Saturday, June 22, 2013

Essential Liberty In A Post-911 World


Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
        - Benjamin Franklin 
           Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759


You know how you get people to stop running red lights?

You know how to make drivers slow down and obey the posted speed limit in a school zone?

It’s easy really.

You use a simple application of technology.

You take a speed sensor – it’s doesn’t really matter what kind – and you hook it to a camera along with some control circuits and some off-the-shelf software, you can make it as simple or as complicated as you like. You mount the contraption in a tamper-proof box in the area where you want to enforce traffic laws. Couple the machine to a system for identifying vehicles and drivers and a method for imposing financial consequences on law breakers.

You can put up a sign advising motorists of what you’re up to, or not.

Turn it on and it wait.

Pretty soon the tickets start piling up.

Pretty soon after that, people start obeying the law.

Automatic photo enforcement, typically referred to as a Traffic Enforcement Camera (or other unflattering names, usually involving four-letter words), it’s simple, impartial, works rain or shine 24-hours a day without time off for Union negotiated breaks, and it’s cheap compared to a manned speed trap.  It’s also extremely effective – it’s damned hard to claim innocence or police malfeasance when the judge is holding a picture of you blazing through a red light in an elementary school zone twenty miles per hour over the posted speed limit while texting and smoking a doobie. 

The technology, in various forms, has been around for more than a hundred years now.

And it works.

You install traffic enforcement cameras in a school zone, put up signs telling people you’re doing it, and start mailing out fines, and people will slow down.

You install one of these systems at an intersection and people will stop running red lights.

You install traffic enforcement cameras and impose immediate consequences for traffic violations and people will start obeying the law.

The simple truth of the matter is that traffic enforcement camera systems save lives, provably so.  This technology and similar automated surveillance and enforcement systems demonstrably make the world a safer place – at least in the certain limited aspects over which they are applied.

So how come so many people are opposed to the technology? Adamantly opposed. Vehemently opposed.

How come so many people, especially Americans, are almost offended by the very nature of such technology, the mere idea of its existence and use by government? After all, isn’t it the government’s job to enforce the law? Isn’t that exactly what so many people are demanding? Government enforcement of the law? When it comes to illegal immigration, or illegal drugs, or illegal guns, or Wall Street? So why would we be so opposed to automated enforcement of traffic laws?

In places where drivers habitually run red lights (in certain areas, running red lights is almost a cultural thing. I used to live in Maryland, trust me on this, always wait ten seconds after the light turns green before proceeding into the intersection or you’re going to get creamed), in places where motorists routinely ignore pedestrian crossings and school zone speed limits, the population will complain bitterly about the scofflaws and the resulting accidents and fatalities and they will loudly demand “that something must be done!” 

Install traffic cams, and those self-same folks will scream even louder about freedom and rights and totalitarianism.

Traffic enforcement cameras work, but in nearly every place they’ve been installed (at least in the United States), they’ve almost inevitably been removed within a short time due to public outcry.

Despite the fact that they work and they make the world a safer place.

Think about it, if we really wanted our traffic laws impartially and thoroughly enforced we’d implement this technology everywhere, not just on street corners and in crosswalks, but on highways and residential streets, in parking lots and at 4-way stops. Coupled to advanced software and backed up with real, immediate, and inevitable consequences, the rate of traffic violations would plummet – especially if you combined that automated surveillance technology with ancillary systems riding on top of the video technology, for example systems that performed facial recognition of those with suspended licenses, or looked for motorists who were texting and driving or who appeared to be intoxicated or who were in the throes of road rage or who were engaged in obviously illegal activities, or that smug self-righteous ass in the electric car doing 50MPH in the fast lane and who refuses to move over despite the clearly posted regulations requiring him to do so. 

You could fuse that technology with other systems, heat sensors for example, that when combined with video would tell you with a pretty good degree of certainty that the back of that innocent looking van was filled with illegal immigrants and not plumbing supplies.

Now, let’s add in drones …


What’s the matter? Don’t you want the road to be a safer place? Weren’t you just demanding that the violators, the people who routinely risk your lives and the lives of your children, be taken off the road and prosecuted for their recklessness? Don’t you want the police to beat that hell out of that tofu eating hippy blocking the fast lane? (I know I sure as hell do, but I digress).

You do?

Oh, but not this way?

But why not?

All of this technology is available right now. Most of it is cheap – cheaper than hiring the equivalent amount of manpower anyway, and far cheaper than the billions we pay each year in insurance, ineffective human traffic enforcement, accidents and fatalities.

Used correctly, the technology is extremely effective.

Used correctly, it’s impartial. 

Make it ubiquitous, and it will save lives.

So why don’t we?

Why don’t we want automated traffic enforcement systems?

Why would we, as a society, be willing to put up with the risks of drunken and reckless drivers, road ragers, speeders, highway shooters, those who routinely ignore red lights, and those who risk our kids’ very lives in front of our schools and playgrounds every single day?

Why would we complain bitterly about these criminals and demand that the authorities do something, but then reject the only really practical solution to preventing their actions?



The answer to that question, why? is the same exact reason that the vast majority of Americans are outraged over recent disclosures regarding National Security Agency monitoring programs.


At first glance, traffic enforcement cameras seem like a good idea.

And they are, so long as you ignore one fatal flaw – human nature (which, ironically, is the same fundamental flaw in numerous systems, starting with most forms of government. But again I digress).

The simple truth of the matter is this: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

That bitter truism, attributed in the above form to the 19th Century historian and moralist, Lord Acton, is the central core concept that the entire United States Constitution was written around. Power corrupts, therefore power must be limited and controlled.

That caution, the corrupting influence of absolute power, is acknowledged in nearly every aspect of our society, from presidential term limits to antitrust regulations.

