Signifying Nothing 123



The image was the thing.  Those serried American flags beneath their burnished and distinctly imperial eagles.  Obama’s speech on the NSA was devoid of meaningful content.  The threats against Snowden and the references to America’s right to spy on its potential enemies – which seemed to mean everybody – were obviously heartfelt.  The “restrictions” on the NSA were devoid of intent, mumbled and hedged around.  Actually you don’t have to analyse what he said.  The picture says it all.

Reading the acres of media comment devoted to this exercise in changing nothing, it does seem that the task I face in explaining things is easier than I expected.  Nobody seems actually to be fooled.  You have the fascistic tendency – a majority – arguing that Obama is right, and the lesson of 9/11 is that safety can only lie in massive government intrusion into all human interaction all of the time.  Then you have the libertarian tendency, like me, who believe that nobody should be targeted until they have actually done something wrong, and the idea of continual surveillance of entirely innocent people just in case someone somewhere is contemplating doing something they shouldn’t, is terrifying.  What we don’t have much of is people pretending that Obama is actually doing something to curtail the surveillance state.

When Obama failed to close Guantanamo, failed to act against torture and extraordinary rendition, and sanctioned the killing of thousands through drone strikes, for a long time I kept meeting Americans who claimed he was not a neo-con really, but rather playing a subtle game for liberalism to win in the long term.  I don’t know anybody who believes that now, and nobody seems to be arguing it today. Obama is now an open vicious neo-con.  The picture says it all.

Some of it was almost amusing.  Obama plainly said that America would not spy on allied leaders, but reserved the right to spy on every other person in any foreign country.  I found the idea that every German may be spied on except Angela Merkel distinctly amusing.  Less amusing is the idea that the secret courts which are supposed to be a check on the NSA – with their entirely pro-government judges – would be “improved” by the appointment of a secret advocate to argue the case for privacy, without the subjects of the cases having any contact with their advocate or even being aware the case is going on.

Secret Courts are an increasing feature of life in the dog days of western world power.  In the UK we have already for many years had the situation where people may face criminal trials without being allowed to see the intelligence based “evidence” against them – often gained from torture of third parties abroad – and are “represented” by government appointed cleared – i.e. pro-security service – lawyers who are not allowed to tell their clients what the evidence is against them.  We recently have the institution of entirely secret criminal courts in which the entire proceedings are closed.  As Julian Assange pointed out on CNN, even the carefully selected secret court in the USA has found against the NSA on a number of occasions.  Obama’s extraordinary claim that their had been no abuse by the NSA was a straightforward example of the “Big lie” technique.  Again, that picture explains it all.

The suggestion that data be held not by the NSA but by a third party which will be another government institution is risible.  If they insist it is held, I vote Glenn Greenwald holds it.  After a crime has been committed, I have no difficulty with the authorities approaching the communications providers for targeted information which helps the investigation.  The deliberate conflation of that idea with permanent mass surveillance is dishonest – and the constant references to 9/11 to justify any intrusion are chilling.

Actually, what worried me most about the speech was the thought that the 9/11 excuse must be wearing thin, and that we are only seven years away from starting to have voters who weren’t even born at the time.  All those who make an extremely fat living from the security state, or who benefit in other ways economically from the docility of a population quiescent through the manipulation of fear, will start shortly to have need of a new and more urgent bogeyman.  That really will start to make the world a more dangerous place – and the danger comes from those claiming to protect us.

Look at the picture.

123 thoughts on “Signifying Nothing

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  • doug scorgie

    Greenwald details in his Guardian comment “…the most devoted and slavish loyalists of the National Security State were repeatedly installed as the committee’s heads, currently in the form of NSA cheerleaders Democrat Dianne Feinstein in the Senate and Republican Mike Rogers in the House.”

    He could just as easily be talking about Malcolm Rifkind and Hazel Blears on the Intelligence and Security Committee which is supposed to have oversight of British security services and hold them accountable. The committee is of course a joke.

