Spy The Beloved Country – 2013 Edition


Still catching up on some stuff a bit – the following appeared last week in the Murdoch Street Journal (here)…

Once again, the tanks-have-rolled left and the black-helicopters right have joined together in howls of protest. They were set off by last week’s revelations that the U.S. government has been collecting data that disclose the fact, but not the content, of electronic communications within the country, as well as some content data outside the U.S. that does not focus on American citizens. Once again, the outrage of the left-right coalition is misdirected.

Libertarian Republicans and liberal—progressive, if you prefer—Democrats see the specter of George Orwell’s “1984” in what they claim is pervasive and unlawful government spying. These same groups summoned “1984” in 2001 after passage of the Patriot Act, in 2008 after renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, and many times in between and since.

Oh, by the way, the author of this “trust your leaders,” feel-good pabulum on behalf of the “one percent” is Michael Mukasey, former Bushco attorney general. And for Mukasey to blame liberals for invoking “1984” is darkly humorous when you consider that he once said the following from here

“I think one would have to concede that the USA Patriot Act has an awkward, even Orwellian, name, which is one of those Washington acronyms derived by calling the law ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Interrupt and Obstruct Terrorism.’ You get the impression they started with the acronym first, and then offered a $50 savings bond to whoever could come up with a name to fit. Without offering my view on any case or controversy, current or future, I think that that awkward name may very well be the worst thing about the statute.”

(The end of this post contains a link to a prior post from yours truly where Mukasey definitely supports the Patriot Act, by the way.)

Continuing…

Regrettably, those best positioned to defend such surveillance programs are least likely to do so out of obvious security concerns. Without getting into detail here, intelligence agencies, with court authorization, have been collecting data in an effort that is neither pervasive nor unlawful. As to the data culled within the U.S., the purpose is to permit analysts to map relationships between and among Islamist fanatics.

For example, it would be helpful to know who communicated with the Tsarnaev brothers, who those people were in touch with, and whether there are overlapping circles that would reveal others bent on killing and maiming Americans—sort of a terrorist Venn diagram. Once these relationships are disclosed, information can be developed that would allow a court to give permission to monitor the content of communications.

In response, this tells us the following (#2 on the list)…

NSA Deputy Director John Inglis said that 22 NSA officials are authorized to approve requests to query an agency database that contains the cellphone metadata of American citizens. (Metadata includes the numbers of incoming and outgoing calls, the date and time the calls took place, and their duration.) Deputy AG Cole also said that all queries of this database must be documented and can be subject to audits. Cole also said that the NSA does not have to get separate Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approval for each query; instead, the agency merely has to file a monthly report with the court on how many times the database was queried, and how many of those searches targeted the phone records of Americans.

This, to me, is another holdover from the rancid Bushco regime. There appears to be, more or less, retroactive judicial review going on here. If the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is going to be notified after surveillance has taken place, what the hell is the point of having “judicial review” at all?

And yes, I know this utterly awful state of affairs was codified into law by a Democratic congress in 2008, one of the most cowardly acts I have ever seen.

Continuing…

As to monitoring content abroad, the utility is obvious. At least one conspiracy—headed by Najibullah Zazi and intended to maim and kill New York City subway riders—was disclosed through such monitoring and headed off. Zazi, arrested in 2009, pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

An opposing point of view on that claim is here, by the way.

Continuing…

Because intelligence does not arrive in orderly chronological ranks, and getting useful data is an incremental process that often requires matching information gathered in the past with more current data, storing the information is essential. But, say the critics, information in the hands of “the government” can be misused—just look at the IRS. The IRS, as it happens, has a history of misusing information for political purposes.

That’s absolutely right, and Mukasey would know, having worked for the administration that was responsible for this.

Continuing…

To be sure, there have been transgressions within intelligence agencies, but these have involved the pursuit of an intelligence mission, not a political objective.

Not according to William Binney, former head of the National Security Agency’s global digital data gathering program (here), noted from here.

Continuing…

Consider also that in a post-9/11 world all of those agencies live in dread of a similar attack. That ghastly prospect itself provides incentive for analysts to focus on the intelligence task at hand and not on political or recreational use of information.

Translated from Mukasey: Don’t question the NSA spying program, or else the terrorists have already won.

