No Place (for Indigenous Peoples) to Hide

Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (NY: Metropolitan Books, 2014).

Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide demands all kinds of attention for its fearless analysis of the United States as a surveillance state in service of its own political and economic interests and the protection of the rich and powerful. While U.S. surveillance programs — overseen by the NSA and contracted with multiple transnational corporations — directly violates U.S. constitutional protections for due process and against unwarranted searches, Greenwald’s work exposes further the lies at the heart of American exceptionalist claims to being the premiere democracy in the world. These lies, perpetuated by the establishment media, must be publicly debated and appropriate safeguards put into place, Greenwald argues.

For here, in my abhorrence for the entire genre of book reviews, I would like to think with Greenwald’s work in mind about how the U.S. surveillance state impacts Indigenous peoples in their relations to the “Five Eyes” or FVEY, including the United States, England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The FVEY are the NSA’s closest surveillance allies with whom and between whom it would appear that most if not all surveilled metadata is shared.

Basically, the FVEY enjoy liberal access to NSA and one another’s archives, including surveillance records of calls, contacts, calendars, emails, and chats through virtually every social network site including Facebook, Yahoo, Google, SKYPE, and Microsoft and telecommunication’s company including Verizon and AT&T. The NSA is central in the FVEY’s exchanges because the US was central in defining the Internet as such.

What this means for the rest of us are full breaches of all of the security and privacy checks and browsing programs that we avail ourselves of in order to protect our privacy and online anonymity. Everything from who is involved in an email to where they are located to the content of their posts and exchanges — social, financial, and otherwise — are subjected to NSA collection. The NSA then shares that information either en masse or by request with other government agencies and corporate partners.

(Beyond the FVEY, Glenn Greenwald notes that the NSA generously shares its surveillance archives with Israel. Other nations are partners but not so freely exchanged with.)

“Collect it all”

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions,
they don’t have to worry about answers.” 
― Thomas PynchonGravity’s Rainbow

The NSA is every minute expanding its infrastructure — personnel, administration, programs, buildings — to store, catalogue, and assess its archives of the trillions and trillions of gigabytes of data it collects every day.

What I find particularly interesting about about its programs are their discursive frames of reference for Indigenous peoples — both for what that framing represents about the kind of surveillance state we live in but as well what it forecloses in questions about the operation and implications of U.S. surveillance in relation to Indigenous constitutional and human rights.

The NSA — and by implication the FVEY — wants to know everything about everyone. At least, it wants to have the data readily available to access, distribute, and analyze in relation to political and economic policy decisions, treaty and trade negotiations, United Nations meetings, and long-term planning.

But the NSA — and by implication the FVEY — frame their efforts in the terms of U.S. and FVEY political and economic interests that locate Indigenous peoples under their plenary authority as domestic constituents whose individual concerns are matters of national security. By accepting the terms of U.S. and FVEY federal law, the NSA and the data and analysis of political affairs that it generates fails to account for the unique constitutional and international laws that provide for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.

For instance, shouldn’t Indigenous nations in territories now claimed and often illegally occupied by the U.S. and other FVEY nations be fully consulted in the how, when, why, and what that they and their citizens are surveilled by the NSA? The how, when, why, and what their information is accessed and shared? Shouldn’t they be involved in making decisions about how and if their territories are used for constructing and maintaining the NSA’s surveillance infrastructure? Shouldn’t they be able to say no?

The Patriot Act and Department of Homeland Security have, since 9/11, made it abundantly clear to Indigenous nations, particularly those whose territories implicate US-Canadian and US-Mexican borders, that they will be made to cooperate with border, drug, and AFT enforcement agencies or be punitively treated. Indigenous nations are coerced and bullied into partnering with federal departments and agencies, rarely if ever respected as sovereigns with self-determing powers over their citizens and territories in relation to U.S. political concerns or corporate interests.

Compare the treatment of the Mohawk Nation in upstate New York and the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona. As Brenda Norrell has frequently reported in Censored Newsthe Mohawk abjectly refuse cooperation and are subjected regularly to severe state and federal policing while the officials of the Tohono O’odham have cooperated with and are frequently awarded federal grants and services.


“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” 
― Joseph HellerCatch-22

Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada know very well that they have been watched all along by federal and state officials and by corporations, particularly but not only those opposing government and corporate land grabs and resource extraction/exploitation.

As reported by Glenn Greenwald, OLYMPIA is the name of Canada’s program that surveils the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy. As Glenn Greenwald writes, the Ministry regulates an industry of greatest concern to Canada’s energy development (119). In cooperation with the NSA, Canada’s program has set up spying posts for communications around the world (121). In turn, the NSA is actively engaged in surveillance of South, Central, and North American energy companies under the guise of anti-terrorism but explicitly concerning economic trade concerns (134-5).

