A crowd of about 1,000 came to hear Glenn Greenwald in Los Angeles last Thursday, June 19, listening with rapt attention as Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, explained what the NSA is really doing with its “suspicion-less mass surveillance program.”
Greenwald broke the news that the NSA monitors the phone calls, e-mails, texts, and other electronic communications of millions of ordinary, innocent Americans, as well as world leaders (including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff), and economic competitors such as Brazil’s energy company Petrobras.
Speaking for almost eighty minutes without notes, Greenwald tackled this and other subjects before a standing-room-only crowd at Downtown L.A.’s Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. The sold-out event was presented by Haymarket Books as part of Greenwald’s ongoing international book tour for “No Place To Hide, Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State” (Metropolitan Books).
After being introduced by KPFK “Uprising” radio host Sonali Kolhatkar, Greenwald, in a black suit, blue tie and wireless headset microphone, took the stage amid a huge ovation. Speaking extemporaneously with a confident demeanor tinged by sarcasm, Greenwald told the crowd about his fateful meeting in Hong Kong slightly more than a year ago with “the person who I think is clearly one of the most important, if not the single most important source, in the history of American journalism, Edward Snowden.” At the mention of the NSA whistleblower’s name, the audience erupted into applause.
The former Guardian columnist, who now reports for First Look Media’s online publication, The Intercept, described his year of living intensely.
"And it’s also been very intense for the senior NSA official in the Obama Administration, James Clapper, who got caught red-handed lying to the American people through the U.S. Senate about what it was the NSA is doing," Greenwald said. "Lying," Greenwald added, "that is every bit as much of a felony as anything that Edward Snowden is accused of doing. Except unlike Edward Snowden, who is facing many decades in prison and multiple felony charges and forced to live in Moscow in order to not live the rest of his life in a cage, James Clapper—like every single other national security and corporate elite in the last decade who has committed egregious crimes—has faced no legal accountability of any kind.”
“It has definitely been an intense year for President Obama who has had to navigate the fallout of having been exposed for presiding over an extremely aggressive expansion of the very surveillance system he vowed repeatedly in 2007 and 2008 that he’d fundamentally rein in.” Greenwald said.
Since Snowden and his colleagues unveiled Snowden’s NSA leaks, “There has been a debate about… the enormous gap between the marketing and branding image that’s sold to the world about Barack Obama and the reality of what he really is and does.”
Greenwald went on to say: “It has also been a pretty intense year for lots of media outlets that have to actually account for their behavior over the last decade. . . . There has been a really important, and I think long-lasting, debate about the proper role of journalism and especially the proper role of a journalist vis-à-vis those who wield the greatest power.”
The corporate press’ “myths” include “that Edward Snowden is a Russian spy,” Greenwald noted. “While he was in Hong Kong . . . what was being said with the same authoritative tone: ‘It’s very obvious: Edward Snowden is a Chinese spy.’ When he ended up being trapped in Moscow, the very same people who’d said that, their accusations instantly morphed into, ‘Of course, he’s a Russian spy,' without any acknowledgement they’d been saying something profoundly different just weeks earlier."
"I’m positive if he was somehow able to escape Moscow tomorrow and make his way to Lima, the very same people would say: ‘It’s so obvious, all along he was a Peruvian spy,’ ” Greenwald said.
He also reminded Snowden accusers that the then-twenty-nine-year-old was stranded in Russia after the State Department revoked his passport as Snowden was en route to Cuba and Ecuador.
This character assassination includes the allegation that Snowden’s motive for leaking NSA classified information is due to his being “a narcissist”—although after initially coming forward Snowden turned down numerous interview requests from top media outlets, which, Greenwald quipped, is a strange way for someone craving attention to behave.
He also defended Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, whom he said had been smeared in the press for blowing the whistle.
Maligning dissidents as deviant or mentally ill is a technique repressive regimes use to marginalize dissenters, Greenwald said, the rationale being that only crazy people would resist the status quo, while normal, well-adjusted people support it. He added that those reporters who are professional flatterers of the powers-that-be can’t understand someone acting and taking risks due to “conscience” because they are cowards minus consciences.
Greenwald discussed “the revelations for the numerous populations around the world . . . who have learned for the first time, contrary to what they’ve been led to believe for many, many years by the U.S. government, that this sprawling, limitless system of surveillance is directed not at terrorists or national security threats but is instead indiscriminately directed at them.”
Greenwald, who broke Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s über-snooping in The Guardian last June, asserted that in addition to discussions about surveillance, the story “triggered . . . for the first time, globally, a very profound examination of what individual privacy means in the digital age and why it matters. There has been a serious debate about the dangers of vesting large governments with immense power that they can exercise in the dark with no transparency or real accountability.” He praised Snowden, saying that "through nothing more than an act of conscience, fearless commitment to his own values, he literally changed the world.”
Wrapping up, Greenwald denounced the "democratically unaccountable national security state and the massive corporations that are its partners." He exhorted his listeners not to succumb to "gloomy defeatism" or "learned helplessness that breeds passivity."
Comparing Snowden to Rosa Parks and the Tunisian street vendor who sparked the Arab Spring by immolating himself, Greenwald declared: “Any structure built by human beings, no matter how formidable or entrenched or powerful it might seem, can always be torn down and replaced by other human beings. . . . No matter who you are as an individual, you really do . . . have it within yourself the ability to change the world.”
Glenn Greenwald is scheduled to speak in New York on June 23 and Chicago on June 26.
L.A.-based writer Ed Rampell co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.” Rampell and co-author Luis Reyes will sign books at the Egyptian Theatre’s 10th Annual Tiki Night Sunday, June 28 at, 7:00 p.m., at 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028.