"If you scratch a paranoid, you find a narcissist"
August 30, 2007 6:10 PM   Subscribe

What's the Big Secret? Four surveillance experts try to figure out what the NSA's superclassified wiretapping program really is (hint: it may have something to do with the filters). They don't seem to realize that this kind of reckless public discussion means some Americans are going to die. [Via Threat Level.]
posted by homunculus (47 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 


Die from heart disease?
posted by chunking express at 6:18 PM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm thinking dying from lung cancer from breathing in all the noxious gases emanating from this program.
posted by wendell at 6:26 PM on August 30, 2007


It's just hot air, and while it may blister the lungs, these bozos have shown us that it's anything but lethal.
posted by The White Hat at 6:40 PM on August 30, 2007


It's just hot air, and while it may blister the lungs, these bozos have shown us that it's anything but lethal.

Let us have our fantasies, kthx.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:43 PM on August 30, 2007


The terrorists have already won.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:43 PM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I've heard numbers saying that about 200 million Americans have had communications monitored. So odds are, you're one of them.
From David Kris (DOJ):

Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups are surely using them to make international calls, but their communications cannot possibly account for even 1 percent of the total traffic on the switches; the remaining 99 percent of calls are being made by everyone else.

Say half of 1%, applied to two hundred million, is 1,000,000 people that this statement implies are terrorist groups. I highly doubt that a million terrorists live in the USA.

Spies from other countries, maybe.
posted by anthill at 6:58 PM on August 30, 2007


er - belong to terrorist groups.
posted by anthill at 6:58 PM on August 30, 2007


The mixed messages in this thread are getting our troops killed in Iraq.
posted by DU at 7:08 PM on August 30, 2007


if they die for my telephone privacy, isn't that a good thing?
posted by bruce at 7:09 PM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]




We like to believe it is Bush who brought all this about but if you do a search online you will discover that just when Bush took office NSA was asking for the right to do what they are now doing, and, oddly, this info is now online, available. But then you run into another issue: we discover now that the FBI is also in on this game. Soon, perhaps, the IRS and who knows what other outfits will decide they need to protect us.
posted by Postroad at 7:24 PM on August 30, 2007


893 billion trillion Americans died because of this FPP.

8/30 Nevar Foget
posted by Avenger at 7:27 PM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


All the information I've ever seen indicates that these methods are pretty useless in the long run anyway.
posted by blacklite at 7:30 PM on August 30, 2007


The coziness between telecommunications providers and governments really warms my heart. I just love to see such teamwork: governments and corporations working together to have suits like these dismissed.
posted by absalom at 7:53 PM on August 30, 2007


Folks, this isn't about terrorism, it's about tracking and suppressing domestic dissent.
posted by Malor at 8:02 PM on August 30, 2007


***waves to government agents monitoring this thread***
posted by Rangeboy at 8:03 PM on August 30, 2007


Folks, this isn't about terrorism, it's about tracking and suppressing domestic dissent.
posted by Malor at 8:02 PM on August 30


YOU ARE A TERRORIST FOR SAYING THAT.
posted by Avenger at 8:09 PM on August 30, 2007


When the war on terror is over, the police state machinery we're building will be used against child molestors, and then drug dealers, and then tax cheats, and then people who run red lights.. oh.. wait, it's already used against light runners.

Either way, get used to it.
posted by empath at 8:30 PM on August 30, 2007


If you think about it, if you replace 'terrorist' with 'child molester' or 'drug dealer' in all the justifications they use for things like torturing people and denying them trials, etc, most people who support using it against terrorists will support using them against almost anyone else.

Who is going to stand up for the rights of drug dealers and murderers or rapists when they run out of terrorists?
posted by empath at 8:32 PM on August 30, 2007


some Americans are going to die
As long as there name is Mike McConnell I'm ok with that.
posted by Sailormom at 8:38 PM on August 30, 2007


When the war on terror is over, the police state machinery we're building will be used against child molestors, and then drug dealers, and then tax cheats, and then people who run red lights.. oh.. wait, it's already used against light runners.

That reminds me, I remember hearing a former CIA agent speak (in some kind of documentary, damned if I can't remember it) about when he changed his mind about the whole National Security Apparatus.

When he joined the CIA back in the day, he signed up with a very sincere intention to fight Stalinism, protect freedom, truth, apple pie, yadda yadda yadda. After the Berlin Wall fell he figured that the CIA could pretty much just pack its bags up and go home. We won!