  • Herbie

    Here’s the Intelligence and Security Committee pretending to hold the spooks to account.

    This is such poor stuff that it’s been universally lambasted even by BBC spokespeople. You have to wonder at the mentality of these clowns that they think people will be fooled by this nonsense.

    If they really are this stupid then they’re obviously incapable of holding anyone to account, even had they the will.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    O/T, as Mary is wont to say, but never mind.

    The BBC informs us that Lord McAlpine has died at his home in Italy.

    As the dead cannot sue, I do hope that this event will not embolden some of the Eminences to repeat the scurrilous accusations they made on this blog about McAlpine some months ago – accusations which were shown to be unfounded.

    I do also hope that there will be now gloating on here, nor comments of the sort “hope he burns in hell”.

    Thank you kindly!

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    “no” not “now” (was that a prophetic slip of the keyboard, I wonder?)

  • Herbie

    That’s the funny thing about these hypocritical old scumbags. They turn Britain into a corporate wasteland and then they go off to live in France or Italy.

  • Clark

    Habbabkuk, of course you hope they’re will be gloating, so that you can condemn it, and tar whoever you can with the same brush; it’s what you always do, try to start pointless rows. Look, I posted an on-topic constructive argument above. You seem to claim some familiarity with law, certainly more than my own; can’t you go anywhere with something like that? Doesn’t it even give you any ideas?

  • Mary

    ‘That’s the funny thing about these hypocritical old scumbags. They turn Britain into a corporate wasteland and then they go off to live in France or Italy’ @ Herbie

    or like the Maggot Scratcher,…… transfer your property assets to a company registered in the British Virgin Islands.

    Margaret Thatcher tax shock: £12m mansion where she saw out her days registered in TAX HAVEN

    or just like SamCam’s stepfather Viscount Astor….register your Scottish estate in a company in the Bahamas

    David Cameron, William Astor and the Bahamas

    or go the whole hog like Ashcroft…..

  • Mary

    How the NSA want to kill Edward Snowden. We are told they are just ‘fantasies’ so forget about all those other unnatural deaths we read about.

    NSA officials details their “kill Snowden” fantasies


    “We’ve mentioned things in the past like former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden “jokingly” talking about how he’d like to put Ed Snowden on a “kill list” while simultaneously suggesting that the NSA should be a part of determining who to target. While some would dismiss this as a tasteless “joke” it seems like he’s not the only one in the intelligence community with such thoughts. We just recently noted that reporter Steven Levy, who spent over two hours interviewing NSA officials, had said that they appear to have a real and passionate hatred towards Snowden.

    Now, Benny Johnson, over at Buzzfeed, has been able to get a bunch of intelligence community and military officials to comment anonymously, but on the record, about how much they want to kill Snowden, often including full descriptions of how they’d do it — and the fact that they don’t see any reason to support things like basic due process. The quotes are chilling.”

    Some joke! Chilling indeed.

  • Clark

    Scorecard: Will Obama Hit the Mark on Real NSA Reform?

    Squonk, thanks for The Register link; they seem a bit more optimistic than Craig. Does anyone know; will the actual presidential directives and other documents be published?

    But Obama’s speech being all about US agencies, I’m worried about something not mentioned, the US/UK Intelligence Sharing Agreement. I thought the loophole of each doing the other’s spying was one of the major issues.

  • Richard

    As a computer scientist, I have to differ with you here:

    “I have no difficulty with the authorities approaching the communications providers for targeted information which helps the investigation”.

    In practice, we have to choose – if we build a communications infrastructure that is proof against mass surveillance, it is also proof against court-ordered intercepts. On the other hand, if it is “wiretap-friendly”, then mass surveillance is inevitable.
    There’s no way to design the maths of encryption to be invulnerable to spying, but to yield to a valid democratic-state’s court-order!

    I go further – in principle, I think everyone should have an inalienable right to privacy of communications, and that our personal devices should be legally treated as the extension of our brains that they are – and thus not subject to examination.

  • Ex Pat


    And the surprise is … that anyone is surprised.

