Friday, August 16, 2013

Those Silly Rogues at the NSA

The only question I have about today's Washington Post revelation on the thousands of instances of illegal domestic spying by the NSA is: why the hell did they sit on this story for so long? Edward Snowden gave them the documents on which it is based months ago.

If the Post were truly in the muckraking business and not the semi-official propaganda organ of the Beltway, I'd surmise that they were simply waiting for President Obama to hang himself. Obama, you may remember, last week seemed to categorically deny that anything untoward was going on in Police State USA. His exact words, however, were very carefully parsed:
 "If you look at the reports, even the disclosures that Mr. Snowden’s put forward, all the stories that have been written, what you’re not reading about is the government actually abusing these programs and, you know, listening in on people’s phone calls or inappropriately reading people’s e-mails."
Which could be interpreted to mean if you are not aware of abuses, then your cluelessness is your own problem. I know something you don't know. Nonny nonny boo boo. 

Since the Washington Post is the semi-official organ of the Establishment, they've probably spent the last several months agonizing over what Edward Snowden handed to them on a silver platter. They had legions of lawyers poring over every syllable. They provided advance copies to every government apparatchik for his or her vetting and approval, prior to publication. The article admits that NSA officials spoke to them only with "the permission of the White House." There was no actual official leaking going on, they want you to know. Their continued access to power remains safe and secure. In the end they decided to run with the story, because it did not, in the grand scheme of things, make any politician look too terribly bad. Incompetent, maybe. Evil? No way. 

The article was essentially framed around the theme "Shit Happens." At most, it exposed mind-shattering stupidity and arrogance, which are not crimes. These people are only human. And besides, we already had a huge hint about their rank ineptitude when intelligence hack James Clapper told Congress that his spooks don't ever "knowingly" eavesdrop. Sometimes the data just comes floating into their line of vision. There is so damned much of it, they can't avoid it.

And funny? How about that time when the NSA mistook the Beltway area code for Egypt's, temporarily confusing the moneyed Swamp People with impoverished denizens of the desert?  Boy, did they ever get egg on their faces. I imagine they're still rolling in the aisles over that wacky caper. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

And Deputy Attorney General James Cole acknowledged in his own recent Congressional testimony that "every now and then there may be a mistake." I guess when the government vacuums up so many trillions of our communications that they had to construct a whole new building in Utah in which to store them, a few thousand privacy violations every year constitutes a mere Now and Then.

Of course, the thousands of violations that they self-reported were confined only to the Fort Meade, MD headquarters -- and thus are likely tp represent only the tiniest tip of the iceberg of what is more likely to be truly evil stuff.

But for now, this story will make our abusers look like harmless idiots. A couple of wacky hacky heads will roll to appease the masses. And Booz Allen will continue laughing all the way to the bank. And Obama will continue laughing up his sleeve.


annenigma said...

Charlie Savage watered down the Washington Post article considerably.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Charlie's piece disappeared from the online front page. I don't know where it went but it certainly didn't do justice to Bart Gellman's piece. What a shame. The New York Times is still the PTB's lap dog. No Pulitzer for you, Gray Lady!

Zee said...


Another great post and a well-deserved, sharp stick in the eye of the surveillance state!

You cut to the heart of the matter when you poked fun at those “wild and crazy guys” at the NSA whom the Powers That Be seem intent on having portrayed by the press as “only human,” or “Incompetent, maybe. Evil? No way.”

Of course, that's what they hope that we will believe. Maybe it's even true at this particular instant in time.

But the sad fact is that even if they're not “evil” today, it is inevitable that sooner or later someone within the system will, in fact, have evil intentions and will use The Great E-Transactions Database—'cause I doubt that it's really restricted just to e-mails and telephone calls—for some nefarious purpose or another.

It's just human nature, which is what the Founders wisely sought to guard against with our tri-partite, enumerated-powers, Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

I know that most of you out there must be tired of hearing me repeat myself on this topic, but it's true: human nature has changed a smidgen in the past 200 years or so—we don't own slaves anymore, nor do we hang, draw and quarter, &etc. people today—but there are still plenty of people who are just plain nasty down to the bone and willing to do just about anything for fun and/or profit.,_drawn_and_quartered

Some of them will inevitably work for the Federal government, and some fraction of them will
work in the bowels of the Utah—and other, unknown—facilities. Their clearance processes .aren't perfect. Just ask Aldrich Ames.

“Trust us” didn't work in our far-simpler past, and it most definitely doesn't work in today's technological world.

Good luck to all of us.