Continuing…

Some wallow in the idea that they are being watched, their civil liberties endangered, simply because a handful of electrons they generated were among the vast billions being reviewed in a high-stakes antiterrorism effort. Of course, many are motivated politically or ideologically to oppose robust intelligence-gathering aimed at fending off Islamist terrorism. Criticism from that quarter can be left to lie where it fell.

Speaking of “endangered civil liberties” (from the Source Watch post noted above)…

As a judge, in October 2001 Mukasey “dismissed concerns by a 21-year old Jordanian immigrant that he had been beaten while in U.S. custody, leaving bruises that were hidden beneath his orange prison jumpsuit.”[9] “‘As far as the claim that he was beaten, I will tell you that he looks fine to me,’ said Judge Mukasey.”[10]

Continuing…

Nor do these programs violate the law. Start with the Constitution. The applicable provisions lie in two clauses in the Fourth Amendment. The first bars “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The second provides that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause” established by affidavit, and it requires that warrants describe with particularity what or who is to be seized, and from where.

Notice that the first clause does not forbid warrantless searches, only unreasonable ones.

Wow, talk about some legalese hair-splitting! In Mukasey’s legally compromised (IMHO) worldview, a “warrantless” search actually isn’t “unreasonable.”

Continuing…

And the second simply creates a warrant requirement that is read, with some exceptions, to bar evidence at trial if it is obtained without a valid warrant. The first clause has been read to protect the content of communications in which the speaker has a reasonable expectation of privacy—telephone conversations being an obvious example. It does not protect the fact of communications.

As far as the “fact” of communications is concerned (here)…

The National Security Agency has at times mistakenly intercepted the private email messages and phone calls of Americans who had no link to terrorism, requiring Justice Department officials to report the errors to a secret national security court and destroy the data, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials.

At least some of the phone calls and emails were pulled from among the hundreds of millions stored by telecommunications companies as part of an NSA surveillance program. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Thursday night publicly acknowledged what he called “a sensitive intelligence collection program” after its existence was disclosed by the Guardian newspaper.

Yes, it’s commendable that the mistaken intercepts were reported and the data destroyed (or so the story says), but suppose that didn’t happen? Suppose that, in the data mining process, it was falsely recorded that yours truly called an overseas number to book some travel arrangement (not likely, I’ll admit), but the phone number was transposed by accident, and instead, it was interpreted that I called someone with links to the Muslim Brotherhood instead? What about the “fact” of that communication?

There’s other stuff I could get into on what Mukasey said, but I think this sums things up. To me, the real takeaway comes from here (turning to Mother Jones once again)…

The problem is that this kind of indefinite data collection makes abuse far more likely in the future. Someday there will be a different president in the White House, there will be a different head of NSA, and there will be different professionals running the program. What will they do with all that data the next time something happens that makes America crazy for a few years? I don’t know, but I do know that if they don’t have the data in the first place they can’t abuse it.

the future is what we should be talking about. Even if NSA’s programs haven’t been abused yet, that doesn’t mean they’re okay. Likewise, even if they haven’t produced any great benefits yet, that doesn’t mean they’re stupid and useless. It’s the future that matters.

Oh, and as long as we’re talking about Mukasey, let’s not forget this little episode, where Dem Congressman Jim Moran said that anyone opposing a civilian trial for Khalid Sheik Mohammed was “un-American” (worse), but Mukasey responded by saying that Moran should seek counseling from Maj. Nidal Hassan (worst!) – also, here is the link to the post on the Patriot Act I noted above, pointing out that Mukasey supported Section 215 of the Act, which basically invalidates the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.

Despite the whole “nothing to see here, move along” narrative Mukasey is trying to inflict here, I should note that this tells us that a majority of those polled want those knuckleheads in Congress (and I’m thinking mainly, but not totally, of the House when I say that) to do their jobs and hold hearings on the whole surveillance issue (which should have taken place during Bushco, but better late than never I know…and I know doing that in the House is problematic because of the likely Repug grandstanding, but it still needs to happen). I mean, I think that would be the prudent thing to do so if, say, one day, I’m driving to work and I see or hear a drone flying overhead, at least I’ll have some idea of who sent it there and what’s going on with the damn thing (and hopefully that explanation will be the truth).

The people of this country want answers on this issue in particular. And they deserve them, including me.

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One Response to Spy The Beloved Country – 2013 Edition

  1. Kaminomoto says:

    When I initially commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments
    are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is
    added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service?
    Cheers!

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