Donald Trump has made no secret of being petty and vindictive toward his critics. He has threatened to sue The New York Times, which he says his attorneys are “watching.” Last winter he pledged, if elected, to weaken First Amendment protections. He has gone after individuals, as well, menacing MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski by threatening to expose her private life. How would you like him to be able to watch you at will through that little camera lens on your laptop? As president, he would certainly have that power and more, as Oliver Stone’s powerful film Snowden makes clear.
The debate over massive government surveillance is often posed as a choice between safety and privacy. But under a Trump presidency, you would not have either one. One thing we have learned is that almost all governnment employees will do as they are told, even to the point of inflicting illegal torture on people. Otherwise, why was there only one Ed Snowden? Thousands of people knew about the abuses he exposed. If Trump orders the National Security Agency to out embarrassments in the private lives of all critical journalists or all prominent Mexican-Americans, it will comply. Moreover, it should be remembered that under US law, citizens of other countries have no protection from American spying whatsoever, so that Trump could rampage around listening in on heads of state, officials, and members of parliament in countries that are NATO allies, exposing their private lives and creating scandals.
Oliver Stone’s gripping film is a horror movie, not a thriller. All horror movies are about a monster. The monster in this case is a composite character, comprising bits and pieces of James Clapper (the NSA head who lied to Congress about his surveillance of millions of Americans) and Michael Hayden, his predecessor, who is still proud of having used a big black marker to cross out the Fourth Amendment from the copy of the Constitution in the National Archives. It is sometimes forgotten that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is also a horror tale, in which the dark lord of Mordor, Sauron, not only menaces the world but does so through diabolical inventions such as the eye of Sauron and the ring of power. Perhaps the most menacing monster of all are the thousands of ordinary NSA employees who operate the Eye of Sauron on behalf of the dark lord of an intrusive and lawless US government. Many no doubt think they are keeping the republic safe, without stopping to consider whether their methods have left us with a republic to begin with.
There is zero evidence that warrantless bulk electronic surveillance inside the United States has ever stopped a single act of terrorism. Inside the country, the program was apparently mainly used to bust drug dealers by tracing whoever calls one, and then local law enforcement was instructed to lie to the judge about how they made their case (since the surveillance was illegal). The entire process is far more damaging to society, inasmuch as it corrupts public institutions and trust, than the purchase of a few dime bags of pot. Indeed, since marijuana appears to reduce desire for opioid abuse and probably cuts down on pill addictions (which are legal with a prescription), all the pot deals the Feds busted with their unconstitutional tactics probably actually damaged Americans’ physical and mental health.