Nobel Prize: The Surveillance Fight Remains Ahead of Us

This morning, the Nobel Prize awarded the Peace Price to Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

In a piece published earlier this morning at Salon, I pointed out that so long as countries like Norway participate in the NSA’s dragnet, Edward Snowden will never get a Nobel Prize.

No European country but Russia has offered Snowden asylum, so it’s unlikely the Norwegians will do something just as likely to piss off the U.S. Numerous European countries, after all, play willing partners in America’s global dragnet. Europe — including Norway — are the spies Snowden warned us against.

But I also made a more important point.

Like Obama — who got a Nobel Prize well before he had delivered on his promises — the world community has not yet really acted on Edward Snowden’s invitation to reform.

Snowden has completed a courageous act, leaking a mother lode of documents revealing just how exposed we are to the NSA’s glare. He has continued to speak out, to the extent he is able from Russia.

But the response remains very much in flux. Across the world, it’s quite possible Snowden’s leaks provide more repressive government the excuse to crack down. Certainly America’s Five Eyes spying partners (in addition to the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada) are doing so: all but Canada have passed or are passing expansive laws legalizing still more surveillance. Citizens — in Five Eyes countries and outside — have not yet seized the opportunity created by Snowden to roll back the dragnet. Even in the U.S., the only reform on offer, Patrick Leahy’s USA Freedom Act, worsens some aspects of spying while achieving the important goal of removing all Americans’ phone records from the government.

Snowden did a courageous thing by leaking the NSA’s secrets, and continues to engage, as possible, in constructive fashion. If the world responded well to those disclosures, it might lead to a more just world, one much safer for dissent and human relationships. But we — the rest of the world — have not yet delivered on that promise yet, and may not. So a prize for Snowden — no matter how important his actions — may yet reward the merehope of change, not real progress towards it.

The world’s relative inaction in response to Snowden’s warnings does not at all detract from Snowden’s courage. But it does mean it is far too early to conclude that we’ve used this opportunity Snowden gave us to reverse a dangerous dragnet.

19 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the prize should be awarded to “the person who [during the previous year] shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
    So it’s all been BS, especially given Obama and Kissinger, because peace is never a goal of the PTB. It’s like anybody that advocates peace is a wuss. It’s war that brings us to our highest level, the thinking apparently goes. So we honor our veterans, who ‘keep us free,’ not our peace-makers,
    MLK could be the one exception, although he is never officially remembered for his anti-war positions but for his racial equality actions only. And even so he had to be killed, about the same time they got Bobby Kennedy.
    Sorry, ew, but Snowden has had nothing to do with peace either.

  2. orionATL says:

    there will be a response to snowden’s extraordinary revelations when and only when there is a national organization (definitely not aclu or eff, their good works are in courts) created to persistently focus attention on the lawlessness of policing agencies in the u.s. a part of which involves, at all levels of government, massive unfettered electronic spying.

  3. please says:

    @Don Bacon – really, you don’t think Snowden’s revelations have serious implications on how we govern ourselves and potentially involve ourselves in future conflict? Is not the muted response by nations a direct a reflection of political, economic, and military power that is being wielded?

    Admittedly in one sense you are right. There has been barely a response, but that’s hardly Snowden’s failure. In fact, the very act of responding would require summoning fraternity between nations. They would have to by necessity band together to accomplish that.

    It is precisely because there isn’t “peace” that Russia is the only nation where Snowden can currently reside. Do you see what I’m pointing at?

  4. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    Snowden’s impact is that he scared the shit out of people — those people being the authoritarians in the Five Eyes countries who believed they would never be exposed. In response, they’ve gone into overdrive hyping bullshit threats and enacting draconian legislation to “legalize” their crimes. I feel for Snowden once he realizes (if he doesn’t already) that his brave truthtelling only accelerated the creeping totalitarianism.

    • chronicle says:

      The day the Nobel “peace prize” actually brings peace to this planet is the day I’ll bend over backwards and kiss my own ass.

      • Don Bacon says:

        The day the Nobel “peace prize” actually brings peace ..
        The Peace Prize is intended to reward work toward peace, not bring peace.
        According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the prize should be awarded to “the person who [during the previous year] shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”

        • chronicle says:

          quote”The Peace Prize is intended to reward work toward peace, not bring peace.”unquote

          LOL. Considering they awarded one to O’bombardier I’ll file that under Great Moments in Absurdity.

  5. Ben Franklin says:

    Would Congress be looking at surveillance like a virgin at a sacrifice if Snowden hadn’t performed his public service? I don’t think so. Isn’t war sometimes necessary before Peace can prevail? If Obama qualified for the Prize, what’s all this crap about Snowden’s actions having no connection to peace?

    • liberalrob says:

      what’s all this crap about Snowden’s actions having no connection to peace?

      I think the comment was more intended to point out that Snowden’s revelations and the response to them weren’t about “peace;” they were about the radical expansion of the surveillance activities of the United States and its allies. Snowden’s intent was not to end the use of force as a component of foreign policy. It was to send a warning.

