Books

'No Place to Hide: Brings a Vital Discussion on Snowden's Revelations

David L. Ulin
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

What makes Edward Snowden interesting is not the man himself but what he revealed.


No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Inc.
Length: 272 pages
Author: Glenn Greenwald
Price: $27.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-05
Amazon

Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State comes with a built-in challenge: creating a sense of drama when we all know the basics of the tale.

In December 2012, the Rio de Janeiro-based journalist, then writing for the Guardian, received an email from someone calling himself Cincinnatus, after the Roman farmer “who, in the fifth century BC, was appointed dictator of Rome to defend the city against attack.”

This cyber-Cincinnatus turned out to be Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who, over the next six months, would release to Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras documents implicating the NSA in indiscriminate electronic surveillance, aided and abetted by tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo.

The Snowden story is, of course, a work in progress; he has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, but his future is unclear. You won’t find news about his status in No Place to Hide, which is essentially backward looking — a self-portrait, in a sense, of how Greenwald got the Snowden story and what he thinks it means.

On a certain level, this is as it should be, for what makes Snowden interesting is not the man himself but what he revealed. Even when he appears in the book, he is more or less a cipher: a patriot, yes, who sees the leak of information as an act of conscience but who refuses, even under Greenwald’s prodding, to put himself at center stage.

He is self-contained, enigmatic; even though he was prepared, he later explained, “to risk my liberty, perhaps even my life, to hand (over) thousands of Top Secret documents from the nation’s most secretive agency — a leak that will produce dozens if not hundreds of huge journalistic scoops,” he matter-of-factly contacted Greenwald and Poitras, and after a series of negotiations they met in a Hong Kong hotel.

“Snowden,” Greenwald explains, “was staying at the hotel quite openly, paying with his credit card because, he explained, he knew that his movements would ultimately be scrutinized by the government, the media, and virtually everyone else... He had set out to demonstrate, he said, that his movements could be accounted for, there was no conspiracy, and he was acting alone.” And yet, this lack of drama, in its way, becomes a kind of drama, for if you believe that Snowden and Greenwald are American heroes, then there is something compelling about their transparency, the decision to operate in plain sight.

“We agreed,” Greenwald writes, “on what we had learned: national security officials do not like the light. They act abusively and thuggishly only when they believe they are safe in the dark. Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power, we discovered, its enabling force. Transparency is the only real antidote.”

No Place to Hide is very much an argument for that sort of transparency, broken down, roughly, into three parts. First, there is the story of Greenwald and Snowden’s interactions, concluding with the June 2013 publication of a series of articles in the Guardian that ultimately yielded a George Polk Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

This is followed by a discussion of the NSA’s surveillance program and how it works, complete with screen grabs from the Snowden files. Finally, there is an extended bit of commentary on the dangers of surveillance, in which Greenwald takes on not only the government but also the mainstream media.

“The iconic reporter of the past,” he writes, “was the definitive outsider. Many who entered the profession were inclined to oppose rather than serve power.” Now, however, that has shifted, with “(m)any of the influential journalists in the United States... (living) in the same neighborhoods as the political figures and financial elites over which they ostensibly serve as watchdogs.”

Greenwald takes particular issue with figures such as David Gregory and Bob Schieffer, who “denounced” him and Snowden on the air. “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current moments,” Gregory asked him on Meet the Press, “why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” This is troubling, to be sure, a journalist taking sides against another journalist — although Greenwald tends to overstate the dramatics in a self-aggrandizing way.

More effective is his ability to frame the larger picture: the way journalistic reticence dovetails with attempts by the Justice Department to go after the Associated Press and Fox News to create a culture in which journalism itself runs the risk of being criminalized. Especially in the Fox case, where Washington bureau chief James Rosen was labeled a “co-conspirator” for obtaining classified material, Greenwald sees a dangerous precedent, with the threat of prosecution stifling investigative work.

Clearly Snowden approached Greenwald because he was relatively independent. A constitutional rights attorney who began blogging in response to the Valerie Plame affair, he wrote as a media outsider for Salon and then for the Guardian, which he left to start the online publication Intercept (co-edited with Poitras and Jeremy Scahill) for First Look Media.

For Greenwald, and by extension Snowden, the NSA program was contrary to the spirit of the digital culture. “Converting the Internet into a system of surveillance,” he writes, “... guts it of its core potential. Worse, it turns the Internet into a tool of repression.” As an example, he cites Microsoft’s SkyDrive service, which told users, “We believe it’s important that you have control over who can and cannot access your personal data in the cloud,” even as it turned that data over to the NSA.

No Place to Hide is uneven; it doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know already, and Snowden himself disappears about 100 pages in. Still, and despite Greenwald’s more self-important tendencies, it’s part of a necessary conversation about surveillance and privacy.

“The right to be left alone (is) the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by a free people,” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1928. Nearly a century later, Greenwald insists, in a culture Brandeis couldn’t have imagined, we could do no better than to keep such an argument in mind.

6
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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