Now for out other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.
There doubtless were sighs of relief throughout the American intelligence community when on January 15 the National Research Council declared that there is no viable technological alternative to bulk collection of data by the National Security Agency.
Bulk collection, of course, refers to massive sweeping up of telephone metadata, internet communications, and all the rest of the personal information and conversations the spooks swallow in their conscious attempt to strip away every bit of privacy we have - all of it done, of course, in the name of making us safe.
The report was commissioned last January by President Most-Transparent Administration-Ever in the wake of revelations by Edward Snowden that government spies routinely sucked up and stored information about the day, time, length, and location of tens of millions of phone calls made by ordinary Americans suspected of no wrongdoing. Is there, the National Research Council was asked, a better way to do this than bulk collection?
The conclusion? Sorry, no better way to do it. Bulk collection is the only way. Gotta be this way. So take that, Mr./Ms. Privacy Advocate! We're protecting you the best way we can!
Except - here's where the outrage creeps in - here is the first sentence of the Washington "Post" article on this. Note the last phrase:
A committee of scientific experts has concluded that there is no viable technological alternative to bulk collection of data by the National Security Agency that allows analysts access to communications whose significance only becomes clear years later. [Emphasis obviously mine.]Get it? The researchers were not asked if there is any alternative to bulk collection to better track actual terrorists or at least actual suspected terrorists, they were not asked if there is any alternative for use in legitimate investigations, they were asked if there is a different way, a "better" way, to gather information for which you have no present use but which might hypothetically become what you would think of as useful in some as yet unknown way at some unknown time in the future. Is there a better way to have all that information than gatherng all that information?
Well, quoting the report,
if past events become interesting in the present because of new circumstances ... historical events and the data they provide will be available for analysis only if they were previously collected.In other words, the conclusion of these devoted researchers is that the spooks can't have that information if they didn't gather that information. Why it took them since January to determine that is unclear and suggests they took more time examining piña colada than technological capabilities.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in 2002 "there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know." He was soundly mocked for the absurd remark but must now feel vindicated because the National Research Council has firmly embraced the importance of unknown unknowns and declared that the only way we can protect against the looming danger of unknown unknowns is for the spooks to know everything, because if they don't, we're all going to die!
But let's be fair to National Research Council: It investigated what was assigned to investigate.
The scope of investigation was determined by James Clapper, the director of the Office of National Intelligence, a proven liar in that he indisputably flat out lied to Congress in June 2013 about the very existence of the bulk collection program, claiming that the NSA did not collect any data about innocent Americans and if it did it was "inadvertent."
The scope as defined by The Clap did not include any consideration of privacy issues or any intelligence impact of eliminating bulk collection - which is understandable because previously, a panel appointed by The Amazing Mr. O said bulk data collection should be shut down and a report year a ago by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said it could not find single instance in which the telephone records program either made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counter-terrorism investigation or directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plan. And Clapper certainly didn't want a repeat of that sort of thing.
So now we're to be treated to a re-hash of the "no alternative" bull, the "vital importance" nonsense, and the "it's a dangerous world" fear-mongering because the spooks not only get to spy on us, they get to decide what questions will be asked about their spying - and the third time was the charm.
And that is an outrage.
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