Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Play MYSTIC For Me

"Nobody is listening to your phone calls."  -- Barack Obama, June 7. 2013.

"NSA program 'reaches into the past' to retrieve, replay phone calls." -- Washington Post, March 18, 2014.

Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report on the latest Edward Snowden bombshell:
The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.
A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.
You can't blame this operation -- code-named MYSTIC -- on Evil Overlord George W. Bush. It started in 2009, early in the Obama administration, at about the same time he was boasting so stridently about the Most Transparent Administration Ever that he eventually got a special transparency award behind closed doors.

Oops. This latest Snowden revelation should rank right up there with "if you like your health plan you can keep it" but it won't. Congress will not mess with the security state, despite the best theatrical efforts of Dianne Feinstein. And if anybody points at the prez and starts with the taunt "Liar liar, Mom Jeans on fire!" it won't be the Republicans. (well, maybe it'll be Rand Paul, but that's about it.)

The Post, unfortunately, partially acquiesced to Deep State demands by agreeing not to reveal the "target"country (ies) where the spooks are busily recording and collecting conversations. But, the article continues,  
In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.
The call buffer opens a door “into the past,” the summary says, enabling users to “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.” Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1 percent of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or “cuts,” for processing and long-term storage.
They don't say where the actual audio recordings are being stored, but that behemoth of a secret building out in the Utah desert sounds about right. Because all those trillions of words and the billions of voices that use them have to be stashed someplace, I reckon. We can't just have them floating free up in the clouds, where they constitute a terrorist threat to the bulked-up bureaucracy! Dangling conversations are a threat to our Freedoms, after all.

And moreover, the spooks retort, the Post's reporting on their sociopathic voice collections is itself a threat to our freedoms. In an emailed statement, NSA factotum Vanee Vines complained that “continuous and selective reporting of specific techniques and tools used for legitimate U.S. foreign intelligence activities is highly detrimental to the national security of the United States and of our allies, and places at risk those we are sworn to protect.”

You can say that again, VeeVee. Journalism in the public interest does indeed place at risk the security and stalking capabilities of your bureaucracy, not to mention the untold billions of taxpayers dollars feeding its insatiable appetite. 

So I'll say it again. Either your elected reps pledge to defund the spy agencies and repeal the Patriot Act, or they can go pay somebody to hold their place in the unemployment line. (It is beneath the dignity of millionaires to use their own bodies to wait in any line.) Or more realistically, they can go to K Street or a corporate-funded university or think tank and work directly for the surveillance state as we naively vote in their corporate-funded replacements.


Fred Drumlevitch said...

If we didn't already know the implications of a technological capability for ubiquitous surveillance and the mindset that accompanies it, here is a short excerpt from the fifteen-page December 2011 Brookings Institution paper, “Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments” by John Villasenor:

"Declining storage costs will soon make it practical for authoritarian governments to create permanent digital archives of the data gathered from pervasive surveillance systems. In countries where there is no meaningful public debate on privacy, there is no reason to expect governments not to fully exploit the ability to build databases containing every phone conversation, location data for almost every person and vehicle, and video from every public space in an entire country. This will greatly expand the ability of repressive regimes to perform surveillance of opponents and to anticipate and react to unrest. In addition, the awareness among the populace of pervasive surveillance will reduce the willingness of people to engage in dissent.


Finally, the use by authoritarian governments of systems that record everything in the complete absence of privacy considerations will lead to a long list of other unforeseen and generally negative consequences. Unfortunately, the residents of those countries, as well as the rest of us, will soon start to find out just what those consequences are."


The Villasenor paper is referenced in a March 19 (in-print) New York times article, but unsurprisingly, the NYT chose to include a Villasenor quote different from the one above, one less likely to make Americans worry about its applicability within this country. As I've said before, we're building an infrastructure for totalitarianism.

