Update: An unusually (for me) large number of hits on this. Anyone care to leave a comment to tell me what lead you here?
We'll wrap up the week with some more stuff about 1984 coming a few decades too late. Last week I ran down a roughly chronological list of revelations about the massive collection of personal information - the massive spying - engaged in by the US government, including spying on its own citizens. I said this week I was going to touch on some of the cheap defenses and lame excuses of the spying that have been offered by government officials. Which I will, right after I note another, new, revelation:
Under Obama, the NSA has been collecting massive amounts of data on social connections among some Americans to help “discover and track” connections between “intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States” according to a report in The New York Times.
Since 2008, the spooks have had the power to analyze Americans' phone and e-mail data for tracking such alleged "connections." But since 2010, under the Obama gang, they have been able to combine that communications data with, the Times said, "material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data” in order to identify Americans’ “associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions, and other personal information,” including such things as religious or political affiliations or one's regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office or late-night messages to an extramarital partner.
Use of this “enrichment” data is apparently unrestricted.
As the ACLU said,
This report confirms what whistleblowers have been saying for years: the NSA has been monitoring virtually every aspect of Americans’ lives - their communications, their associations, even their locations.And for what? Why, to protect us! Why else?
That's why at a recent hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, NSA Director Keith Alexander - who has had himself built a command center he called the Information Dominance Center and which was based on the deck of the starship Enterprise and no, I'm not kidding; even the doors go "whoosh" - said the NSA wants to collect more phone records. Asked about the revelations of tens of millions of phone records being collected by his agency and if there was an upper limit to how much information he wanted, Alexander said there is no upper limit and that, quoting, "I believe it is in the nation's best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we can search when the nation needs to do it."
First, doofus, it can't be a "lockbox" if you can go through it anytime you want and second, let's get this straight: It is not and would not be "the nation" going through our records, it would be you, you and the rest of your creeps getting off on the power of being able to know stuff about everybody else. You are not the nation. And your apparent inability to recognize that, yours and others right up to and including the Amazing Mr. O himself, is exactly why you represent a danger to democratic freedoms, a greater danger than any terrorist or terrorist group.
And by the way, don't give me any crap about all your "dedicated professionals." It's not their dedication I doubt and at least for most of them, it's not their professionalism I question. It's the very nature of the enterprise in which they are engaged, an enterprise which strikes at the very heart of the personal freedom and the personal privacy that are vital to the core foundation of any people who strive to be and remain free.
But instead of officials proposing actual changes even merely to limit the abuses, without even claiming to stop them or even focus on them, we get a sort of good-cop-bad-cop public relations campaign to lull us into complacency, distract us from the issue at hand, and terrify us into accepting even more spying.
The lulling came from the White House. Understand first that there are two main pieces of legislation involved here: Section 215 of the so-called Patriot Act, which I have always called the Traitor Act because of its impact on civil liberties, which is used to justify the phone snooping, and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which is the supposed justification for the email and other internet spying on Americans.
Well, Obama supposedly responded to public outrage, supposedly recognized the need for changes to curtail the feds' ability to spy on Americans. He called for changes in the law and said he would create a panel of independent outsiders to examine NSA practices because, he said, “It’s not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well.”
Feel all better?
Point the one: He called for changes in the Traitor Act - Section 215, about the phones - but never mentioned FISA, never mentioned Section 702, about the emails and the rest of the online stuff. And he has yet to say what specific changes he wants in the Traitor Act.
And the "independent outsiders?" It turns out that four of the five members have worked for Democratic administrations and the fifth leads a committee looking to build Obama's presidential library.
The AP reports that the review panel has effectively been operating as an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, that is, of James Clapper:
The panel's advisers work in offices on loan from the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]. Interview requests and press statements are coordinated through the DNI's press office. Its final report will be submitted for White House approval before the public can read it.What's more, Clapper, apparently on his own authority, exempted the panel from the federal law that requires federal committees to conduct their business and their meetings openly, with the result that its meetings have been closed to the public even though participants say nothing classified was discussed.
Not enough? The consider the president’s memorandum establishing the panel. Quoting:
The Review Group will assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the U.S. employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.Notice that there is nothing in there, not a phrase, not a word about, not a passing pro forma mention of, preventing abuses and protecting the public's privacy and rights.
While the White House lulled, Congress - specifically, the Senate Intelligence Committee - carried on with the distracting. Recently, in what journalist Kevin Gosztola, who has followed this from the very beginning, accurately called "a sham" of a hearing on NSA spying in which the six witnesses consisted of four Obama administration officials and two so-called experts who are both rabid supporters of the spying, almost all of the members turned their attention to what they claimed are the real problems: the media and Edward Snowden.
Chair Dianne Feinstein, the biggest apologist for the national security state in the whole Congress, whose role model for "oversight" is Sgt. Schultz from "Hogan's Heroes," said the whole thing was the fault of the media and Snowden. Ranking GOPper Saxby Chambliss said Snowden will have blood on hands and should be prosecuted. GOPper Dan Coats spent so much time ranting about the media that he didn't have time to ask a single question.
Senators Tom Udall and Ron Wyden tried to do their jobs as senators in questioning the witnesses, but there was very little that could be done in the six minutes each of them had.
And then there was the ever-present, the ever-faithful, the happily-no-longer-as-effective but still-present, fear-mongering.
The day before that Senate hearing, NSA Director Alexander - the man with the starship Enterprise command center with the doors that go whoosh - said in a speech at the National Press Club that if Congress hampers the spooks' ability to gather whatever and however much information they want without even the inconvenience of warrants, well, then, the type of terrorist attack launched at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya by the group Al-Shabaab a week and a-half ago, an attack that left at least 67 dead and as of today, 39 still missing, that that kind of attack is going to come to the US!
Yes, he actually said that, in essentially so many words: The actual quote was:
If you take those [surveillance powers] away, think about the last week and what will happen in the future. If you think it’s bad now, wait until you get some of those things that happened in Nairobi.Dianne Feinstein, by the way, didn't miss her cue, obediently echoing Alexander's bug-eyed invocation of the Nairobi slaughter in her opening remarks at the next day's hearing.
I'm running out of time and there's still more to cover, which will have to wait until next week, as will coverage of the latest report on global climate change just released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
So I'll just say this: An outfit called MotherboardTV got hold of a manual that includes a list of hundreds of key words the spooks use to screen and monitor emails. The group has set up a site - nsa.motherboard.tv - which generates sentences that are entirely innocent but contain as many of these key words as possible.
A few of my favorite examples, with the keywords in italics, are:
- Working titles for my grindcore band: Blister Agent, Spillover, Agro Terror, Brute Forcing, Temblor.
- I have a bacterial infection. Food poisoning. A toxic plume made an evacuation from my bowels.
- Erosion of US hegemony is a disaster. We ignored the warnings and outsourced an avalanche of jobs to China.
- Character assassination isn't funny. Call Edna a toxic bitch one more time, and find yourself a new bridge game.