NSA Shares US Citizens' Communications with Israel
September 11, 2013 9:07 AM   Subscribe

A new story in The Guardian shows how the NSA routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first filtering it to remove information about US citizens. The memorandum of understanding (published here in full) shows that the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain the phone calls and emails of US citizens. This goes against earlier Obama administration claims that there were strong safeguards in place to protect Amercans' communications.
posted by anemone of the state (115 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
@ggreenwald: "I think this is the perfect day to reflect on civil liberties and privacy given the assaults launched on those values in its name"
posted by anemone of the state at 9:09 AM on September 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


Obama Administration Pisses On Nation's Leg, Tells Nation It Is Raining
posted by entropicamericana at 9:11 AM on September 11, 2013 [34 favorites]


It may be apocryphal, but I read that after the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion President Kennedy vowed to break up the CIA and scatter its pieces to the four winds.

At this point I'm of the opinion we should do the same thing with the NSA. As far as I can tell, the Fourth Amendment contains no "useful tool" exemption in its prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure.
posted by Gelatin at 9:12 AM on September 11, 2013 [19 favorites]


"I think this is the perfect day to reflect on civil liberties and privacy given the assaults launched on those values in its name"

Doubly so - today is the 40th anniversary of the US' overthrow of Chile's parliamentary democracy, and the beginning of decades of state surveillance and human rights abuses there.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:12 AM on September 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


I felt a great disturbance in the Internet...as if millions of anti-semitic conspiracy-theory fucktards suddenly creamed their jeans, and then suddenly began typing.
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 9:13 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


claims that there were strong safeguards in place to protect Amercans' communications. ***

***I think you missed the fine print where this was only accurate for an email from North Dakota to South Dakota that was entirely about cows.
posted by sammyo at 9:13 AM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I may be a hit behind the curve on this. I voted for the guy twice, but are we at the point if Obama's lips are moving, that means he's lying?
posted by marxchivist at 9:16 AM on September 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


millions of anti-semitic conspiracy-theory fucktards

Which country the NSA is supplying our data to is far less relevant than the fact that it's sharing our data -- which it isn't supposed to access in the first place, and has claimed that it stringently protected -- in the first place.
posted by Gelatin at 9:17 AM on September 11, 2013 [28 favorites]


the Obama administration [provided assurances] that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process "minimization", but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.

So we have strong safeguards, we simply choose to ignore them.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:24 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


. . . but are we at the point if Obama's lips are moving, that means he's lying?

We're well past that point, but his speech yesterday was when I decided that I'm turning down the volume whenever he speaks, period.

"The anchor of global security for seventy years"? On the eve of the anniversary of the CIA's bloodsoaked overthrow of Chile's democracy? In a week when even more people died in a destabilized - a ruined - Iraq?

Obama is not just a liar - he assumes that we're idiots as well.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:26 AM on September 11, 2013 [29 favorites]


based on the previous round of NSA leaks too, this news makes Israel both a major target of NSA snooping and a major recipient of NSA data. So in part helping the Israel intelligence services spy on its own politicians presumably?
posted by Bwithh at 9:28 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's probably to balance out the fact that we spy on, er "take an active interest" in Israel.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:30 AM on September 11, 2013


I may be a hit behind the curve on this. I voted for the guy twice, but are we at the point if Obama's lips are moving, that means he's lying?

I honestly think it's a matter of keeping himself willfully ignorant. The other day he said he gets his NSA information from the news, then if he needs clarification he goes to the NSA.

That's some fucked up shit. I think the Democrats should just concede the next election now.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:33 AM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


And on the topic of what the NSA has claimed and what they have done: NSA Phone-Records Spying Said to Violate Rules for Years. This didn't come from Snowden, but from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which recently declassified 1,800 pages of documents (read some of the documents here). So the system works! They knew about their own failures to comply with the overly complex rules that regulate their systems!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:37 AM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm not an apologist for Obama, in spite of having voted for him in both presidential elections. That said, I find it difficult to reconcile the picture of the man as he existed before he became president to the person he apparently is now.

I'm left with only two conclusions - he is either capable of deception on a level that would do Richard Nixon proud, or there are some incredible and terrifying things that happen on the other side of taking the presidential oath.

I'd almost rather believe the former.
posted by Mooski at 9:45 AM on September 11, 2013 [71 favorites]


I'm left with only two conclusions - he is either capable of deception on a level that would do Richard Nixon proud, or there are some incredible and terrifying things that happen on the other side of taking the presidential oath.
"I have this feeling that whoever is elected president, like Clinton was, no matter what you promise on the campaign trail – blah, blah, blah – when you win, you go into this smoke-filled room with the twelve industrialist capitalist scum-fucks who got you in there. And you’re in this smoky room, and this little film screen comes down … and a big guy with a cigar goes, “Roll the film.” And it’s a shot of the Kennedy assassination from an angle you’ve never seen before … that looks suspiciously like it’s from the grassy knoll. And then the screen goes up and the lights come up, and they go to the new president, “Any questions?” “Er, just what my agenda is.” “First we bomb Baghdad.” “You got it …" --Bill Hicks
posted by entropicamericana at 9:49 AM on September 11, 2013 [38 favorites]


Which country the NSA is supplying our data to is far less relevant than the fact that it's sharing our data

That's not really historically accurate. The Five Eyes group that NSA shares intelligence with is an agreement that formally goes back to 1946 and informally further back than that. And we knew at last as far back as 1983 (thanks to Bamford's book Puzzle Palace) that the UK would routinely do an intercept on US citizens at NSA's request, and the US would do one on a UK citizen at GCHQ's request. I'm not sure how far back this blanket sharing of raw SIGINT goes though.

This agreement with Israel appears to be separate, new, with a different country. Presumably it's recriprocal; Israeli intelligence is famously effective and we care very much about what's going on in the Arabic-speaking world. So like the rest of the Snowden revelations it's not entirely a surprise that we're sharing SIGINT with Israel, including on US citizens. But it's still offensive and shocking and illegal, and now we have confirmation. (Also apparently it means no hard feelings about Israel "accidentally" blowing up a US SIGINT ship in 1967, killing 34.)

As appropriate as it is to be angry with the current President for all the news of NSA abuses, it's equally valid to be angry at past presidents. It's important to understand that the NSA has had 60 years of slowly growing its power and reach. The real worry is that not even the President can control what NSA does any more. It's clear the Congress can't.
posted by Nelson at 9:54 AM on September 11, 2013 [20 favorites]


As appropriate as it is to be angry with the current President for all the news of NSA abuses, it's equally valid to be angry at past presidents. It's important to understand that the NSA has had 60 years of slowly growing its power and reach. The real worry is that not even the President can control what NSA does any more.