And I'm with you Karen, it's more than time to deliver the message to current elected officials that their votes/actions on matters such as the surveillance state and domestic militarization will be an absolute litmus test for how we vote the next time we step into a voting booth. The litmus test is that they must act to 1) substantially defund these activities, 2) significantly and openly, publicly investigate them, 3) hold individual perpetrators criminally accountable, and 4) devise a strong, unsubvertible oversight and legal framework to markedly reduce the likelihood of such abuses of power happening again. These current office holders must receive in no uncertain terms the message that we will no longer be manipulated by dog-whistle politics and the lesser-of-two-evils song and dance. If they won't take the aforementioned action, then we will work for and vote for their opponents, whoever they may be. We will do so with full awareness that it may not be immediately effective (the disingenuous assurances of politicians being what they are), but voting against incumbents who betray democracy and liberty be a start towards reasserting those principles in this nation.

James F Traynor said...

Obama is an authoritarian, but there is such a dislocation between what he says and what he does that he seems to be the opposite. Now I think I know why Cheney was not alarmed by Obama's political ascendency. He's a mole, a self created mole. Knowing, because of his color and background, that he could never ascend through the normal channels of the right wing, he chose to do so through the Democratic Party. And the way had already been opened for him by the rise to power of the DLC within the party. Every thing he has done fits this. He's a self ordained mole.

fahrenheit451 said...

I dropped the Washington Post for the NY Times some years ago, because I couldn't stomach the near total immersion into neoliberal thinking the Post offered, opting instead for the partial immersion of the Times.

But a number of years ago I was referred back to the series of articles the Post did portraying the actual physical dimensions of the great expansion of the national security state, a lot of which took place in Maryland.

The sums were enormous, tens of billions, the jobs in the hundreds of thousands, as best as could be judged because the definitive numbers were hidden from the public - and Congress.

The thrust of the story was the vastness, largely unsupervised, the breathtaking scope of it.

It reminds me that "once upon a time," an American government, a fully civilian one, used laws passed by Congress and a strong dose of executive authority to put people to work, building bridges, highways, rural roads, dams for rural electricity, which barely existed then, runways and airports...planted millions if not billions of trees for conservation purposes...in short, put the tools now deployed on behalf of the national security state, put them to use for the basic needs of the citizens of its still democratic republic. And on democracy's ledger, the projects were locally conceived and nationally vetted for viability and...vetted carefully to weed out corruption.

It was called the New Deal, and you can summarize our fate today by just trying to get even an elected Democrat to bring up the topic, much less the Republican Right.

During my conservation days, I had a famous land-use lawyer explode in anger at me when I mentioned the New Deal in a CCC context...an amazing performance, and a strong clue as to what was to come.

Ira Katznelson's new book, "Fear Itself," can help explain how we got from the New Deal of the 1932-1937 days to the National Security State. Its subtitle reads "The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time." It is enlightening reading, not pleasant reading.

And Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the 21st Century" is reading smooth as butter, not what one would expect from a professional economist. It will be a part of the coming debates - and battles.

Jay - Ottawa said...


Both Karen and Fred have talked about a pledge to be taken (or not) by all Members of Congress on the matter of their ending with vigorous, meaningful measures (like defunding) the unconstitutional, omnipresent, incessant and permanent surveillance to which we are all being subjected. If the Congress persons take the pledge, we simply leave them alone. For those who don’t take the pledge, we in turn pledge to work for their ouster, even if it means voting for the greater of two evils in the coming November election.

Fred has already listed, above, the key elements of such a pledge. Can you, Fred, or some other sharp mind for detail around here, draft a tough but succinct pledge that could be easily read as an inescapable challenge at public meetings?

Then can we all work on getting the draft passed around to bloggers and activists (like peace groups who attend Congress critters’ hometown meetings to pose pointed questions) to have the pledge put to them in public where politicians are forced to show their colors on an issue? Also, people like Bernie Sanders may post such a pledge on his website, where it would get further recognition. In other words, can we please make this pledge go as viral as the anti-tax one the Tea Party types put to Republicans in a previous election? If we can’t push them to take the pledge, can we at least make the worms squirm?

Pearl said...

Paul Craig Roberts on Crimea, US Foreign Policy and the transformation of Mainstream Media


annenigma said...


'Top Secret America' is still a relevant and important source of information about the foundation of the national security state and can be found at the link below, or in the book by the same authors, Dana Priest and William Arkin.


