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  • Richard Farr

Freedom, treason, and the dark at the end of the tunnel: a rant

The Guardian recently floated the idea that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowdon should be given a pardon. The Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant takes this modest and sensible idea further, and suggests a statue: Like all Presidents, Mr. Obama has learned to pay lachrymose, utterly insincere homage to America’s freedom; Mr. Snowdon has, at one brave stroke, done more in support of those freedoms than the last ten US Presidents combined.

Whether the value of his sacrifice actually lasts, however, depends a lot on whether our masters are cowed into actually behaving differently, and the prognosis is not good. The red flag of Terror continues to be waved, Congress doesn’t have two testicles to rub together, and all this hand-wringing over the Secret State has happened before, back when it was a quarter of the size and had less money and fewer toys at its disposal.

Things could perhaps have been different, this time, if A Certain Person had had the imagination and nerve to simply fire Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and NSA Director Keith Alexander, and an assorted few score of their underlings. But these military men, with their very limited understanding of what a free society is and even less interest in maintaining such a thing, believe that the law exists to intimidate and control those who step out of line, like Snowdon, not those who police the lines… and the great irony is this: given a weak President and a Congress dominated by contemptible figures like Diane Feinstein, this belief turns out to be true!

For most people, Snowdon’s Orwellian revelations are about the evaporation of privacy – and that is important. But for writers it’s mainly about something else: a society without privacy is a society in which other freedoms, like freedom of expression, are far more vulnerable than they would otherwise be. One of the invigorating things about the last few months, I think, is this: suddenly millions of Americans have allowed themselves to suspect the truth, which is that these people are a far, far greater threat to American ideals than all the world’s terrorists combined. Suddenly, they have allowed themselves to imagine a future in which we wake up to discover that it was not a few angry religious nutters with bombs, but profoundly stupid and arrogant and infinitely more powerful men in suits, who murdered those ideals.

Before it’s too late, let’s beat them over the head with the works of Thomas Paine.

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