Well, it's pretty clear the current and past presidents are either unable or unwilling to control the NSA, too.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:58 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's possible that presidents do control the NSA and are accomplishing exactly what they want with them. Without any sort of independent oversight we don't really know though.
posted by Nelson at 10:00 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Nelson, for remembering the existence of Congress. Like it's just a wee little player over there in a corner somewhere.
posted by raysmj at 10:02 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


there are some incredible and terrifying things that happen on the other side of taking the presidential oath

Like facing the truth about the global situation, the way it is developing and why in 40 years the US of A will have to be a police state with a neatly groomed population or else it will descend into anarchy.
Don't ask me what this terrible truth is, I don't know. Ask the president.
posted by hat_eater at 10:09 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


As John Pilger pointed out in his op-ed yesterday titled:
The silent military coup that took over Washington.
In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes.
Norman Pollack talks about ''Liberal Fascism"
This is what America has become.
The good news is that people are beginning to realize it and hopefully push back.
Unfortunately if you wring your hands as much as you did over ''Occupy'' the push back will fall flat as well.
Your Political class and their military / industrialist puppeteers are not working in the interests of the populace.
posted by adamvasco at 10:12 AM on September 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


Norman Pollack talks about ''Liberal Fascism"

I always wondered why the term friendly fascism never took off. It's happy!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:19 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Part of the danger here is that when it comes to NSA, Congress really is just a wee little player over there in the corner. I mean, the Director of Intelligence outright lied to Congress about NSA with no consequences. Most of Congress isn't even allowed to review NSA funding or activities because it's all classified. And the few Congressmen with clearance to know what NSA is doing (like Ron Wyden) have been trying for years to warn people about NSA's illegal activity but with their hands tied by secrecy laws so much they can't really say anything. It's a disaster for democracy.
posted by Nelson at 10:20 AM on September 11, 2013 [17 favorites]


Congress funded it, expanded its powers dramatically via the Patriot Act and extended roving wiretaps and such under that Act for another four years (with the signature of the president, of course) in 2011. Congress holds most of the cards in the budgeting dept. I'm more than sure that the NSA has a few key friends in committees that would scream bloody murder if any president did advocate shrinking the NSA.
posted by raysmj at 10:25 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


12 years ago on this day, Donald Rumsfeld admitted that the Pentagon could not account for $2.3 trillion in transactions

In July of 2008, months before the election, Obama flip-flopped on unlawful domestic surveillance. Everything he's done since then has been consistent with that position.
posted by mikelieman at 10:27 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


It would be nice to have a date for that memo.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:31 AM on September 11, 2013


It would be nice to have a date on that memo.

Huh. I wonder what kind of metadata the Snowden documents have?
posted by ryoshu at 10:36 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


or there are some incredible and terrifying things that happen on the other side of taking the presidential oath.

I can't remember the precise words so my searches aren't coming up with it, but this is pretty much how I interpreted Dubya's rather cryptic quote to the effect that Obama had no idea what was waiting for him as President.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:46 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's not really historically accurate

My point is that the implication that the outrage over this latest revelation (in a string of outrageous revelations) was of course anti-Semitism is pure codswallop.
posted by Gelatin at 10:46 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Part of my brain is repulsed and freaking out about what my government is doing. But part of my brain is really captivated by this whole Snowden affair. It's better than fiction. There is a huge bureaucracy of intelligence professionals that is in full damage control after one of its own stole a pretty deep trove of pretty damning stuff concerning sigint means and methods, cryptography-busting, and other spook-craft, which is now being carefully released in well-timed chunks by reporters who are fairly smart about security and cryptography. I imagine there must be a whole lot of spy-vs-spy stuff going on to try to put a stop to it, which we get little glimpses of when, for example, Greenwald's partner gets detained in the UK and has his devices taken. I wonder how good Snowden or Greenwald's dead-man-switch is, and how much NSA resources are going towards defeating it. Great stuff.

Then the other half of my brain reminds me how horribly damaged our democracy is and I start freaking out again.
posted by jetsetsc at 10:50 AM on September 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


It would be unwise to attempt to dismantle the NSA.

The NSA effectively oversees itself.

Thank you for your interest in this matter.
posted by NSA at 10:51 AM on September 11, 2013 [41 favorites]


I do like how the Guardian spins this story as "USA gives private US citizen data to Israeli intelligence!!!!" based entirely on a MOU which is, from top to bottom, about imposing strict limits on Israeli access to data relating to US citizens. There's a story to be reported on here, no doubt, about "are these limitations strict enough" and "is there proper oversight" and "have there been any cases where these limits were not respected" but that, of course, is not really grist for Greenwald's mill, is it?

There's a thread up on the blue at the moment on conservative reporting on climate change and how it's really "activism" not "journalism." Mefites are very unhappy with activism masquerading as journalism when it comes to climate change, but not particularly fussed with the same thing when it comes to reporting on the NSA.
posted by yoink at 10:57 AM on September 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. "NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection", it says.

Although the memorandum is explicit in saying the material had to be handled in accordance with US law, and that the Israelis agreed not to deliberately target Americans identified in the data, these rules are not backed up by legal obligations.
My reading of the document is the same, based admittedly on a quick rundown. It's about agreeing "in principle" to filter data on US persons while making it clear, in so many words, that at the time of the document's writing that is not the practice.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:01 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that a good network analysis of the infodump would probably show different clusters of mefites in those threads.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:02 AM on September 11, 2013


Well, might show. I make no guarantees.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:02 AM on September 11, 2013


I do like how the Guardian spins this story as "USA gives private US citizen data to Israeli intelligence!!!!" based entirely on a MOU which is, from top to bottom, about imposing strict limits on Israeli access to data relating to US citizens.

Seriously? Maybe because this MOU was the first official word the American public has had that this is even happening. They explicitly say the rules aren't law. So given the NSA's willingness to flagrantly violate US law, this very revelation we're discussing being case-in-point, we're supposed to understand that these informal rules are the real story?

The strict limits for data relating to the US government that accidentally got in there was "delete it as soon as you find it". That pretty much sums it up.
posted by crayz at 11:06 AM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


or there are some incredible and terrifying things that happen on the other side of taking the presidential oath.

No, let's not try to justify this offence with imaginary stories of boogymen under the bed. I don't care if the first thing they tell him about is Case Nightmare Green. Even if the President has some sort of terrible knowledge he has an obligation to share it with the public. We are not children, and I see no reason to believe that unaccountable groups operating in secret are capable of making better decisions about terrible things than an open democratic process.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:06 AM on September 11, 2013 [14 favorites]


Maybe because this MOU was the first official word the American public has had that this is even happening.