It’s why we hate the idea of traffic enforcement cameras, it’s not just because we want a sporting chance at breaking the law (and we do, don’t we?) but because the potential for abuse is too high, because the corruption of absolute power is absolutely inevitable given human nature – and most especially the nature of those humans in positions of power and authority.

Because unintended consequences are inevitable.

In almost every case, installation of traffic enforcement cameras leads almost immediately to the use of the collected information in ways far outside the scope of traffic enforcement. 

In one well known case, a picture of a red-light violator was sent along with the electronically generated ticket to the offender’s house, where his wife opened the envelope and found a picture of her husband behind the wheel of their family car – with his mistress’ head in his lap (You can sort of understand why he missed the light change). That picture ended up in the hands of the wife’s divorce lawyer and he got taken to the cleaners in a major way. Now, sure, the guy was a philandering jerk who put other drivers at risk with his actions, but it’s not the government’s job to inform on cheating spouses. And the camera was installed for the express purpose of traffic control, not vice.  And in the end it was pretty clear that the government had violated this guy’s rights, not by taking a picture of him in flagrante fellatio, but by not protecting his personal information and (inadvertently) informing his (ex)wife. He sued for violation of privacy and won.

Now it can be argued that the above case was unintentional and unlikely (and hilarious), but other violations of constitutional rights aren’t. With automated facial and/or license plate recognition it becomes a simple matter to track vehicles without a warrant or probable cause simply as part of the overall data gathering process. 

Worse, in nearly every installation, due to the technology involved, the systems are maintained by contractors – who tend to get paid by the number of violators their cameras catch.  Inevitably (there’s that word again), those contractors tended to game the system. And in too many cases, the local governments were okay with that, up to a point, because they shared in the profits.  And it doesn’t take long for the whole thing to spiral out of control and wander far from the original objective.

And the stored data can be used in all sorts of ways – imagine if the collected database was sold to a marketing firm.  Using advanced visual data mining tools, the information can be crunched any number of ways. And a contractor might have any number of commercial interests and uses for such data. A savvy marketing expert could determine, for example, that you might shortly be in need of a good discount divorce lawyer, or the number of the local florist … or a shot of penicillin.

And then there’s blackmail.

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely: this isn’t hyperbole, it’s a demonstrable truth. It’s human nature.

But it’s also human nature to disregard the lessons of history, to be influenced by groupthink, to act rashly out of panic and fear and anger – and to blind ourselves to the inevitable consequences of those ill conceived decisions.

Inevitably, governments who install traffic cameras without some very, very draconian regulations limiting their use, end up taking them back down in fairly short order – typically at a financial loss.  However, despite the repeated examples of poor implementation and endless lawsuits, local governments are eager to jump on the traffic camera bandwagon and the companies that make such systems are a going concern.

Because that too, is human nature.

And so, here we are, a decade and more from those terrible days in September, 2001.

We, as a people, as a government (because in America, we are the government), acted in panic a decade ago.

We ignored the very explicit lessons of our own history and the very explicit admonishments of our own Founders. 

In our blind fear and mindless panic and red-eyed rage, we passed laws that unleashed forces and removed certain constitutional safeguards without regard for the inevitable consequences.

The NSA monitoring and data mining programs that have recently come to light are the inevitable result of the Patriot Act and more specifically the Protect America Act of 2007 (and it’s repeated reauthorization since) and a dozen other lesser known laws that we’ve allowed our elected representatives to pass over the last decade. Those laws removed very specific constitutional protections and levied secret laws upon American citizens and fundamentally changed the very fabric of our society. 

And we let it happen.

If you, as an American, are in any way whatsoever surprised by the revelation of these NSA programs, well, you, my friend, are part of the problem and you have absolutely nobody to blame but yourself.

Save your outrage, you’re about a decade too late.

There’s no scandal here. 

The programs are perfectly legal under our new laws (whether or not they’re constitutional is another matter).

Congress was fully aware of them – oh yes indeed they are, and don’t you let them try to tell you otherwise, they provided the authorization and the funding and have done so every year since the programs were started.  NSA can’t do a damned thing without money, and the money comes from Congress. And the members of Congress who scream the loudest about personal liberty and totalitarianism are the programs’ most ardent supporters – don’t believe me? Look at who sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, every single one of those people were fully aware of these programs, by definition.

The president was also fully aware, since it’s his office who oversees the agencies responsible. 

You can blame the Left, and you can blame the Right, but both are equally responsible.

The programs began under a Republican administration and continued under the current Democratic one. It was approved by a Republican-majority Congress and renewed under a majority of Democrats. 

You can blame Bush and you can blame Obama, but the simple truth of the matter is that you and I let this happen.

We, as a nation, demanded that 9-11 never happen again.

We demanded that our intelligence apparatus never, ever, again allow terrorists to slip past our safeguards unnoticed.

We demanded safety and we were willing, as a nation, to trade certain freedoms to get it.

When I was in uniform working in this same field, for this same agency*, we used to say that we had to get it right every single time – the enemy only had to get lucky once.

But, of course, we knew that we could not, in fact, get it right every time. It was impossible. 

And the enemy did, in fact, only have to get lucky once.  And sooner or later he would, because the odds guaranteed it.

And it was a risk we understood because in order to be right every time, in order to ensure that the enemy didn’t get lucky, not even once, well then we’d have to live in a radically altered world – one that would make the totalitarianism of The Hunger Games look downright democratic in comparison. And we weren’t willing to go down that road. Every single person that ever had anything to do with NSA (NSA, not The NSA, people who actually work there call it NSA) had it pounded into their heads over and over and over and over – we’d don’t spy on Americans. Period. You do, you go to jail. Of all the rules we learned, that one was sacred, inviolate.  If, and it was a rare if indeed, you were involved in anything that might lead to collection of information on fellow Americans, there were very, very strict FISA rules administered by stern faced unsmiling officers and the letter of the law was adhered to in detail. Each and every one of us received mandatory training in this area on a regular basis, it was the one rule we could never violate.

