The political philosopher, Leo Strauss, argued convincingly that most of the great works of philosophy and political philosophy before the Enlightenment cannot be just “read” because they were written to conceal as much as they revealed. This makes sense, because before the emergence of secular liberal democracies authors had to be particularly sensitive to the power of church and state, and to pass the censors their works had to be disguised, sometimes as attacks on the very liberal arguments the authors wished to promote. Furthermore, these authors wrote only for the elites, deliberately misleading the common man in case it could be argued that their writings contributed to social disorder. In short, it is likely that the entire canon of Western philosophy was deliberately mangled and distorted as a precautionary measure because of the existence of forerunners to today’s National Security Agency (NSA).
Similar distortions might be expected from the recent metamorphosis of the “war on terror” into a wider war on civil liberties. As the “war” has changed from a hunt for actual terrorists to a hunt for all those with the ability to expose the horrendous crimes of the power elite, such as the extent of civilian deaths and suffering in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is not just the whistle blowers (representing civil disobedience in our technological age) who are being persecuted but also journalists just doing their job, and their family members too. The effect on some journalists will be chilling but other journalists will expect special favors and handouts from the NSA in return for their continued deference, subordination and ingratiation. But also expect a surge of creativity in response to these attacks on press freedom. Remember Shakespeare’s cunning in Antony’s speech over Caesar’s body. Antony continually emphasizes that Brutus is an honorable man, but he also describes the deed in such a way as to let the facts speak for themselves. Expect to have to work much harder than usual to obtain the real news behind the newspaper story you just read. Technological ripostes to the prying eyes of Big Government will continue to proliferate.
Why so many people continue to trust the NSA is beyond me. August 7, 2013 was the 49th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution authorizing the Vietnam War. On August 2, 1964, the U.S.S. Maddox came under fire while gathering signals intelligence in Vietnamese territorial waters. But it was the alleged second attack, confirmed by the NSA, that LBJ seized upon to order retaliatory bombings and push the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution through Congress. As we now know the “second attack” never happened. A National Security Agency historian later concluded that “N.S.A. officers had deliberately falsified intercepted communications in the incident to make it look like the attack on Aug. 4, 1964 had occurred although he said they acted not out of political motives but to cover up earlier errors.”
“By subverting the internet at every level to make it a vast, multi-layered and robust surveillance platform, the NSA has undermined a fundamental social contract. The companies that build and manage our internet infrastructure, the companies that create and sell us our hardware and software, or the companies that host our data: we can no longer trust them to be ethical internet stewards. This is not the internet the world needs, or the internet its creators envisioned. We need to take it back.” Bruce Schneier (Guardian journalist)