Expecting a program between intelligence agencies to share the data that they are collecting seems a bit disingenuous. Why would this occur? If you have a particular vision of how such a thing should work, I would be interested to read it.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:09 AM on September 11, 2013


based entirely on a MOU which is, from top to bottom, about imposing strict limits on Israeli access to data relating to US citizens

You do realize "limits on Israeli access" in the context of this document means "we trust you not to look at it", not "we won't give it to you"?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:11 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Mefites are very unhappy with activism masquerading as journalism when it comes to climate change, but not particularly fussed with the same thing when it comes to reporting on the NSA.

Are you saying that the totality of reporting on what the NSA is doing is false/misrepresented? Because generally that is what calling journalism "activism" implies.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:12 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Are you saying that the totality of reporting on what the NSA is doing is false/misrepresented? Because generally that is what calling journalism "activism" implies.

I think it's safe to say that the Guardian tilts its reporting to sound as antagonistic as possible (contrasted with, say, ProPublica). An example of this would be this passage:

These would be known to the NSA, but to no one else, including ordinary customers, who are tellingly referred to in the document as "adversaries"

Referring to the person trying to keep their statements encrypted or trying to decrypt your statements as an "adversary" is common practice in computer security. While the actual revelations about the NSA's practices are shocking, this is a little bit of editorializing that seems to want to make the NSA appear to be simply cackling with glee as it goes about its plans. "We don't think of them as people! We think of them as adversaries! Ha ha ha!" Given the ostensible expertise on computer security that the Guardian is bringing to bear, this feels either very naive or very calculated.

Also "totality" seems to be misreading yoink's comment, since he specifically refers to "this" story.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:21 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm left with only two conclusions - he is either capable of deception on a level that would do Richard Nixon proud, or there are some incredible and terrifying things that happen on the other side of taking the presidential oath.

I think part of it may simply be that Obama came to office as naive about how Washington and our political system really works as he's always seemed idealistic. He probably believed (like many of us) that claims about the CIA actively working to destroy legitimate democratic governments around the world were exaggerated, that suggestions about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident having been deliberately misrepresented as a pretext for further US involvement in Vietnam were tin-foil hat-wearing nonsense, etc.

Basically, Obama is probably like your average commenter around here: Prone to assuming people's most pessimistic/cynical ideas about how the US acts around the world or the extent to which economic actors plot to subvert democratic processes to suit their bottom lines are just so much paranoid, conspiracy-theorizing. I think Obama's greatest weakness is probably that he's just too conventional and trusting in the status quo.

I think Obama wants to believe in the basic goodness and correctness of the American political system and its processes. He's expressed the view on plenty of occasions that he trusts in the American political process. So I think from his POV, if the process is followed, the outcomes must be valid ones. Also, the fact that Americans haven't been complaining much about these intelligence activities until recently doesn't help. If you only follow the mainstream press, you'd think the public overwhelmingly supports universal surveillance (polls like this one keep asserting that we do). He's obviously a lot more subject to the influence of public opinion than his predecessor, judging from how he's been handling the Syrian thing most recently (Bush would likely have doubled-down on the necessity for immediate action and mockingly dismissed the Russian proposal as a non-solution).

I don't think it's really possible for someone in his position to both maintain the illusion that our process works and is worth preserving while also acknowledging how utterly many key parts of the process are failing. I also think Obama, like most Democrats, wants to be sure not to upset too many defense/intelligence services apple carts.

Kennedy and MLK were both viewed as hostile to an expanding, increasingly politicized leadership in the FBI, and guess what happened to them? I would guess that any modern president would tend to tread lightly when it comes to pissing off the US's army of assassins and coup plotters. Especially considering their demonstrated democracy-subverting capabilities.

Consider how this stuff played out another time we had a scandal related to widespread surveillance under Hoover's FBI:
Then in 1961 with Bobby Kennedy's crusade against organized crime, Hoover made it a major priority. Kennedy supported this by shepherding new crime laws through Congress that strengthened the Bureau's jurisdiction in organized crime cases. The only problem was that Hoover was using surveillance techniques on a large scale that were illegal and he was afraid Bobby Kennedy would find out about it. Traditional wiretaps were being supplemented by trespassing to install electronic bugs. Hoover did not ask permission, but on the other hand, exposed Bobby to the evidence that had been collected from the illegal surveillance microphones, so that Bobby could not plead ignorance at a later date.
It's possible that presidents do control the NSA and are accomplishing exactly what they want with them. Without any sort of independent oversight we don't really know though.

For organizations this large, that degree of control would involve an extraordinary amount of micromanagement and daily engagement in day-to-day intelligence operations. Large organizations are almost always full of people who've been trusted to do their jobs under the own authority and who then use that authority in various ways for political leverage. By way of analogy, it's theoretically possible Kennedy was completely in charge of Hoover's FBI. But we know from the facts we have available to us now that the FBI at the time was actively suspicious of and hostile to the president ostensibly in charge of it.

tl; dr: I think Obama is as prone to self-delusion as anyone else, and as the titular head of the American political system, he has a deep emotional investment in believing in that system. He's probably not deliberately misleading people when he speaks about these issues anymore than he's deliberately deluding himself. But I can't fault people's cynicism. And at a minimum, I'd say he's delusional if he honestly believes ceding this much political power to secret intelligence services is ultimately in the US's best long-term interests (or even, for that matter, in the interest of the executive branch).
posted by saulgoodman at 11:21 AM on September 11, 2013 [15 favorites]


Man, Snowden has documentation for all of this (ie everything he's leaked to date) and he's a contractor??? If nothing else, that to me speaks to just how endemic and normalized these violations of citizens' rights are in the current US government security and intelligence apparatus.
posted by dry white toast at 11:27 AM on September 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


... seems to want to make the NSA appear to be simply cackling with glee as it goes about its plans. "We don't think of them as people! We think of them as adversaries! Ha ha ha!"

The actual word is zombies. That's the word the NSA slide uses to describe the US citizens whose iPhones the NSA is illegally spying on. You know, me. To the spooks, I'm a zombie. There's a certain symmetry there I'd find amusingly ironic if I weren't frightened for the future of the country.
posted by Nelson at 11:30 AM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


My brother works for a human rights NGO; perhaps this explains why I got the "full treatment" (just short of a full-cavity search) the first time I tried to leave Israel to return to the US.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:36 AM on September 11, 2013


I think the NSA and Obama have watched MIB:

Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.

Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.

posted by Mojojojo at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


My comment was specifically referring to a phrase used in a Guardian article that seemed to be deceptive. The Der Spiegel article is about a totally unrelated presentation, and has no bearing on the Guardian's practices of antagonistic representation.

Specifically, the article you mention reads:

In three consecutive transparencies, the authors of the presentation draw a comparison with "1984," George Orwell's classic novel about a surveillance state, revealing the agency's current view of smartphones and their users. "Who knew in 1984 that this would be Big Brother …" the authors ask, in reference to a photo of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. And commenting on photos of enthusiastic Apple customers and iPhone users, the NSA writes: "… and the zombies would be paying customers?"

