Spooks, Spies, Lies and Heroes: Edward Snowden & The NSA

reasons to expatriate

There was a comedy film that came out back in 1985 titled Spies Like Us that premised the idea of two bumbling idiots that realized towards the end they were being used a pawns for a few military leaders and politicians in the US that wanted to covertly start a nuclear war in order to test a new missile defense system.  My own personal take on the movie was that the director and screenwriters wanted to demonstrate that even two lowly supposed buffoons could save the day by doing what they knew was correct, moral and ethical (even though they were defying the chain of command as they say).  A commentary about the moral obligations of the individual when those in power go too far, or have an agenda that has nothing to do with protecting the citizenry they were charged to protect.  Of course, that was 25 years ago, when such ideals still held some value and when the bogey man was the old soviet union.  And we think it was the British politician Winston Churchill who summed it up best when he said: You can count on the Americans to do the right thing – after they have tried everything else.  But that was then, and now is now.

Fast forward to today and we have the real life case of Mr. Edward Snowden, a young man that has been both praised and considered a villain because he exposed what he considered to be wrong doing by the US National Security Agency, where he worked either directly or indirectly as a sub-contractor.   Mr. Glenn Greenwald, the journalist that was originally contacted by Snowden who published some initial articles via the Guardian Newspaper in London, also recently wrote a book about his experiences titled: No Place To Hide.  In the book, Mr. Greenwald offers some examples of documents that were given to him and interesting enough some power point slide presentations as well.  And we find it both interesting and ingenious of Snowden to collect and offer these slide presentations because they offer an insight into the culture and mindset of the people responsible for the data collection.  Two slides in particular only confirm what we believed to be the agenda all along, and it has nothing to do bogey men in the sand dunes of the Middle East.

But before we talk about that, you probably are wondering why power point slides?  For whom and for what purpose?   Why are a few power point slides perhaps even more important than the individual documents or secret communications papers?   Well, the first thing to understand is everyone has their annual get-together.  The boy scouts have their jamborees, the national association of oncologists have their annual convention (perhaps with free stethoscopes as a door prize), and the ubiquitous annual company picnic abounds for businesses large and small alike.  So too do the spooks and spies have their own little annual mixer whereby they pat each other on the back and present their goals and agenda for the following year.  Supposedly they often get together with their counter parts in Canada and the UK, which might result in some interesting offerings on the buffet table, we would imagine (haggis anyone?).

In any event, the point is that these power point slide presentations are presented at such gatherings, aside from smaller internal meetings as well, we have to presume.  And they tell quite a bit about who prepared them and the actual goals, which are not always candid in official memorandum passed along in more polite prose to the politicians, or the public for that matter.  For example, we can conclude from the language in the slide presentations that many of the people that prepared them are very young employees lacking a bit in the life experience category, what is often alternatively called wisdom from maturity.  Mr. Greenwald comments in his book that supposedly the NSA was so hard up to staff their new offices that they seeming took anyone that could use a keyboard and a mouse.  Edward Snowden himself never graduated high school, if you can believe it, but he seems to be the rare exception with an amount of wisdom and self awareness beyond his years, at least as far as his morality and ethics are concerned.  His former coworkers and associates on the other hand give us a clue with a slide Mr. Greenwald presents on page 167 of his book that sports the headline title on the top of: Oh Yeah.

Oh Yeah?  That's what pops up when you pass a certain level in the video game Subway Surfer.  How do I know about Subway Surfer?  I have young adolescent aged nieces, who of course think the phrase is great, along with the game as well. However, getting back to the point, mature men and women preparing a professional presentation would not include such a slogan on the materials (which tells me something about what is going on in these NSA offices).  One might as well change the title to Hey Dude – Here Is How We Do It, or some such thing equally as juvenile.  But it gets worse.  The slide goes on to tell us that the goal is: to put money, national interest and ego together (in order to reshape the world to the benefit of the US).   In other words, selfishness, narcissism, arrogance and indifference come to mind as summary synonyms.  All in contrast to the official propaganda presented to the rest of world propagandizing the idea that the US stands for rule of law, justice, freedom, civil liberties, and so on.

