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"People in power ... will routinely lie to their population,"
December 10, 2013 8:14 PM   Subscribe

The Men Who Leaked The Secrets
To the likes of Brooks, Snowden was a disconcerting mystery; Glenn Greenwald, though, got him right away. "He had no power, no prestige, he grew up in a lower-middle-class family, totally obscure, totally ordinary," Greenwald says. "He didn't even have a high school diploma. But he was going to change the world – and I knew that." And, Greenwald also believed, so would he. "In all kinds of ways, my whole life has been in preparation for this moment," he says.

State Of Deception - Why Won't The President Rein In The Intelligence Community?
Soon after the March hearing, Dickas called a senior member of Clapper’s staff and requested that Clapper acknowledge that his statement had been wrong. Through his staff member, Clapper declined. In July, however, after Snowden’s leaks, Clapper finally wrote to the committee and offered a formal retraction: “My response was clearly erroneous, for which I apologize.” Wyden told me, “There is not a shred of evidence that the statement ever would’ve been corrected absent the Snowden disclosures.”
Glenn Greenwald: What I've Learned

Greenwald was interviewed on BBC's HARDtalk (Youtube) (via)

The Structure Of Journalism Today, in a semiotic square.

more
posted by the man of twists and turns (46 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had to stop reading that New Yorker piece several times to stare off into space disconsolately.
posted by mwhybark at 8:56 PM on December 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


I know it's a bit off topic and I apologize, but the Structure of Journalism link led me to the concept of the Semiotic Square, and I have a friend who's doing a poem cycle based on truth tables, and I sent it to him, and now he's figuring out a three dimensional poem cycle base on the tense, moods and voices of ancient Greek, inspired by a 3D version of the semiotic square (the semiotic cube?).

So it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, I guess. Thanks!
posted by sweet mister at 9:04 PM on December 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Much of the material in The New Yorker article on the Bush/Cheney era spying is also covered in Barton Gellman's Angler, if folks are interested in some longer reads. (Of course, NSA-related stuff is only a fraction of a biography of Cheney.)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:26 PM on December 10, 2013


Jeez, talk about piggy in the middle. On one hand, "Why won't Obama rein them in?" and on the other, "Obama is a meanie who's leaving us out to dry."
posted by rhizome at 9:51 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's what being President is like. But I'm going to stick with thinking it's a grievous error for him not to take a stand against the NSA's actions.
posted by JHarris at 1:35 AM on December 11, 2013 [8 favorites]


The secret police believe they're being "[hung] out to dry" simply because he's not publicly cheerleading for them 27 hours a day. But make no mistake, he's all for it.

Obama has legitimized the worst aspects of the Bush administration.

Fuck tha police.
posted by robotmonkeys at 1:48 AM on December 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


Observations made elsewhere - one insightful, one more looking for a conspiracy where there may be none.

1) When everyone is making money AKA fat, dumb and happy - no one cares about the abuses of power. When the economy is on the skids that results in some people expressing a backbone and demanding change.

2) When Obama didn't back the British interests in Syria, "the very next day" the British via the Guardian released the Snowden info as a distraction.

Given one of the observations has a far greater ring of truth and the result of a previous batch of lying resulted in the Church commissions work - what's the plan THIS time around to get "at the truth" and keep "at the truth"? Some kind of truth and reconciliation commission? An ability for citizens to go directly to the Grand Jury with Criminal complaints without the political filter of the DA? At least the 2nd option would give the lawmakers incentive to actually make a list of the laws because "The exact number of laws is unknown because the attorneys at Congressional Research Service who were assigned to count them ran out of resources before they could complete the herculean task."
posted by rough ashlar at 3:21 AM on December 11, 2013


The first step to reducing the invasion of people's privacy by intelligence services is for people, and their politicians, to accept that there is a balance between privacy and security/intelligence activity.

After 9/11 the intelligence and security community was challenged to never let it happen again. The response was a surge in data gathering, privacy intrusion and security theatre. 9/11 hasn't happened again in America. Whether by accident, good luck or diligence is irrelevant at a political level because perception is king here.

Loss of privacy is an abstract concept whose activity is largely hidden from sight. Feeling secure is also abstract, but reinforced at a practical and visible level by rectal searches and pornoscanners at provincial airports and the knowledge that nothing bad has happened so far.

