Edward Snowden

Greenwald and Chomsky Smack Down Surveillance State Talking Points

Tackling the attacks on Edward Snowden and the complicit media


Glenn Greenwald, left, and Noam Chomsky, discuss Greenwald's new book about Edward Snowden and NSA surveillance.
Credit; Matthew Robare

Fittingly for an event held in a church, journalist Glenn Greenwald spoke with an almost evangelical tone about the effects of working with Edward Snowden in revealing the extent and scale of the National Security Agency's (NSA) unconstitutional, illegal, and unaccountable mass surveillance program.

"Whatever else we think about Edward Snowden, when I met him he was 29, he came from a lower-middle-class family … he was as ordinary as it gets," Greenwald told the audience of around 500 in the Unitarian Universalist First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Thursday. "He was just an ordinary individual who managed to change the world. No matter who you are, we all have within us the ability to effect radical and fundamental change."

Greenwald was there to promote his new book, No Place to Hide, and he shared the stage with author and intellectual Noam Chomsky to discuss the issues raised by the documents Snowden provided.

"Almost every significant change was spurred by isolated individuals deciding to take a stand," Chomsky said, noting that the resistance to the Indonesian occupation of East Timor began in such a way. "It's not easy being attacked and killed."

They also discussed the American media's response to Snowden's revealing himself in Hong Kong last June.

"If you're somebody who enjoys bashing the American media … it comes as no surprise that the American media disseminates wildly inaccurate stories," Greenwald said. "It has been a truly remarkable experience to watch people in public life … spout all sorts of falsehoods."

He said he has dismissed the idea of media outlets plotting together, but felt it was still astounding how quickly the pundits and reporters came to conclusions about Snowden based on nothing. He said that the first response was to accuse him of being a Chinese spy, because he was in Hong Kong, and then he was accused of being a Russian spy after getting stuck in Moscow when the United States revoked his passport.

"Tomorrow if he flew to Lima these same people would say he is a Peruvian agent," Greenwald said.

In addition to being vilified as a traitor by the right, Greenwald said he and Snowden had been criticized from the left for not releasing all the documents at once, like WikiLeaks.

Greenwald said Snowden had clear ideas about how to report the documents, and he wanted to learn the lessons of previous whistle-blowers, like Thomas Drake. Snowden wanted to "let each story breathe."

He added that going back through everything in the course of writing the book, he was surprised by how quickly the narrative consensus that Snowden was a "fame-seeking narcissist" was reached, especially since there was nothing to support it. He said that, for months, bookers for prime-time television news shows were calling him, trying to get access to Snowden, but he had no interest in doing those interviews.

"He could have spent months on prime-time television, and to date he has never given an interview to American television," Greenwald said. "That is how much he wants to keep the focus on the substance of the revelations."

Chomsky pointed out that all the spying and surveillance by the NSA had resulted in only one prosecution, of someone who sent money to Somalia. He was referring to the case of Basaaly Moalin, a cab driver from San Diego who was convicted of sending $8,500 to Somali al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabbab.

Greenwald also said he was annoyed at journalists who "put on their serious faces" when interviewing officials like former NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander's who contend that the leaks put lives at risk—and then being completely uncritical of Alexander's statements.

"There is no awareness that for virtually the last 50 years the same script is read from and proved to be false," he said.

"That tells you whose security is being protected: the security of the state power," Chomsky said. "It's making sure that power can operate in the dark."

He said that governments keep searching for external threats to justify their secrecy, mentioning a book called Washington's China showing how throughout the Cold War the National Security Council decided China was a threat, but kept changing the justification for doing so.

"No matter what the facts were, you always had the same conclusion," Chomsky said.

More importantly, Chomsky said, the broadening of government powers in response to putative threats sets a precedent for each successive president.

"What does Obama gain from pressing home an attack on civil liberties?" he said.

However, Greenwald was more optimistic: "Interest in this topic is more sustained and more intense than it was in June last year," he said. "There are lots of changes in the United States, but there has been more change in the dynamic internationally."

He pointed to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff denouncing the United States at the United Nations as an example of the changes wrought by publishing the documents, since Brazil had usually been a follower of American policy.

"When you start changing consciousness, fundamental change will emerge," Greenwald said.

He added that the fearlessness exhibited by Snowden had been inspiring and had also inspired his then-colleagues at The Guardian.

An audience member asked about his experiences of government harassment and he replied, "When they show their thuggish face, it spurs me on."

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  1. Seriously? Chomsky? What the fuck do you think you’re doing?

    1. Maybe they wanted to talk about absurd linguistic theories?

      1. Snowden can only hope.

        1. It’s possible they wanted to hear his ideas on Artificial Intelligence too.

          1. I found myself in the Asian part of Torrance this morning, so I picked up 3 more pork bellies. Between that and Krispy Kreme, I will have put on 10 lbs by monday.

            1. Maybe you should squat more. Which reminds me, I have to go squat. Then…oysters. So many raw oysters.

    2. Yeah. My thought exactly.

      1. Me three. Fucking Chomsky. It’s amazing how many people eat out of his hand and look at me like I have a dick growing out of my forehead when I suggest that Chomsky should limit himself to commentary on linguistics and nothing else.

