Last week in Washington, Congressional investigators discovered that the America’s foreign intelligence surveillance court, a body set up specifically to oversee the NSA, had itself been defied by the agency “thousands of times”. It was victim to “a culture of misinformation” as orders to destroy intercepts, emails and files were simply disregarded; an intelligence community that seems neither intelligent nor a community commanding a global empire that could suborn the world’s largest corporations, draw up targets for drone assassination, blackmail US Muslims into becoming spies and haul passengers off planes.
Yet like all empires, this one has bred its own antibodies. The American (or Anglo-American?) surveillance industry has grown so big by exploiting laws to combat terrorism that it is as impossible to manage internally as it is to control externally. It cannot sustain its own security. Some two million people were reported to have had access to the WikiLeaks material disseminated by Bradley Manning from his Baghdad cell. Snowden himself was a mere employee of a subcontractor to the NSA, yet had full access to its data. The thousands, millions, billions of messages now being devoured daily by US data storage centres may be beyond the dreams of Space Odyssey’s HAL 9000. But even HAL proved vulnerable to human morality. Manning and Snowden cannot have been the only US officials to have pondered blowing a whistle on data abuse. There must be hundreds more waiting in the wings – and always will be.
If we don’t watch the watchmen, no one else will.