Will said...

I remember hearing the term "turnkey" bounced around soon after Snowden's revelations. Didn't really know what it meant at first. I do now.

Here's a riveting 25-minute documentary from last December entitled "The Turnkey Totalitarian State." It's a nice, uncomfortable walk down memory lane for most of us here; it's also a good primer for any newly aware friends & relatives. Enjoy.


Zee said...


Federal Public Works Programs, Part I

I would love to see some form of Civilian Conservation Corps model adopted by the Federal government as a partial solution to unemployment and an alternative civic direction, with the goal being to improve at least some of our Federal lands, parks, and civic infrastructure.

(In fact, I thought that's what the 2009 “stimulus” was (partially) supposed to accomplish, except that once the stimulus bill was passed, Obama—either disingenuous or stupid beyond all bounds of imagination—suddenly discovered that there were hardly any “shovel ready” infrastructure projects on which to spend the money, so it went elsewhere. I seem to recall that he even made a sick joke about his “naïveté,” ironically, at a conference on job creation and/or unemployment. Such is his “leadership.”)

But I digress.

Certainly, the major projects on which the CCC worked required huge numbers of skilled laborers: carpenters, plumbers, electricians, concrete and ironworkers, machinists, surveyors and the like, as well as professionals such as engineers, paymasters, logisticians, etc.

But the CCC also employed large numbers of unskilled workers:

The CCC performed 300 possible types of work projects within ten approved general classifications:

1.Structural improvements: bridges, fire lookout towers, service buildings
2.Transportation: truck trails, minor roads, foot trails and airport landing fields
3.Erosion control: check dams, terracing and vegetable covering
4.Flood control: irrigation, drainage, dams, ditching, channel work, riprapping
5.Forest culture: planting trees and shrubs, timber stand improvement, seed collection, nursery work
6.Forest protection: fire prevention, fire pre-suppression, firefighting, insect and disease control
7.Landscape and recreation: public camp and picnic ground development, lake and pond site clearing and development
8.Range: stock driveways, elimination of predatory animals
9.Wildlife: stream improvement, fish stocking, food and cover planting
10.Miscellaneous: emergency work, surveys, mosquito control

The responses to this [first] six-month experimental conservation program were enthusiastic, and on 1 October 1933 Director Fechner was instructed to arrange for a second period of enrollment. By January 1934, 300,000 men were enrolled. In July 1934 this cap was increased by 50,000 to include men from midwest states that had been affected by drought. The temporary tent camps had also transitioned from tents to wooden barracks. An education program had been established emphasizing job training and literacy.

Approximately 55% of enrollees were from rural communities, a majority of which were non-farm; 45% came from urban areas. Level of education for the enrollee averaged 3% illiterate, 38% less than eight years of school, 48% did not complete high school, 11% were high school graduates. At the time of entry, 70% of enrollees were malnourished and poorly clothed. Few had work experience beyond occasional odd jobs. Peace was maintained by the threat of 'dishonorable discharge'. 'This is a training station; we're going to leave morally and physically fit to lick 'Old Man Depression,' boasted the newsletter,
Happy Days, of a North Carolina camp.” (My emphasis.)


(To be continued...)

Zee said...

Federal Public Works Programs, Part II

Note that the initial response to the CCC program was said to be enthusiastic, though workers lived first in tent camps, and then in barracks. I presume that many of these camps were far from the homes of the workers, especially the urban workers. I further presume from the list of project categories that much of the work was unskilled, manual labor.

And yes, unskilled, manual labor is still needed even today.

Certainly, out here in flyover country where I live, I particularly see vast tracts of national forest that need thinning and cleanup, and erosion control and reforestation following forest fires. All necessary work that can be performed by anyone with an average IQ, a little training and oversight, and basic physical fitness.

I wonder how many of today's unemployed and underemployed would “jump” at the chance to be moved far from home, live in military-style barracks, eat cafeteria-style food and perform manual labor in exchange for (1) a paycheck, (2) work that shows an actual, tangible result (“I did too build that!”), and (3) access to “An education program...emphasizing job training and literacy[?]”