The reference to zombies is hard to contextualize, since there are no zombies in the novel. It seems more likely that this is an ironic reference to the Apple's 1984 commercial, since it depicts Apple as freeing zombie-like people from the shackles of slavery while now it is iPhone users who are giving up their data willingly to Apple to be consumed. In that reading, I don't consider the comparison particularly surprising or awful.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:50 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


'Pirates' in Germany Dodge the NSA's Watchful Gaze (Encryption pirates, not plundering pirates)
posted by homunculus at 11:59 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why are Republican politicians so up in arms about surveillance capabilities they never once squeaked about under the previous administration, despite those capabilities having previously been even less constrained and less subject to public oversight?

Well, turns out you can justify all sorts of crap if you can convince people you have reason to stir up suspicion about what the Federal government might do with people's personal data.

For example, you might use it as political cover for making it harder to roll out new health care laws, especially if those laws involve the collection of data into a Federal database.

Sadly, it's perfectly understandable why people might not be willing to trust the Federal government with their personal medical information at this point in history. That's another reason these kinds of sweeping, covert intelligence-gathering programs are corrosive and do more harm than good in the long run.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:13 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's a story to be reported on here, no doubt, about "are these limitations strict enough" and "is there proper oversight" and "have there been any cases where these limits were not respected"

Yeah, that'd be a great story. Hopefully the "activists" in Congress can help write it.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:18 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also "totality" seems to be misreading yoink's comment, since he specifically refers to "this" story.

I'm quoting the comment exactly as written.

Generally what is understood as climate change denialism/activism is actually understood to be a well-funded and well-organized conspiracy of right-wing business and political interests working in concert to misinform the public and push forward desired policy through government.

So the analogy that reporting on the NSA is "activist" suggests a well-funded and organized effort by some other business/political entity in order to misinform the public.

It's a strange conspiracy theory that yoink is presenting, and not one I would have thought to compare with climate change denialism. So I'd like to see some evidence that answers these questions:

• Where the money is coming from to fund this project
• What organization is behind The Guardian and WikiLeaks
• What the motive is for trying to misinform the public about the NSA

For lack of evidence, I would have to openly wonder why that analogy is being made.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:35 PM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


The answers to your questions about Obama vis-a-vis the NSA is that the NSA has ALL the dirt on Everyone. EVERYONE. Obama, Senators, Generals, everyone.
posted by Freen at 12:39 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


This story has got me thinking about the potential metadata created by logs of these requests. If Israel requests email and call records on Americans for whatever reason, does that action itself raise red flags for those individuals that may come up during future searches?
posted by antonymous at 12:41 PM on September 11, 2013


Generally what is understood as climate change denialism/activism is actually understood to be a well-funded and well-organized conspiracy of right-wing business and political interests working in concert to misinform the public and push forward desired policy through government.

That may well be true, but has no bearing on the article referenced in the earlier thread. That article discusses how one particular journalist engaged in what a second journalist considers to be activism. ("That's not journalism. It's activism.") It makes no references to any sort of larger funding or conspiracy theory for said activism (though it certainly links to a paper discussing the meme of climate change denial). Assuming that "activism" in this context mandates a well-funded conspiracy and not simply a particularly zealous journalist or newspaper seems unfair. Which returns us to your original point, which was the question of whether or not Greenwald is taking an activist stance in his reporting on the NSA. As Greenwald has labeled himself an activist, it doesn't seem like a stretch to be concerned about his reporting having a particular bias.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:00 PM on September 11, 2013


Obama is not just a liar - he assumes that we're idiots as well.

Let's be honest..it's a fair assumption.
posted by spicynuts at 1:06 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Joshua Foust cautions readers about the Guardian story
posted by Bwithh at 1:06 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Five Eyes group that NSA shares intelligence with is an agreement that formally goes back to 1946

'Round when they started making burgers, using peanut oil for french fries and following around James Forrestal.

Talk about the tinfoil hat pushback. Forrestal swore up and down he was being followed by Israeli intelligence. Shortly before they committed him.


the extent to which economic actors plot to subvert democratic processes to suit their bottom lines are just so much paranoid, conspiracy-theorizing
I've got Forrestal in my head for some reason, but the quote is appropriate:

"Consistency has never been a mark of stupidity. If they were merely stupid, they would occasionally make a mistake in our favor."

Obama, any president, is there 8 years or so at best. Even the bit of family dynasty we had/have going only lasts so long. The institutions remain. And I think the MIB person/people quote is apt.

What ARE the long term interests of the U.S.? Are they served by this? At some point power concentration becomes self-defeating and crippling. One idea, one guy, one consciousness can't deal with the krinkly bits. All the details and variables that mount up. Is it a good idea the U.S. have access to oil? Well, sure. Luxury aside, a systemic collapse would be bad for the world. 'Kay. How about the environmental effects? Er...

Y'ever notice how a lot of the folks in the IT department seem to think they're in business for themselves? It's a loose analogy and there are plenty of enlightened IT guys but essentially the NSA is our IT department.
And a lot of times the IT folks forget that they're in the tool business. They're donkeymen. Engineers. They help make stuff go better. That's the job.
And like engineers, they like to keep the bowels of the ship greasy so the brass, and especially not any passengers, come down and start poking around in 'their' business.

But in fact they don't determine where the ship should go any more than IT determines the business model of the company (unless it's an IT business...again, it's a loose analogy).
They're supposed to maintain the tools and apparatus we use to run the place.
In this case, the government.
And lots of people have tool fetishes (gun nuts, car nuts, power tool nuts, there are guys who obsess over flashlights, etc.).
And I'll grant it's a poor worker who blames his tools. But I don't think that's what Congress has done here. Or Obama and his predecessors.
I think they've fallen into the same trap that lets IT smart asses run roughshod over managers.
It LOOKS like it's work because it's complex and active and stuff gets done in vast quantities.

But the tool ain't the work. No matter how great a tool it is.

People live here. That's the whole idea of government. How to better help people live their lives with varying (it's still experimental) degrees of security, freedom, wealth, happiness, etc. not constantly sticking probes up their business and pretending it's something we shouldn't get our hands into because we wouldn't get it.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:18 PM on September 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


At least they're only sharing our data with nations that always share America's interests.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:18 PM on September 11, 2013


As Greenwald has labeled himself an activist, it doesn't seem like a stretch to be concerned about his reporting having a particular bias.

We're getting really far afield of the original post, but Greenwald is not the only reporter working on these stories at The Guardian, ProPublica and the NYT, and if all these people's reporting is indeed so biased as to be false, it should be easy for various UK parties to sue those journalists and The Guardian. That this hasn't happened yet is suggestive that their reporting is less "biased" and more truthful.

If Greenwald et al. are part of a larger anti-NSA "activist" cabal as it is understood in the context of climate change denialism, I think it would behoove those making that claim to back it up with evidence.