NSA had been abused once, under Nixon, and it damned for sure wasn’t going to happen again, not on our watch.

In the horrific aftermath of 9-11, we, as a nation, we Americans demanded that those who protect this country be right every single time, no matter the cost.

We demanded that the enemy, whoever he was, could not get lucky, even once. Period.

No matter what the consequences.

And so we changed the rules.

No leader, no politician, could stand before that unreasonable and impossible demand and tell the truth.

No leader, be it George W. Bush or Barack H. Obama could look the nation in eye, even today, and say, “What you demand can’t be done, not without radical changes to our way of life.”

Just as no local politician can stand in front of his constituents and say, “Look folks, unless you’re willing to put up with some unintended consequences, we just can’t completely stop people from running red lights…”

So they go out and buy the traffic cameras, just as the nation went out and bought themselves the equivalent surveillance system on vastly larger scale. We, as a nation, were willing to trade our essential liberty for the illusion of security – and so we allowed our government to write and pass and continually reauthorize the provisions of the Protect America Act.

We, as a nation, were willing to sacrifice our honor for that security, we were willing to kidnap people and torture them and put them into indefinite detention without trial or legal recourse in direct repudiation of everything this country supposedly stands for, we were willing to put up with warrantless wiretaps and warrantless searches of our homes and property and library records, we were willing to put up with being strip searched in our airports, we were willing to put up with secret laws and new limits on our rights, we were willing to proclaim a new age of McCarthyism and declare our neighbors the enemies of freedom, and we were more than willing to sacrifice our children and our treasury to a decade and more of war for that illusion of security. 

A certain segment of our population demanded, and still loudly demands, racial and political profiling (ironically, those are the self same folks who were so, so very outraged at being profiled themselves by the IRS, but again, I’m digressing).

Now, now, the nation is suddenly up in arms over NSA’s domestic intelligence gathering efforts? Now?

Honestly, where the hell have you people been?

None of this should be a surprise. These programs began a long, long time ago, and right after 9-11 they were ramped up to full throttle and the safeties were removed and they’ve been running that way ever since. 

And there were plenty of those who raised the alarm, including yours truly right here on this blog, plenty who protested – on both sides of the political aisle. They were ignored. They were dismissed as alarmists, denounced as cowards and traitors and enemies of America (and in fact if you go back and read the comments under certain posts here on Stonekettle Station, you’ll find accusations of exactly that. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been called a traitor by supposed patriots).

And it’s funny, because those protesting the loudest now, are the very ones who were most enthusiastic about those measures when they first appeared. And don’t think they don’t know it either, go on, look and see which members of Congress are screaming in outrage – and which ones are keeping their heads down and hoping nobody notices them.  Ask yourself why the usual cast of characters isn’t loudly demanding impeachment proceedings over this, their silence is profound and telling. Then go take a gander at their voting records and see which ones voted for the Patriot Act and reauthorization of the Protect America Act and its changes to the FISA provisions. Go on, I’ll wait.  This is the same batch of jackasses who angrily demand “smaller government” and gleefully embrace Sequestration and the furlough of federal employees, and then loudly wonder why the agencies like NSA have to hire contractors to carry out their massively expanded missions – missions expanded by these self-same Congressmen and Senators.

I’ve said it before and likely I’ll have to say it again, if you give the Texas-born Jesus-fearin’ Flag-wavin’ Conservative the power, you’ve automatically given it to his successor, the Kenyan-Born Muslim-lovin’ America-hatin’ Liberal.  Our government was designed with limits on power, if you don’t want the current guy to have that power, you shouldn’t have given it to his predecessor. The president didn’t create this monster, he inherited it. And the last president didn’t create it either, he was given it as a gift by a terrified nation pissing itself in fear.

Quite frankly I’m less worried about the current guy abusing this power than I was about the previous one, but I don’t want either of them to have it – not without some very, very strict controls. Ditto drones. Ditto everything else right on down to traffic cameras.

The simple truth of the matter is that in cases like this, it almost doesn’t matter which party is in the White House. It’s relatively easy to hold the President accountable, and there are multiple mechanisms for doing exactly that. 

The problem is Congress. 

If you want NSA to be accountable, along with all the rest of the three-letter agencies, then Congress must be accountable.  And if you want Congress to be accountable, then you have to hold them to account instead of just reelecting the same frightened, ignorant, small-minded, self-serving extremist jackasses over and over.

The power is enormous. The potential for abuse is fantastically high. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. That power must be limited. But in order to limit that power, we as a people must be willing to accept certain risks, we must be willing to acknowledge that the enemy will get lucky once again, the odds guarantee it.

We must be willing to give up certain securities in order to maintain our essential liberty.

And we must face the danger with our eyes wide open and our heads held high, with courage instead of fear.

This is exactly what people like me have been saying for the last twenty years.

Welcome to the party, glad you could make it.


The loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or imagined, from abroad.
        - James Madison




Disclosure:  I used to work for NSA. As a uniformed member of the US Naval Security Group and its successor organization, I spent more than twenty years in and around the agency.  Unlike Edward Snowden, I take my oath very, very seriously indeed and therefore I will not discuss my duties in any fashion whatsoever. Suffice it to say that I am intimately familiar with the National Security Agency and while I may be biased, I have very good reason to believe in the organization’s professionalism and regard for the rights and liberties of all Americans.  I don’t expect you to take my word for it, but I will say this: unless you’ve been inside, everything you think you know is wrong. 