    Your Fascist US Empire at work, with the UK a US Empire slave race – who knew?

    Ruled by Pontius Cameroon – US Empire guv’ner. (Enough already with the joakes! Ed.)


    William Binney, NSA whistleblower, already explained how Skippy was being fed a pack of lies and how the US Empire Fascists would fake ‘Change’ (you can’t believe in).

    (There was no, ER, Hope (of sane change? HeHe. ; ) )

    ‘The Gang of Eight: Hedges and Binney on Obama NSA Guidelines’, 11th January, 2014 – ICH –


    (Geddit? Ed.) – the puppet president of the Fascist US Empire. No Change There, Then! After Scipio Africanus.


    And anyone old enough to watch I Claudius in 1976 will have a very clear view of ‘Skippy’ Obama and his puppet presidency.

    “Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.” – Fascist Wome on the Potomac – the movie. Derek Jacobi plays the petrified puppet prez – I Claudius –



    Meanwhile Johan Galtung’s view of the world is daily revealed to be highly accurate. Latest –

    “The West tries to get the moral high ground by changing discourse to something they think they have and others not: democracy.  Running huge colonial-imperial system against their will?   Some democracy!”

    “Up comes a song based on a Russian folk tune By the Long Road (Those Were the Days):”

    “Those were the days, my friend 
We thought they’d never end
We’d live the life we’d choose
We’d fight and never lose
Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser
Those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.”

    HeHe! ; )

    “Yes, those were the days; now almost gone.  The road has been long.”

    – ‘2014: Ten Conflicts, Solutions, Conciliation’ by Johan Galtung, January 6th, 2014 – Transcend Peace Institute –

  • Ex Pat



    “Fascism?  There is a domestic and a global variety and the latter is Obama’s foreign policy, with domestic elements.”

    “A disconnect between speech and action is Obama’s trade mark.  A key to his global fascism: instead of acknowledging wrongs of US foreign policy, he hides his extra-judicial killings with drones and JSOC’s (Joint Special Operations Command) in, maybe, 120 countries. Covert, CIA, less overt, Pentagon; with little Congress control.”

    “What happened to the fall of the US Empire?”

    “It is falling.  An empire uses local elites to transport value from the periphery to the center. Those elites are now shaky in many places, like in Latin America, frightened in Africa, doubting in Europe-Asia, counteracting the US in China-Russia.  Global fascism bypasses them.”

    The US Empire collapsing not with a whimper, but a bang. No change there, then! –

    Are things a tad strained when the ever temperate and diplomatic revered father of peace studies, Johan Galtung, finally calls a spade a bloody shovel?

    (ER. Does the US Empire use the methods of the Nazis? Is the Pope a Catholic? etc. Ed.)

    – 5th March 2012 – Transcend Peace Organization –

    Confused? Johan Galtung spells it out – “I love the US Republic, and I hate the US Empire.”

    – “I Love the US Republic, and I Hate the US Empire”: Johan Galtung on the War in Afghanistan and How to Get Out – June 15th, 2010 – Democracy Now –

    “Johan Galtung on “The Fall of the US Empire” – June 7th, 2010 – Democracy Now –


    Johan Galtung – the US empire has murdered 12m or 16m in forty years. “The difference is between overt murders and including covert murders by the US.” In illegal wars and genocides. –

    ‘How would we know that the Empire is dead?” – Johan Galtung –


    Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Maggie ! (ER, ‘Biggus Dickus’, for USans ??? ; ) Ed.)

    Maggie’s Desert Island Discs pick? – Comic Relief Special – The New Statesman –

  • David Halpin

    Sorry to be awkward. All the evils described above, and they were almost unimagined evils up until this new century, pivot on 9/11. That over 3000 died in this cinematographic horror, and that many have fallen sick and died subsequently is in our minds. So too are the million + lives lost in the ME since, plus millions of refugees.

