Conspiracy Corner – PRISM

Every Thursday, about 8:15am, Matthew talks with Ethan and Zac on 95bFM’s “Breakfast Show” about conspiracy theories.

If there was a story in the last fortnight that was even more bewildering than Peter Dunne probably being the source of a leak, then it had to be PRISM, the story which just kept retracting itself. When we first heard about PRISM the story was focussed on the claim that the US Government, through the NSA, was not just hoarding all of our information but they were also processing it, bit by bit, phone call by phone call, in such a way that we appeared to have been living in a total surveillance state for the last decade without having ever noticed it.

Then the story began to slip away from grasp. Yes, the NSA was collecting data, but it was just meta-data. No, they weren’t analysing it in depth; indeed, they weren’t even analysing it unless they had just cause. Yeah, there was oversight (except that the oversight seems pretty toothless). The major IT companies, like Facebook, Google and Apple (no Microsoft, you are not in the hallowed set any more; you are being punished for the XBox One) all came out and said “Hey, despite an awful looking powerpoint slide, we’re not complicit in this at all!”

Even the original story in the Washington Post was carefully rewritten without warning, in order to retract some of the increasing false-looking claims.

Indeed, the story began to focus more on the leaker, Edward Snowden, than it did on the NSA and PRISM. Snowden’s qualifications were questioned. His choice of a place to flee to to avoid US-style justice (Hong Kong) was the subject of bemused speculation. His calm delivery and media savvy was attack, by Naomi Wolf of all people, as being evidence that he was a security apparatus plant, one designed to distract us from real issues. The fact that Snowden revealed the extent of the spying the NSA engaged in, showing that America was happy to spy on the leaders of their supposed allies, was taken as evidence of espionage; no true American would want to reveal secrets everybody already knew!

So, what can we make of PRISM? What can we make of Snowden?

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On the subject of Snowden the world’s politicians and journalists have said much, most of which is not worth commenting on. However, this particular diatribe by John Aravosis over at America Blog is filled with hyperbole as he slams Snowden for a lack of patriotism, his argument basically boiling down to “You should only leak information I want you to leak!”

Then there’s Naomi Wolf’s bizarre channeling of Glenn Beck in these two posts; it’s as if she thinks we should only be supporting one celebrity leaker and she’d rather you supported her rather poor choice of Julian Assange.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.

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