Mass public meeting, Auckland Town Hall last night featuring Glen Greenwald, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Photo: Radio NZ/Kim Baker Wilson

The mass public meeting at the Auckland Town Hall last night featured Glen Greenwald, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, along with Laila Harre and Kim Dotcom. Photo: Radio NZ/Kim Baker Wilson

by Andy Warren

Apart from the dronings of Harre and DotCom, the speakers were engaging, knowledgeable and entertaining – Assange less so; he’s apparently unwell and the UK government are engaged in covert efforts to drive him mad in any way possible, including, it seems, blocking the Ecuadorean embassy’s attempt to buy the flat downstairs and possibly firing up jackhammers during his video conference.

There were no surprising revelations. And nothing I feel which guarantees any sort of political upheaval or sense of victory or triumph for left politics.

On a technical level, New Zealand’s population is the size of any number of small cities worldwide, albeit spread over an area the size of the UK. Our access to international communications infrastructure – through which we get the bulk of our internet access – is via satellite and terrestrial cables (the southern cross cable was mentioned last night).

Interception

In terms of physical interception, a couple of technicians visiting one room in one data centre where the Southern Cross “cable” (actually a bundle of many fibres) enters NZ is all that would be necessary to install a large version of the internet equivalent of a phone tap.

Unlike a phone tap, however, these cables don’t carry only a single phone conversation – but all or most traffic for the entire population of this country.

When Snowden took his cache of documents to the Guardian newspaper, and they, for reasons of legal safety, moved their operations and the documents to the US – the American National Security Agency (NSA) turned up outside the offices of the Washington Post and proceeded to dig up the pavement and install similar “wire taps”. Barefaced.

The physical and technical capability to do what Snowden and Greenwald are describing has been reality for many years. The political will to use this capability against the NZ public is the key point of all this.

Secret institutions

Massive, secret institutions like the NSA, and their smaller counterparts such as the GCSB here and GCHQ in Britain, have grown organically over the past ten plus years – fertilised by a lack of oversight, a massive increase in their budgets and a rightward shift in the political environment in which they have encroached into the civil liberties of the world’s population.

When taken as a whole, this is a massive phenomenon with huge significance. When looked at from the point of view of individual people, policies, projects and incidents, this has been the result of a direction in domestic and world politics enacted piecemeal, without oversight, over time – rather than any single conspiracy or conscious goal. Most importantly, individuals have been aware of it “on their watch” in countries with strong democratic traditions and formal legislation protecting “the public interest”. They have done nothing. Greenwald describes Snowden’s dismay at the head of the NSA lying to Congress when asked directly if massive data collection was happening. This was one of many incidents leading to his “whistleblowing”.

Each increase in technical capability, coupled with a political lack of restraint and public oversight, has been embraced and contributed to an acceleration of the process.

Where previously we would have marveled at the size of Google’s infrastructure – for the publicly-stated intent of maximising the usefulness of the internet – we now know that the infrastructure built by the NSA and the Five Eyes alliance (Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States) dwarfs everything. Snowden has hinted at the capacity of the NSA’s storage infrastructure to keep for almost a week all traffic collected on the entire internet. This, he says, is increasing as more storage is added.

Massive secret dragnet

Even if the traffic collected is too vast to process in real time – as it is collected – the NSA can bring massively powerful computing power to bear on this huge data set to search for patterns or “fingerprints” to pull out potentially interesting or useful data for longer-term storage before the raw data has to be flushed to make space for the newest arrivals.

This adds up to a massive secret dragnet. It amounts to at least suspicion, at worst guilt, for all without trial, without mandate.

Stating that the history of western governments is that they erode civil liberties instead of reinforcing them can sound like merely a propaganda point.  But it is borne out by these revelations.

There has been little reaction I can see on Facebook, Reddit, or twitter. I can see people doubting the revelations because of the timing and association with DotCom who has successfully been painted as untrustworthy by the smear campaign which has leveraged his physical size, nationality and business success – a fat, ugly German internet criminal who is out to get Key.  Dotcom didn’t do himself any favours last night as he unfortunately laughed annoyingly through the early part of the presentation.

The room was full of NZ media. I’m not aware to what extent self-respecting journalists have been onto or suspecting this stuff, but revelations also carry the sting of rebuke for those who have been naively trusting of what is handed to them on a press release.

Social discourse has moved onto the internet. Conversations are now carried out via text, email, twitter, skype etc. Hence, in the current political epoch, social discourse has been delivered into the hands of unscrupulous institutions, built on the basis of brutally-protected and -pursued capitalist interests.

Without a sense of what freedom of association and freedom of speech mean though, this will fall largely on deaf ears. I have no confidence that anything substantial will come out of this. Key could even weather this and end up PM again.

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Comments
  1. PhilF says:

    The meeting hardly seems to have lived up to the claim that it was ‘The Moment of Truth’. The left didn’t score a knock-out hit on Key any more than the ‘Dirty Politics’ book did. In fact, as of yet, they haven’t scored any direct hit on Key with Glen Greenwald and Ed Snowden’s information.

    Key seemed unsettled in interviews about ‘Dirty Politics’ when it first came out, but he seems completely unfazed by the Moment of Truth ‘revelations’.

    • soundhill1 says:

      TV3’s Paul Henry last evening was trying to focus on Kim and attack the lack of his knockout. But the attempted belittling of the import of the meeting was countered by Simon Wilson who explained the meeting was not about Kim. No-one has challenged the veracity of Edward’s statements. Key still refuses to comment on the XKeyscore procedures. Sorry Phil.