    Principled, courageous and acute observers like Craig, Pilger and Galloway do not speak the unspeakable and so the vortex sucks for ever louder. Muslims were not the agents. Aside from the pile of evidence against the ‘official’ version regarding Cheney’s Pearl Harbour, pose ‘cui bono’ – not the Muslims of our sickly species. And explain Tower 7.

    Do not tackle this, then commentary must cease. That will be pissing in the wind.

    And we do have fascism. A small example – I remember the tricks the BBC and others played in Craig’s attempts in the Norfolk bye-election. Without them he might have joined the 10% of decent MPs in the Commons. Fascism might be 22 million watching Celebrity Come Dancing and not caring one whit about our killing abroad, or OUR NHS, or whatever.

    My definition of FASCISM – the subjugation of the individual’s will and freedom by an overweening state. Humanity withers, freedom of speech is stifled and the soul dies. Self preservation becomes a dominant drive.

    9/11 is ‘our’ Reichstag fire and all those other home grown pretexts for potential war. Forget the Gulf of Tonkin and the Bay of Pigs and forget also that maxim – those who do not learn lessons from mistakes in our histories, are bound to repeat them. I hope that the Dolphin class submarines patrolling in the Gulf with their nuclear armed Cruise missiles have Israeli commanders who are more competent than the 30 Yanks suspended the other day. You will recall the remark made by Netanyahu with 10 minutes of learning of 9/11. ‘Terrorist’ and ‘terrorist’ is his refrain, and from all his allies in the west.

    The hour is late. Speak out.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    Re Lord McAlpine

    @ Clark

    “Habbabkuk, of course you hope they’re will be gloating, so that you can condemn it”


    Incorrect, Clark. My hope was that following my comment people would refrain from gloating – not, of course, out of any sense of decency but rather to prove me wrong. Call it a pre-emptive move, if you wish. It seems to have worked so far, wouldn’t you say?

    “Revealing rather than prophetic, I’d say.”

    See above.

    “Look, I posted an on-topic constructive argument above. You seem to claim some familiarity with law, certainly more than my own; can’t you go anywhere with something like that? Doesn’t it even give you any ideas?”

    Your proposal appears to be the following: “We need some sort of rational framework that establishes the degree to which each entity should have privacy or come under intrusive scrutiny, where “entity” covers individuals in their private, professional and public roles; groups, government departments, commercial organisations, etc. etc. etc.”

    My idea of this is that this kind of attempt at prior schematisation/categorisation would be unworkable, inefficient and easy to get around (by both ‘sides’).

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    From Herbie

    “That’s the funny thing about these hypocritical old scumbags. They turn Britain into a corporate wasteland and then they go off to live in France or Italy.”

    I take it that the above is a reference to Lord McAlpine.

    I believe that Lord McAlpine’s (economic) field was property development, but I am not clear as to how that (or he himself) turned Britain into an “economic wasteland”.

    Apart from the fact that property development has a physical side to it (development implies demolition and building – which happens to involve real people working in a variety of trades), I would suggest that as economic activity in Britain (as in most of the developed world) is now predominantly service-based, it follows that the business of services brings about economic growth rather than creates an economic wasteland.

    Surely, for example, an attempt to continue large-scale coal-mining in the UK – ie, the production of something for which there is no longer a market either nationally or internationally – would be far more likely to create an economic wasteland?

    Finally, I believe he retired to Italy in his sixties. As do, especially to France, quite a few British people of that age or younger.

    The unpleasant implication of your comment – ie, that he plundered the country and then went abroad to enjoy his ill-gotten gains while the rest of you are left in the merde he created – is, anyway, logically unsound; Lord McAlpine was a rich man and could well have had a very comfortable life in Britain. Perhaps he was just after a better climate, with which only a curmudgeon would quarrel.

    Feel free not to respond!

  • Ex Pat



    “The linchpin of an empire is the link between two elites, one in the imperial center and the other in the peripheries.  Symmetric alliances exist, but not with a superpower in the center.”