He grew disllusioned after the Soviet Union fell, but the massive, all-consuming National Security State remained perfectly intact -- and not only intact, but also actively looking for a new "evil empire" to defend us from.

His point was that we shouldn't trust the "black box organizations" with more power, since even if, on the off chance that they do defeat "the enemy" (whoever that happens to be at the moment) we will always find some excuse to keep the Machine going, or some new enemy (external or internal) to direct the Machine against.
posted by Avenger at 9:16 PM on August 30, 2007


empath: When the war on terror is over

While I find your optimistic outlook charming, I don't think you're quite getting this 'War on Terror' concept. See also: War on Drugs.
posted by blenderfish at 9:18 PM on August 30, 2007


He grew disllusioned after the Soviet Union fell, but the massive, all-consuming National Security State remained perfectly intact -- and not only intact, but also actively looking for a new "evil empire" to defend us from.

When you have a 300$ hammer, everything looks like a nail...
posted by blenderfish at 9:21 PM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


How has the US government gone from the 1929 Secretary of State Henry Stimson famous sentence: “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”, to today where the government reads everyone's mail? It is hard to accept that the virtues of this country have been usurped by the Military Industrial Complex. Now we are able to get the feel for how the Nazis came to power; through fear both real & manufactured. The current crisis underscores the need for an educated populus liber. A liberal education provides for discernment that benefits this country to a greater degree than mere job skills. All this makes one nostalgic for a Nixon Whitehouse. Jefferson is spinning in his grave.
posted by Rancid Badger at 9:32 PM on August 30, 2007


I love you

I love you more

You hang up

No you hang up first

I won't hang up because I love you

I love you way more

I hate your mother

Your mother is a pluperfect cunt

God made hell just so your mother could one day be there

What's for dinner

Pizza?

Cool

Bring home a movie

for sure

I love you

ditto




Spying is it's own reward

Fuck you America
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:06 PM on August 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


its, NSA, record it as "its"
posted by Divine_Wino at 10:07 PM on August 30, 2007


I. Heart disease and cancer kill approximately 1.1 million Americans per year (CDC).

II. Let's assume that a terrorist event on the scale of 9/11 were to happen once every eight years (1993 attempted bombing, 9/11 attack). That would give us an estimate of around 400 deaths per year, higher than real-world figures. (We're being pessimistic.)

Heart disease and cancer would then kill approximately 2750 times as many Americans as terrorism.

III. We have a limited number of dollars to spend insuring against risk factors. To warrant spending a dollar on the prevention of terrorism, it follows that these diseases would have to be at least 2750 times more expensive to prevent and treat than terrorism. If they are not, spending a single dollar against terrorism instead of disease will result in more American deaths.

This means either of two things:

1. Terrorism should be (comparatively) cheap to prevent.

Or:

2. The War on Terror is killing Americans.

IV. If condition 1 is true, we shouldn't be spending very much on a War on Terror. If condition 2 is true, we shouldn't be spending anything.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:04 AM on August 31, 2007 [7 favorites]


I remember listening to analog cell phones on my scanner. Divine_Wino captured it perfectly.
posted by ryanrs at 12:49 AM on August 31, 2007


Avenger said: 893 billion trillion Americans died because of this FPP.

Does that mean that those of us who are still here posting (well, the American ones of us - NOT NON-USIAN-IST!) are the only survivors? *gasp!*
posted by amyms at 1:04 AM on August 31, 2007


How has the US government gone from the 1929 Secretary of State Henry Stimson famous sentence: “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”, to today where the government reads everyone's mail?

There are no gentlemen in the government. And when the "enemy" is defined as non-human, being gentlemanly makes as much sense as tipping your hat to an approaching grizzly bear.
posted by wendell at 1:26 AM on August 31, 2007


Please correct me if I'm wrong, but there are 2 distinct purposes of "intelligence" spying programs: prosecution and protection.

The prosecution angle is when an investigative body aims to bring the surveilled party into a court of law. The evidence gathered is intended to be used in a court to help convict someone of a crime. For example, the purpose of the "Little Nicky" surveillance was to gather evidence to convict Nicky.

This is the arena where the legal protections we "enjoy" regarding our privacy, based on the 4th Amendement to the Constitution, come in to play.

The protection angle is when an investigative body aims to use the information gained to plan countermeasures, with no intention of using that information in a court of law. For example, the NSA monitors suspected terrorist networks, thereby finding out about a bombing plot, and thwarts that plan. Supposedly this has happened many times already since 9/11, but the information is classified.