  2. PhilF says:

    No need to apologise Brian.

    My point wasn’t about Kim Dotcom and nor were Andy’s. But if you call a meeting under the name ‘Moment of Truth’, punters expect something exceptional. And nothing exceptional seems to have been delivered in relation to Key. Nor does Mr Smarmy seem bothered by the meeting. He looks quite relaxed and confident. Maybe that will change, maybe there’s more to come, but so far it seems to have been more the Moment of. . . So?

    Phil

  3. Don Franks says:

    I see two issues here. One, Key lying or not about Dot com and the email.
    Two, spying on citizens.
    Number one has yet to be proven and was not last night. Number two shows the shadows to be a bit longer than the government will admit. Many New Zealanders are concerned about being spied on. I suspect a greater number think only bad people will be bugged and that bugging is needed to protect us from terrorists. Meanwhile the SIS refuse to confirm or deny they have a file on me.

  4. PhilF says:

    It’s unfortunate, too, but probably inevitable, that the meeting was marred by a bit of kiwi nationalism, with Bob Amsterdam claiming NZers’ liberties were under threat from the US attempt to impose the TPPA on ‘us’.

    For a refutation of the standard kiwi left-nationalist take on the TPPA, see Don Franks’ article here: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/tppa-destructive-to-life-as-we-know-it/

    One of the interesting things that has come out of the Five Eyes revelations is that it is a relatively egalitarian imperialist arrangement. Far from it being an instrument of the US imposing its will on underlings (Britain, Canada, Australia and NZ), it’s a meeting of like-minded imperialists, with shared interests as imperialists, on a roughly equal basis.

    Civil liberties in NZ are at threat from the NZ ruling class, which is the class which runs the show here. US imperialism doesn’t run this country. The NZ capitalists have signed up to the TPPA because it is in their class/economic interests to do so, not because they are subordinate to US imperialism.

    Left and working class advance is impossible in this country without clarity about the nature of NZ as an imperialist power and that NZ nationalism is, and can only be, the ideology through which the ruling class successfully rules and holds the working class captive ideologically.

    Phil

    • soundhill1 says:

      Phil makes an attempt to sideline the TPPA discussion which is also a big part of IM policy.

      Don’s article referred to: “Be that as it may – is the potential right of investors to sue a threat to New Zealanders?

      Which New Zealanders?

      They can’t sue me or my mates, because we have nothing to pay with.”

      That is an attempt to focus out of the commons and onto personal property.

      An intent of the TPPA us to privatise the commons.

      http://truth-out.org/news/item/26112-an-economic-hit-man-speaks-out-john-perkins-on-how-greece-has-fallen-victim-to-economic-hit-men

      The TPPA is extremely bound up with a message of the meeting that “security’ starts with the excuse of protecting the people/(commons?) then becomes used for the admins to reinforce their own personal power over the populace. We become cattle and a cog in the medbusiness machine &c.

  5. Don Franks says:

    “You have to remember that today we have a global empire, and it’s not an American empire. It’s not a national empire. It doesn’t help the American people very much. It’s a corporate empire, and the big corporations rule. They control the politics of the United States, and to a large degree they control a great deal of the policies of countries like China, around the world” ( economic hitman speaks out)

    The vague spectre of rootless multinationals controlling and displacing nation states has been around in various forms since at least the early seventies. Imperialism operates through armed nation states, be it in the USA or New Zealand.
    We’re neither cattle nor cog. They don’t share our potential to educate and organize.

    • soundhill1 says:

      Interesting film on “AlJazeera Investigates” recently. Boeing had had a culture of excellence and listening to worker’s safety concerns. After amalgamating with failing McDonnell Douglas, they started to reject them. “Organizing” by the workers making the Dreamliner B-787 annoyed the new company. The comapny outwitted teh organizers by shifting the factory to another city with no union allowed. Most of the workers said they would not fly on the B-787 they were making in the new factory. Except for one worker that is, but he qualified that by saying he had a bit of a death wish. Cannabis is available and smoked in the lunchtime.

      Organizing of workers in New Zealand into collective protective agreements has been prohibited in some recent decades. The rich/poor divide has tremendously increased and education is decreasing as it is much less paid for by the state. So we have to import educated people.

      People and animals have many abilities but they can be herded to focus only on what is useful to the herders.

      Those herders, the multinationals, may have hidden their potency vaguely, but it is becoming clear even in New Zealand, not just through what we now see on AlJazeera TV and Youtube &c.

      Imperialism is operating through arms and killing. Iraq has been permanently disabled through the uranium dust from the bullets which burn as they travel to the target. But imperialism is also operating, as Perkins says, by the persuasion of countries to take large loans, as NZ has been, and then sell land and facilites to pay them back.

      • frankefoxton says:

        “Cannabis is available and smoked at lunchtime…”

        What exactly is being alluded to here? That an extensive menu includes some spliff for over-stressed and exhausted workers? That workers are dealing or don’t give a damn about safey? Is this Al Jazeera’s perception or yours? Please elaborate.

        For more commentary on NZ’s workplace drug testing of workers and the related social and political impact check out: dynamoucr.wordpress.com

        Frank E Foxton

  6. soundhill1 says:

    @frankefoxton. A good study of a scenario in which workers were denied the right to organise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=rvkEpstd9os