Here’s what I know for certain, based on my personal and professional experience: The folks at NSA are dedicated professionals who hold their oath to the nation above all else.  No one is more aware of the power they wield and the potential for abuse than they are – because they, my friends, are Americans too. They were set a task and authorized to carry it out and they will do so with the utmost dedication – until they’re told to turn it off.  If you, as a nation, want it turned off, really want it turned off, then you need to hold your elected representatives to account.  I’ll offer this caution however: think very carefully before you command the Djinni, think it all the way through.

Regarding Edward Snowden: He was a contractor IT dweeb, not an operator, not an analyst, and certainly not a policy maker and you should regard anything he says from that perspective.  The programs he revealed are legal under our current laws and as I said in the article they should have been a surprise to nobody.  Snowden claims that he can’t get a fair trial in the United States, boo hoo, he’s got nobody to blame but himself. He betrayed his oath, he broke the terms of his contract, he purposely violated the provisions of his security clearance.  If he had concerns, he could have availed himself of any of a dozen avenues of address, including contacting members of Congress directly, instead he chose to make himself into a martyr and so now he can suffer the consequences.  


  1. For the benefit of those who may not be old enough to adequately assess our national history, a glaring misconception should be cleared up.

    Programs similar to the NSA program have been operating since at least the 70's, well before 9/11. There's nothing about 9/11 that can be construed to have prompted the origination of domestic spying in the U.S.

  2. What happened to "you are my god"?

    1. click on "Holy Cats!" It's basically the same thing.

    2. Jim,
      You need to fix that one "absolutely" in the Lord Acton quote...it's driving me nuts.
      You're welcome, The Grammar Police

    3. This is why we need Grammar Enforcement Cameras...

      It's fixed.

    4. You need to add another check box -- Benghazi!

    5. I'll take it under advisement.

    6. I wish you'd fix the quote, too. It's 'power tends to corrupt'. (Yours just happened to be the third or forth misquote of that I've seen, so my dudgeon overflows on you. Sorry.)

      Ann C.

  3. As to a certain comment within the disclosure, you may have over-extended your credulity to flatly state that just because one hasn't been 'on the inside', what one thinks or what one knows necessarily has to be wrong.

    I don't expect you to take my word for it, but plenty of people can and do know more than you may think they might know.

    And I might add, throughout history, often times it's been the case that those on the outside, having become aware of what's going on inside, have been properly credited with exposing what's going on inside there.

    No matter how professional, how dedicated, how 'American', abuse and misuse of power still happens, and has happened, all too frequently in this country. There is a clear historical record of many such acts, and going forward there's no reason not to expect more of such instances in the future.

    I'm old enough to remember a far different world than today, and in the end, just because we've, for any given period of time, seemingly condoned or allowed unConstitutional practices to be promulgated by our government, that in itself is no justification that we should necessarily continue to condone or allow the same.

    1. As to a certain comment within the disclosure, you may have over-extended your credulity to flatly state that just because one hasn't been 'on the inside', what one thinks or what one knows necessarily has to be wrong

      Ah, a literalist. I assumed readers would take that comment in the spirit intended, i.e. in context. By "everything" I meant "everything you think you know about NSA" not, in point of fact, everything you think you know. Apologies for not being more clear.

      The simple truth of the matter is this: if you haven't been on the inside of NSA, you have no idea of what's going on in there, hell most of the people who work there have no idea what's going on outside of their very narrow specialties and for very good reason. I don't care what books you've read, or what TV shows you watched, or what information you think you're privy to. That fact that you think you do, demonstrates rather specifically that you actually don't.

      No matter how professional, how dedicated, how 'American', abuse and misuse of power still happens...

      No shit?

      You think that's probably why it's the entire point of this post?

    2. You wish to discredit your own premise drawn in the disclosure ?,

      "The folks at NSA are dedicated professionals who hold their oath to the nation above all else. No one is more aware of the power they wield and the potential for abuse than they are – because they, my friends, are Americans too. They were set a task and authorized to carry it out and they will do so with the utmost dedication – until they’re told to turn it off."

      In addition, Jim, the 'folks' at NSA include such contractors as Booz Allen Hamilton.

      The fact that I, and any number of others throughout history, do know or have learned a few things doesn't demonstrate that I or they actually didn't or don't, ...but if you think you can rhetorically create some circular illogic as to that very point in order to attempt to give yourself more credulity, or to make yourself more comfortable, or some such, you know you will.

    3. Sarah? Sarah Palin is that you? Do me a favor, Word Salad Sally, say that last paragraph out loud. C'mon, it'll be fun.

    4. Thanks Jim... awesome article. As a former intelligence community insider (who worked with NSA almost daily) I agree with everything you said. And love the way you said it - keep up the good work! And if Anonymous really wants to be taken seriously, stop being anonymous. Robert

    5. True, but then again, he's not really anonymous to NSA now is he?


    6. It's "credibility" not "credulity", Anonymous. There's not any credulity in Mr. Wright's character. IMO.

      Mr. Wright, sir: it's fellatio, with a double ell and a tee. :)

    7. Vietnam-era 'burn before reading' clearance, military not NSA but we worked with them.

      "unless you've been inside, everything you think you know is wrong. "

      Works for me

    8. Noun
      A tendency to be too ready to believe that something is real or true.

  4. Thank you Jim. Once again you have managed to articulate what I have been unable to for some time. I loathe Edward Snowden because of his actions, recent past, current, and likely future and his lack of integrity. I may object to what has been going on a la the so called patriot act, but as you say, we are reaping what we permitted to be sown by both our actions and our inaction.

  5. While i may not agree with all you say, all the time, I certainly appreciate your role as a voice of informed reason. Amongst my circles, I was crazy for NOT being in favor of the original P.A.. I continue to be so for bring against every continuation and revision of it. Representatives (some of whom are no longer in office) were quite patronizing in conversations about their choices on the topic, and some of them are now the ones you talk about screaming they didn't know or foul. Thank you for your insights and essays.