        1. It makes me wonder if perhaps you DO have a dick growing out of your forehead???

          Chomsky puts some stuff in words well. Quickies. But as many here have said, lots of people get some stuff right some of the time.

          I hope when all of this settles out that the record is clear that the Fear and War Mongering of the early 2000’s was largely a result of the right wing…although, admittedly, y’all did a fantastic job of it and ended up sucking in a lot of the population. Hate (muslims, etc.) can do that. War too.

          The Game doesn’t allow for many regrets afterwards. One wonders where these millions of libertarians were when the drums of war were sounding. I attended a few anti-war demonstrations and based on the signs and crowds, they were staying home. Not to say 100% of them, but certainly they weren’t a force in moving the public will.

          1. “…although, admittedly, y’all did a fantastic job of it and ended up sucking in a lot of the population.”

            As usual, you are wholly incapable of wrapping your brain around the shockingly simple concept that disagreeing with someone doesn’t make them a right winger. I realize that you need things to be binary and would be utterly lost in a world with shades of gray but there are, in fact, people that are neither Team Red nor Team Blue.

            Of course, I may as well try to explain physics to a cat but I guess there’s some small chance you’ll get it eventually.

          2. “I hope when all of this settles out that the record is clear that the Fear and War Mongering of the early 2000’s was largely a result of the right wing..”

            Yes, no doubt you’d love to see the history book revised to omit the fact that the Democrats had just a big a hand in Iraq and Afghanistan, or that Obama loves waging unauthorized wars throughout the MidEast so he can drop bombs from remote control airplanes on Muslim wedding ceremonies.

            “One wonders where these millions of libertarians were when the drums of war were sounding”

            Only if “one” is a clueless, hypocritical jackass like you are. I and all the Libertarians I know were opposed to war when the other Team was in power, which seems to be more than you can say. When’s the last time you criticized president Dronestrike and his unquenchable warboner?

        2. “Chomsky should limit himself to commentary on linguistics and nothing else.”

          To be fair, he’s shit at those, too.

    3. ” ‘No matter what the facts were, you always had the same conclusion,’ Chomsky said.”

      Hey, give Chomsky a break.. while earning my Masters, I ran into his many quaint theories on government and grammar many times. They were always at least good for a laugh. I am quite happy to report that I actually might agree with him on something.

    4. Hey, it isn’t a party without Mr. Sunshine!

    5. Apparently, he may at least be a civil libertarian in a few of his beliefs.

      I also read recently that Chomsky thinks Zizek is a charlatan and I agree. I watched that loser give a talk at my university.

      1. Right. Chomsky never denied accusations of being a Pol Pot apologist. Libertarians should run away from such scum as fast as they can.

  2. I would call this a PR blunder.

    1. Good call.

  3. If Greenwald isn’t a full-blown socialist, he’s at least been chummy with them for a long time. His line about “changing consciousness” is an indication that’s he’s likely a kind of Popper, open-society socialist, which is why he’s okay sharing the stage with Chomsky.

    Chomsky has always been economic illiterate, supremely egotistical, and an alpha-male prick, but he occasionally makes good points. “Almost every significant change was spurred by isolated individuals deciding to take a stand” could’ve just as easily been said by Rand, though I don’t think Noam and Ayn liked one another very much.

    1. I said it last night, and it will bear repeating until humans are extinct. He’s not wrong, he’s just an asshole. His constant apologies for genocidal communists make him the last person Greenwald should be talking with if he wants to keep the right split on Snowden and the NSA revelations.

      1. But Greenwald is probably more interested in moving books than protecting Snowden or liberty.

        1. If that were true, Snowden would be in prison or dead and Greenwald’s new book would be called “How I Caught a Traitor”.

          1. Writing about catching traitors doesn’t sell as many books as making people believe that they have been cheated and getting them outraged.

      2. All of that and his constant, elementary misunderstanding of Smith and the invisible hand. Despite the fact that he’s obviously wrong, Chomsky’s spent decades treating Smith like he was some kind of 18th-century egalitarian, and I’ve yet to see an interviewer call him on it.

        He’s also a pure asshole during Q&A sessions if you’ve had the displeasure of joining the fawning masses at one. Constantly talks over questioners, ignores rebuttals, everything you’d expect from someone who’s never seriously questioned whether he could be wrong about anything.

        1. Let’s not forget the fact that this schmuck denied that Pol Pot’s killing fields ever existed.

        2. Chomsky is his cult’s own biggest zealot.

  4. I am in downtown Madrid right now, it’s a little past 830pm. While I was in the art museums, apparently Madrid Athletic won the Spanish League football crown over hated rival Barcelona. So they’ve blocked off the square in front of the Prado museum and a massive, noisy, joyous street party is forming. It’s looking pretty fun, and they don’t look like they’re going to do one of those “let’s burn, break and loot” type of sports celebrations. At least I hope not. If you don’t hear back from me send Sangria.

    1. If it looks like things are going to get violent, I recommend joining in the car flipping until you reach the edge of the mob.

