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Harvey reports: "The actions of the US government in spying on its and other countries' citizens have been sharply criticised by Noam Chomsky, the prominent political thinker, as attacks on democracy and the people."

Author, historian and political commentator Noam Chomsky. (photo: Ben Rusk/flickr)
Author, historian and political commentator Noam Chomsky. (photo: Ben Rusk/flickr)

Noam Chomsky: NSA Surveillance Is an Attack on American Citizens

By Fiona Harvey, Guardian UK

19 June 13


he actions of the US government in spying on its and other countries' citizens have been sharply criticised by Noam Chomsky, the prominent political thinker, as attacks on democracy and the people.

"Governments should not have this capacity. But governments will use whatever technology is available to them to combat their primary enemy – which is their own population," he told the Guardian.

In his first public comment on the scandal that has enveloped the US, UK and other governments, as well as internet companies such as Google and Microsoft, Chomsky said he was not overly surprised technology and corporations were being used in this way.

"This is obviously something that should not be done. But it is a little difficult to be too surprised by it," he said. "They [governments and corporations] take whatever is available, and in no time it is being used against us, the population. Governments are not representative. They have their own power, serving segments of the population that are dominant and rich."

Chomsky, who has strongly supported the Occupy movement and spoken out against the Obama administration's use of drones, warned that young people were much less shocked at being spied on and did not view it as such a problem.

"Polls in the US indicate there is generational issue here that someone ought to look into – my impression is that younger people are less offended by this than the older generation. It may have to do with the exhibitionist character of the internet culture, with Facebook and so on," he said. "On the internet, you think everything is going to be public."

Other technologies could also come to be used to spy more effectively on people, he added. "They don't want people to know what they're doing. They want to be able to use [new technology] against their own people.

"Take a look at drones, and what is developing. You will find new drone technology being used in 10 or 12 years from now. They are looking at [trying to make] tiny drones that can go in your living room, like a fly on the wall."

He praised the Guardian's revelations about the activities of the National Security Agency, and the whistleblower Ed Snowden, who has been taking refuge in Hong Kong. "We need this kind [of journalism]," he said. "We ought to know about it."

Chomsky, a much-lauded academic and professor of linguistics, gained renown as a political critic when he vocally opposed the Vietnam war. Since then, he has written dozens of books on political power, capitalism and democracy and espoused a variety of activist campaigns, most recently the Occupy movement. your social media marketing partner


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+49 # jwb110 2013-06-19 11:26
tiny drones that can go in your living room, like a fly on the wall."
They are already available for use.

As for the younger generation and their shoulder shrug at the invasion of their privacy; They have been so spun and Madison Avenued that they are consumers and that where it stops. That generation won't pay attention to this problem until it is too late. They had no Civics classes when they were in school, it became Social Studies (whatever that means), only lately have their numbers as voters increased. In short,
they are cattle.....and soon off to the slaughter.
+15 # SeniorCitizen31 2013-06-19 16:08
Tiny drones. Hmmmmmmmm.

Obama has shrunk from so many of his 2008 pledges: prosecuting Bush/Cheney, closing Gitmo, ending endless war, transparency in government, protecting the environment, prosecuting not bailing out banksters, etc.

If he continues to shrink from all these pledges, he won't need drones -- he'll be small enough to fly them himself. Maybe he is already.
0 # grandma lynn 2013-06-22 04:20
I heard on NPR that the British are part of the network that looks at Americans' use of communication, yes, spying on us too. Aren't we then back to the days when overreaching government caused us to "escape" via revolution? We want back our own representative government.

Send postcards to Obama praising the courage and integrity of Snowden and Manning, while he (Obama) is praising the integrity of his recycled, Republican, nominee for head of the FBI, Comely. Egad.
+8 # Vardoz 2013-06-19 11:52
As thousands of American men, women and children are killed by gun violence every year, as people are pushed into poverty that is a life threatening situation and we are robbed of life support systems, the NSA and OBama tell us that collecting all of our info, spying on all of us and spending tens of billionsis to protect us! It is a lie. If they are so concerned why aren't they doing more to protect us from corporate, economic and environmental abuse ?Chomsky is right. As they impoveriash us, poison us and as we are in decline, they want to make sure we are rendered helpless in the face of our destruction.
-24 # MidwestTom 2013-06-19 12:13
They are afraid of us, they know that what they are doing is not liked by the 15% that follow Washington. But they fear our ability to organize the masses, and will have no problem arresting us as terrorist in the future, if we simply argue for the principle this country was built on. They are counting on millions of immigrants who will not care what they do, as long as they can live better than where they came from.