    1. What am I? Donald Rumsfeld? I don't expect, or want, my readers to agree with everything I say all of the time. I detest robots and suck-ups and people who can't think for themselves. Gah.

    2. Wow, I completely agree with you!
      OK, snark there, but really liked the article. You put into words a lot of what I've been thinking over the last couple of weeks (about the NSA and Snowden "news").

  6. but, but, but, I know that the east coast northern interstate system has face recognition at all exits. I knew that inside info about 4 years ago from a fella who was installing them. Do you really think they have been removed, or wouldn't it make more sense that by now most all of the east coast and west has them installed?

  7. All of this. Every single bit of it.

  8. Here's the thing that got me stuck... I agree with you about Snowden making himself a martyr, there are consequences, and he'll have to pay them. With the thousands of contractors and active service personnel, I'm sure at least one of them used "availed himself of any of a dozen avenues of address", to what effect? Just like the sexually harassed individuals in the military who are unable to obtain justice, there's a lot of inertia in any large organization, and lack of political will to effect change.

    Am I not going to place him in the same category as Daniel Ellsberg, but Americans need a kick in the ass, and this has provided it.

    1. Why don't you place him in the same category as Daniel Ellsberg?
      Daniel Ellsberg himself does.

      Seriously. Not a rhetorical question. As a person not inside NSA who was against the original Patriot Act and all its successors, and who, like Mr. Wright, (I just found your blog, and I'm loving it) already knew most of the things Snowden disclosed, I would like to point out that nobody has been as effective as Snowden in forcing the general public and government to actually pay attention.

      I couldn't do it, neither could William Binney ["Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.”-- http://www.wired.com/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/ ], nor could Jim Wright's excellent blog.

      Also, are you telling this outsider that to those on the inside, the old adage that NSA stands for Never Say Anything doesn't apply?

      Since Snowden had to sacrifice a lot of his freedom and financial security to do it, why do you not consider him an altruistic hero instead? Ellsberg would have been in prison if it hadn't been for Nixon's tricksters breaking into his office.

      And I agree that we have the technology to actually fairly and simply enforce our laws. True, we also have the risk of corruption, but that's *always* true of any human organization and endeavor. Heck, that's why the Founders put the checks and balances into the constitution, along with the Bill of Rights--they hoped it would slow down the corrupt accumulation of absolute power.

      I'd rather have these programs with good safeguards in place to prevent their unlawful use, like we supposedly had with warrants for phone wiretaps. The corruption and vulnerability to blackmail never goes away, but I'd rather see our laws applied universally using the technical assists rather than only slapped onto folks who effectively challenge the powers-that-be.

      So, YES to the traffic cameras, properly balanced by legal safeguards in the Bill of Rights (such as requiring warrants before use for other law enforcement purposes, ability to appeal, etc.) Bring the secret programs into the light, or, at the very least, provide American citizens a legal way to challenge them. The technical genie is out of the bottle, so what choice do we have but getting better at riding and steering it?

  9. As often is the case you somehow sneak inside my brain and pull out my thoughts in a much more organized and literate fashion that I am able to do.
    Well said

  10. I only have one small correction to request: GW is not Texas-Born. He was born in Connecticut. Now, if you want to say Texas-raised, sadly, I cannot deny that.

    Every American should read your post; if that's sucking up, well, so be it.

    1. Well, Obama wasn't born in Kenya either, but I understand your point.

  11. No, was not at all surprised by this revelation. Maybe the "outrage" is triggered by the fact that the President was supposed to target the, y'know, non-Christian, non-white segments of the population for spying - not everygoddambody ferchristamighty!

    Anyway, made me think up a new party game: call random international numbers, say something cryptic (like "The cat has left the dojo" or something), and hang up. See if there is a knock on the door before the cocktail weenies are all eaten. Laugh about it while in detention.


    1. Or drink every time they knock on your door or a plumbers van pulls up outside for days at a time.

    2. Here's the current entertainment in my circle of friends. When called by a business or a bill collector, answer the phone and say something along the lines of, "It's done, but there's blood everywhere. Send someone over to help me clean up" and then hang up. Say it quickly before they can say anything.

      And yes, I do have a strange circle of friends.

  12. Logic and truth are wonderful things when used in explaining reality to those who refuse to educate themselves about it. Once again, well said my friend, well said.

  13. From It Can’t Happen Here (1935): “But he saw too that in America the struggle was befogged by the fact that the worst Fascists were they who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.” - Sinjclair Lewis. (I don't think that's a violation of Godwin's Law)
    While NSA seems to be getting all the bad press, very little outrage over the commercial exploitation of nearly everyone using the internet.
    As far as the cameras and the traffic - - laws that aren't enforced are merely suggestions - - if you've driven the Capitol Beltway (and if you live in Maryland, you can't avoid it forever) you wish for draconian wallet invasions - which seem to be the only way to get people's attention.

  14. As I commented on another blog...

    Besides being part of the Patriot Act, this is nothing new at all.

    "Menwith Hill Station was opened by the British War Office in 1954 and leased to the United States.

    In 1966 the National Security Agency took on responsibility for the U.S. operation of the site, expanding the capabilities to monitor international leased line communications transiting through Britain.

    In 3 November 1999 the BBC reported that they had confirmation from the Australian Government of the existence of a powerful "global spying network" codenamed Echelon, that can eavesdrop on every single phone call, fax or e-mail, anywhere on the planet" with Britain and the United States as the chief protagonists. They confirmed that Menwith Hill was "linked directly to the headquarters of the US National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Mead in Maryland."[13]"


    I know wikipedia isn't the end all of correct information, but I seem to remember a 60 minutes segment way back in the 80's about Menwith s function.

    The point remains, this is nothing new at all.

