Wednesday, June 12, 2013

James Clyburn, Edward Snowden and the Surveillance State

At Black Agenda Report, we are giving full coverage to the Edward Snowden story. Glen Ford, Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Wilmer Leon and yours truly all have much to say in the issue that went online today. The Snowden case represents for me a very simple litmus test. If you believe in freedom from government oppression, if you believe the constitutional gives protection against unreasonable search and seizure and if you just believe that the government's evil doing must be revealed, then you support Snowden and act to defend him from the clutches of the surveillance state.

I was particularly interested in what Glen Ford had to say about Congressman James Clyburn's reaction to the revelation that the National Security Agency is spying on millions of people. Clyburn is a long serving member of the congressional black caucus and a person whose opinions carry some weight. He did the world a great service this week when he commented on Snowden and proved once and for all that the black misleadership class has nothing to offer and ought to be ignored.

“If one good thing has come out of Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House, it is that his rise has exposed the appalling backwardness of the Black Misleadership Class – a petty and puny-minded cohort whose worldview is so narrow, it can accommodate only one issue: the political fortunes of the First Black President. Nothing else matters to these incredibly parochial political midgets – not issues of war and peace, nor the precarious state of planetary ecology, not even the economic well-being of the masses of Black Americans. Certainly, not civil liberties. Only Obama.

Congressman James Clyburn is supposed to represent the interests of more than half a million South Carolinians, the majority of them Black. One might expect a Black congressman to have more than a passing interest in the Bill of Rights and protection of civil liberties. The revelation that Uncle Sam is building up a dossier on everyone with a telephone and a computer connection should be at least mildly upsetting to anyone that calls himself a Black leader. But Congressman Clyburn has but one priority: to protect the image and legacy of Barack Obama.”

What upsets Clyburn so much? He thinks that Snowden is out to embarrass Obama. After all, how could a guy with a GED get a security clearance?

Unlike Rep. Clyburn I decided to get a few facts about security clearances. I googled. I discovered that 4.9 million people have security clearances. If there are nearly 5 million people with this designation then it isn’t odd that a handful would have GEDs. Booz Allen, the contractor that employed Snowden, has 25,000 employees and 48% of them have security clearances. That is at least 11,000 people at just one firm. There are a variety of clearance levels, but obviously it is not the rarified state we thought it was.

Here we were thinking that the president, the CIA director and James Bond were the only people with security clearances and instead it turns out that every Tom, Dick and Harry has one. And yes, many of them aren’t even government employees.

But I digress in responding to this asinine argument.  No, a black person with only a GED probably couldn’t get a good gig like Snowden. Being a blond white man never hurt anyone.  But in this case I have to ask, so what?

Do the Clyburns of the world care at all about the information that Snowden revealed? We are all under constant surveillance and Snowden proved it. But Clyburn doesn’t care. He only cares about Obama looking bad and grasps at straws to keep the conversation away from the main point, which is that the president and the congress have authorized spying on a massive scale.

Yes, Snowden embarrassed Obama and I’m glad he did. He also embarrassed Clyburn and his colleagues too. Anytime a president, whether Bush or Obama, wants to go to war or spy on us all congress says yes without hesitation. That means Clyburn said yes too. Maybe that is why he has his nose so firmly out of joint.