According to "On Point" on NPR this morning illegals are pouring in now that they sense amnesty and citizenship. These people will not care who listens in as long as they can get a car, a TV, a cell phone, and rent a clean place; they will vote as told by the government. Only older Americans are disturbed, and we are about to be seriously outnumbered at the voting booth. The Senate yesterday voted down installing 700 miles of fencing on the border. What clearer signal do we need?
+18 # Jim Rocket 2013-06-19 13:21
Your first paragraph is great but the second one is koo koo.
+6 # brux 2013-06-19 13:41
I am so sick of the whole immigration issue - it's like both sides have staked out their opinions and the needs of the country and its citizens do not even figure into the plans.

The cost of the national infrastructure for education, health care, law enforcement, etc goes up to the point where the Republicans can claim that a "safety net" and "social infrastructure" just costs too much and we cannot do it.

And - the cost or labor then goes down, and profits go up again more for corporations.

The corporate hierarchy is what runs this country, and not every can be or would want to be part of the corporate infrastructure - but that is all we have anymore.

This is coersion and oppression, it also forces every human being into a mold that is unnatural to them - meaning that our American system has become inhuman.
+2 # tomo 2013-06-19 16:13
If you're saying, brux, "a plague on both their houses," I agree. My own little solution I call "stay puttism." The planet's at a point of strained resources at which people in general must learn to abide by the resources of the regions in which they live. Immigration should be an exception rather than an easy escape hatch for those who have bred or wasted beyond the restraints of the place where they were born. In cases where one country has significantly exploited and ruined resources of another country, exceptions must be made. In the case of the U.S., such cases may pile up rather extensively--pa rticularly as the consequences of climate change due to our industrial economy kick in. But these are special cases. In general, regions will only remain habitable if those who live in them learn to accommodate to the restrictions they impose. California, my state, may look from an airplane like it's wide open and almost uninhabited. Seen closer up, one finds significant limitations in water supply--so much so, I'd say, that we should decree no one can come to reside unless they bring their water with them. This should apply to people from Europe, to people from Latin America, to people from Asia--and, with amendment to the Constitution, to people from Kansas.
0 # brux 2013-06-19 18:06
This is where I sort of depart from the isolationism of Liberals and Libertarians ...

Why should people from the desert regions of the world have to be stuck there just because they were born in a place without much water?

Why should people in China not have jobs like Americans.

The answer is, they shouldn't, but the institutions we have in place force us to see things that way and handle them ... in a way that will blow up and cause fights, terrorism, genocides, etc.

All such problems have to solved with respect to existing institutions, but all those institutions have been set up as petty tyrannies for the benefit of a few powerful people, who use the masses they can manipulate to keep them relevant and necessary.

This is the state of human society ... and the way I look at this is that it has not changed much since we moved away from hunter gatherers ... there are the clueful and the clueless. The clueless built the pyramids, fought the wars, the clueful figure out how to manipulate the clueless and keep them clueless. When hunter-gatherin g went out of style, the nutritional deficits of the masses made it much easier for the clueful to manage them. Nobles were stronger than peasants, they had better nutrition and education ... and that paradigm is being followed today still! It's so simple if you look at it.
0 # grandma lynn 2013-06-22 04:29
Novel idea whose time may come - bring your water with you. Like the "carry it in, carry it out" rule with hiking in the wilderness and being responsible for one's debris - a variation of that. Bring your water with you.

Let's stop letting fracking, for instance, destroy water by over-use and pollution of it. Let's have a new political party: Water.

Be for it or against it. Work for it. Move government's center out of Washington and to a water-needy place like Kansas.
0 # grandma lynn 2013-06-22 04:25
Your last observation startled me for its pithy truth - "our American system has become inhuman." We wanted it to be humane, and that ideal was always not reached, but it was an ideal. Now the ideal seems to be that corporate wheels turn smoothly. Obama is part of that. Smooth talk, smooth speeches, smooth turning of corporate wheels, easy transition between 4-year terms of presidents with not disruption of corporate needs. Humans and humanity and humane considerations went out the window. Big drones bombing people we can't see and tiny drones coming to see us - it's all very inhumane.
+1 # Walter J Smith 2013-06-19 20:56
The first sentence makes sense.