  15. I wrote a very similar article just the other day. But yours is far more eloquent than mine.

  16. Most of what you've said I can fervently agree with.

    Daily we take our lives into our own hands by getting in a car and risking road rage or red light runners, or eating in a restaurant and getting e. coli or ptomaine. Airplanes fall out of the sky and bridges do sometimes collapse. Cancer or Alzheimer's might make a real mess out of my plans for a quiet old age. Life is a crap shoot.

    This whole NSA episode has made me get out the good stationery and a pen and write to my government reps: the president, senators, and house representatives.

    Re the whistle-blowers having a dozen avenues of address. Over at Crooks and Liars (June 18th) there was a fascinating transcript from a discussion, organized by USA Today, among three former whistle-blowers: Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe. They tell of their trials when trying to sound the alarm. Who knows if what they've said is the truth, but it doesn't seem as easy as you imply.

    You were on the inside, so I'd like to know (if you can speak of it) what your thoughts are on how much of an ear is given to those speaking out while in the employ of the NSA?

    Thanks for a great post,


  17. Snowden certainly knows and deserves whatever punishment he's set himself up for....however, he should be allowed some credit for waking everyone the hell up.

    I was against the government constriction of my 4th Amendment long before the gun nuts got all protective of the 2nd Amendment. Same Constitution, folks.

  18. Down here in Texas, we have tried traffic cameras. And while your statement that "they work" may be true for some regions of the country, down here they don't work as well as one might believe. That is because of human nature at least around here and the position that no government has the right to tell *me* what I can or can't do, or how I should drive my car or truck. And once the drivers know where the cameras are, they may slow down at that intersection, but proceed to go back to driving over the speed limit the moment they're past. All the cameras are doing is developing a new behavior of driving, at least down here in Texas, where the cities putting up the cameras are losing money on them while the drivers behave normally elsewhere.

    As for the NSA, I can understand your position. I carried various clearances when I was in the military, only peripherally around the intelligence-gathering aspects (when doing work on an RC-135 on the ground as opposed to in the air, for example.) So I understand the need for secrecy in some respects. But the revelations that have been coming out does make me question some aspects here, as any good American citizen should. Certainly we shouldn't know all the gritty details of how the NSA works, although a person could get a good idea from works such as James Bamford and his book "The Puzzle Palace". But in today's world and with today's technology, there does need to be some kind of serious public debate as to whether government agencies such as the NSA, the CIA and the FBI can actually operate without violating the privacy of the average American. I'm of the opinion that the answer is no, that whether we like it or not, our emails, our phone conversations and our electronic actions are going to be recorded, kept for a while, and that the potential for abuse by a less-scrupulous administration clearly exists without some kind of real safeguards. Simply saying "Trust Us" by these agencies shouldn't be the answer, look at how the FBI investigated ordinary citizens in their frenzy back during the 1950's and 1960's.

    (Just as a side note, I don't know if you saw the news item where three former NSA veterans came out publicly and a) confirmed a lot of what Edward Snowden published, and b) bluntly said 'We tried to warn you folks but you didn't want to listen.' Makes for very interesting reading that they basically confirm everything Snowden said.)

  19. Thank you again for articulating my incoherent thoughts.
    When the Patriot Act was first passed in the panic following 9/11, speaking out against it or questioning any of its vague and open-ended language was an implied act of treason. I believe that many people silenced themselves out of self preservation and acquiesced to a situation that they thought would be amendable later on. But things have only gotten worse.

    Introducing the private profit motive into the spy industry via contractors has made it like the private prison industry; unmonitored, uncontrolled and ever expanding. Just as the right doesn't want to be investigated by the IRS, as the left has always been, they don't want to be spied upon as the left has always been. (I have to admit, equal opportunity spying has a certain welcome balance to it.) The outrage I've been hearing seems to come from those who assumed they were free of the scrutiny they would impose upon everyone else. I find that amusing, but I am old and no longer (usually) surprised by government overstepping.

    We have met the enemy and he is us.

  20. Everyone wants security just don't inconvenience "them" don't put "them" out with your requirements- the other guy sure but never "us". It's like nobody wants Wal-Mart near their homes but they'll gladly shop in the one in "your" neighborhood. In many ways we have become like a spoiled and demanding child- we want, what we want, when we want it and by God it better be done in the way we want. personally if its a choice between bombs going off in subways, movie theaters or schools or the NSA listening in on my phone calls, emails or texts then I'm all for it but that's just me.

    1. Rich, you give a false either/or scenario. It's not a black & white choice between full security + no rights versus no security + full rights. Other governments have a good track record of catching terrorists and preventing their attacks using normal policework instead of massive domestic spying. So does the U.S. with the FBI, as far as I know, where the FBI is supposed to follow 4th Amendment protections.

      In any event, the government should prove that:
      (a) the NSA program works. If not, then it should be dismantled, whether or not it is legal.
      (b) the NSA program works *better* than the same money used for more FBI agents, more first responders, and more police, all of which have multiple purposes, including response to natural as well as human-caused disasters.

      Without both (a) and (b), what we have is a waste of money. It would be like spending $10 on willowbark tea instead of $1 on aspirin for a headache. We're spending billions on massive NSA spying, and our Congressional representatives do not appear to even know the full extent of the programs. How can I then assume they know if the programs work? I'd like (demand, really) to have them find out.

      I suspect that massive database searches are less effective than targeted policework. It's a needle in a hayfield (worse than a haystack) problem. When talking about TSA airport security, Bruce Schneier calls it "security theater". Unless our elected legislators come out and say "This has been proven to me to work, and work better than any other method, by an objective analysis from a third party expert with top security clearance", then we should not even be discussing keeping a massive untargeted spying program. Just my not so humble opinion.