As reported by Christine Graef for Mint Press, based on documents available through WikiLeaks, energy corporations have been watching Indigenous peoples for years, perceiving them as “terrorists” standing in the way of their interests, reviewing both their political organizing and strategies but as well the contours of their personal lives.

In 2007, surveillance involved communications between members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk in Canada:

On June 29, 2007 a group of Mohawks from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory blocked the CN Railway Line running through their territory, the Highway 401, and Highway 2 to protest conditions on Native reserves across Canada and the Government of Canada’s sluggishness in resolving outstanding land claims. Blockade spokesman Shawn Brant faces multiple charges stemming from these actions, and the Crown prosecutor is currently seeking a 12 year minimum sentence. During the preliminary inquiry to Shawn Brant’s trial, it came out that the Ontario Provincial Police, headed by Commissioner Julian Fantino, had been using wiretaps on more than a dozen different Mohawks without a judge’s authorization, an action almost unheard of recent history in Canada. Those conversations between Julian Fantino and Shawn Brant were presented as testimony during the pre-trial hearing. The Crown obtained a publication ban during the preliminary inquiry, which was challenged last week by the Canadian Broadcasting Company after they found out that the O.P.P. had officers posing as cameramen during the Day of Action, a tactic that has recently been condemned by the Ipperwash Inquiry. The publication ban was lifted by a judge on Thursday, July 17th, 2008. A number of news agencies published initial analysis on the testimony. The next day, July 18th, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered the publication ban re-instated until an appeal hearing next week.

WikiLeaks documents show further the tracking of Indigenous activities in the United States, such as those concerning a tribal coalition seeking trade relations with Turkey (from 2010), attorneys with the Native American Rights Fund in representing the National Tribal Environmental Council (from 2010), and federal and corporate concerns about how to respond to tribes involved in conservation management of the Klamath River basin (from 2005).

I am confident that Indigenous resistance in Canada and the United States to the energy industry — ongoing and proposed — is under NSA’s radar. We can all be assured that anyone even remotely associated with Idle No More or other Indigenous groups and officials actively opposing energy corporations, most immediately within the territories through which the Keystone XL Pipeline is proposed or fracking occurs, are targets of NSA surveillance. We can assume that when we sit across the table or block a road that those on other side have NSA-generated information about us–our lives, our friends, our Internet habits, including how and when we have talked to each other and what our strategies and concerns are. I am very much looking forward to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything to confirm my suspicions and provide the definitive “site map” for NSA surveillance.


Indigenous nations have constitutional and human rights to sovereignty and self-determination. These rights are violated by NSA operations at the collective and individual level. Clearly it is long-past the time for Indigenous leaders to demand a return to the treaty as the proper form through which US-Indigenous relations are adjudicated.

“Western civilization, unfortunately, does not link knowledge and morality but rather, it connects knowledge and power and makes them equivalent. Today with an information `superhighway’ now looming on the horizon, we are told that a lack of access to information will doom people to a life of meaninglessness — and poverty. As we look around and observe modern industrial society, however, there is no question that information, in and of itself, is useless and that as more data is generated, ethical and moral decisions are taking on a fantasy dimension in which a `lack of evidence to indict’ is the moral equivalent of the good deed.” ― Vine Deloria, Jr. (Lakota)

“When you start talking about a surveillance state, certainly on an overall level I get worried and suspicious about it. But I also think, “Welcome to the Indian world!” All of a sudden all these white folks are feeling a slight taste of what it is to be black, living where they’re being watched and judged and potentially a suspect. But of course the government has been spying on us. I was not shocked by the report. In fact, I was shocked that it wasn’t bigger. Internet culture and internet technology have made it so much easier to spy on us and we willingly participate in it. We sign up with these places. Google scares me and I’m on Google. Facebook scares me. I get worried when capitalistic interests are the ones who contain all of our speech. These are giant corporations whose primary motivation is money, which it should be, but when you’re talking about economic interests, you’re talking about people who may not necessarily be loyal to their customers. So I worry about all of it. I worry that the world’s largest bookseller is in court trying to become the repository for the CIA’s online records. Do you really want to be buying your books from the same place that stores the CIA’s records? For me, it’s becoming one global thing which is going to control all of us. I turn into a leftist, paranoid conspiracy theorist and it makes me paranoid. It makes me feel like an Indian although I am already an Indian.”  Sherman Alexie (Spokane)


One response to “No Place (for Indigenous Peoples) to Hide

  1. Reblogged this on museum42 and commented:
    Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada know very well that they have been watched all along by federal and state officials and by corporations, particularly but not only those opposing government and corporate land grabs and resource extraction/exploitation.


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