And while we're on the subject of bias, I find it interesting that it is often used as a not so nice way to call someone a liar without actually coming out and calling them a liar. It makes my inner skeptic itch like crazy, when I hear whistleblowers and the journalists that help them report abuses get called "biased". And most of the people in positions of power (including journalists) calling out "bias" don't seem to have, so far, a very decent track record for being honest with the public about the NSA and what it has been doing.

Case in point, Joshua Foust:

From January 2011 to March of 2013, I was a Fellow at the American Security Project. Before that fellowship, I was a senior intelligence analyst for the U.S. military, a civilian adviser to the U.S. military in Afghanistan, a political analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency in Yemen, and the in-house futurist for the U.S. Army’s Intelligence and Security Command.

If we're going to attribute "bias" to anyone reporting on these stories, or at least be rationally skeptical, maybe rational skepticism should be automatically placed on people who call themselves "freelance journalists" while being affiliated with the public sector wing of the US defense/intelligence industry.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:21 PM on September 11, 2013 [12 favorites]


Talk about the tinfoil hat pushback. Forrestal swore up and down he was being followed by Israeli intelligence. Shortly before they committed him.

Israel isn't part of the Five Eyes. The Eyes are the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:21 PM on September 11, 2013


Joshua Foust cautions readers about the Guardian story

It's worth noting one of his major objections:

In a section titled “Responsibilities,” the MOU obligates the NSA to perform routine checks on the program, including biannual reviews to measure the quality and fidelity of the information being shared. But moreover, it specifically obligated the ISNU to identify, exclude, and destroy any information it finds about US citizens… The MOU also imposes strong reporting requirements on ISNU should it find US information in the data.

Except that Foust leaves out the apparent fact that there are no legal obligations for Israel to actually follow through on any of these guidelines. From the Guardian piece:

Although the memorandum is explicit in saying the material had to be handled in accordance with US law, and that the Israelis agreed not to deliberately target Americans identified in the data, these rules are not backed up by legal obligations.

"This agreement is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law," the document says.


Foust then complains about the Guardian's headlines, which point out that there are no legal obligations for Israel to abide by these restrictions, and which is spelled out in very clear language in the leaked docs.

It's bizarro-world to read complaints about biased journalism while actually leaving out one of the major points of this story, which is — despite Foust's accusations — indeed represented accurately in the headline and in the piece.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:44 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's not a crime against journalism to be an activist too. Being a journalist that uses activism to lie about an issue that is going to cause major worldwide catastrophes like global warming or to deny the dangers of smoking is a problem.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:47 PM on September 11, 2013


I'm baffled by anyone calling UKUSA "tinfoil hat" material. It's a well documented, now public agreement. It is fundamental intelligence history anyone interested in NSA needs to understand to have any basic literacy about intelligence sharing agreements. The Wikipedia article about it is decent and contains plenty of citations if you're unaware of it.

This discussion is full of grawr and political posturing, I suppose that's unavoidable. I've got my political opinions too. But my real agenda here is that people understand the historical context behind what we've been learning about the NSA this summer. None of the stuff Snowden has revealed is entirely new or surprising, it's exactly in line with the history and mission of NSA. I'll even accept that it makes sense and that much of what we've learned demonstrates NSA is good at their job. It remains to be seen whether the Average American will be shocked or upset about how far NSA has extended their reach. But hopefully the constitutional questions it raises are not lost on people.
posted by Nelson at 1:48 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


This isn't the first time defense-contractor Joshua Foust has had a problem with the Snowden stories.
posted by rhizome at 1:54 PM on September 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


Foust then complains about the Guardian's headlines, which point out that there are no legal obligations for Israel to abide by these restrictions, and which is spelled out in very clear language in the leaked docs.

It's bizarro-world to read complaints about biased journalism while actually leaving out one of the major points of this story, which is — despite Foust's accusations — indeed represented accurately in the headline and in the piece.


Foust complains about the Guardian's headline because it ignores many of the caveats that can all be applied to that document. I believe the key reason he beefs with the headline is summed up in this quote: "Lastly, there is a basic problem of definitions. A Memorandum of Understanding is just that: a memorandum. It does not lay out the terms of intel sharing or describe in any way how that sharing functions on a normal basis."

If you accept Faust's reading (hey, HowStuffWorks has an article, though you can probably find a better source), then it would seem that the Guardian's triple headline is indeed an overstatement. (Something more like "NSA shared Americans data with the Israelis, dictated non-legally binding constraints, insists it complies with rules governing privacy" would scan)

That said, I'm also not clear to what extent international agreements to share collected intelligence data are ever bound by international law. My suspicion is rarely, and I'd be interested to read evidence to the contrary. If such bindings don't exist, then I feel like playing up the extra-legal nature of this particular agreement comes off as a distraction and the real story should be about whether such agreements should be extra-legal in the first place.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:15 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was puzzled by Foust's characterization of it as "just a memorandum", like something you'd run off on the company Xerox. Because in my experience "Memorandum of Understanding" is a specific term describing diplomatic agreements between countries, particularly for intelligence sharing. That an MoU is about as binding and specific an agreement as you're likely to get in writing short of a formal treaty. I'm no expert on this language though, maybe someone else can clarify?

I'm also puzzled by Foust's larger point in the article, which I'd characterize as "we don't know enough about this agreement of the US sharing raw signals intelligence on US citizens with Israel". Well, no shit, because NSA hasn't ever seen fit to let US citizens know it was doing legwork for Israeli spies before. 95% of this latest story is that it's happening at all, that we finally know about it. Just as soon as NSA puts in a place for public review of their activities we can have a reasonable, open debate about the specifics of how those activities are administered. Secret FISA courts don't cut it.
posted by Nelson at 2:26 PM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


There is zilch preventing us from building a medical records database that keeps the records secure from even the federal government, saulgoodman, but permits access by patients, physicians the designate, and emergency room staff. I'll happily design it for them.

Ain't much different form Tahoo-LAFS. You give the patient key cards they carry around all the time, like France, Germany, etc. do, but the records cannot be access at all without the key. All patients are given a backup keys which they file with trusted sources. You'd even could filter document download through an intermediary if you wanted the ability to revoke a physician's access, actually this intermediary need not even be given access, but that's considerably more effort.

All that's preventing designing systems that remain secure under most conditions is (a) hiring the cheapest developers possible, (b) asking developers to bang out code as quickly as possible, (c) the prevalence of closed source software, which is inherently insecure, and (c) the NSA, DEA, FBI, etc. creating headaches for anyone who tries to create secure systems.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:36 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Certainly the HowStuffWorks article seems to back that up - Memoranda appear to often be the most legally binding thing you'll see between international entities. As such, I think that stressing the "non-legally binding" nature of the agreement is deceptive. That is, when I read the Guardian piece I saw it as "The US is giving non-minimized data to Israel and they are totally reading it." Yet it seems like the expectation should be "The US was at one time and possibly still is giving non-minimized data to Israel and ISNU are probably obeying a non-legally-binding-but-generally-abided-by agreement not to read it.")

