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Surveillance agencies' unchecked power are a threat to democracy, Greenwald said in Canada on Saturday. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Surveillance agencies' unchecked power are a threat to democracy, Greenwald said in Canada on Saturday. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Greenwald: Harper Government Exploiting Recent Attacks to Expand Powers

Prime Minister, says journalist, is exploiting recent violence in Canada to 'further dismantle civil liberties and core principles of western justice'

Nadia Prupis

The Canadian government is exploiting last week’s attacks against soldiers in the country to push sweeping national security bills into law and give the state ever-more invasive surveillance powers, investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald said in Ottawa over the weekend.

Terrorism is "the most inflammatory, but also the most meaningless word in our political lexicon," Greenwald told an audience of over 1,000 during a speech on privacy and state surveillance on Saturday. "We’ve allowed this word terrorism to take on such profound meaning that right before our eyes governments dismantle the protections and defining attributes of western justice in order to keep us safer."

"These attacks are instantly seized upon as a way to further dismantle civil liberties and core principles of western justice."
—Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept
Last week, following two separate incidents that resulted in the death of Canadian soldiers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper argued that Parliament should give the nation’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, more surveillance power to track terror suspects abroad and to detain suspects at home. On Monday, the Conservative government began debate over a bill that would give those agencies additional powers, even as a report published Friday by the Security Intelligence Review Committee found that the CSIS was operating without accountability.

"Our laws and police powers need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, detention and arrest," Harper told the House of Commons on Thursday. "They need to be much strengthened. I assure members that work which is already underway will be expedited."

In his speech, Greenwald noted that Harper's push came less than 48 hours after Wednesday’s attack, in which gunman Micheal Zehaf-Bibeau killed National War Memorial sentry Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

"The speed and the aggression and the brazenness and the shamelessness with which the prime minister moved to manipulate and exploit the emotions around these events to demand more power for himself was... almost impressive," Greenwald said.

"These attacks are instantly seized upon as a way to further dismantle civil liberties and core principles of western justice," he continued.

Greenwald, a champion of privacy rights and civil liberties and Pulitzer Prize winner who has published many of the key stories based on a cache of documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, said the surveillance tactics exposed by those revelations are not just a threat to privacy—they are a threat to democracy itself.

The abuse of power by the shadowy security agencies of the so-called "Five Eyes" governments—which include Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and the UK—is "stunning," Greenwald said. "[T]hese five governments... have instituted a system of mass surveillance as self-evidently consequential, with such profound, far-reaching implications, as a system of mass surveillance, without a whiff of disclosure or debate among the citizenry that are supposed to hold them democratically accountable."

"The implications for democracy are incredibly profound and our ability as citizen to understand what our government is doing," he added.

The most compelling reason to confront Western governments’ fear-mongering and emotional manipulation, Greenwald said, is that the U.S. and its allies are embarking on "a path of endless war" in the wake of the attacks on September 11:

The pattern is clear. We do something (militarily) in that part of the world that generates all sorts of rage and fury, rightly or wrongly. That rage and fury causes a tiny percentage of the people in that world to want to bring violence back to us.

When the violence is brought back to us, we immediately demand that our government further erode civil liberties and we need even more militarism, which in turn inflames that part of the world more and causes more violence to be brought back to us in a never-ending spiral.

Watch Greenwald's entire speech here:

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