Edward Snowden and Turnkey Tyranny

Edward Snowden

W.J. Astore

Edward Snowden recently talked to Joe Rogan for nearly three hours.  Snowden has a book out (“Permanent Record“) about his life and his decision to become a whistleblower who exposed lies and crimes by the U.S. national security state.  As I watched Snowden’s interview, I jotted down notes and thoughts I had.  (The interview itself has more than seven million views on YouTube and rising, which is great to see.)  The term in my title, “turnkey tyranny,” is taken from the interview.

My intent here is not to summarize Snowden’s entire interview.  I want to focus on some points he made that I found especially revealing, pertinent, and insightful.

Without further ado, here are 12 points I took from this interview:

1.  People who reach the highest levels of government do so by being risk-averse.  Their goal is never to screw-up in a major way.  This mentality breeds cautiousness, mediocrity, and buck-passing.  (I saw the same in my 20 years in the U.S. military.)

2.  The American people are no longer partners of government.  We are subjects.  Our rights are routinely violated even as we become accustomed (or largely oblivious) to a form of turnkey tyranny.

3.  Intelligence agencies in the U.S. used 9/11 to enlarge their power.  They argued that 9/11 happened because there were “too many restrictions” on them.  This led to the PATRIOT Act and unconstitutional global mass surveillance, disguised as the price of being kept “safe” from terrorism.  Simultaneously, America’s 17 intelligence agencies wanted most of all not to be blamed for 9/11.  They wanted to ensure the buck stopped nowhere.  This was a goal they achieved.

4.  Every persuasive lie has a kernel of truth.  Terrorism does exist — that’s the kernel of truth.  Illegal mass surveillance, facilitated by nearly unlimited government power, in the cause of “keeping us safe” is the persuasive lie.

5.  The government uses classification (“Top Secret” and so on) primarily to hide things from the American people, who have no “need to know” in the view of government officials.  Secrecy becomes a cloak for illegality.  Government becomes unaccountable; the people don’t know, therefore we are powerless to rein in government excesses or to prosecute for abuses of power.

6.  Fear is the mind-killer (my expression here, quoting Frank Herbert’s Dune).  Snowden spoke much about the use of fear by the government, using expressions like “they’ll be blood on your hands” and “think of the children.”  Fear is the way to cloud people’s minds.  As Snowden put it, you lose the ability to act because you are afraid.

7.  What is true patriotism?  For Snowden, it’s about a constant effort to do good for the people.  It’s not loyalty to government.  Loyalty, Snowden notes, is only good in the service of something good.

8.  National security and public safety are not synonymous.  In fact, in the name of national security, our rights are being violated.  We are “sweeping up the broken glass of our lost rights” in today’s world of global mass surveillance, Snowden noted.

9.    We live naked before power.  Companies like Facebook and Google, together with the U.S. government, know everything about us; we know little about them.  It’s supposed to be the reverse (at least in a democracy).

10.  “The system is built on lies.”  James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, lies under oath before Congress.  And there are no consequences.  He goes unpunished.

11.  We own less and less of our own data.  Data increasingly belongs to corporations and the government.  It’s become a commodity.  Which means we are the commodity.  We are being exploited and manipulated, we are being sold, and it’s all legal, because the powerful make the policies and the laws, and they are unaccountable to the people.

12.  Don’t wait for a hero to save you.  What matters is heroic decisions.  You are never more than one decision away from making the world a better place.

In 2013, Edward Snowden made a heroic decision to reveal illegal mass surveillance by the U.S. government, among other governmental crimes.  He has made the world a better place, but as he himself knows, the fight has only just begun against turnkey tyranny.

17 thoughts on “Edward Snowden and Turnkey Tyranny

  1. This young man (Mr. Snowden) is very sharp, indeed. Since I won’t be taking the time to watch the interview, I can’t “accuse” Snowden or Mr. Astore of “neglecting” any points. But let’s remember the following: 1.) government and mainstream media now jointly constitute the Ministry of Truth, though there are occasional internecine squabbles; 2.) yes, there really are terrorists afoot in the world. And the CIA admitted that they set Osama bin Laden up in the terrorism business in Afghanistan to attack the Soviet Army. Then bin Laden’s alleged presence in Afghanistan post-9/11 opened the way for the quagmire the US is still foundering in, and then the madness moved on to various targets for regime change; 3.) those who hanker to return us to “the good old days” of 18th Century political philosophy (“the Founding Fathers”! “interpret the Constitution strictly!” “the invisible hand of the market!”) are those who are most likely to conveniently overlook ideas like “the Tree of Liberty needs to be watered with the blood of tyrants from time to time” and the right claimed in 1776 to rise up against insufferable abuses. We are currently saddled with a POTUS who deludes himself into believing he truly is, personally, above the Constitution. The length of time it took Members of the House to start to move to actually try to remedy this problem is not encouraging for the future of this republic (never a “democracy”!).

