Five Points of Orientation
On the Revelations of Government Surveillance

June 17, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


On June 5, an article by Glenn Greenwald in the British newspaper the Guardian revealed that the FBI and the National Security Agency (NSA) used the PATRIOT Act to obtain a secret warrant ordering Verizon—one of the nation's largest phone networks—to turn over data on every single call that went through its system.

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That was the tip of an iceberg. As new exposures came to light, the New York Times wrote: "There is every reason to believe the federal government has been collecting every bit of information about every American's phone calls except the words actually exchanged in those calls." As we post this, new revelations are coming to light. Leaked NSA documents state that data is collected "directly from the servers of these U.S. service providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple." Articles in the Guardian and the Washington Post have exposed that this includes people's search history as well as the content of emails, file transfers, and live chats.

And the Guardian reports that a hundred billion pieces of intelligence were collected from U.S. computer networks in one 30-day period ending in March this year from people in other countries around the world, and outrage is erupting in Europe and elsewhere.

The government has been straight-up lying about all this. On March 12, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, was asked at a Congressional hearing if the National Security Agency collects "any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans." His answer: "No sir." Then he added: "Not wittingly."

The exposures are based on revelations by Edward Snowden—a former CIA contractor who courageously came forward to blow the whistle on crimes committed by the U.S. government. He told Glenn Greenwald, "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in."

This developing scandal comes on the heels of recent exposures of persecution of government whistle-blowers and reporters. The U.S. government is viciously persecuting Bradley Manning for exposing U.S. war crimes. Obama is upholding his right to kill anyone anywhere on his say-so (supposedly mediated by assurances that this is OK because he's Barack Obama, not George W. Bush). The U.S. is torturing and force-feeding illegally detained men at Guantánamo. And there is a looming hunger strike against psychologically devastating long-term solitary confinement in California prisons.

The situation continues to unfold rapidly. Look to for ongoing coverage and analysis. Here we present…

Five Basic Points of Orientation
On the Revelations of Government Surveillance

1. As the scope of government surveillance is dragged into the light, those in power, starting with President Barack Obama, claim all this is to "help us prevent terrorist attacks." And Obama characterized the surveillance as "modest encroachments."

No. This is massive surveillance of all manner of activities of billions of people around the world. And it is driven not by concerns for the safety of Americans, much less anyone else.

The fundamental framework for understanding the scope and intensity of all this surveillance is concentrated in this statement by Bob Avakian:

"The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism."
BAsics 1:3

This capitalist-imperialist system enslaves workers in its sweatshops in Bangladesh and its oil fields of Saudi Arabia. It has created a planet of slums and environmental devastation, its morality and culture have produced an epidemic of rape. And this system wages constant wars around the world against threats from rivals or smaller-scale reactionary forces, and brings down violent repression against legitimate protest and opposition to its crimes. That is why this state sees the vast majority of people on the planet—billions and billions of people—as potential threats, and maintains such intense and broad surveillance. And that is why the state apparatus—the dictatorship of the capitalist-imperialist class (the bourgeoisie)—does what it does to people.

All this surveillance is not just about monitoring everyone's thoughts and actions (horrific as that is), it is about CONTROLLING everyone's activity, communications, and thinking. It is about being able to bring the full power of the state down on them at a moment's notice. This system kills people—even U.S. citizens—simply on the president's say-so. It has "rendered" people to secret "black sites" around the world for horrific torture (and Obama has steadfastly refused to expose or prosecute those torturers and those who gave the orders). This is a system that locks up more of its population than any nation on earth—by a long shot.

For all their talk about democracy and rights, what has been revealed so far is activity that shreds basic rights supposedly guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution: The Fourth Amendment, which supposedly prohibits unreasonable or warrantless searches of people, property, and documents; and the First Amendment, which claims to guarantee freedom of speech and the press, and the right to protest—just for starters. As for promises in the Constitution that "No person… be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law"—that too is totally out the fucking window. So all this surveillance is not only immoral and illegitimate, it is unlawful to boot. The fact that there are so few in Congress who even intend to make a show of objecting to all this, and so many who have vented "righteous indignation" in attacking those who have made the leaks, further reveals that virtually everyone at the top levels of government actually takes for granted that this society really is—beneath all the promises of democracy for all—a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over everyone else.