I think that Foust's larger point is reasonable when considered in the context of the Guardian's article. That is, the Guardian article reads as "Look at what the NSA is doing with Israel all the time!" Faust stomps on that a bit heavily perhaps, but noting that this may well not be the state of things right now is certainly important.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:40 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Greenwald tweets support for Oath Keepers pro-Snowden ad while concealing the group's identity.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:49 PM on September 11, 2013


As such, I think that stressing the "non-legally binding" nature of the agreement is deceptive.

It's in the leaked document.

We don't even know how this raw data gets used within the US because of secret courts and secret laws, and we certainly have no recourse with Israel if and when they misuse said data. To leave out that fact, one which is directly cited from the agreement, would be a glaring omission.

It is amazing just how Orwellian things have become, that an accurate quotation becomes an act of deception.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:51 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's as accurate a quotation as "a coalition of current and former military, police, and other public officials" is an accurate description of the Oath Keepers.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:02 PM on September 11, 2013


As such, I think that stressing the "non-legally binding" nature of the agreement is deceptive.

It's in the leaked document.


It is, but by definition an MOU isn't legally binding and are often used for international agreements with the expectation that the parties will abide by the rules. In short: it's nothing special and both sides agree to not go around it.

To my eyes, the Guardian article scans as suggesting that the lack of legally binding rules as proof that Greenwald thinks the Israelis are going to undoubtedly disobey the stated principles. (Honestly, I think he could have made more hay out of the fact that the document states that the Israelis need more training to make sure that minimization occurs correctly, but that would have required him to suggest the NSA was concerned about such things.) It's an example of him being irresponsible and attempting to paint an exaggerated picture. (Of his engaging in "activist journalism", to return to an earlier point.)
posted by Going To Maine at 3:04 PM on September 11, 2013


Greenwald's Twitter profile: "RT != Endorsement".

Those "Greenwald is a right-wing libertarian" smear attempts trying to sap his left-wing support are getting really old.
posted by anemone of the state at 3:05 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


The "Greenwald as antagonistic/biased" spin reminds me very much of the spin against Occupy and its ilk as "promoting class warfare". No, fighting back is not the same as starting the fight.
posted by mstokes650 at 3:07 PM on September 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm not an apologist for Obama, in spite of having voted for him in both presidential elections. That said, I find it difficult to reconcile the picture of the man as he existed before he became president to the person he apparently is now.

I'm left with only two conclusions - he is either capable of deception on a level that would do Richard Nixon proud, or there are some incredible and terrifying things that happen on the other side of taking the presidential oath.

I'd almost rather believe the former.


Talking about this in terms of the villainy of Obama really misses the point about how things work in Washington and the federal bureaucracy. Unless you're willing to believe that Obama personally considered and ordered all these measures to be taken (or that members of his administration did), what we're really looking at here is a terrifying amount of power built up over decades by (to paraphrase Eisenhower) an intelligence-industrial complex. Now and then a 9/11 happens and they reach out to Congressmen to open a few more legal doors to what they want to do; but all of these revelations add up to an organization that does pretty much whatever the fuck it wants, and goes to Congress and says "give us more money to do it."

God help the president, R or D, who actually tries to impose some limits.
posted by fatbird at 3:10 PM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is the by far least surprising of the leaks we've seen.
posted by mr.marx at 3:11 PM on September 11, 2013


raysmj: "Thanks, Nelson, for remembering the existence of Congress. Like it's just a wee little player over there in a corner somewhere."

The NSA answers to the Executive Branch.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:15 PM on September 11, 2013


In theory.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:20 PM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


In short: it's nothing special

"Nothing special" is quite different from "deception".

There's been a complete failure to project people's privacy from the NSA. We have secret courts, a policy of dishonesty when officials are put in front of the public's representatives, and no real oversight from either the President or members of Congress.

When a secret document reiterates that we have no legal recourse to abuses of our privacy and that we have to trust people who openly lie to us in front of our elected officials, it's an important detail to point out.

Reporting truths that seem obvious to you may indicate that the Guardian's editorial direction differs from your opinion about the severity of the crimes being reported, but it hopefully should not be "deceptive" or lying to report true facts.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:25 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


In short: it's nothing special

"Nothing special" is quite different from "deception".


Ok. That's fair. I would allege that by not noting that the extra-legal nature of an MOU is nothing special and something that appears to apply to quite a few different agreements between different national entities, Greenwald knowingly attempted to suggest that Israel was going to violate the agreement, and that by doing so he's deliberately attempting to paint an inaccurate picture of the nature of MOUs for his audience.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:55 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The bottom line, IMO, is that the nation is controlled by criminal organizations. A decade from now, the NSA or CIA will put their version of Putin in power. Won't that be fun!
posted by five fresh fish at 3:58 PM on September 11, 2013


A decade from now, the NSA or CIA will put their version of Putin in power. Won't that be fun!

I will take that bet, and win. If the CIA organizing a coup to overthrow the Shah of Iran, selling crack cocaine to raise funds, the president illegally selling arms to the contras, the president conducting a dirty tricks campaign against political enemies, and the FBI engaging in COINTELPRO operations didn't end with someone putting in the fix, it seems reasonable to contest that this noise will either.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:15 PM on September 11, 2013


Besides, ten years from now is just after Hillary's second term ends. That's pretty short.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:17 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Trove of NSA Documents and FISC Opinions Declassified Thanks to EFF Lawsuit
posted by jeffburdges at 4:29 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ya, I need to finally buckle down and setup my yearly donation to EFF.
posted by rosswald at 4:34 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, well, you ever talked to executive branch people who've gone on about Congressional oversight? Or read about ones with Friends on the Hill (or read about policy networks, iron triangles/cozy little networks, etc.)? The executive branch has, in effect, two bosses. And Congress still largely controls the budget, passed the secrecy laws (in previous Congresses) talked about here, and so forth. Either side can thus point to the other and say it's the others' fault. Which is the biggest problem with our system, really, and it's not a whole 'nother story from all this.
posted by raysmj at 4:35 PM on September 11, 2013


You're preaching to the choir, jeffburdges. But procurement rules are designed to favor low bidders, and there seems to be no shortage of IT shops willing to overpromise and under-deliver rather than hold firm to minimal professional standards in software development practice (and no shortage of clients who've been led by all the marketing hype to expect software development miracles on the cheap, especially in the public sector).
posted by saulgoodman at 4:55 PM on September 11, 2013


I will take that bet, and win. If the CIA organizing a coup to overthrow the Shah of Iran, selling crack cocaine to raise funds, the president illegally selling arms to the contras, the president conducting a dirty tricks campaign against political enemies, and the FBI engaging in COINTELPRO operations didn't end with someone putting in the fix, it seems reasonable to contest that this noise will either.