In this arena, no 4th Amendment protections apply.

Basically, an NSA-like gov't agency can use any information gained in any manner whatsoever in order to provide "defense;" but can only use a limited set of that information in legal prosecution.

The upshot of my point is that there appears to be absolutely no legal barrier for any government intelligence agency to monitor any communication they wish. They can listen, without warrant, to all the phone calls between citizens of the US. They just can't use that knowledge in a court of law.
posted by yesster at 6:52 AM on August 31, 2007


I. Muslim extremists would like to kill all 300,000,000 Americans.

II. Let's assume that the U.S. spends all of it's money fighting heart disease instead of defending itself from terrorists.

III. Wait, there is no III, because WE ARE ALL DEAD BY NOW.


It's ridiculous to compare heart disease to terrorism.
posted by tadellin at 7:53 AM on August 31, 2007


When the war on terror is over, the police state machinery we're building will be used against child molestors, and then drug dealers, and then tax cheats, and then people who run red lights.. oh.. wait, it's already used against light runners.

Yes, but red light runners actually are killing Americans on a daily basis.
posted by eriko at 7:58 AM on August 31, 2007


It's ridiculous to compare heart disease to terrorism.

You're right. Terrorism in America isn't even as likely to kill you as a lightning strike, so to compare "The Terrah" to a heavy-weight killer like heart disease just insults our intelligence.

Drop the hysterics already--you think like a little girl. Just because the mere mention of "terrorism" makes you soil yourself is no excuse to throw hard-eyed realism out the window.

I. Muslim extremists would like to kill all 300,000,000 Americans.

Yeah? And Neo-Nazi extremists here and in Europe would like to kill all 13.3 million Jews (not to mention teh gays, disabled people, Jehovah's witnesses, etc.), and some of those fanatics actually came absurdly close to succeeding--far closer than any Muslim extremist has ever managed to do even within their own borders--less than a generation ago.

Also, even taken on its own hysterical, chicken-shit face-value, you're original claim is bunk: Even the extremists would much rather convert than kill most of us.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:26 AM on August 31, 2007


tadellin: It's ridiculous to compare heart disease to terrorism.

Insurance companies and doctors do this all the time. It's called risk management, and it works by comparing real-world probabilities, not by pitching our worst nightmare scenarios.

In the real world, certain risk factors have a much, much higher chance of killing all the people you know and love. It's certain that every human will eventually die from something, and it's infinitely more likely that it's going to be disease, car accidents, or even violent crime.

Muslim extremists would like to kill all 300,000,000 Americans.

So would meteors and lightning strikes. So would West Nile Virus. They'll kill as many people as they possibly can.

Of course, instead of talking about vague portents, we have empirical data to consider. We're not creatures of a darker age, asking our oracles to see the future in a puddle of entrails. We actually know how many people die of terrorism - last year, the year before, and so on. It's not in the hundreds of millions. It's in the hundreds. You're betting the house on the slender chance that next year might be different than every year before, in any country.

I should also point out, and I'm no expert, that historical acts of terrorism don't work along the route of total annihilation, or Attrition Warfare, or Total War. It's historically a form of Maneuver Warfare, and a tactic employed by smaller forces against greater ones to achieve political objectives.

Terrorism is all about appearances, about manipulating the media to overstate the threat you present. The result is that, in spending one dollar, a terrorist makes his opponent spend a hundred, a thousand, in response - shutting down infrastructure, deploying police and troops, calming public panic, chasing shadows. In this sense, we'd be very much playing into the enemy's hands if we were continually provoked into expensive military engagements and economic spasms for the sake of terrorism.

But this is all really a dollars and cents argument, and it's not quite fair. To truly count cost on what we're prepared to spend on terrorism, you'd also have to assign a price to various legal traditions and rights. I wouldn't know where to begin to put a price on weakening the Fourth Amendment, or the Eighth, rather than passing them on to the next generation intact.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:37 AM on August 31, 2007 [10 favorites]


tadellin RUN! they are coming to get you!
posted by chunking express at 11:01 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sweet Fancy Moses! I wish I could triple favourite kid ichorous's comments in this thread.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:10 PM on August 31, 2007


Looks like my site godig.com is getting a lot of international attention for the movie selections... Not a lot of hits but a lot of single hits from all over the world. Warning: it is a lame affiliate site with some filler, but the movie and book picks have drawn some interest.