In order to dial back from the current situation, even if doing so does not actually create more risk, there has to be an incentive to do so for the people that are accountable - the politicians that oversee the intelligence/security agencies and the people who run those organisations. Without that incentive, nobody will willingly and visibly dial back activity knowing that it tees them up for the accusation they are putting American lives at risk.

I would question at this point whether the American public is ready, right at this moment, to trade more privacy for more risk, regardless if that additional risk is real or perceived (in the event something bad happens the distinction is irrelevant). I would also question whether the febrile, destructive and partisan nature of US politics at the moment is conducive to taking the political risks needed to rein in the intelligence agencies.

Without excusing Obama, who has been a crushing disappointment as a second term president, one can at least empathise with why he looks like a dyed-in-the-wool Republican on security given the environment in which he operates.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:39 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


After 9/11 the intelligence and security community was challenged to never let it happen again.

By whom?

Is this like the "challenge" of "Don't let Pearl Harbor happen again" after WWII?

If the "goal" of the US military industrial complex was to prevent a sneak attack on US soil from a large loss of life - what did the Trillions on defence actually do "on game day" on that Sept 11th?
posted by rough ashlar at 3:50 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The only sure safety from terrorism is in the grave.
The grasp of an over-reaching security state may reach beyond that mark.
posted by Goofyy at 3:55 AM on December 11, 2013


9/11 hasn't happened again in America
Why would they need to win twice?
posted by fullerine at 4:01 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


By whom?

Come on, really? Think back to September 2001: "Never forget" and "Never again". The language was appropriated from the kind of statements made after genocides and used multiple times by, among others, George Bush.

The language is still being used explicitly.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:06 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Loss of privacy is an abstract concept whose activity is largely hidden from sight.

When I flew home for Thankgiving this year I was randomly selected for the pilot "pre approved" program at the security line. It basically meant a faster security check, in that I didn't need to take off my shoes, didn't need to take my liquids bag out, and went through a metal detector instead of the pornoscanner.

In other words, 12 years after 9/11, the TSA is now testing a more efficient program of "doing things the way they did it before the TSA existed."

I think this is why the airports and TSA stand out so much in public animosity over "security" in the U.S. now. It's probably the most non-hidden example of the bullshit of security theater.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:48 AM on December 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


I can't really join in on the bashing of the intelligence community. They deal with incredible ethical issues, true, but they've kept a number of nightmare scenarios from coming to pass. Consider the fall of the Soviet Union. At the moment that the central government collapsed, a significant portion of the USSR's destructive weapons essentially fell into the possession of whoever was standing next to them at the time. Yet none of those weapons were ever used by a rogue actor in a terrorist strike, which is almost incomprehensible. Not one? Not one, because the USSR's opponents kept very, very careful track of the weapons and were making sure they didn't fall into the wrong hands at the same time civil politics in the former Soviet bloc were going to hell.

If that's too remote or historical for you, consider that Syria has some of the best air defense systems in the world. If you had gotten your hands on some of those, loaded them on a boat, and sailed them down to South Africa, you could have killed many, many heads of state as they were flying in for Nelson Mandela's funeral.

I should probably be turning that idea into a spy thriller instead of sharing it with you here. But, anyway. Before you call for weakening the tools of the intelligence community, you really should consider if you seriously want the people whose job it is to stop that kind of thing from happening to lose some of the tools they use to do their job.
posted by quillbreaker at 5:00 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not sure what widespread domestic surveillance or surveillance of private individuals outside of whatever happens to be one's home country has to do with keeping track of the weapons stock of a state in the process of falling apart? The technical tools used may be similar, but there's a large difference - ethically, legally, foreign-relations-wise - between generalized, untargeted surveillance and mass meta-data collection, one the one hand, and using minimal surveillance necessary to accomplish a particular, finite goal of keeping track of a finite number of specific physical objects that are known to exist and where a case for a more clear and immediate danger necessitating the surveillance can be made to public, non-secret courts, on the other hand.
posted by eviemath at 5:13 AM on December 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


quillbreaker: No one used the Soviet nukes. All that proves is that no one used them. Credit the intelligence community? It certainly is true no one has been maimed by lions in my city, but I don't think the police or game warden take credit for that.
posted by Goofyy at 5:20 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


But, anyway. Before you call for weakening the tools of the intelligence community, you really should consider if you seriously want the people whose job it is to stop that kind of thing from happening to lose some of the tools they use to do their job.