    2. Maybe it is the $1 aspirin, with a $9 handling charge from a Halliburton Subsidiary.

      As to the question does all this spying work? Did the bombs go off at the Boston Marathon?

    3. As soon as I saw the question in Jerry A.'s post about the effectiveness of all this spying, I, too, thought to myself, "Um ... Boston Marathon bombings?"

    4. Personally, I think the odds are heavily against ANY massive database spying being at all effective at prediction and prevention, because of the much much higher chance of false positives and only a very few real plots. I think the money would not only be better spent elsewhere, it might be better not spent at all on violating the spirit of the 4th Amendment.

      However, no program is perfect, so it has to be analyzed in depth by people from outside the agency who have top secret clearances. Both the politicians and the public have to be convinced that we're not losing any _real_ security, just money and privacy. The GOP has made a winning party platform out of fear and security theater; they don't want to give it up. The NSA has a stake in not losing the power and budget. We need data.

  21. "We must be willing to give up certain securities in order to maintain our essential liberty.

    And we must face the danger with our eyes wide open and our heads held high, with courage instead of fear.

    This is exactly what people like me have been saying for the last twenty years."

    This is the money shot. Snowden is an irrelevant twerp.

    Thank you again, Jim.

  22. The irony here is everyone complaining about the government having this information, but I do not see anyone complaining that the information is available from the private sector with absolutely no oversight.

    Another example is the 'Death Panels' which if real would be subject to some form of oversight and controls. The horror stories coming from the insurance industry make the bankruptcy robo-signers pale in comparison.

    We need to be expanding the debate to consider not only government intrusion into our privacy, but also private industry.

    Concerning traffic cameras. I do drive the Washington Beltway, and 270. I have not seen any correlation between the posted speed limits and the actual traffic speed. But, they do generate a lot of income for the District.


    On a side note. The people I know, who do know, what is going on at NSA or other sites are too overworked to participate in any kind of conspiracy.

    Nice Post.


  23. I remember when the Patriot Act was first passed. I remember voicing my misgivings about the legislation. I also remember being told to "get the f-ck out" and that I was treasonous and unAmerican.

    I do not, however, remember Daniel Ellsburg saying anything at the time the legislation was passed.

    I DO remember Russ Feingold saying he voted against it because he read it.

  24. Not that I want to sidestep the national security arguments but... Red light cameras have been proven to cause more problems than they solve. Yes studies have been run on this. The incidence of rear ending of the lead car, just as the lights change, increases dramatically in intersections with red light cameras. Holy s**t there's a red light camera (slams on breaks) Crunch! next car back tags him. Sometimes causing multi car pile ups when the traffic flow from the 90 degree direction hits the poor slob who gets pushed out into the intersection. Some cities and counties have removed red light cameras because of this.

    There is no national security analogy in the above so don't try and read one into it.

    PS. I'm all for speed control cameras in school zones.

    1. Yeah, that's a classic case of gaming the system, or losing sight of the actual objective: i.e. install the cam, but don't post the signs in advance, that way you get more violators which means more money. It's done that way on purpose. The cams become a revenue source, not a public safety tool. This is the primary complaint against such systems, rather than increase public safety, they increase accidents.

      Installed correctly however, i.e. with public notice and large signs in advance of the intersection, these system do work. Just as double-fine safety corridors work. But they have to be used correctly, and those controlling them have to remain focused on the actual objective. However, as I said in the post, power, you know...

    2. ... and the person that rear-ends someone because of a red light (camera or not) is either following too closely or speeding (or both - - and probably not paying attention).

  25. If we want liberty (and freedom from blanket 24/7 surveillance) then we have to be brave enough to accept the risks. Amen to that.

    Trouble is, to get there from here we are going to ALSO need some brave politicians, or at least politicians brave enough to stand up and say 'vote for me and I will increase both your liberty AND your risk.

    So far they are pretty scarce on the ground. And question the ones that do seem to be around for more than two minutes and invariably turns out they are mostly pretending to talk about liberty when what they are really after is nothing beyond blanket increase in risks for the poor and... that's it.

    But then it is true that a people get the leaders they deserve.


  26. I loved that you characterized Snowden as a contractor IT guy (and this is not to denigrate the KTR IT guys with whom it was my pleasure to work). In my experience, Gov't contractors sign an agreement not to reveal sensitive (whether it's classified or competition-sensitive) information, but they don't take the oath that the Gov't employees/military members do. Have I been missing something?

  27. "Everybody wants to get to heaven but nobody wants to die."

  28. You missed one other thing about the use of traffic cams and drones; Your Constitutional right to face your accuser. Hard to do when it's a remote camera or a drone operator a thousand miles away in a classified location. HIS identity is secret to you, but yours is not to him.

    I agree with most everything you said, right up until you got to Snowden. Sorry Jim, but he may be an oath breaker, but the oath was shit from the get go. I was a military cop, not an intel guy, so yeh, you know more about this than I do, but here's the thing. Those dedicated, hard working, patriotic Americans in NSA HAD to know what was being done was illegal, unconstitutional, whatever, and NONE of them were willing to step up and say so. And I have a real problem with that. It's real easy to be dedicated and patriotic when it doesn't cost you anything. It takes a hero to put his ass on the line and take the heat for their decision. Snowden was willing. The Obama administration has the worst record on whistleblowers in my 50 year memory.. Obama doesn't praise them or even listen to them, he PROSECUTES the hell out of them. And we all know the intent is to make other potential whistleblowers too scared to speak up. Snowden knew this, and knew going in that his life would now be over. Who ELSE was going to speak up? Who else in NSA was going to step up? WTF are private companies being paid taxpayer money to spy on those same citizens?

    But the discussion we're having now because of Snowden, is one we wouldn't be having otherwise. The media and the politicians are perfectly happy to keep the wool pulled over our eyes, and the cameras up our rectums.

