Greenwald's long battle against the surveillance state

While at Salon, the former litigator wrote regularly of the danger of ever-expanding dragnets

Published June 10, 2013 5:26PM (EDT)

The series of revelations last week that the National Security Agency (NSA) was daily hoarding data on every phone and online communication inside and coming from the U.S. were the finest examples of Glenn Greenwald's bold journalistic work in shining light on the troubling operations of government.

Greenwald's illuminations on the surveillance state are not new, however. Throughout his career and time at Salon, he argued against the expanding surveillance dragnet, the government agencies, private contractors and political ideologies upholding it.

During a speech at the Socialism 2012 conference, Greenwald called the creeping surveillance state -- with the expansive NSA hoarding complex at its center -- an impediment to any efforts to meaningfully challenge the political status quo:

In this April 2012 column, Greenwald stressed how we are currently seeing the realization of the 1975 warning from Democratic Senator Frank Church, that "Th[e National Security Agency's] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: Telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide." Greenwald wrote:

At the time, Church also said: “I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

Of course, that bridge has long ago been crossed, without even much discussion, let alone controversy. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, George Bush ordered the NSA to spy on the communications of Americans on American soil, and they’ve been doing it ever since, with increasing aggression and fewer and fewer constraints. That development is but one arm in the creation of an American Surveillance State that is, literally, ubiquitous — one that makes it close to impossible for American citizens to communicate or act without detection from the U.S. Government — a state of affairs Americans have long been taught since childhood is a hallmark of tyranny.

In a separate post, Greenwald stated that a surveillance state has the chilling aim of controlling and monitoring flows of information as a means to quell dissent:

The free flow of information and communications enabled by new technologies — as protest movements in the Middle East and a wave of serious leaks over the last year have demonstrated — is a uniquely potent weapon in challenging entrenched government power and other powerful factions.  And that is precisely why those in power — those devoted to preservation of the prevailing social order — are so increasingly fixated on seizing control of it and snuffing out its potential for subverting that order: they are well aware of, and are petrified by, its power, and want to ensure that the ability to dictate how it is used, and toward what ends, remains exclusively in their hands.

And in this column, Greenwald thoroughly dissected arguments in defense of the surveillance state, which are grounded in the rubric of war. Greenwald condemned the "continuous stream of manipulative fear-mongering over the last decade which has reduced much of the American citizenry into a meek and submissive faction for whom no asserted government power is too extreme, provided the scary menace of 'Terrorism' is uttered to justify it." Indeed, in response to his recent reports on NSA surveillance, defenses from politicians like Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Linsey Graham have borne out Greenwald's point from last year -- the dragnet is justifiable, they said, because national security is at stake.

Greenwald has also specifically called out Booz Allen Hamilton -- the contractor for which whistleblower Edward Snowden formerly worked -- for it's role in upholding a surveillance state, undergirded by private industry interests and hefty government contracts. In 2010, as a part of a column decrying the Washington/private industry revolving door as embodied by former NSA director Michael McConnell, Greenwald highlighted Booz Allen's role.

McConnell went from being head of the National Security Agency under Bush 41 and Clinton directly to Booz Allen, one of the nation’s largest private intelligence contractors, then became Bush’s Director of National Intelligence (DNI), then went back to Booz Allen, where he is now Executive Vice President.

But that’s the least of what makes McConnell such a perfect symbol for the legalized corruption that dominates Washington.  Tellingly, his overarching project while at Booz Allen and in public office was exactly the same:  the outsourcing of America’s intelligence and surveillance functions (including domestic surveillance) to private corporations, where those activities are even more shielded than normal from all accountability and oversight and where they generate massive profit at the public expense.



By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Edward Snowden Frank Church Glenn Greenwald Nsa Surveillance Surveillance State Video