Orwell’s Dystopian Future Is Almost Here: A Conversation With Glenn Greenwald

Sonali Kolhatkar

Investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald, best known for his reporting on the U.S. surveillance state, told me that in the year since he first met whistle-blower Edward Snowden, he went back and re-read Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”

In an interview on Uprising, Greenwald said that what surprised him the most about re-reading the ominous story was that “I had always remembered the ubiquity of the surveillance [in ‘1984’], which was we had a monitor in every single room of every home constantly watching every single person. So, a lot of people said, [our world is] not like ‘1984’ because not every single one of our emails is being read and or every one of our calls are being listened to because nobody could possibly be doing all that.” But, as Greenwald rightly pointed out, in Orwell’s world, “nobody actually knew whether they were being watched at all times. In fact they didn’t know if they were ever being watched.”

In essence said Greenwald, “The key to the social control was the possibility that they could be watched at any time.” Although we have no evidence that the Obama administration is engaging in any organized form of social control in our real world, the most dangerous possible outcome of the U.S. surveillance state is a dampening of dissent because of the mere possibility that the government is watching our every move.

In fact, Fourth of July celebrations in Boston this year will be the focus of intense high-tech surveillance, according to media reports. There is, of course, great irony in imposing “Big Brother” tactics on a day that is theoretically meant to symbolize freedom from colonialism and the hard won rights of personal freedoms. Meanwhile, President Obama’s own appointed watchdog panel has given a mostly unreserved thumbs up to the NSA’s programs. Can it get more Orwellian?

Greenwald knows personally how seriously governments take their right to spy on everyone and keep those programs secret. His own partner, David Miranda, was subjected to a detention and search at Heathrow Airport last year, on the premise of Britain’s “national security” interests, and by extension, the U.S.’ Greenwald’s source, Edward Snowden, faces a lifetime of exile and a possible life sentence for charges relating to the Espionage Act. That the intrepid, award-winning journalist is able to tour the nation freely to promote his book “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State” is likely due to his deft handling of the news reports he has parceled out, garnering the maximum possible public exposure, and his vociferous defense of his and others’ constitutional rights.

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