    “The periphery elites do jobs for the center: killing, say, in Libya, Syria, when so wanted; securing the center economic interests in return for a substantial cut, serving as a br

  • Clark

    David Halpin, good to see you. I finally decided that I didn’t know much about how buildings collapse, but something about 9/11 is very obvious. It stemmed essentially from Saudi Arabia, which is a prime UK/US/Israeli ally. Whichever way you look at it, this attack came from the West’s “own side”, similar to some of the people we’ve been supporting in Libya and Syria. Our leaders’ reaction to these attacks is always “send armed forces in somewhere“, where “somewhere” always just happens to be where they wanted to go anyway.

  • Ex Pat



    Contd – interrupted. Funny how that works, eh? –

    “The linchpin of an empire is the link between two elites, one in the imperial center and the other in the peripheries.  Symmetric alliances exist, but not with a superpower in the center.”

    “The periphery elites do jobs for the center: killing, say, in Libya, Syria, when so wanted; securing the center economic interests in return for a substantial cut, serving as a bridgehead culturally–called americanization–delivering obedience against protection.”

    “For this to work the elites have to believe in the empire.  They put words up front–like democracy, human rights, rule of law–serving as human shields.  However, the costs may be heavy, the benefits decreasing; they may have difficulties with restless students, working classes, other countries.  Or worse: they may sense that the empire is not working, heading for decline and fall, and want to get out.”

    “And even if this is not the case, the US elites-the policy officials-may suspect it to be and spy on empire-alliance leaders:”

    “[Director of the NSA] General Keith Alexander: “NSA–was asked by /US/ policy officials to discover the “leadership intentions” of foreign countries. If you want to know leadership intentions, these were the issues” ([email protected] 01-11-13).”

    “Clear from the beginning, beyond “threats to privacy”, “they all do it”, “it was technically feasible”, and similar smoke screens.  Spying on intentions of enemy leaders–the “humint” (HUMan INTelligence) to complement capabilities–is an obvious part of the state system.  But on allies?

    “Even more so.  There are allies and allies; empires may decline. Foreign leaders may not offer full obedience in return for protection.  Or may not accept US views as accurate, but have their own.  They may even explore options.  Their real intentions are crucial, and nobody can spy and supervise better than their own secret agencies–coordinated by CIA-NSA–and in their own language.  Alexander said the obvious: “policy officials” (ambassadors, etc.) and alliance agencies spying together on policy-makers.  The real power elite inside the elite.”

    “Look at this through Angela Merkel’s eyes.  She hated the DDR-Deutsche Demokratische Republik Stasi surveillance.  But they were amateurs; these people are professionals. A decade went unnoticed, till Snowden.  Imagine her rage, comparing.”

    “And imagine the non-rage over the same in Spain: beyond Franco, yes, but Rajoy’s party (Partido Popular) is the–highly corrupt–successor to Franco.”

    “Yet, as there is an inner circle of self-appointed elites there is also an inner circle of allies that presumably can be trusted, the “Five Eyes”: UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand; Anglo-America writ large.  Who are they?  A club of countries selected on a racist-culturalist basis. White and Anglo, killers of indigenous peoples all over: USA of Native Indians, Canada a little less of First Nations, Australia of Aborigines, New Zealand a little less of Māoris, UK all over–getting the others launched on that slippery slope of genocide and sociocide.  They know this. They know that the world’s majority is the kind of people they killed and feel strongly they have to keep together, distrusting non-members.  But the US spies on UK Labour and Parliament, USA-UK together on the other three.”

    “Germany wants to join the club for another 5+l, like with the UNSC-UN Security Council veto powers.  Race is no problem but culture is: they are not Anglo.”

    “The more the empire declines the more expectation of more spying to identify the enemy within.”