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  2. Interestingly, when the death of al-Baghdadi was announced my first reaction was, “Show me the body.” I was unsurprised to earn that he was blown up in a tunnel and that his body could not be recovered. Convenient. We continue cutting heads off of snakes. They either regrow new heads or we find out the heads were not cut off after all. And, as the saying goes, the beat goes on.

    Remember that al-Baghdadi was, himself, a replacement for a leader killed by the US.


    1. In fact, the supposed (because in today’s world, truth is increasingly difficult to ascertain) flag of “al-Qaeda” featured a hydra-like seven-headed snake! “ISIS,” “ISIL,” “Daesh,” “The Caliphate,” “The Taliban.” Various names pinned on shadowy non-state actors, sponsored by who the heck knows?!? Reportedly, the Russians “thought” they’d killed this guy a couple of years ago, and US Special Forces supposedly “thought” they’d done so prior to this. Visual proof? Reportedly (that word again!), the US plans to make public video and stills of the raid. But that stuff can be faked in this day and age. Was this operation timed for a specific purpose (reportedly, the guy’s suspected location was on US radar for five months)? It certainly should NOT be allowed to serve as reason to delay the impeachment initial inquiry, not for one damned minute!


    2. Sorry, Bill Heffner, I lost count on how many times al-Baghdadi was killed. (Like my count on how many “Hitler”‘s Billary has discovered!)
      As an old advertising whore, I do admit I like the fake CIA name: that US is YET to steal a drop of oil out of Iraq, after our tragic losses of Honest American troops & waste of US taxpayer’s money, this is all probably a Booz Allen Hamilton invention: Edward Snowden’s last employer.
      I won’t bore readers AGAIN with the BAH I knew: covering up & blackmailing client’s sexual scandals, etc. Later on, they had a “market research” division. “Researching” such important subjects as what new colour to introduce to M&M’s.
      Bruno Sacco, head designer for Mercedes Benz called them to task many years ago: he wondered how drivers of expensive sedans & sports cars would react if he introduced a station wagon to the line. He only wanted to know how many kids & pets they took on vacation, and, how owners of expensive cars would react to a ‘bourgeois’ model, with the same fancy name. He got back 35+ pages of rubbish: “Stepford Wives” advice on blues taken in supermarkets, etc. Furious, he screamed at a board meeting: “We’re not insulting our prime clients! My main concern! They couldn’t care less! They have 1.3 children, 1.1 pets. Now I can get to work!”. Indeed it was a success.
      So when I read Edward Snowden worked for this dreadful firm, today it’s a MIC firm. He probably didn’t know it, until he got wise to their corruption. I gave you the old view, Snowden opened my eyes. HE’S A HERO IN MY BOOK!


  3. Edward Snowden did indeed act heroically – in the traditional/historical sense of the term: he stepped up and revealed a terrible truth, one that never should have existed, despite there being no personal upside to his action. No one ever knows what someone else truly thinks, but it’s hard to image there was any calculated, “what’s in it for me?” beforehand. He did a great service for his country.

    But here’s the problem: he neither looks nor sounds like an American hero is supposed to look and sound in this year of grace.
    And this bit of idiocy: “He didn’t have the guts to stick around and face the music for what he did.”
    Finally: “He’s in Russia.”
    All of which adds up to zero credibility and eternal pariah status.

    To my knowledge, Edward Snowden hasn’t killed anyone, hasn’t quarterbacked a Super Bowl winner, hasn’t hit a majestic, game-winning home run in the 7th game of the World Series, hasn’t survived any usually fatal illness, wasn’t caught on someone’s cell phone being in “the right place at the right time,” and wasn’t even reunited with the love of his life in the end. He hasn’t done any of the countless things Americans & the American media have come to consider “heroic.”
    Finally, there’s no “feel good” ending here, and no star turn for Brad or Leo or even Tom Cruise to turn into next year’s blockbuster action flick.

    Edward Snowden, a patriot and hero in the truest sense, did what needed to be done, what no one else was or has since been willing to do, something for the greater good, at great personal cost. His only crime was not being Brad or Leo or even Tom Cruise when he did it.

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    1. We have to have enemies — and they must be hyped. How else to justify a “defense” budget of nearly a trillion dollars a year?