If it did happen, how would we know? Would a sign be a private contractor going rogue and releasing a trove of documents showing the duplicitousness of a corrupt national security state?
posted by ryoshu at 4:59 PM on September 11, 2013


I derailed slightly with that list, but my point was : The NSA derails the specs, but more free software that gets it right now though.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:02 PM on September 11, 2013


Wasn't Bush Sr a CIA boss? And didn't his son get elected by shady means? The fix has probably been in for decades.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:11 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Declassified Documents Prove NSA's Bulk Metadata Collections Completely Unnecessary

James Clapper Pretends It Was Just A Good Idea To Suddenly Declassify FISA Documents; Doesn't Mention EFF Lawsuit Or Snowden
posted by jeffburdges at 6:03 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's been interesting to see how these NSA threads have evolved over time. Not a lot of people defending the NSA at this point.

How did the ball get rolling on the Church Committee? What else needs to happen before we have an actual Congressional investigation, and not just a "review board" appointed by the President?
posted by compartment at 6:11 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


What else needs to happen before we have an actual Congressional investigation, and not just a "review board" appointed by the President?

Congressional Investigation? You do realize that Congress is on the hook for much of this, right?
posted by sideshow at 6:22 PM on September 11, 2013


If the CIA organizing a coup to overthrow the Shah of Iran, selling crack cocaine to raise funds, the president illegally selling arms to the contras, the president conducting a dirty tricks campaign against political enemies, and the FBI engaging in COINTELPRO operations didn't end with someone putting in the fix, it seems reasonable to contest that this noise will either.

If you throw in the CIA jumpstarting Vietnam, that's 1+ major global and domestic shitstorms per decade, and so basically every presidential administration has one. The fact that they continue to occur tells us the fix is in.

If it's even possible that the NSA can hand the sum-total of the communications of the Legislative and Judicial branches to anybody, let alone Israel, by the lesson of LOVEINT there might just be a lot we don't know about how candidates for high office actually get there.
posted by rhizome at 7:05 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


and goes to Congress and says "give us more money to do it."

At this point it seems likely to me that they don't really need to bother with "give us money," they just create some money when they feel like it.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:12 PM on September 11, 2013


If you throw in the CIA jumpstarting Vietnam, that's 1+ major global and domestic shitstorms per decade, and so basically every presidential administration has one. The fact that they continue to occur tells us the fix is in.

Well, it depends what your definition of "the fix" is, then. My read is that "the fix" means that the CIA/NSA/FBI etc. gets to pick a candidate and compels 'em do what they want through coercion. The fact of major scandals is hardly evidence of that. On the other hand, if "the fix" means that elements of secret agencies occasionally overstep their bounds with awful consequences, then sure, I guess so.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:16 PM on September 11, 2013


you'd think the public overwhelmingly supports universal surveillance (polls like this one keep asserting that we do)

I'm frightened to imagine what the 'acceptable' percentage would be if the question was changed to read 'criminals' instead of 'terrorists'.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 7:45 PM on September 11, 2013


It was strongly implied earlier that Germany gets this stuff too; if so, I presume that basically all the first-tier Western nations have access to it. I mean, Australia, NZ, UK, Canada, Germany, Israel ... you have to expect that France is in there too. Who else? Brazil? I wouldn't be at all surprised.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:26 PM on September 11, 2013


At this point it seems likely to me that they don't really need to bother with "give us money," they just create some money traffic cocaine and arms for money when they feel like it.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:03 PM on September 11, 2013


Those "Greenwald is a right-wing libertarian" smear attempts trying to sap his left-wing support are getting really old.

I still don't get what eXiled's deal was, there. It was weird.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:55 AM on September 12, 2013


Going To Maine: Greenwald knowingly attempted to suggest that Israel was going to violate the agreement, and ... by doing so he's deliberately attempting to paint an inaccurate picture of the nature of MOUs for his audience.

I don't feel at all misled by the article. The fact that the NSA has no legal authority to enforce agreements made with Israeli intelligence may be normal and unsurprising to people familiar with international law, but it is highly relevant to the story. The NSA's defense in general has boiled down to, "don't worry, US citizens, you can trust us to use our extraordinary secret access to your communications only for good." Now the defense has to be: "don't worry, US citizens, you can trust us, and our international partners over whom we have no legal authority and can exercise no practical oversight, to use our extraordinary secret access to your communications only for good."

Greenwald isn't saying or implying that Israel is definitely going to violate the agreement. What he's saying is that Israeli intelligence workers have to be added to the list of people Americans have to trust with raw access to their communications due to their own government's spying program.
posted by jhc at 8:56 AM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


All law enforcement and national security feels this sense of entitlement and self-justifications. It needs to stop.

Aaron Swartz's case really clarified this for me : To oversimplify, cops, prosecutors, etc. are at some level "bad people" that society has historically lauded for rechanneling their thuggish urges into limiting the less controllable thugs, called criminals. Any time you hear people talk about "service" in this context, the 'memetic epidemiology' behind their statement sounds more like "Aren't you glad such a strong man played by some rules and didn't just kill, rape, etc. you. Please be nice to him to encourage others." Alexander, Clapper, Brennan, etc. fit that description perfectly. You'd imagine the average NSA geek less fit less well, but so few whistleblowers suggests issues.

Anyways, all the justifications for data sharing read like "Aren't you glad we're sharing your collective data with nations that might use it to hurt even worse people. You weren't going to go protest in Israel anyways were you?" In fact, these worse people hold relatively little power today, so the total cost to society of the NSA, DEA, FBI, etc. spying on everybody is much much higher than a few Sept 11ths. It's just fear porn that keeps this ball rolling.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:37 AM on September 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mooski: "I'm left with only two conclusions - he is either capable of deception on a level that would do Richard Nixon proud, or there are some incredible and terrifying things that happen on the other side of taking the presidential oath."

entropicamericana: "... when you win, you go into this smoke-filled room with the twelve industrialist capitalist scum-fucks who got you in there..."--Bill Hicks"

The Bill Hicks quote is what I tend to think of as a sort of comforting paranoia or conspiracy theory because it suggests that there is in fact someone in control somewhere. Which not only means that things can actually be controlled in the first place but that they could also be changed if only you could figure out a way to access the levers. I think this is subtly comforting because the alternative realization is simply that there is no real control and that humanity's progress through history is really more of a rock slide down a hillside where the individual rocks do influence each other's direction depending on relative size and weight as much as everything is also constrained and influenced by the topography of the landscape but where the overall impression is one of roiling chaos that may have a clear evolving direction but certain doesn't appear to be under anybody's control. Human history as an emergent phenomenon rather than a self directed journey.