I think the objections aren't that the NSA has tools and will use them, but that they have over stepped the bounds of their charter. They are actively spying on US citizens and harvesting a shit-ton of data about everyone, just in case it becomes useful at some point. The administration has been caught lying several times about the scope of the NSA apparatus and it is pretty reasonable to want to reign them in starting with a requirement to have probable cause before monitoring anyone.

The only thing I want to weaken them about is their ability to do what they were never intended to do in the first place.
posted by dgran at 5:22 AM on December 11, 2013 [10 favorites]


Honestly, this (for me, anyway) isn't so much about privacy or surveillance as it is about power, specifically limiting it as much as humanly possible. The broad collection of information, the existence of that information, creates power, and if history has shown us anything, it's that there are pitifully few humans capable of handling that sort of power without turning into monsters.

Already we've seen the information collected going from being used for prevention of attacks on Americans to being used to discredit individuals with opinions deemed to be too incendiary, and that's official usage.
posted by Mooski at 5:31 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


In the following exchange, think of the rock as the NSA, and the tigers as terrorists:

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a
charm.
Lisa: That's spacious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
[Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]
posted by blue_beetle at 5:47 AM on December 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


Power has gravitational self-attraction; the more you have, the faster you accumulate even more, and the harder it is to get rid of any. Get enough power and it forms a black hole, which can only be disassembled by complete annihilation.
posted by localroger at 5:47 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I flew home for Thankgiving this year I was randomly selected for the pilot "pre approved" program at the security line. It basically meant a faster security check, in that I didn't need to take off my shoes, didn't need to take my liquids bag out, and went through a metal detector instead of the pornoscanner.

In other words, 12 years after 9/11, the TSA is now testing a more efficient program of "doing things the way they did it before the TSA existed."


This happened to me as well the other week. I think it happened because right now there are about five people in the entire country who have actually completed the "PreCheck" process (last I looked the only place you could book an appointment is in Indianapolis, so, yeah), so they were just grabbing every fourth or fifth person and routing them down that line. It was fast and easy, just like a security check should be, and certainly didn't make anyone any less safe. The only slow part was almost everyone in the line kept taking off their shoes even though there were two TSA employees dedicated just to telling people to keep their shoes on.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:51 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Get enough power and it forms a black hole, which can only be disassembled by complete annihilation.

Well, there's that new theory about pocket universes and black-holes, so you could say that the power block in a 2D space with a third dimensions of view-points/opinions that forms a black hole begets a 2D pocket universe of a fixed view/opinion (no third dimension).

Or something.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:55 AM on December 11, 2013


"More than three decades ago in New Delhi, India, I was attending a protest seminar. Speaker after speaker denounced the double dealing and mendacity of the government. At the end of two days of such berating the assembly was set to pass a resolution making demands — of the same government! It was left to one of the last speakers, the writer and thinker Arun Shourie, to gently touch upon the incongruity here. Instead of asking such a supposedly terrible government to do something, he suggested, why don’t you say what you will do? His words have always remained with me."
posted by dragonsi55 at 6:17 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The New Yorker article references Wyden's May 26, 2011 speech during the debate over the renewal of the Patriot Act; the Senator considers it "one of the most important speeches of his career." Here is a video and transcript.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:42 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Blue_beatle, I find your Simpson's reference doesn't match the situation. Here's a better version:

Homer: "Welp, better get rid of that Bear Rock, cause it's been a while since anyone got mauled. Pity about Lisa, but we've got plenty of kids left."

Until you can address the fears and paranoia people have from 9-11, you're going to lose the debate over the security state. And by address it, I don't mean discounting it, or saying that the occasional terrorist attack is tolerable. or that the solution is long-term development and the abolishment of the American Empire. Those may be solutions, but they aren't acceptable solutions to the public.
posted by happyroach at 6:57 AM on December 11, 2013


Mooski and localroger, I totally agree, except I think the term we want is "authority" rather than "power".
posted by eviemath at 7:00 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those may be solutions, but they aren't acceptable solutions to the public.

Are they not, though? When did the public vote that the acceptable solution for all of us was the grotesque ballooning of the security state?
posted by forgetful snow at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with all this security is to shut it down would involve too many unemployed thugs running around, used to being in charge. Sounds dangerous!
posted by Goofyy at 8:37 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before you call for weakening the tools of the intelligence community, you really should consider if you seriously want the people whose job it is to stop that kind of thing from happening to lose some of the tools they use to do their job.