Could we possibly survive without our electronic gizmos and computers, unhealthy fast food, shopping malls, theaters and all the rest, or would every...oh, say...forest protection and restoration camp somewhere outside of Sheepdip, Idaho...have to be equipped with wireless capability, enough places to accommodate our myriad rechargers without fighting, and maybe a McDonald's or Gap within walking distance where we could spend our hard-earned money?

I shudder to imagine exactly into what today's Federal government would transmogrify the New Deal's CCC, or any other such public works programs.

And, after all, working as an apparatchik in America's new national security state is essentially a white collar job, for which one only has to get ones' hands figuratively dirty. So why bother putting people to productive work in the first place?

Your recommended book, “Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time,” sounds very interesting.

Zee said...

For those with short memories, here's Obama's sick, "not-so-shovel-ready" remark:


One would have thought that with as inane a comment as this in 2011, Progressives would have seen him for the imposter that he is by 2012.

Yet here we are today.

Wonder who those dummies were who laughed at his "joke?"

Fred Drumlevitch said...

As @Jay - Ottawa said: [...] "In other words, can we please make this pledge go as viral as the anti-tax one the Tea Party types put to Republicans in a previous election? If we can’t push them to take the pledge, can we at least make the worms squirm?"

Yes indeed.

And thanks for your suggestion that I (and/or others) refine a pledge that political incumbents would be asked to take, such pledge a succinct distillation of actions that are needed to begin to reverse the dangerous abuses of power and severe losses of civil liberties that have proliferated in the name of security in recent decades.

However, I have no particular qualifications that make me any more suited to that task than many others on this forum, and between my already having made a few suggestions, my not wanting to monopolize the process, and my having some other significant claims on my time, I'd like to see others step up to add their thoughts on specific requirements and/or formally draft something. If we can together produce something worthwhile, perhaps Karen can feature it here as a post, or write it up for the wider audience at Truthout.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

But I will now add a few more thoughts.

1) A formalism: For clarity of thought, discussion, and reference, points should be numbered --- just as the articles of the Constitution and its Amendments are.

2) Similarly, a Preamble (and perhaps a few sentences of conclusion) would be desirable, so that when time allows, the writer/speaker can convey, and the reader/listener can understand, some very important points of context.

3) Another point beyond the four I raised in my earlier comment to Karen's post came to mind as a result of @fahrenheit451's comment, and @annenigma's reference to the Washington Post's "Top Secret America" series by Dana Priest and William Arkin: The national security state, in its domestic manifestations including but not limited to surveillance, spying, manipulation of dissent and entrapment of political targets, a huge prison complex, and the militarization of "law enforcement", is mind-boggling in its extent, and involves both massive governmental bureaucracies and corporations large and small, all working hand in hand.

In no way detracting from the criminal accountability for individuals and funding cuts that I previously urged, I would add that both categories of institutions --- government agencies and private business --- should as entities ALSO be held accountable, via civil lawsuits for damages. The "profit" should be taken out of these activities, via both funding cuts and lawsuits. As important as holding individuals accountable is, so too must the higher levels of organization be held accountable; otherwise, individuals can, willingly or not, take the blame, while the activities that endanger democracy and liberty continue with little change.

And the right to sue on these matters, as either an individual or as part of a class action, and be heard in a genuine court (as opposed to a sham one) must be guaranteed. Currently, through a variety of limitations including "national security" claims, non-disclosure agreements, and trade secrets exemptions, the public has lost nearly all of its Constitutional rights to legal redress of abuses of power. An important check on governmental and corporate abuses of power has been severely damaged and must be restored.

A Tucson example:

A local investigative reporter has been stonewalled by the Tucson Police Department and the City of Tucson as he attempts to obtain information about a Harris Corp. "Stingray" cellphone call surveillance system apparently in use here.

