Embarrassing Weekend for NSA and CIA Good for Democracy

U.S. intelligence took a couple of pretty hard slaps in its face this past weekend and, when reading the articles about their wasteful and ridiculous actions, the slaps were clearly justified.NSA

First off, it was announced on Friday that Germany had arrested a man accused of spying for the United States and passing on the details of a German parliamentary committee’s investigation.  It’s pretty disgraceful that the U.S. is spending taxpayer dollars to buy spies so we can know about an ally’s parliamentary actions, but it gets worse.  The intelligence the U.S. wanted from this man is what the committee was investigating: NSA spying on Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel.  A Reuters exclusive posted today confirms the role of the CIA in paying the spy.

There’s a lot to hate about these stupid actions, but the harm to foreign relations should be noted and is properly pointed out in the first article:

…the new allegation of American spying on an ally may make it harder for the US to get German help in its efforts to oppose Russian activity in Ukraine, and also to control Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Then, on Sunday, the Washington Post published another blistering article detailing the abuses of the NSA and its mass collection of the data of innocent Americans.  The main point of the article is the NSA is wastefully collecting data on nine people for every one alleged target it is tracking.  Which begs the often repeated questions, why is the extra tracking needed and why is there not a warrant needed for this additional tracking of innocent Americans?  An example given toward the end of the article speaks volumes on this issue.

The Washington Post article also reignites the question of why James Clapper is still DNI after clearly lying to Congress.

On the bright side of all of these revelations, we now know more about what is being done with our tax dollars and in our names as Americans.  There is no doubt these agencies have overstepped their bounds by a ton and are doing so in ways that are simply disgraceful and wasteful.  The more the American people know about NSA and CIA actions, the more they can be reigned in.

The type of secrecy these agencies are able to operate under would make any authoritarian regime envious and gets to the point of why they are such an offense to the idea of true democracy.  The fact that we spied on our allies, their leaders, and their cell phones is shameful enough but now we have doubled-down on this stupidity by spending more tax dollars trying to find out about their investigations into our spying on them.

Quick show of hands.  Who wanted their tax dollars spent on spying on Angela Merkel in the first place?  No one?  How about spending more resources on looking into their investigation of that and damaging our standing in the world even more?  Still no one?

One last question: who is in favor of continually increasing the unknown budget for this stupidity at the cost of cutting helpful social programs like education, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.?

Countering the Right: Ex-CIA Official’s Bungled Attempt at Discrediting Edward Snowden

One thing that continues to hold true for the intelligence community in regards to the Edward Snowden revelations: they will never stop trying to demonize him for hurting their image so badly.

In a recent op-ed, former high-ranking CIA official, Jack Devine, embarrassed himself by attacking Snowden and trying to bundle his whistle-blowing in with past traitors to the U.S. in an attempt to link his actions to more nefarious events.  He failed miserably.

The first glaring mistake Devine makes is giving the piece an overriding theme of comparing Snowden’s actions to that of traitors who fed covert information directly to Russia, mostly during the Cold War.  Just one colossal problem with that comparison: Snowden did not covertly give the information he had to another foreign government or entity.  He gave it to the media and to the people of the United States so what was going on could be debated openly.  That is not an act of treason and should not be compared to other traitorous actions.

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Internationally recognized by all as a hero…eventually.

Devine also alleges the revelations have helped terrorists devise ways to encrypt their communications and gives a nifty little chart supposedly showing what has happened since the publication of the Snowden documents.  This is the only item he can present as proof the situation has done “enormous international damage done to our country’s self-defense”.  But this assumes terrorist networks were not already encrypting their communications, which they obviously were.  The only thing his chart proves is a potential correlation and not actual causation.  If he wanted to prove Snowden’s revelations had caused harm, he would need to extend that chart out for years prior to show there had been no attempts by terrorists to find different ways to encrypt their data.

And he knows he can’t do it.