2. Throughout society, the question being posed around Edward Snowden is "hero or traitor?" Powerful figures in the ruling class, like Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the national intelligence committee, called Snowden's revelations "an act of treason." Such threats are ominous and must be opposed. But by any objective measure, and from the perspective of a morality that values lives and freedom, the facts speak for themselves:

Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the famous "Pentagon Papers," wrote in the Guardian: "In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material—and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago" [when Ellsberg risked life in prison to leak documents that exposed U.S. government lies about the Vietnam War].

Snowden worked in the U.S. intelligence world for almost a decade and knows the risks he is taking. He told Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, "Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me." But he said, "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

Snowden told Greenwald he had "a very comfortable life" but "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."

And he acted now because "You can't wait around for someone else to act."

3. Exposing great crimes is no crime! And now people need to demand that no charges be brought against Edward Snowden. There is a need for people to not let individuals like Snowden and Bradley Manning bear the brunt of this all alone, but rather to speak out, to protest, to resist what is unlawful and illegitimate authority.

Where people do protest, they should be supported; and those protests—not only against this, but against Guantánamo, torture, indefinite detention without trial, and the whole program of torture, outlined in the World Can't Wait ad, "Close Guantánamo Now." That ad is a very good place for people to speak out, sending this ad to everyone you can reach. But more needs to be done!

4. The forces of repression are powerful, but they are not all powerful. Yes they have massive repressive technology, but their power ultimately depends on people.

People like Bradley Manning, people like Edward Snowden—people who start out believing that America is trying to do good all over the world, and then find out the truth. This is an Achilles' heel of this system. In the '60s, the fact that thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and finally millions stood up against the Vietnam War (in which the U.S. killed between two million and four million Vietnamese people, according to the then Secretary of Defense) and said that THIS IS WRONG and condemned that war as immoral and as having utterly NO justification, had an impact on those who were charged with carrying out that criminal war. And many of those people felt compelled and able to refuse to carry out or be complicit in war crimes, even at great personal risk and sacrifice. And as time went on, all this impeded the ability of the government to continue that criminal policy and carry out those crimes.

5. There is another way society can be organized. The new synthesis of communism, brought forward by Bob Avakian, is a basis for a society that is moving to end all forms of oppression thoughout the world, and in that context not just allowing but protecting and promoting dissent.

This is brought to life in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), from the RCP (CNSRNA).

The Preamble to that Constitution explains:

"In contrast to the way in which the capitalist-imperialist state serves and enforces the interests of a small ruling group of exploiters, the New Socialist Republic in North America, with the continuing leadership of the Revolutionary Communist Party, bases itself on, and proceeds from, the fundamental interests of those most bitterly exploited and oppressed under the old system, and the masses of people broadly, and provides the means for them to play an increasingly widening role in the exercise of political power and the functioning of society in accordance with those interests–in order to carry forward the struggle to transform society, with the goal of uprooting and finally eliminating all oppressive and exploitative relations among human beings and the destructive antagonistic conflicts to which these relations give rise."

Read the whole document at

In that light, Article III of the CNSRNA, "Rights of the People and the Struggle to Uproot All Exploitation and Oppression" incorporates far greater rights for people than the U.S. Constitution, which represented a system that had at its foundation exploitation and oppression, including slavery and genocide of the Native peoples.

In keeping with the mission of the emancipation of all humanity, the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America says: "[T]he orientation of the government, and that promoted in society overall, must be to not only allow but to value dissent, as well as political, philosophical and in general intellectual and cultural ferment and diversity, and to promote and foster an atmosphere in which all this can flourish. This shall find expression and be embodied in government policy and action, as well as in the law, including that part of law and policy specifically intended to protect the legal and civil rights and liberties of the people in this Republic." And it goes on to flesh out specific rules for ensuring this.

This system is compelled by its nature to trample the rights it proclaims as it enforces misery and exploitation and a million crimes flowing from that. It has done so from the time it was founded through the genocide of the Native Americans and slavery (both sanctified in its Constitution), and it continues to do so with a vengeance around the world today.

As the workings of this system draw millions into questioning and resistance, and in the context of struggling side-by-side with all who refuse to accept this, there is a moment and a challenge to pose the REAL alternative to all this as concentrated in the CNSRNA.


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