I think the latter is probably closer to what's really going on. I think that there are in fact terrifying revelations waiting on the other side of the oath but I think they're probably surprisingly simple and plain and not that much different from the realizations available from a regular person's day-to-day experience of life except obviously with everything being intensely compressed in time and decisions having consequences that affect more people more strongly by a significant number of orders of magnitude: that everything is way more complex than it seems, that nobody is actually much in control of anything and that everyone including yourself is entangled in an enormous web of complex causalities, owed debts and favors, unanticipated curveball events as well as countless loose ends.

In a way (inspired, obviously, by the current Shield related thread) I think becoming POTUS is probably not entirely unlike being Vic Mackie. You come into the job with certain intentions, you probably want to do (what you perceive as) good while also taking care of yours and your own, but you end up feeling like you're running out of time every moment of every day while swimming through a pool of syrup surrounded by people who observe, analyze, criticize and fight you at every turn. You probably enter office with a laundry list of a dozen major projects just to have a 120 urgent things thrown at you that are going on right now and must be dealt with before you even had a chance to take a breath. Because of this I suspect the tendency towards taking an increasing number of shortcuts and using decreasingly valuable ends to justify increasingly dubious means is likely a direct function of a president's time in office. Add to that at least the minimum degree to which being a selfish and ruthless sociopath is required to even navigate the path to office. I'm not trying to be an apologist or anything but I think we tend to overestimate the level of control even a president has and underestimate the pressure and burdens a president is exposed to. Just check photographs.. they all age really quickly. Unless they manage to go and hide in a nothing-can-touch-me-I'm-chainsawing-shrubs-at-my-farm mental cocoon state like W.

And then, on top of it all, a president finds himself at the top of a pyramid consuming incoming streams of information that have passed through a massive number of people at every level of every hierarchy involved. I'm with Robert Anton Wilson when it comes to the notion that one of the main characteristics of hierarchical organizations is that every hierarchical pyramid is also a pyramid of disinformation. At the bottom nobody knows the big picture because information filtering down the pyramid is limited and censored at each node in order to maintain that node's power. A big picture is known at the top, except it is largely false or imaginary because it is assembled from information being passed up the pyramid which is filtered and tweaked at every level in order to preserve status. There's a tendency to tell those who have power over you what you think they want to hear rather than the exact truth in order to not antagonize them. Even subtle tweaks add up quickly if you chain up enough of them.

And now that I have articulated all this I feel rather depressed. Is it drinking time yet?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:26 PM on September 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Feds Fight To Prevent NSA Disclosures In Criminal Cases, documenting the NSA's strategic process of avoiding any sort of judicial review of their actions.
posted by Nelson at 12:39 PM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yet it seems like the expectation should be "The US was at one time and possibly still is giving non-minimized data to Israel and ISNU are probably obeying a non-legally-binding-but-generally-abided-by agreement not to read it."

I'm probably too late to this, but reading this does make me feel like I've gone through the looking glass. Israel spies on the US. Proper, illegal, high stakes spying. Not singling Israel out, as the US also spies on its allies and they all spy on each other too. But nonetheless, Israel spends time and money on proper espionage against the US.

And yet what you seem to be suggesting is that a country which does this, a country that the NSA itself refers to as engaging in aggressive espionage against the US, when presented with raw intelligence which may contain things they're not technically allowed to see will resist temptation and not look at those things, uh-uh, no way, because they've done a (legally non-binding) pinky swear.

Really? I mean, really?
posted by reynir at 1:18 PM on September 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Reynir, come on, let's get real. Your private phone calls were safer with Israel than they were with Booz Allen Hamilton, weren't they? On an outrage scale from one to pi this is barely a four, four and a half.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:57 PM on September 12, 2013


Johns Hopkins dean apologises for ordering NSA-related blog removed
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:43 PM on September 13, 2013


Interview with WaPo's Barton Gellman: Reporter Had To Decide If Snowden Leaks Were 'The Real Thing'
posted by homunculus at 6:17 PM on September 14, 2013


Black Helicopters: Britain's Blind Faith in Intelligence Agencies
via MI-5 Whistleblower Annie Machon who fled the U.K. for France in 1997 (see her 2011 talk)
posted by jeffburdges at 3:32 AM on September 17, 2013


First you didn't want domestic spying. Now you want us to stop it. Make up your mind!

Even subtle tweaks add up quickly if you chain up enough of them.
And now that I have articulated all this I feel rather depressed.


Nah. S'why they lose. Most of the job is just preventing the damage they do from their egos flailing around trying to control everything and threatening to destroy the structure (or the world) if they don't get it.

Not to say that's easy.

Y'know, I've always thought Stephen King has a good worldview on that. All the mumbo jumbo scary stuff aside, the big evil is essentially a force that has already lost at some point, usually due to its own devices, and is trying to regrasp control or recover a lost order of things that has been outmoded or rendered non-viable or is just plain self-defeating.

Like "The Stand." Sure at first you'd have folks who follow Flag. But after a bit they'd know the score and realize that the fear of pain and carnage and the unknown is worse than the actuality of it.
Same deal here. Terrorism is a problem. But the problem part of it isn't the carnage but the fear of it. You can't kill that by running around with rifles or kicking over people's tea wagons. You have to face the fear to fight it. To do that you have to acknowledge it.
Right now a lot of people are still trying to prevent acknowledging that bad things can happen to Americans. Why else have an operational secret you tell everyone?

But it's just an idea. Shift that and everything else follows. Sort of a social jujutsu. Really, one person could do it (and have), just by embodying a new perspective.
Getting a bit esoteric there but it's true.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:09 AM on September 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


five fresh fish: "Wasn't Bush Sr a CIA boss? And didn't his son get elected by shady means? The fix has probably been in for decades."

If so, how do you explain 2008 & 2012?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:49 PM on September 23, 2013


What is there to explain? President Obama chose not to prosecute Bush-era officials; he even retained many of them. And he backtracked on his declared policy positions so that the US's foreign policy today is still pretty much what it was back then.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:59 AM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm too sleepy to discuss this, but people should probably read it:
Former FBI agent to plead guilty in leak to AP
Note: he got 43 months for the leak and 97 (to be served consecutively) for possession of child pornography, for which he was coincidentally being investigated at the time.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:03 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Broom: so how's that hopey changey thing working out for you? The dude is right of Nixon and Reagan. Don't mistake TPTB giving you a guy only slightly less harmful than Bush as any sort of real forward progress.

Jumping up in a falling elevator makes you feel you're going away from the ground, but you really aren't. Voting for Obama felt like progress toward the greater good, but it's really been continued acceleration toward the end of this experiment in democracy. Jumping at the last second doesn't make any difference when the metal box you're riding in smashes into the sub-basement.

What a tortured analogy. It must have spent time in Gitmo.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:35 AM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


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