The second sentence doesn't: why should they fear what hasn't been done for decades?

The remainder of the post is bonkers idiosyncracy.

Too much Rush Limbaugh in the diet.
+1 # Trueblue Democrat 2013-06-20 06:31
Yeah, the incredible shrinking president.

Incredible in the sense that you can't believe a word the man says.
0 # engelbach 2013-06-20 12:22
Only citizens can vote, and the path to citizenship is not that easy.

Immigrants are not the unthinking automatons you seem to think they are.

Everyone who votes for Democrats or Republicans is voting "as told by the government," since the selection of candidates reflects the will of the ruling class.
+9 # tomo 2013-06-19 12:22
I found Obama's defense of his spying interesting. In an interview with Charlie Rose, the President explained in effect that no one should confuse his spying with the kind of spying that was advocated when Dick Cheney was Vice-president. Cheney's spying was an un-balanced program, whereas his--Obama's--s pying is a balanced program. That is the difference. It was very reassuring to learn this. Obama explained further, that the whole point of his 2008 campaign was that he wanted to take the evil programs of the Bush administration and make them balanced. It was helpful to get that clarification because I remembered that campaign so differently.
+13 # futhark 2013-06-19 18:07
tomo, I hope your comment is satirical. If not, please distinguish between a balanced and an un-balanced spying program.

I see Mr. Obama as having taken the evil programs of the Cheney/Bush Administration and pushed them to ever greater extremes of evil. It was Obama, not Cheney/Bush, who has championed "indefinite detention". It has been Obama who has personally selected targets for drone strikes. It has been Obama who celebrated the hit on Osama bin Laden, absent any real evidence connecting him with the 9/11 attacks. I'm not defending Cheney/Bush, just pointing out that Mr. Obama has not provided an antidote for their poison, but has concocted even more toxic formulations along the same lines.
+1 # tomo 2013-06-19 20:06
futhark: it was satirical. And your de-coding of the satire was spot on!
0 # CHECKMATE 2013-06-19 20:59
Are you saying that maybe bin Laden didn't do it? Or are saying he didn't get a trial. He could have surrendered!
+2 # futhark 2013-06-20 10:47
bin Laden was never even formally accused of being involved in 9/11. The FBI's wanted poster on him claimed he was involved in the attack on the USS Cole, which, I think, he admitted. There has never been a shred of evidence connecting him to the 9/11 attacks that would have stood up in court. The FBI knew this and declined to prosecute him on that basis. Only the cynical politicians, Mr. Obama included, jumped all over him as a scapegoat to justify their wars of aggression on the other side of the planet.

Why should bin Laden have surrendered, seeing as how he would have been prosecuted for the attack on the U.S. destroyer, while he was living in relative ease and comfort in Pakistan?
-1 # grandma lynn 2013-06-22 04:32
You are making me laugh. Refreshingly, you have caricatured Obama's tweaking of language on this very important subject. I sent him a postcard telling him I am not reassured whenever he means to be reassuring, which seems often. I am astonished that he is so different from when I worked for him in 2008.
+17 # James Marcus 2013-06-19 12:24
Undermining the Nation, It's Citizenry, and Constitution,
..... has a Legal name:

NSA TSA DHS CIA (NDAA , 'Patriot Act' Et Al:
all 'Participants', with knowledge, and premeditation
+17 # motamanx 2013-06-19 12:42
No one seems to remember that we fought a huge war against brutal enemies who installed the same kind of secret, invasive curtailments of personal liberties--usin g the same bogus reasons: perceived threats of terror from without. Nor does anyone want to mention the growing nazi-like drift of the NSA, even though it is apparent to anyone with even a hint of the knowledge of recent history.
+3 # Anarchist 23 2013-06-19 19:48
Amerikkka -made up of Not Sees!
+5 # dickbd 2013-06-19 12:44
Chomsky, as usual, is right.

There is a connection here. We're supposed to be secure from government spying and prying, but the government is supposed to be transparent so that we can be informed citizens--and that is what a democracy is supposedly based! But the trend is in the opposite direction.