I have considered that.

Soviet Nukes: The idea that Soviet nukes "essentially fell into the possession of whoever was standing next to them at the time" is reductionist bullshit. It was a vastly complicated and dynamic situation in which the intelligence community played only one part. In fact, if you actually researched it, you'd be unnerved by the number and magnitude of intelligence *failures* around the fall of the Soviet Union.

Syrian AA: The Syrian AA system is so effective is because it's a comprehensive, integrated nation-spanning system. It's not one object you load on a boat and shoot down airplanes. You need the launchers, support, a couple of high-power radar installs (separated by a couple miles for parallax) and back-end processing and C&C. Or you could just pick up a couple of man-portable SA-18s or FN-6s and stand on a roof in Johannesburg. Nice red-herring there.

Of course, your post is a pack of apologist rubbish and deliberate obfuscation. "Won't someone think of the children" level stuff. Comprehensive domestic spying will do precisely nothing to keep us safe from nukes in the Caucuses. It's intended to keep citizens in line.
posted by kjs3 at 8:43 AM on December 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think this is why the airports and TSA stand out so much in public animosity over "security" in the U.S. now. It's probably the most non-hidden example of the bullshit of security theater.

Won't someone think of the children?

you could just pick up a couple of man-portable SA-18s or FN-6s and stand on a roof in Johannesburg.

But at least you're safe from sharing an American flight with an armed sock monkey.
posted by flabdablet at 8:57 AM on December 11, 2013


Why does the NSA even get to go directly to the FISA court and ask for expanded powers? And why is there only one lawyer there, on the NSA's side? How's about: the NSA can only do what they're told they can, and they have to ask the Executive to send lawyers to FISA for them, and members of Congress with the clearance, like Wyden, can send someone to argue against. Needless to say it's not a total solution, but still, it's absurd that the current FISA system is the way it is.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:08 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd have thought Congress would be more upset about being repeatedly lied to by Clapper and Alexander. What the hell does it take to earn a contempt or perjury charge these days?
posted by zjacreman at 10:03 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Consider the fall of the Soviet Union.

Yes, let's consider the collapse of the Eastern Bloc: the intelligence community tasked with surveying and understanding the communist sphere was the *most surprised* by the collapse. How does that speak in any way to their necessity or efficacy?
posted by absalom at 10:40 AM on December 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Alright, how about a different quote. paraphrased:

"It isn't so much that the american esablishment is ignorant of how to stay safe from terrorism, It's just that they know so many things that aren't so." cite
posted by blue_beetle at 11:15 AM on December 11, 2013


Former whistleblowers: open letter to intelligence employees after Snowden. Blowing the whistle on powerful factions is not a fun thing to do, but it is the last avenue for truth, balanced debate and democracy
posted by homunculus at 12:07 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, let's consider the collapse of the Eastern Bloc: the intelligence community tasked with surveying and understanding the communist sphere was the *most surprised* by the collapse. How does that speak in any way to their necessity or efficacy?
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it" - Upton Sinclair

The spooks will see danger even when there is none, because it is their job to see danger. Remember that when someone says "I'm not doing anything wrong so I have nothing to hide".
posted by swr at 2:05 PM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Needless to say it's not a total solution, but still, it's absurd that the current FISA system is the way it is.

FISA is a rubber stamp court, entirely appointed by Chief Justice Roberts, and peopled entirely by Republicans. I'm amazed and aghast this fact isn't more widely known. If it did its job a lot better, things might not have gotten to this point.
posted by JHarris at 2:06 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with all this security is to shut it down would involve too many unemployed thugs running around, used to being in charge. Sounds dangerous!

Honestly, sometimes it really feels like most of this mucking about is just to occupy a certain type of silly bugger whom you would otherwise not want around.
posted by forgetful snow at 3:02 PM on December 11, 2013


Yes, let's consider the collapse of the Eastern Bloc: the intelligence community tasked with surveying and understanding the communist sphere was the *most surprised* by the collapse. How does that speak in any way to their necessity or efficacy?