      Snowden pointed out how mass surveillance was being directed against Americans — how we’ve become the “enemy” too, or at least a potential one. And for that he became a pariah. Meanwhile, the mandarins of the national security state — the retired generals, admirals, CIA directors, and the like — continue to be celebrated, embraced, and rewarded.

      When honest history is written, principled people like Snowden and Manning will be celebrated.


    2. Mr. Snowden is level-headed enough to have fully understood the consequences that would flow from his choice to do the morally right thing. I firmly believe there are a lot worse plights than to live in exile in Russia!


    3. FYI Butsudanbill: Snowden’s got an American who also escaped to Russia – John Mark Dougan. He’s an exCop from Palm Beach, FL. Never on the Epstein case, his buddy was, and somehow died at a healthy 53yo. His sickly, widowed Father was interviewed on RTDocumentary. “OK son, it’s your funeral.” John videoed PB police beating up minorities and paid off politicians protecting favourite drug dealers, jailing others. He escaped via Canada, and seems to enjoy Moscow, but misses his kids & family. His brother says it best: “He was always that way, helping the little guy. I wouldn’t have done it, but I’m not him. Just want a beer with him!”
      Seems like Russia is now attracting the BEST of Americans, not the worst like the Clinton/Yeltsin/Browder generation…..


      1. It’s easy to see why he’s become – to dip once more into the Cold War phrase book – An Enemy of the State: he’s composed, well-spoken, well-informed, and has the courage of his convictions. There’s not an ounce of Trump or Giuliani in the man.
        Having watched the interview, I’ve ordered his book.

        A Closing Thought: Russia can give him the bum’s rush whenever the notion strikes. Talk about a quid pro quo: if you were in the Big Chair in the Kremlin, what might you want in return for handing over one E. Snowden in time for next year’s election?


        1. re: your “Closing Thought”–If I was Putin, and I wished to seek a favor from the US, such as damping its aggressive placement of missile batteries in eastern Europe, I would wait until a mentally stable individual was in the White House before making an approach! Putin is no fool!


          1. To Butsudanbill & Greglaxer: I’m no Prophet, but I’d guess neither Snowden or Dougan fear such a betrayal from Russia. The world is changing rapidly; only the West’s stuck in the past politicians don’t “get” it. What you describe is inconceivable to a Putin, or whoever follows him in the future. They don’t care about Western elections! They care about territorial integrity, world peace*, and stopping Western plunder of their natural resources.
            *No Nation suffered from war as badly as Russia during WW2, yet they survived. Communism fell mainly because of the leader’s OWN corruption, but even the 6G$ suited Putin kept their health system intact. OK, pensions robbed by Oligarch’s & Yeltsin buddies, (Clinton, Browder, etc.) but it’s all restored! Russians will Never! be Western consumers of goods. They like good drink, food, laughs.
            Snowden is in Russia on a fluke: his US Passport was cancelled in flight, so he landed in Moscow & got off. Russia offered him asylum. What’s wrong with that? How many bloody Dictators does UK, US, and EU protect and house?


  4. I caught the podcast with Joe Rogan. Lots to ponder there but some frustrations as well. It was a conversation, not a slick, composed presentation.

    The point that most got my attention is summarized in no. 9 above, which notes the inversion of the public-facing government as distinguished from the private individual. Now it’s government and corporate secrecy while citizens are exposed to ever greater intrusion, surveillance, and data collection. With that sea change, the liberal democratic underpinnings of self-governance are effectively nullified. Instead, we’re being ruled. So far, the citizenry is distracted with baubles and placated with entertainments. How long that lasts is a good guess.


  5. With Max Blumenthal of Grayzone recently arrested and jailed on trumped up charges related to the ongoing U.S. attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government, it looks like time again for another rendition of:

    Star Chamber, Incorporated

    [first a bit of relevant history from Wikipedia]:

    The Star Chamber was originally established to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against socially and politically prominent people so powerful that ordinary courts would probably hesitate to convict them of their crimes. However, it became synonymous with social and political oppression through the arbitrary use and abuse of the power it wielded.

    Anyway, the poem:

    Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning
    Jailed as twin examples for the proles:
    “Look what happens if you publish secrets:
    More totalitarian controls.”

    In Chinese: “Kill the Chicken scare the Monkey.”
    Rat-out your colleagues. Do not Power tempt.
    Or otherwise the judges and grand juries
    Will hold you in what lawyers call “contempt.”

    A strange word-choice, indeed, by Power’s minions
    Who spend careers perfecting rank abuse.
    For them I’d have to feel respect much greater
    Before that is the word that I would use.

    I’ve nothing good to say for prosecutors.
    Some say I wish to “damn them with faint praise.”
    But I reply: “You praise with faint damnation.
    So which of us has coined the the better phrase?”

