Washington has handed Osama bin Laden his last and greatest triumph. The Prism files revealed in the Guardian indicate how far his bid to undermine western values has succeeded in the 12 years since 9/11. He has achieved state intrusion into the private lives and communications of every American citizen. He has shown the self-proclaimed home of individual freedom as so paranoid in the face of his "terror" as to infiltrate the entire internet, sucking up mobile phone calls, emails, texts and, we may assume, GPS movements.
The vast databases of Microsoft, Google, YouTube and Facebook are open to government. They may cry "your privacy is our priority", but they lie. Obedience to regulatory authority is their priority. And what does authority say? It says what authority always says: "We collect significant information on bad guys, but only bad guys." As police states have said down the ages, the innocent have nothing to fear. For innocent, eventually read obedient.
This is the same trawling power that the British security services want parliament to approve in its snooper's charter. It is defended on the same basis, that it is only exchanges, not content, that they seek. They do not really mean to snoop. And they do it only where "national security" is involved. Pull the other one. That is what the Stasi said. You can almost sense the smirk as they say it. And they have even persuaded half of parliament that they are right.
Inducing such paranoia about terror – always called "al-Qaida-linked terror" – is precisely what Islam's jihadist regard as the crucial first step in undermining the west's pseudo-liberalism. It requires democracy to lose faith in oversight, to let securocrats off the leash, to capitulate to "better safe than free". It requires the regular click up the ratchet of control sought by each successive British home secretary. They are Bin Laden's useful idiots.
The western democracies, and especially America and Britain, are the most invulnerable states on earth. They are rich and secure. They may suffer occasional explosions and killings, but they face not the remotest risk of "existential defeat". Yet 9/11 brought into being an edifice of creeping surveillance and repression which democracy is clearly unable to curb. It has never been so at risk as now, from its own loss of faith in liberty. Osama bin Laden would be clapping his hands with glee.