I think it speaks of the nature of intelligence, and of knowledge of other people's actions, plans and motivations. When it come down to it, the fall of the Soviet Union was the act of one man, Gorbachev, but helped tremendously by decades of systemic rot. Intelligence can't get inside a man's head. (Indeed, it is arguable that it shouldn't even if it could.) If Gorbachev hadn't come around, then the system would probably have continued to decay. You didn't need to be a spy to have seen the cracks in the system, but who would wield the hammer?

There is a definite point of diminishing returns in the acquisition of intelligence. And the NSA is obviously way past any sort of reasonable tradeoff of resource consumption to knowledge gained (which has ballooned post 9/11 as they keep getting handed blank checks), as they desperately search for any fact for whatever reason -- ostensibly keeping us safe from terrorists who could be anyone, but really for uncertain motives.

Honestly, sometimes it really feels like most of this mucking about is just to occupy a certain type of silly bugger whom you would otherwise not want around.

I think (hope) Goofyy was kidding. Just in case not, I think the answer to the question of "what would these people do if they didn't have power," would obviously be, "anything other than having power, where they can do the most damage."
posted by JHarris at 3:17 PM on December 11, 2013


Before you call for weakening the tools of the intelligence community, you really should consider if you seriously want the people whose job it is to stop that kind of thing from happening to lose some of the tools they use to do their job.

Reading about stuff like this:

Recent Weapons Grade Uranium Smuggling Case: Nuclear Materials are Still on the Loose
Recent reports of the seizure of weapons-grade uranium from traffickers in Georgia raise concerns about poor cooperation against nuclear terrorism.

By Elena Sokova, William C. Potter, and Cristina Chuen
26 January 2007
On January 25, 2007, a story about the seizure of 100 grams of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in Georgia hit the media.
...


I start to appreciate why the NSA et. al. might do something like backdoor Microsoft Outlook or some machine at google, and then, crucially, not announce the fact in public, non-secret courts, so that possible black hats continue to use a compromised service for their communications. And this would mean that random innocuous communications get vacuumed up as well.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:55 AM on December 12, 2013



It was fast and easy, just like a security check should be, and certainly didn't make anyone any less safe.

In both Paris and Helsinki, airports I just passed through in the last few weeks, the security line took 10-12 minutes, involved no removal of shoes, used only a metal detector, and involved polite and friendly interactions with security personnel, who were obviously trained to observe the tension in your response to banal pleasantries (one nice screener complimented my jacket).

One of those screenings was to board an A380, which if brought down in the right place could probably kill thousands, beginning with the 500+ on board. And there were goodly numbers of passengers from Middle Eastern countries, to judge from appearances, on both flights.

As someone who flies domestically all the time, the comparison with the surly, nasty, strip to your skivvies and assume the position for irradiation before we feel you up (after you wait 45 minutes for the privilege of having a sex offender judge your threat level) bullshit the TSA practices was stark.


It's the bizarre intersection of blatant totalitarian intent, fearsome technological wizardry, and persistent rank incompetence and stupidity that really concerns me about American approaches to national security.
posted by spitbull at 4:48 AM on December 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


To sebastienbailard, eh. All kinds of excuses have been made on the NSA's behalf, but crucially, they've been doing a hell of a lot more, apparently greatly in excess of the significance of the threats.

But furthermore -- the United States was founded by people who believed that freedom, and thus quality of life, was so overwhelmingly important that they would die to preserve it, and that was the relatively light oppression of the British Empire over the American colonies, who mostly taxed things. I note that, despite the stupid rhetoric of flag waving tea partiers, Americans really don't seem to believe that's important any more, and surveillance over the whole damn planet is necessary.

What is more, setting the NSA aside for the moment, as the abilities presented to governments and large corporations by technology increase, this kind of thing is going to happen more and more often. We're just seeing the first front of it here, all kinds of dehumanizing things will come up in the future if we're not prepared to make a stand now for the dignity of the species.
posted by JHarris at 3:10 PM on December 12, 2013


Wyden Puff Piece Errors
That “futures market” program mentioned was called the Policy Analysis Market (PAM). As I was a chief architect, I happen to know that this discussion is quite misleading:
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:19 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Expose state crimes : Receive jail time for potentially helping terrorists.
Actually aid terrorists : $32,000 fine.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:44 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” [Snowden] said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”
posted by jeffburdges at 9:00 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Liberals and Conservatives Switch Positions on NSA Surveillance Depending On If 'Their Guy' Is In Power
posted by jeffburdges at 6:10 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


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