This just screams of previous claims that widespread torture of terrorists produced a ton of intelligence and many other terrorists were captured and terrorists attacks were stopped because of it.  Then when asked to provide actual proof of these frequent occurrences, the intelligence community comes up empty-handed.

Then he makes a rather bizarre point:

It is eminently clear that the intelligence community, Congress and the White House are struggling with the double-edged sword of privacy and national security, particularly as technology progresses at unprecedented speed. And I am reasonably optimistic that, despite the public hand-wringing, they will quickly come up with the right balance that protects our civil liberties and doesn’t cripple our intelligence collection against our enemies, who do, at times, operate in and cooperate with U.S. citizens. When the news cameras stop rolling, these officials all know just how vital these collection platforms are to our defense while at the same time truly appreciating the value of the law and the importance of protection of our citizens’ rights.

What he clearly doesn’t realize is (assuming this were a real democracy) this is what should have been done in the first place.  And while it seems there will be some improvements, there will likely be continued violations of privacy of U.S. citizens without their knowledge it is occurring.  This is obviously a claim made by someone trying to simply protect his agency’s turf and continue to get things done away from the critical eye of the American public.  And it completely ignores all of the wasteful spying on our allies and their leaders and the taxpayer dollars that were thrown down the drain on those endeavors.

Then Devine makes another odd claim, especially considering he spent over three decades at the CIA:

It is inconceivable that any country can last long without guarding its sensitive information and capabilities and washing people like Snowden out of the system.

So, a country can’t exist long if its info is out in the open?  Isn’t that the entire point of spying by U.S. intelligence?  By that logic, shouldn’t Germany and Brazil be crumbling right now because of U.S. spying on their leaders, Merkel and Rousseff?  Shouldn’t the U.S. be a footnote in the pages of history because of the Pentagon papers or the Chelsea Manning/Wikileaks situations?  This is just another ridiculous claim that has no bearing on reality whatsoever.

For years there were rigid policies set in place that rightly prohibited NSA, CIA, and FBI from collecting on American “persons” (including green-card holders), unless there was a court order demonstrating reasonable cause.

Yeah, that’s been one of the things clearly proven false by the Snowden revelations, something Devine grudgingly concedes with kid gloves in the following paragraph.

Finally, after all this absurdity, Devine makes the most ignorant and ridiculous claim of the entire piece.  He says Snowden should:

put himself in the hands of the U.S. judicial system, the most impartial in the world.

Wow.  I’ll assume that was done tongue-in-cheek.  Wait, no I won’t.

Most impartial?  Seriously?  I have to wonder which cave Mr. Devine has been living in for such a long time?

Let me introduce you to Robert H. Richards IV, a man convicted (not alleged or suspected but actually found guilty) of raping his daughter…who was three years old at the time.  Length of prison sentence handed down: zero days.  Why?  Because the “defendant will not fare well” in prison.  Did I mention he is an heir to the du Pont family fortune?

We could go on forever with the obvious disparities between how the justice system treats the rich vs. the poor.  But when someone makes such a stupid claim, it should always be addressed with the appropriate scolding.

The demonizing of Edward Snowden will continue in the days to come but one important aspect will be absent from these attacks: an iota of proof he did anything morally (or democratically) wrong or did damage to anything other than the intelligence community’s over-sized ego.

Two Questions About the NSA Spying on EU

As more info is released surrounding NSA’s spying tactics, more questions arise as to why they are doing what they have been doing.  We now know “US agencies bugged European embassies and parliament buildings” and it is no surprise the governments in Europe are pretty angry about this.  And concerning this revelation, two relevant question come to mind:

  • What is the need for this data and is it just drowning out important data that would actually matter to national security?

    When will this change?

I asked this question in a previous post but it becomes more and more important to ask it as we find out new info.  It just seems like the NSA produced a mountain of data and stored it with much of it being very unnecessary and possibly getting in the way of doing their job of protecting us from real threats.

