imagine the possibilities for blackmail?” chortled Yuri G, who had started in early on the vodka. “I would have given my eyeteeth--well, not my eyeteeth but somebody’s eyeteeth--for access like that. Privacy died, and people didn’t even know it! It’s like being God--if there were a God. You get to see and hear almost everything a person is saying and thinking, while they’re totally unaware.”
Public reaction in the U.S. to the unfolding stories has been muted--not surprising, perhaps, as members of the public begin to realize that their reactions, public or private, will be monitored by the FBI and immediately collected by the NSA.
Citizens might also be worrying as they try to recall what they have looked at online, e-mailed, or said on the telephone. That will require an exhaustive memory. Vadim M. reminded his colleagues that California senator Diane Feinstein had basically called the revelations a non-story, since the massive domestic spying has been going on for seven years, during both the Obama and Bush administrations.
Feinstein justified the spying because it is carried out under the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It comes under the business records part of the PATRIOT Act; “therefore it is lawful,” she emphasized. Unspoken was the obvious corollary: that it is unlawful to even reveal the existence of the surveillance.
By yet another bit of lucky timing, this latter point has been dramatically underlined during the reunion by the showcase trial of whistleblower Bradley Manning, which highlights the unprecedented rate at which the Obama administration is prosecuting whistleblowers in general.
“I wish we’d had a PATRIOT Act,” said Vasily K., somewhat wistfully. “I always felt as if I had to be a little furtive when crossing the line. But look what you can do when you have a legal blank check!”
P.S. Here is a link http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance to a news item in today’s The Guardian about Edward Snowden, the man who is revealing the extent of NSA surveillance. (Follow it at your own risk, understanding that your act is being monitored.)
© Tony Russell, 2013