I'm not sure why everyone is giving thumbs down to Midwest Tom for his comments about immigrants. I think there is something to what he says. A desperately poor population is happy to get basic needs and is not inclined to question authority.
+6 # Anarchist 23 2013-06-19 19:51
Who turned Mexico into a 'desperately poor' nation? Who first invented the Bracero program? Pushed through NAFTA? Dumped cheap USA corn into their markets and thus drove out native corn? Who started a war which deprived Mexico of half its territory? We must look at nations and people and the bio-sphere holistically because the petty economic/nation alist/exploitat ive ways we are using now will kill us all.
0 # grandma lynn 2013-06-22 04:37
Start a new government in Kansas. Make water and holistic concepts priorities. War supporting corporate needs/greed kills all. Friendship, on the other hand, makes character that is worthy of our human brain's best powers. Water, holistic practice, friendship. We need those most, not continuation of smoothly-run corporate offices and obscene CEO salaries and two political parties that are well-dressed rich people at the top.
+1 # engelbach 2013-06-20 12:27
The government is controlled by the ruling class, but it's stretching a conspiracy theory too far to imagine that the purpose of immigration reform is to build a voting bloc of mindless robots.
+4 # brux 2013-06-19 13:37
Every time I brave to disagree or criticize Noam Chomsky I get slammed with tons of negative ratings.

I can live with that if it means I can point out to at least one or two people some of the inconsistencies and imperfections of Noam Chomsky.

It is not that I disagree with him on most of the general stuff, I agree with most of what Chomsky says and has said ... I usually believe it does not go far enough - in other words Noam Chomsky fits his own description of a political left boundary of acceptable discourse.

The thing Chomsky has said as that leftmost bound for decades is that - implicitly, things are getting better. There is less violence in the world, more freedom, more democracy, etc. If you have read and listened to Chomsky, you cannot deny this.

For years, when I entered the tech industry and saw what was going on, I would try to make the point that many of these trends were phony, ... ie. superficial only.

Yes we do have national elections, but the "manufacturing of consent" is so good, and the under the table manipulations so covert that that is not what matters.

The other problem is that the focusing of oppression can be so covert and narrow, maybe even things like murdering the Rolling Stone reporter yesterday - who knows, that we would not know if we were facing a wholesale holocaust of the opposition because the only way we would ever find that out is through the media, and the media is corrupted now.
+5 # tomo 2013-06-19 15:43
brux: I don't dislike you in the least. I won't try to turn your response record red. But I do wonder what Noam Chomsky you are reading. I first encountered him in The New American Mandarins in 1970. There was nothing there I can recall that said things are getting better--far to the contrary. Lately, I've found him sharing with us his deep misgivings that the world might blunder into nuclear war. Never have I heard any inkling of a suggestion from him that this would be a change for the better. His second great preoccupation today seems to be climate change. Correctly I'd say, he feels each branch of our political oligarchy fails to take this seriously. In none of this do I find any polyannish sense that things are getting better. You may be focusing on some phrases of his that I am overlooking, but I have been paying attention to some very explicit stuff from him that you seem, for whatever reason, to discount.
0 # brux 2013-06-19 17:52
In just about everything I've read or seen of Chomsky's the point is always made that coercion now is not done by violence it is done by manufacturing consent - that is, propaganda.

The specific comment is usually along the lines of dictatorships use force to regiment people, but democracies use propaganda.

I do think that after all these years he is starting to catch on to the some of the more subtle and evil changes taking place, such as the consolidation of whole industries under the banner of faceless, nameless capital - and the urgency for change and possible permanence of some of these institutions.

I think climate change to the corporatocracy is like land confiscation ... another way to force dependency of citizens on the system rather than being able to grow or sustain themselves on the land. A good presentation of this is done in the (non-Chomsky) documentary "The End of Poverty" which is really excellent. The forcing of dependence on Monsanto, the legislation of dependence on local power grids, disallowing people to harvest water from rain, grow their own food, etc is all totalitarian institutionalization.

I think Chomsky's point was that the arc of history seemed at one time to be moving towards freedom and liberation, the bad guys seemed to be losing. Force seemed to be unacceptable, but all that has happened has been the covering up of force and the corruption of the system to legalize tyranny.
0 # tomo 2013-06-19 20:17
You're right, brux; there has been some of that "the arc of history bends toward freedom" business in some of Chomsky's statements. It's similar to MLK's "the arc of history bends toward Justice." Perhaps my defense should have been more qualified. We all want to live in hope, and it's true as you say that Chomsky has tried at times to encourage people in this way. But of late, from what I've read, his message seems closer to Chesterton's "The sky grows darker yet, and the sea rises higher."
0 # brux 2013-06-19 22:16
Yep, but I think that is a recent, but accurate development.
+3 # dickbd 2013-06-19 15:54
Well, I agree with what you say, and no one should be above criticism. It's just that Chomsky is like an encyclopedia with all his information. And yet, he doesn't give up on the country, like some of us are tempted to do.