Now do not get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with having employees in any business that are young, eager, intelligent, and motivated.  However, when we are talking about someone in charge of making some serious decisions, especially in the area of ethics, morality and the law, I have the tendency to believe that a more experienced and mature bit of oversight is needed.  I was very young once myself – and eager, and lacking in wisdom and patience as well.  And I had someone older and wiser that I both reported to and often clashed with also.  But there are some things you only learn through maturity and experience.  When the less experienced and less wise run the shop, problems will ensue, including scant regard for things like the law (when you are young, you think you can get away with anything – or at least try to).    


The more subdued but equally disturbing slide apparently approved by senior management for presentation outside of the agency is indicated on page 168 whereby we are told that the threat today for the US includes: Criminal Elements, Terrorists, Hackers and DEVELOPING NATIONS as well.   Developing Nations?  Yes ladies and gentlemen, developing nations are a threat equally dangerous as criminal organizations and nefarious bogey men, or so we are told. But why is this so?

Well, as we have argued many times before, it is about the money and economics that they are really worried about (and they should be), not foreign fanatics running around the desert.  In fact, based upon the militarization of domestic US police forces, it would seem they are truly more worried about their own citizens running amok (as opposed to foreign devils), although we will leave that to another article.  Getting back on topic, we have to believe they are acutely aware that time is running out and that the economic situation is precarious.  The US national debt (as with some other so-called modern industrialized nations) has reached dangerous proportions.  So much so that we are at the point of no return at the moment, and they will continue to stoke inflation (devalue the US Dollar) as the method to try and pay it off.  In addition, the huge cohort of retiring baby boom citizens, the rising cost of health care, the run away spending in other social welfare payments and the outsourcing of manufacturing (and other) jobs do not point to a positive scenario long terms with respect to economic health.  You can make up whatever fantasy scenarios that you want, or make whatever outlandish predictions that you want about future economic growth, but the bottom line is the books MUST balance at the end of the day.  Too much debt, not enough income or tax revenue, constantly increased spending and more government debt (deficits) to pay for expenses they really do not have the money for, and declining annual GDP activity all point to a problem going forward whereby the income and expenses do not balance out (the difference is made up by borrowing or debt, only compounding the problem even more).

Getting back on track, why then are so-called developing or emerging markets a threat?  Well, firstly one must understand that economic power and political power go hand in hand.  Without the economic power or economic where with all, the politics are just smoke.  Stated another way, if you cannot put your money where your mouth is, you have a problem and no one will take you seriously when you do not have the money to back up the talk.  This really is where countries such as the US are headed at the moment, and the rest of the world is acutely aware.  However, many of the emerging or developing market countries are in a very different and in some cases much better situation.  Many have exponentially less national or government debt relative to annual GDP in comparison to the US (and other Western European nations, such as Spain Italy, Greece, etc.).  In addition, their economies are growing at positive rates ranging between perhaps 4 and 10 percent.  Also, many do not have the social welfare burdens such as national health insurance, unemployment insurance, and other government run Ponzi schemes as they exist in North America or Western Europe.  Finally of course is the demographic issue of the populations.  To explain, many of these developing or emerging markets have fairly small population percentages of retirees and very large percentages of young people.  The challenge going forward of course is creating employment opportunities for all these people, BUT such countries do not have to worry about older segments draining government coffers for government retirement programs or health care.