    2. Put on a Barca shirt and run around holding a Catalonian flag. You’ll have a blast, trust me!

      1. Homage to Catalonia.

    3. I thought the football season ended on April 29. 🙁

      1. I’m watching a match between FCB and BVB as we speak.

        1. How did that Canadiens team beat Boston?

          Also, Arsenal won the FA Cup, so there.

  5. Washington’s China showing how throughout the Cold War the National Security Council decided China was a threat, but kept changing the justification for doing so.

    Look, any country with nukes should be thought of as a potential threat. The idea that there is no conceivable scenario in which China launches a genuine war of aggression is silly. It’s unlikely, but not impossible.

    1. Not that unlikely. Also, depends on who is defining “aggression”. China “defending” something they alone consider theirs, would be a defensive war, in their eyes. China’s desire to control the South China Sea is quite legitimate, in their eyes. Imagine if Cuba made a play for power in the waters off of Florida, maybe having a superpower ally from across the globe base weapons and troops on the island…

      Don’t get me wrong; I don’t agree with China’s territorial claims, but if you understand how things look from their point of view, war in the Pacific is quit likely.

    1. He’d know. He’s persistently been subtly racist.

      1. I’m not sure subtle is the modifier I’d use.

  6. Dangerous Flame Retardant Chemicals Common In Preschools

    Also common in preschools is the insidious and dangerous substance known as dihydrogen monoxide.

    1. A tablespoon of it is enough to kill…

  7. Yeah, I don’t think Snowden needs the likes of Chomsky dragging his name and acts around in the mud.

    Then again, the same is true of Chomsky and libertarianism, and I still haven’t been able to get through to some of my conservative friends that Chomsky is about as “libertarian” as David Brooks is “conservative”.

    1. He’s a libertarian socialist, which is totally not a contradiction in terms at all.

      1. Chomsky’s quick to point out that continental libertarianism is a form of socialism, which means that we’re not real libertarians in his eyes. Reading between the lines, he thinks that libertarianism/classical liberalism is some upstart 20th-century philosophy that will fade once humanity opens its eyes to the reality of homo reciprocans.

        Noam’s oddly silent on the history or American bastardization of the word liberal, which still has most its original meaning in Europe. Can’t imagine why that would be.

      2. “Libertarian socialist” = you read Bakunin instead of Marx. Judging by the words of the man and the works of his followers, I’m not sure this is much of an improvement.

      3. How does a windbag like Chomsky have the slightest bit of credibility outside of linguistics (Maybe not even there.)?

        1. He hates Israel and the US. That’s worth a lot in some circles.

        2. None of Chomsky’s ideas are profound or original. The fact that he’s the go-to thinker for third-rate “anarcho-” punk bands should illustrate this. He’s essentially a fashion accessory to make hipsters and other pseudo-bohemians feel more intellectual.

          1. I like this take a lot…well done.

          2. Excellent summary.

        3. Enablers…

  8. Chomsky will latch onto any issue that advances his political agenda, truth and consistency don’t matter. And if he needs to misrepresent it a bit to fit his views, he’ll do that to. So, the fact that Chomsky is involved in this taints the entire event.

  9. ‘”No matter what the facts were, you always had the same conclusion,” Chomsky said.’

    Oh, the irony of this statement and its author.

  10. Jack Stamford is not going to let that happen dude, At all man.


  11. 15 years ago a website was launched which discussed NSA crimes and surveillance.
    It was dismissed as ridiculous by all.
    It is still up, waiting for the world to catch up.

    Now that Snowden has published, perhaps it is time for a second look.

    Echelon, as the program was first named, required billions of 1980’s and 90’s dollars to build.

    To fund it they engaged in a series of incredibly high profile terrorist actions and cloaked them
    in a psyops campaign which was so powerful that when they closed the operation with an arrest
    and public trial of the brainwashed patsy, everybody got a good laugh and walked away. It was based on Chomskys Unique Language constructs (meaning and attitudes follow the prefix).

    To this day, if you mention the case to anyone over 25, they are flooded with feelings of ridicule and absurdity.
    To say the word is to define yourself as a nut.
    It worked.

    Don’t let it work on you. Ignore those feelings and take a good look at the deep dark world
    of the NSA as exposed on the site Unabombers.com

    Dan Pride

  12. i – a libertarian – always find it amazing that americans who claim to be libertarians point fingers at other inidivuals or countries and spit “socialist/socialism!” when they fail to see that they live in the biggest welfare state in history. (banks, insurance, auto, corn…) then they wonder why the rest of the world looks at us like we’re crazy when we talk chit about assad gassing people, when WE gassed like crazy in nam (agent orange). it’s spelled h-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-e.

    1. I attended a few of the anti-war demonstrations also, but purely out of curiosity. And I have to say that would not want my name associated with ANY of those fucking lunatics. It was an ugly scene.

      When you’re marching with 9/11 truthers, the Palestine Liberation Front chanting “long live the intefada” and the Communist Party USA carrying Soviet flags and portraits of Fidel Castro, you kinda understand why rational people stayed home.

  13. Anyone know where I can see the video? Nothing on Youtube yet…. thanks.

  14. Chomsky and Greenwald held out as champions of libertarianism? Really?

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