So I agree with him on that; however, I also agree with you that we need to keep a skeptical view of the machinations of our plutocracy. But I hope there is hope!
0 # brux 2013-06-19 17:59
Chomsky is a very smart and informed guy with a value system I pretty much totally agree with. He is a great critic of the system, he is a great evaluator of the realities of what is going on - that is he can explain clearly and persuasively why the story of the status quo is biased and incomplete, but in terms of answers, he has few to none.

That may be because the most intelligence, power, money and resources ever collected in human history have been assembled in the United States to drive a military system of rationalized pseudo-imperial istic dominance - above all other considerations, and they do not intend to be sidetracked or defeated.

However, what this means is that democracy, free-market, capitalism, morality, all the considerations the citizens might use to measure and quantify our system - they all fall under and are nothing compared to the system of military dominance those who run the country have self-importantl y defined and given priority.

I think this is the real discussion of the age ... and I also think that Chomsky misses it - as he always focuses on the critical and hypocrisy of America as a terrorist country, and fails to define the context for this ... whether agree or disagree.
+1 # PGreen 2013-06-19 22:22
As far as I know, Chomsky's "answer" has remained the same for many years: organize and be active! He frequently says that it is extremely difficult to change things when you are acting alone. Solidarity! He has also said that people in some other countries who resist their authorities take greater risk that Americans and Europeans. Many more are killed. I think perhaps Americans have more to lose, and this makes us hesitate to take effective action--even when we know it is urgent.
Until OWS came along, I would have said that there is no single point of focus for change. Now I'm not sure--there may be a mass movement stirring, waiting to be born. OWS had the right focus: the oligarchy and inequality. OWS properly focused on the puppeteer, Wall Street, rather than the puppets in Washington. But to reemerge it needs a strategy for confrontation and outreach.
+2 # PGreen 2013-06-20 06:01
As far as I know, Chomsky's "answer" has remained the same for many years: organize and be active! He frequently says that it is extremely difficult to change things when you are acting alone. Solidarity! He has also said that people in some other countries who resist their authorities take greater risk that Americans and Europeans. Many more are killed. I think perhaps Americans have more to lose, and this makes us hesitate to take effective action--even when we know it is urgent.
Until OWS came along, I would have said that there is no single point of focus for change. Now I'm not sure--there may be a mass movement stirring, waiting to be born. OWS had the right focus: the oligarchy and inequality. OWS properly focused on the puppeteer, Wall Street, rather than the puppets in Washington. But to reemerge it needs an effective strategy for confrontation and outreach.
+10 # HenryS1 2013-06-19 13:46
Midwest Tom: Among my friends, those with early life experience in another country tend to be much more aware of the precise power relationship between the government and individual people than is the norm. They tend to tell ME things I don't know about small shifts in power towards governmental control, and to be aware as to where those shifts might lead.

They may be more alert to the loss of freedom than most of us born here that have taken it for granted.

Just one point of view. Interacting with them as interesting people is a better way to learn how they think than avoiding or demonizing them. Try volunteering to do intake at a large homeless shelter and hear a few hours of life stories as you go through the questions. You can learn a lot you won't get on NPR, even though I love NPR.
0 # reiverpacific 2013-06-20 09:38
"---- attacks on democracy and the people" (Quote).
This is an attack on the US (Democracy hasn't made it here yet by a long shot) AND the rest of the world.
It seems to me that they are all at it now as a response to the US-NSA global reach, covert surveillance and interference, even with it's allies, as yet another incidence of 'blowback', like the US bitching about and using "Terrorism" as rationale for all the warrantless wiretapping, arrests and rendition without due process and selected, targeted drone strikes, which are themselves provocation for strike-backs against the big brother bully by all means necessary.
Again, if the US quit fuckin' around with other countries, they wouldn't have to be so concerned with resistance and blowback.
This is all being driven by the same spirit of paranoia only with high tech', as the McCarthy era witch-hunts but now we are all ripe for the burning!

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