The real grave and present danger to US hegemony is therefore economic, and specifically (aside from everything else) the coming discard of the US Dollar as a global currency for world trade.  There are those that will argue such a thing will never come to pass because there is no other currency that can replace the US currency for the purposes of trade.  However, we would tend to disagree and quite a few nations are both collectively working on a new global trade settlement system and individually currently working on cross border trade settlement with their own currencies in terms of their own direct trading partners.  Author James Rickards discusses the possible use of IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDR) as a new global trade settlement medium to replace the US Dollar in his recent book: The Death Of Money.  However, even he opines it will probably be more weighted towards the Chinese Yuan Renminbi to reflect the growing economic clout of China.  And is it very interesting to note that while the current head of the IMF is Christine Lagarde (a former high ranking government official from France), also on the executive director committee we find Mr. Tao Zhang, who was the former deputy director at China's central bank.  So China's influence at the IMF is now apparent and the IMF would certainly need China to be on board for any project that suggests the SDR to replace US Dollars for global trade.


However, generally speaking and when looking at the broader list of nations, we tend to think the developing or emerging market countries (BRICS, etc.) will view such a new digital currency with extreme distrust.  Firstly, it is a digital medium at the moment (not issued in any form of paper or coinage, and then the question is who will control the physical issuance if it comes down to that in the future) and secondly it is managed and controlled by the IMF (an institution founded by and dominated by the US for decades, although that may certainly change as the BRICS gain more influence and control at the IMF). But past actions of the IMF, and the stereotype or legacy that the IMF is nothing more than a US puppet institution created to advance US interests still exist in the minds of many.  And with this in mind, referring back to Winston Churchill's comments and considering all that has taken place over the last 15 years or so regarding this recent spying revelation AND negligence on the part of the credit rating agencies regarding these junk mortgage pools sold to banks and sovereign wealth funds world wide (not to forget gross failures of the government entities charged with supervising the various aspects of the US financial system as well) – Does anyone really still trust the Americans to do the right thing for EVERYONE?  

Returning to the issue of spying, who is the US National Security Agency (NSA) really working for and at what purpose?  And the other question is, why are they spying extensively on the domestic US population?  Government employees, politicians and the military take an oath to protect the country from enemies, both foreign and domestic – but who or what constitutes a domestic enemy?  Is is someone that protests (something supposedly permissible in a democracy)?  Is it someone that simply and peacefully disagrees with the current political leadership?  How far does one, or should one go in terms of violating democratic principals, civil liberties and freedoms in exchange for what some will say is done in the name of security?  Just as in the case of some medical treatments, we would wager to suggest that the cure might be worse than the disease (Fred was cured of cancer, but died of the side effects from the chemotherapy – poor Fred).

Edward Snowden told Glenn Greenwald that his biggest fear was all of this would have been for nothing.  After all, the man basically destroyed his life, his employment and his personal relationships to out what he believed was wrong and unethical behavior.  And to provide proof that Mr. Snowden's revelations did spark some positive effect, Mr. Greenwald likes to point out that two politicians in the US Government did table a new law proposal to curb the abuses and excesses of the NSA. However, the vote in the US Congress regarding such new restrictions was about 45 percent in favor and 55 percent against (which is to say the new law did not pass).  From my perspective, this is proof that it will be business as usual and the majority do not care.  Instead, there should have been outrage and the vote should have been 80 or 90 percent in favor, but alas it was not so.  The result is, we tend to think, that the US Constitution will continue to be ignored and that the current path they are on both economically and politically will continue.

And so what are one of the possible trends to come out of all this?  We have to believe many middle class, small business owners and entrepreneurs in both Western Europe and North America will continue to seek shelter away from the litany of problems that continue to exist in the above mentioned block of countries.  And of course that means residency, dual citizenship and banking outside of these jurisdictions as well for protection.  However, as more and more of the people that actually have paid the taxes to support all the nonsense continue to leave, pressures on banking, reporting and spying as well will also mount.  This is the so-called threat of the developing markets in that they are now attractive to investors and business owners (for relocation, investment, banking and so on) whereas the former so-called wealthy industrialized social welfare democracies of Europe and North America look like the terminally ill patient that refuses to take the correct and proper medicine for recovery.