      Also, I’m not so sure the overseas response has been insignificant. Of course we don’t get to hear much about it in this country, but I know Germany has had a rather strong response. Ultimately it will all come down to whether the rest of the world is comfortable under American hegemony, with all the surveillance and subterfuge that goes along with that, or whether they unite against it. America itself is split between those who think the increased surveillance is horrific and those who think it’s just dandy; and the latter group are the ones in charge of the country. We won’t be cleaning our own house anytime soon.

    • Don Bacon says:

      If Obama qualified for the Prize…
      But he didn’t qualify, obviously. It shouldn’t even be a question. According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the prize should be awarded to “the person who [during the previous year] shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
      That was Barack Obama in 2009. The nomination of Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace prize was filed no later than January 31, 2009 (regulatory deadline), twelve days after Obama took office in the White House. On September 29, Thorbjørn Jagland was elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe following a behind-the-scenes agreement between Washington and Moscow. Thorbjørn Jagland also served as chairman of the committee that chooses the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

      • Ben Franklin says:

        Well I guess it’s like a huge ego writing it’s autobiography before middle-age.

        There’s not been time to assess. The Nobel committee obviously wants to shoot blanks or experience coitus interruptus or premature ejaculation. Sounds like more political bullshit to augment their status.

  6. please says:

    To really grasp at the scope of it all, requires a much more distant perspective on what exactly the internet is. Right now most people understand it as an infrastructure – a series of tubes – if you will. Yet in long term, the internet is much, much more than that. Once you take that idea and piece it together with the revelations we’ve had recently, its hard not to be floored by the implications and the scope of the ambitions at play.

    This absolutely has everything to do with the kind of peace we will enjoy in the future.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    Alfred Nobel was a Swede who invented and manufactured dynamite and other explosives. Why did he bequeath us the Nobel Peace Prize?

    …The most plausible assumption is that a bizarre incident in 1888 may have triggered the train of reflection that culminated in his bequest for the Nobel Prizes. That year Alfred’s brother Ludvig had died while staying in Cannes, France. The French newspapers reported Ludvig’s death but confused him with Alfred, and one paper sported the headline “Le marchand de la mort est mort” (“The merchant of death is dead.”) Perhaps Alfred Nobel established the prizes to avoid precisely the sort of posthumous reputation suggested by this premature obituary. It is certain that the actual awards he instituted reflect his lifelong interest in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology, and literature. There is also abundant evidence that his friendship with the prominent Austrian pacifist Bertha von Suttner inspired him to establish the prize for peace.

  8. Ben Franklin says:

    “shall have done the most or the best work”

    I understand your overarching point, Don. My point is that politics have infected every sector. Can’t there be honest brokers anymore?

  9. J M Ward says:

    In Obama’s case, the Prize is a travesty. Which makes me wonder – can a Nobel Peace Prize be withdrawn after the fact? Even better, could the Committee ask for their money back?

  10. chronicle says:

    Meanwhile..on a side note, I just received an email from RootsAction, in regards to it’s petition to the DOJ to back off James Risen, noting it stunned the DOJ by virtue of over 100k signatures, mine included. However, they also acknowledged emptywheels contribution too…

    quote:”The Nation has just published a groundbreaking story, “The Government War Against Reporter James Risen,” with an apt subtitle — “The vendetta against him and whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling reflects an antidemocratic goal: the uninformed consent of the governed.”

    The piece was written by RootsAction co-founder Norman Solomon and investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler.” unquote

    Fantastic. You are simply amazing emptywheel. Funny too.

  11. Don Bacon says:

    P.J. O’Rourke
    Up To A Point: What We Really Need Is a Nobel War Prize

    Sure, Malala is totally worthy. But most of them haven’t been, because peace is elusive. War, however, is clarifying.

    At least this year’s Nobel Peace Prize wasn’t a howler like the 1973 award to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho for making love, not war in Vietnam. Or the 1919 award to Woodrow Wilson for chopping Central Europe into an angry hash, helping put the “vs.” in theVersailles,Treaty and screwing the pooch on U.S. membership in the League of Nations.

    Then there was the 1978 Prize given to Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat and Menachem Begin for making sure everything was okey-dokey between the Arabs and the Jews. And the 1994 Prize to Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, and Shimon Peres for making double sure.

    In 2001 the United Nations and Kofi Annan got the NPP “for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.” And what a quiet, tidy planet it’s been since then.

    In 2002 it went to Jimmy Carter, presumably for his effort to end the Cold War by losing it. In 1990 the winner was Mikhail Gorbachev, who actually did what Carter had merely tried to do.

    The 2005 Prize was bestowed upon the International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief Mohamed ElBaradei, doubtless for their providing proof positive that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and thereby preventing the 2003 Iraq War.

    The European Union was the 2012 recipient thanks to its “advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe,” just in time for the coup in Kiev, Russian annexation of Crimea, and Ukrainian civil war.

    Medaling in 2007 were the International Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore. Al Gore? Yep, Al Gore. Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. Al Gore, however, sold his Current TV channel to Al Jazeera, which is funded by the royal family of famously carbon neutral Qatar.

    And what, exactly, do the International Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore have to do with peace? About as much as the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize presented to Barack Obama for showing up.

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