I wonder if the data that is being collected in the US will eventually be used to stifle free speech. How do we protect our democracy if we can not freely (peacefully) speak our minds?
posted by 0of1 at 12:22 PM on August 31, 2007


Well said kid ichorous. In terms of engagement that’s exactly what’s occuring (& there are profiteering issues as well).

“His point was that we shouldn't trust the "black box organizations" with more power...”

That’s the problem - trust. It’s not merely the domestic spying that is dangerous. Under certain circumstances it can be necessary - not that those circumstances currently exist of course - to do more broad wiretapping. As yesster points out - it can be argued that if it’s not used in a court of law only in prevention - no foul.
But I’m a bit shy in handing over those tools without oversight however (some nefarious individuals could pervert such a system to their own purposes).
And unfortunately that’s exactly the problem - the loss of all transparency and accountability. The emphasis is on trust, not on genuine oversight.
Certainly some information should not be made public, but under a representational system it need not be broadcast everywher. But even members of congress - even members on committees designed precisely for oversight - have been denied access to information on these programs.
It is impossible to maintain a free republic under such circumstances.

Even without considering the nature of the beast - in any sort of counterterrorism operation you need to know the confidence and pedegree of the information you’re looking at which is a matter of accountability and feedback rather than trust (reciprocity - the key to any relationship).

You can’t just throw a blanket over all phone calls from x to y. That’s not an intelligence operation, that’s domestic suppression.
It’s not engineering, but some forms are so alloy with some functions it’s obvious.

Lemme put it another way - quality of information (confidence) and pedigree (source and chain of previous processing) require knowlege of contribution. E.g. James Bond infiltrates the terrorist operation and uses covert means to relay that Goldfinger is planning to irradiate the gold supply at Ft. Knox.
Ok, we have the pedigree when it hits our desk (Bond, the guys that got the message, guys who checked out if there’s any fissionable material missing (there is), guys who checked out if nerve gas stocks have been depleted somewhere (they have), etc. etc. to you) so it’s high confidence and verified and Bond knows what we know and we know that he knows, etc. etc.
So we might not be able to use this stuff in court (Bond who?), but we can tell our field ops to get to Ft.Knox, wear some gas masks, and get ready for an attack. We can up the levels of investment in the operation.

With automatically gathered data you have no such chain. The trust is through the underlying process.
So the process is the computer or whatever method - which for some reason we consider a covert actor like Bond.
But what’s the classification level?
And therein lies the problem with senators, et.al. getting their hands on the info.
Because there have been risk-based classification levels as well as other constraints on access such as originator controlled dissemination so the originator can track posessors of the info.
So who’s the originator if the data is gathered through a broad wiretap? The system? The agency? So how do you know who to share it with? It’s that ambiguity that’s currently blocking our representatives from getting the info (perhaps that’s just a flaw, maybe it’s on purpose)

But even if that eventually gets hammered out and guys on the intelligence committee get the heads up on the program - how do you assign assets based on information from an ambiguous confidence level? How do you deliver feedback when the flow only goes one way? If you go to the guy at the bottom - he’s just getting it from the machine. His superiors put the search parameters into the machine. The parameters are just conceptual, not tailored. The classification depends on the parameters they set (no matter how good the system is) rather than stemming from a more dynamic form (say a guy in the field who’s infiltrated a terrorist group).
You see, you’re starting an investigation based on evidence you have no context for classifying (or rather an arbitrary context, no matter how mathematically precise) rather than gathering evidence from an overseeable source, classifying the info and starting an investigation and therefore more reasonably devoting assets, but also more reasonably protecting the rights of the innocent who can be harmed even if the information never sees the light of day much less court.

Dunno if that’s clear. I should have just said cart before the horse I suppose.
(Efficiency aside - my argument is that it’s naturally invasive no matter how beneficial. And so needs perhaps broader oversight than other forms of gathering assets. Which isn’t occuring, which makes it suspect - all the more so precisely because of the ambiguity.)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:30 PM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, in Iraq: Fallujah's Biometric Gates
posted by homunculus at 9:48 PM on August 31, 2007


That article is, in a way, hilarious, homunculus. Defending America's Freedom, by not caring and watching TV and having no network connectivity and incompatible databases.
posted by blacklite at 10:03 PM on August 31, 2007


Yeah, I thought so too.

At least we're not dropping white phosphorus on them anymore.
posted by homunculus at 10:42 PM on August 31, 2007




Government secrecy on the rise.
posted by homunculus at 5:44 PM on September 1, 2007






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