    Despicable, the treatment of these heroes.
    The US and UK have sunk so low.
    Still, Julian and Chelsea have together
    More balls than these two governments can grow.

    No matter, they have passed into the ages.
    Already they have earned a fair renown.
    Each day they live defiant, undefeated,
    They rise as jailers try to put them down.

    As JFK once said of his elite class:
    “The ship of state leaks mainly from the top.”
    But if some lowly, powerless, poor person
    Tries that, they’ll feel the lash. No truth. Now stop!

    To scare a monkey, kill another monkey.
    If not, the monkeys learn impunity.
    While eating KFC they ask, obtusely:
    “What has a chicken got to do with me?”

    And so the Corporation-State must silence
    Reports of its incompetence and crime.
    If citizens knew what it did they’d order
    Its dissolution. Now. And just in time.

    Historically, they called it the Star Chamber
    A secret court designed to thwart the king.
    But power then perverted it to serve him.
    Grand juries in the US, same damn thing.

    They now indict ham sandwiches routinely
    With no protection for the innocents.
    Presumed as guilty, evidence not needed.
    Conviction guaranteed. No court repents.

    A judge may do whatever he determines
    He can. So levy fines. Coerce. Demand
    On penalty of prison, testimony
    Against oneself, alone upon the stand.

    “Democracy” is just a euphemism
    If citizens allow this to proceed.
    Orwellian: first Hate then Fear of Goldstein.
    Two Minutes, daily. Really, all you need.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2019


    1. My favorite Austalian rogue journalist and poet does it again. See: Mainstream Journalists Who Refuse To Defend Dissident Journalists Are Worshippers Of Power, Caitlin Johnstone, caitlinjohnstone.com (October 31, 2019)

      Ms Johnstone concludes:

      “This is where the silence comes from. It isn’t that those who work in mainstream news media lack an understanding that at some point power structures may shift and you’ll want to report facts that are inconvenient for the powerful without fear of imprisonment; these people all watched Donald Trump get elected. They already know that things can take a very dark turn in the future for where power is located, and they’ve already decided they don’t care and will always side with the powerful going forward. If the election of Donald Trump wasn’t enough to show these people that it’s a good idea to make sure the press can continue to hold power to account in the future, then nothing will. They’re not ignorant, they’re subservient. They’ve made a lifelong commitment to continue to worship at the altar of power, no matter what form that power takes.” [emphasis added]

      “If we were to re-write the “First they came” poem to describe the current war on dissident journalism we’re seeing in 2019, it would go more like this:

      First they came for Assange, and I did not speak out,
      Because I was a mainstream western journalist with no intention of ever usetting the powerful.

      Then they came for Blumenthal, and I did not speak out,
      Because I was a mainstream western journalist with no intention of ever upsetting the powerful.

      Then they came for all the other dissident journalists, and I did not speak out,
      Because I will never be a dissident journalist.

      They never came for me,
      Because I have chosen to serve power.


      1. Speaking further of “freedom’s fortitude” in the diaper-soiling, bed-wetting U.S., (in Dante’s terza rima stanza format):

        Worshipping the Whip

        “Abhorrent adoration,” that’s the term:
        An oxymoron crafted to describe
        “Resistance” with the backbone of a worm

        Or, “Democrats,” the other right-wing tribe,
        Those now attacking Fascists from the right
        Who call them “Leftists” anyway, a jibe

        Full of contempt for those who will not fight
        For anything but table scraps and trash
        Who kneel for every lobbyist in sight

        Who shun the take-off but embrace the crash
        Providing cover for the donor class
        Who for a quid-pro-quo supply the stash

        The Slogan of The Owners, crude and crass:
        “You buy the Elephant and rent the Ass.”

        A contradiction joining hate and love
        Like Stockholm Syndrome, victims of abuse
        Become enablers of the one above

        Whom they profess to find lewd and obtuse
        While, in reality, they bow and scrape
        Excusing conduct lecherous and loose

        “Forgiving” rich men like the Orange Ape
        In hopes that he might “trickle down” to them
        Some funding for their Culture War escape

        So they can blame the poor, a strategem
        Republicans have long perfected which
        Permits the trust-fund wealthy to condemn

        As “unsuccessful” those below their niche
        Who live in tents beside the drainage ditch

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018


      2. Mike: this is aggravated by the fact that jobs in the MSM are disappearing. So, if you have a good-paying job, you better not risk it by being outspoken, since there are plenty of people waiting to take your job. And why not? You can make a lot of money being a talking (and unthinking) head.


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