By Sam McKinney, RPEC Programs & Research Intern
RPEC has a copy of No Place to Hide available to be loaned out to interested individuals.
The beginning of No Place to Hide reads like an espionage thriller, a rapid story that is both compelling and informative. The book’s author, journalist Glen Greenwald, is led into a world of spycraft by Edward Snowden, the man who would eventually be responsible for one of the most significant leaks of classified information in US history. They bob and weave following strict security protocols to avoid government agents. Their strategy meetings in Hong Kong eventually lead to the publication of the first articles that took the world by surprise in June of 2013. Throughout the process Greenwald portrays Snowden as a completely rational and clear thinking patriot, with an impressive ability to analyze and plan. It is an extremely interesting side of the story that we have not seen in press over the last year.
However, once the spy thriller has ended, Greenwald gets a bit bogged down in presenting individual pieces of the larger NSA collection programs. It was probably necessary to include a great many details so the reader could gain a clearer understanding, but after the intrigue of the first part of the book, it is a bit of a drudge. Eventually, Greenwald begins to make his arguments, which are really the meat of the book.
Greenwald makes the case that the metadata (information like the phone numbers, time, and duration of calls) can actually be more illuminating when profiling a suspect than the content of one individual phone call. In that regard the NSA’s possession of the metadata, though technically legal, gives it a profoundly intrusive window into the private lives of innocent American civilians. Even worse, our government’s ability to gather such info may have a chilling effect on free speech and creativity of thought; being aware that you are watched may be enough to compel compliance.
Beyond the ethical problems rife in the NSA’s programs, its quest “to collect it all” (as Greenwald quotes former NSA chief Keith Alexander) is, Greenwald argues, degrading the agency’s ability to properly vet and analyze intelligence which could prove useful to the national security of the United States.
Greenwald also points to the failures of the current system of oversight. The complicity of congressional committees, the rubber stamping process of the FISA court, and the failure of the establishment media all allow for the kind of overstep represented by NSA programs that vacuum huge quantities of information from private citizens not suspected of illicit activity.
In fact, the strongest, most salient argument of the book is against the establishment media. The author holds the mainstream media complicit in keeping government secrets hidden from the American public. The importance of adversarial journalism in maintaining a healthy republic is great, and Greenwald accuses the establishment media of protecting their own interests by protecting the government, effectively following the marching orders of successive presidential administrations. Given the enthusiastic legal threats and prosecutions of whistleblowers and journalists by the Obama administration highlighted in the book, one begins to understand how and why mainstream outlets are toeing the line.
Though Greenwald has a political agenda, No Place to Hide is a multifaceted book that highlights important questions in post 9/11 America. The author reminds us of the power of transparency in combating abuses of power, the necessity of an adversarial press, and the importance of holding power accountable. These ideas are vitally important in this age of media saturation and ever-growing executive branch power. There can be no doubt that the protagonists of the story place great value on acting on those ideas.