The reasons for this bugging should be explained thoroughly to both the American people and our allies.  If there was a legitimate reason for tapping the offices because of some past revelation that Germany was housing a known terrorist in their embassy, then tell us.  Show us why we have to spend the resources on conducting this kind of business in the interests of national security and, just as importantly, why we can’t look at cutting defense spending on clearly unnecessary actions like these when the budget needs it.

  • What damage to national security has the NSA revelations truly done to this point?

So, we are tapping the EU embassies and offices.  Why is this being revealed to the world a danger to United States’ security?

Up to this point there seems to be little to be scared about over the NSA leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden.  The government is using its scare tactics to convince us this has been a grave threat to our lives but one must question whether that has been even remotely true, particularly considering revelations such as these.  If anything, it has simply informed the people about the ridiculous nature of part of the military industrial complex and the obvious waste of taxpayer money conducted in our names.

Until the government’s security apparatus can produce some type of evidence showing where real damage has been done over these leaks, we must question if they are just angry about the massive black eye Snowden has given the U.S. government and the overreach of its spying actions.  The simple truth seems to be the public is more informed about government waste and the power structure that is supported by that waste sees the threat of potentially losing its funding.

A Big Reason Why NSA Spying Should and Shouldn’t Worry Us: The Boston Bombing

As the NSA data mining story continues to unfold, we should begin asking how the Boston Marathon terrorist attack looks in relation to this situation.  It seems the attack should make us worry or not worry much depending on how we perceive it.

Why We Should Worry

When we began learning how much the authorities already knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the bombing, it was hard not to wonder why he wasn’t being watched more closely.  And now that we know the NSA is mining so much data, the question becomes are they mining so much data they can’t truly keep track of dangerous people?  It seems this could be the case.

Too much or not enough domestic spying?

Frankly, it’s hard to look at this and not see a certain level of incompetence on the part of the people mining this data in order to protect us.  And the reason could be they were sifting through so much info they didn’t need and shouldn’t have been in possession of in the first place that they lost sight of the people they should have been watching more closely, like Tsarnaev.  It really doesn’t make sense for the NSA to gather so much data when they could just ask companies for the data after an investigation of someone begins, which would happen after someone has allegedly done something that gives authorities a reason to begin an investigation.

All of this means the onus is now on the defenders of the data mining in the security apparatus who now claim “dozens” of attacks have been stopped through the program to show that it does work and exactly how it worked to stop so many potential attacks.  Showing this would be the first step in the debate as to why we truly need such an invasive method of law enforcement.

Why We Shouldn’t Worry

Everyone seems to be worried the government now has all their meta data and it could be used in a nefarious way.  But we have to ask is that even remotely realistic?  Let’s look back at what the government knew or could have feasibly known about Tsarnaev prior to the bombing.

  • Russia warned the U.S. he had become an extremist and was possibly involved with extremist groups.
  • The FBI had questioned him.
  • The CIA had placed him in their terrorist database.
  • He read Al Qaeda’s online magazine and linked to radical Islamist videos on YouTube.
  • During his 2012 trip to Russia, he visited areas known for radical Islamist military activity.
  • He knew one of the victims of a triple murder we now know he committed on the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

All of that the government basically knew if we are to couple this with the NSA mining data.  Let that sink in.

Now realize it took three days after the bombing to find the photos/security videos of the brothers and even then law enforcement did not have their names.  Judging from that, if your record is cleaner than Tsarnaev’s, you probably aren’t being watched too closely by Big Brother.  So if you are worried the government might get hold of the Justin Bieber Fan Club’s email list and tell all my friends…I mean, your friends and family you are on it, fret not.  It’s highly unlikely to happen.

All this taken together means defenders of the NSA data mining need to do two things to start the debate for keeping the program in place.  First, give us some detailed examples of the alleged terror attacks that have been thwarted heavily  using the program.  And second, explain how the Boston Bombings occurred with a program in place that should have helped keep a closer eye on one of the men responsible.