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Tower of Babel moment awaits NSA

By Philip J Cunningham | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-04 07:31

The United States is at a key crossroads, trying to regain the trust of its citizens and friendly nations around the world even while it continues to lie and dissimulate in defense of the National Security Agency's overreach. The obsessive eavesdropping of the US security state shows no signs of abating, despite the dangers it poses to US civil liberties, the conduct of diplomacy and even issues of war and peace.

US snooping on the United Nations in 2003 helped finesse the "slam dunk" diplomatic moment for promoting an ill-conceived war in Iraq, and may now influence emerging policy on Syria. Americans have unwittingly supported this dysfunctional state of affairs with their tax dollars even while spending on health, education and infrastructure has withered and crumbled.

Billions of dollars are poured into snooping, billions more on excessive secrecy, though former NSA operative Edward Snowden's vast revelations gave the world a free peek into how the world's most awesome spy machine operates.

What's more, billions of honest business dollars are at risk, because of newfound doubts about cloud computing, and billions more are likely to be lost as the world market turns away from NSA-tainted US products and insecure communication systems.

What self-respecting government wants to rely on the products of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Yahoo, Apple or any other Silicon Valley behemoth which partners with the NSA, especially when it comes to sensitive and secure communication?

But the lost investment costs are just the tip of the iceberg. In the sharp glare of electronic snooping that makes civilian existence naked to an untold number of unknown others, whither trust, old-fashioned decency, personal privacy? Even Americans, famously dedicated to free expression, will reflexively start to self-censor and change their behavior, knowing that everything and anything communicated over the phone, the Internet, GPS or any chip-enabled device is at risk and could be used against them.

US diplomacy is also a victim of Internet hypocrisy. Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton tirelessly traveled the world singing praise of the Silicon Valley and "Internet freedom" even while her State Department took the lead in bugging the UN and EU offices in the US and abroad.

The Barack Obama administration is facing a crisis of trust. Obama made the straight-faced claim that NSA does not listen to American phone calls and has gone as far as to say, "we don't have a domestic spying program", echoing the documented untruth told by his National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who said under oath: "We don't wittingly collect information on millions of Americans."

Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor who has worked in government intelligence, has emerged as a mild-mannered spokesman for the rude security regime that an embattled Obama is desperately trying to keep under wraps.

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