For any ordinary organization, the detention of David Miranda by British security authorities, coming hot on the heels of a major NY Times article detailing the similar treatment routinely dished out to Laura Poitras and other critics of the US security establishment would seem like a major PR blunder.
But, in this case, it seems more like an upraised middle finger, one in a series designed to show that the security apparatus can do whatever it likes, and no one who matters will try to rein it in, let alone hold it accountable. After all, this is small beer compared to the Morales grounding last month. The security state had only to snap its fingers, and at least four allegedly independent states closed their airspace to a plane carrying the president of another. The European governments concerned were at least shamed into apologising1, but those in Washington who gave the orders remain unidentified (it’s not even clear that Obama signed off on this) unrepentant, and unchecked by the watchdogs of the US Press.
Perhaps this time they’ve gone one step too far. Even their defenders in the media are losing faith, as are many individual politicians. But the executive government remains unmoved, at least in the English-speaking world. Neither Obama nor Cameron nor any of their counterparts has taken any steps to rein in abuses of the extraordinary powers of the security state, let alone to reduce those powers. And, looking at the miraculous transformation of civil libertarians like Obama once they gain office, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they couldn’t do so even if they wanted to.
Rather, the apparatchiks of the security state do as they choose, because they can.
Against that, it’s hard to see what kind of power can protect the security apparatus now that it is operating, to some extent in the harsh light of day. In the Snowden matter alone, the security state has trashed relations with Russia, China, and most of Latin America, as well as gravely embarrassing its UK and EU client agencies, and yet they are further than ever from getting their man. And the best case they can come up with involves four men convicted of sending the grand total of $8,500 to al-Shabab in Somalia – is this really worth logging every phone call and email in the US, and tapping everything they can outside the US? At some point, surely this must become a political liability too costly to carry.
Latin American governments protested against the violation of
EcuadorianBolivian sovereignty. But the real violation of sovereignty was the humiliating exposure of the client status of France, Spain, Italy and Portugal. ↩