From the Arizona Daily Star article:

"'They’ve made it clear they’re not going to respond,' said Daniel J. Pochoda, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Arizona who filed the suit on behalf of Hodai. [...] The lawsuit essentially accuses police of using a nondisclosure agreement with Harris, the surveillance system maker, to break Arizona Public Records Law. [...] The ACLU argues such agreements improperly let a private company decide what constitutes a public record and gives local governments a blanket exemption to public records law. 'The fact that you have an agreement to not disclose cannot be a sufficient exemption,' Pochoda said."

http://azstarnet.com/news/local/tucson-police-sued-for-using-cellphone-data-surveillance/article_dd50957c-acd5-52e6-8c6e-61fe95ab5aea.html )

Anonymous said...

Ed Snowden for president!!!

Fred Drumlevitch said...


Good and relevant comments from you on Great-Depression-era federal public works programs. I agree that much of Obama's stimulus was poorly spent. The "shovel-ready" criterion was an absurd one, and one that reduced the public's long-term belief in the legitimacy of all federal public works projects, many of which are sorely needed and would be beneficial, to both the individuals and the nation.

Here in Tucson, because it was closer to being "shovel-ready" than other more sensible uses, they spent nearly $200 million on a very limited streetcar system, which will now cost probably four or five times as much to operate as originally claimed, has engendered machinations to rezone to higher density building along its route to provide more ridership to reduce the operating deficit, has no flexibility because of its fixed infrastructure, has tracks that are a hazard to bicyclists, and obstructs the view.

By the way, before the WPA (but not the CCC), the CWA:



And speaking of making an "actual, tangible result", all these years later there are still a few sidewalks at the University of Arizona with WPA marks visible in the concrete.

fahrenheit451 said...

Thanks to annenigma for reminding me of the Post's series and the new link; and to Zee for her responses to the CCC, and Fred, on the pledge and much more, and to Karen for getting the idea of the pledge rolling. It is doable, but not overnight, because we need to be clear eyed about what the nature of what is left in place is to be, its powers, scope and legal form. The surveillance court as designed has got to go to; what should replace it? A panel of constitutional law professors; should they have to be judges too? What about citizen's without special legal training sitting on the body...as in jurors...if a citizen can sit on matters of live or death on a jury, surely they can weigh the legality of requests for surveillance, and of course, in saying that, I'm totally against the mass surveillance system, in all its manifestations. No abuses yet? Hoover, Hoover Hoover. Bi-partisan support and blackmail system beyond all checks and balances...and for how many decades?

Zee: I felt so strongly, back in 2008 about a new CCC and public works that I wrote a review up on Amazon on Robert D. Leighneinger Jr.'s "Long Range Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal." There are only three reviews; mine is the longest.

And Zee, the military style and away from barracks life of the old CCC, I don't know that it would be a good or realistic model for today. After all, a lot of the work that needs to be done is environmental, and our civic life is filled with tens of thousands of NGO environmental organizations; I know, I was the Director of Conservation for one of them. They exist down to the city neighborhood level, the watershed level of local streams, Riverkeepers of every scale and locale, on up to the national groups and even international ones. I like the idea of local, county and state originated projects, from any sector, but esp. the NGO one (my cautions go up with PPP partnerships...I'll spare the why's for now), with projects to be vetted by regional boards of relevant experts and citizens for goals, methods and costs...American life if filled with "riffed" middle managers of every experience and life story...and the NGO's are alive and mostly kicking...well, I don't want to get carried away here...if they were that good we wouldn't be in the environmental mess we are in...

I'll finish with just one quote from the book on public works I cited, which I used in my review:

"'Monuments of our Spanish colonial heritage were returned to our notice by the CCC. La Purisima Mission near Lompoc, California, was lovingly rebuilt brick by brick using original adobe construction. Members of the company, 'a bunch of Brooklyn toughs,' cried when they left it."

I have to laugh though, not cry; when I posted this at Naked Capitalism - actually the whole review, commentators jumped in with anti-Catholic and pro-Indian declarations...they wanted none of this...let the Church pay for its own restorations!

If that's the reception at a place like NC, can you imagine the Right's reaction to a current proposal - numbers the CCC actually accomplished - to plant 3 billion trees - with a strategy behind it?

andrea chiu said...

I understand that every person has the passion in any aspects or things. If you love something and it came in front of you it completes your day and your mood turns into something you won't expected. I love your work and I want to read more about it. Visit my site if you have time . Thank you.