    – ‘NSA and the Fall of the US Empire’, by Johan Galtung, November 4, 2013 – Transcend Peace Institute –

    Perhaps even more important than this clear view of reality is to ask the question “_Why_ is this clear (and apparently accurate) view not reflected in the US or UK Muppet Stream Media?” and, if it is not, _What_ to do about it? (ER. Don’t rely on Muppets for information – MSM or otherwise? – perchance? ; ) Ed.) – Muppet news flash –

    The latest Johan Galtung Editorial –


    Just say “Up yours” to USUK Empire Neo-Con Nazi mass psychosis! –

    USUK Empire Neo-Con Nazism made mainstream by ‘Biggus Dickus,’ (of Wome on the Potomac) — Big Oil tool and US Torture promoter – brought to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Aden, Syria, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Poland, Lithuania and many, many more —

    – “You lucky bastard” – Monty Python – Life of Brian –

  • Clark

    Habbabkuk, Oh, I see, your ideas are all about Lord McAlpine, whom you didn’t want discussed.

    Sorry I’m so wrong about you.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    @ Clark

    I don’t need to have any “ideas” because I’m not persuaded there’s a problem for the solution of which “ideas” are required.

    I’m also not inclined to make an effort to set out my thinking – such as it is – for your benefit on various aspects of what is mistakenly called “surveillance”. But just to give you two hints :

    1/.Craig’s assertion that “nobody should be targeted until they have actually done something wrong,…” is both a misuse of words (“targetting” is incompatible with the idea of “mass surveillance”, which is what the authorities stand accused of) and remarkably complacent, in that the implication is that prevention is wrong and unnecessary;

    2/. I also contest the claim that 9/11 (or for that matter the London bombings, etc, was an “excuse” for greater surveillance of communication by electronic means; I would call it an understandable reaction and a rather sensible one.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella!

    @ Clark (21h02)

    No, Clark, although the words “Lord McAlpine” appear in my posts I was of course really referring to the Grand Old Duke of York. Well spotted!

  • Clark

    Oh, you do have a gripe with Craig then? You think he’s misused words. Well you need to get in earlier, while he’s still on the thread. Though I note you rarely do that. And should you maybe prioritise? Like, comment about it before you start baiting about Lord McAlpine? “The dead can’t sue” indeed.

    I find you dishonest, Habbabkuk.

  • mike

    Excellent post, Craig.

    For those who missed it, here’s another we reminder of Neocon Target # 5: Syria, and the Ghouta gassing lie. Seymour Hersh was blanked by the corporate media in his own country; only the London Review of Books would touch his story over here. The parallels with the Iraq WMD lie – different salesmen, same shit – are chilling.

    “Fascism should rightly be called corporatism as it is the merger of state and corporate power” – Mussolini.

    And all in the name of security.

  • Resident Dissident

    “Resident Dissident, ESLO, do you support this sort of thing by Habbabkuk?”

    I am not over impressed by anyone who seeks to attack the newly departed (or wishing death or torture on the living) – it strikes me as being cowardly in extreme as well as being in bad taste. On this blog we have seen nasty attacks on Sharan, Thatcher, Christopher Hitchens and now Lord McAlpine just after they have died (the Hitch is the only one for whom I have positive feelings btw) and the vast majority of contributors have just sat by and either said nothing or joined – only the small majority including Habba and myself have raised our voices in condemnation. The rule I exercise is that I cannot say anything good about the recently departed then I will not say anything at all – I would recommend others to follow suit.

    I don’t think it was wise of Habba to make a pre-emptive strike on behalf of Lord McAlpine – but given the past behaviour of some on this blog it is totally understandable. I also don’t think it very wise for you to jump to conclusions about someone’s honesty or otherwise on the basis of a few blog posts.

  • Resident Dissident

    “You have the fascistic tendency – a majority – arguing that Obama is right”

    If anyone bothers to read the Guardian editorial today

    They will see that the paper that published most of the recent revelations about the NSA is now being labelled as part of the majority fascistic tendency (and I daresay I would also be deemed to belong there given my comment of earlier today).

    Perhaps it is time for Craig to realise that if progress is to be made it will occur by making coalitions with people who do not agree 100% with his analysis, rather than insulting them. I share his distaste for mass surveillance – but I have no problem in targeting surveillance on those who have undertaken activities that arouse suspicion (although I suspect there are widely different views as to what those may be).

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