    We NEED this discussion, this conversation, and hopefully, the reforms that will (Hopefully) follow. If we're being honest, you and I both know there was no fekkin way Snowden was ever going to be heard going through channels. They'd have buried him and the story. Because as you said above, power corrupts, etc. . It also won't admit to wrongdoing.

    Jeff Lamm

    1. The oath isn't shit, Jeff, anymore than the one you swore was. It's the only thing we have, it sits right at the heart of honor and duty.

      Those dedicated, hard working, patriotic Americans in NSA HAD to know what was being done was illegal, unconstitutional, whatever, and NONE of them were willing to step up and say so.

      No, sorry, but these programs are legal - and their constitutionality has not yet been determined by the high court in some cases. That's the whole point. The orders are lawful, and given that oath, NSA is obligated to carry them out. You were an MP, you know what I'm talking about, you don't get to decide what orders to follow and which ones not too. Snowden wasn't military, but he doesn't get to decide which orders he follows and which ones he doesn't either. As a contractor he could choose not to work there, or for Booz-Allen, but once he signs the contract and swears the oath to protect TS-SCI his legal obligations are clear cut and he is committed to uphold them by his own free will.

      I won't make excuses for Obama's record on whistleblowers, but I'd say this: if you're headed in the Bradley Manning direction, there's a huge difference between a legitimate whistleblower and a shitbag turncoat. There are very good reasons for keeping certain information secret, especially in time of war. And far too many folks on the left seem to have forgotten that.

      ...there was no fekkin way Snowden was ever going to be heard going through channels.

      How do you know? He didn't even try. Just a Manning didn't try. Neither contacted their chains of command, neither contacted the IG, neither contacted their congressional representative. Sure the system doesn't work ... when you don't use it.

      We may need this discussion, in fact we likely have needed it for a good long time, but this is the wrong way to go about it. Snowden is no hero, he's a self aggrandizing ass.

    2. I'll grant you the point re legal vs. Constitutional. In my reckoning (As a civilian these days), if it's Unconstitutional, then it's not legal, regardless of whether or not it's been challenged yet. Some things are just wrong on the face of them. Unlawful and Unconstitutional orders don't have to be followed, but you have to be willing to face the consequences.

      A quick Google search of how the Obama administration treats whistle blowers would be enough to convince most people that it's a losing proposition.

      As you said, "The president was also fully aware, since it’s his office who oversees the agencies responsible." The man was a Constitutional professor for Buddha's sake, he HAS to know it was unconstitutional when he was briefed on it. Obama knew, Congress knew about it, other NATIONS knew about it, the only folks who didn't know were the American citizens being spied upon. And Obama has everything to gain by getting whistleblowers to remain quiet about it. The chain of Command would have been wrapped around Snowden's neck and silenced him. Because again, as you said, power corrupts. These guys don't give up power once they got it, and certainly not because a 20 something computer dweed with idealistic notions says something. Occams razor says they'd have shut him up.

      Yeah this was the wrong way to go about it, with Manning anyways, and his scattershot method of doing so, but with Snowden we're seeing a little more introspection and forethought in his actions. But again, based on Obama's track record, there doesn't appear to be a right way. Sometimes to do right, you have to do wrong. The Founding Fathers thought so. But Manning exposed War Crimes that were being covered up, and Snowden exposed unconstitutional actions being continued by a president who swore honesty and transparency, and has given pretty much the opposite.

      And if the argument comes down to the character of the whistle blowers, that itself is an indictment of the current system isn't it?

      The system is broken, and broken bad, Jim. There's no justice if you're just one of the peons. You know that as well as I do.

      Snowden doesn't come off as an idiot. I honestly believe if he thought he had a better alternative than this, he'd have taken it. Who would volunteer to be hated and hounded to the ends of the earth like he now is?

      Jeff Lamm

    3. One more thing. To date, I've yet to hear of a single person or operation put at risk by either mans actions, despite the claims of some on the Hill. Compared to say, Cheney's outing of Valarie Plame.

    4. Cthulhu- If Manning or Snowden could claim that they tried to go through channels, or to an Inspector General's office, or to a sympathetic Congress-critter (there are a very few), and were ignored every time, then they'd have a case for having to do an illegal broad release of classified info for the public good. They do not seem to have done so. While I think this is an important matter to discuss, I think these were two younger, impulsive people who thought they knew better than everyone else higher up in their organizations, and got caught up in the idea of glory and attention. I also think that, given these two did not seem to have tried to go other routes, all you have is an unsupported assertion that the Powers That Be would have squashed any discussion. I'm sympathetic; you may very well be right. I believe the government has gone crazy overboard on classifying too many things, some of which only for bureaucratic Cover Your Ass purposes, or in the case of NSA, an over-reach of power. However, that is also my wild guess rather than any proof. Something this important deserves that proof, and deserved at least an attempt to go through other methods of discussion.
      One point- Jim said you don't get to decide which orders to follow. I'm sure he meant for all *legal* orders. In ambiguous cases, you're obligated to ask for clarification, especially if you're concerned the orders may be illegal. Pushing the point by refusing an order could end a career, more likely your own, sometimes both, and in very rare very clear cases of illegal orders, just the issuer. It's a big risk, so you'd better be certain how far you want to push it. Both Manning and Snowden had to have known they were breaking laws and knew they'd catch legal hell.

    5. I would say those channels have already been closed and Snowden knew it. This administration is hell on leakers. Manning wasn't as clear-headed a decision-maker, but look at what has been done to him! Snowden had that as an example. He also knew that the Senate had already been informed of the extent of surveillance and had not acted. He may have known that the New York Times has been consulting with the administration on leaks.

      However little we like it, and I am sympathetic to the charge of oath-breaking, if this story was to break at all, it could not be broken through any standard channels: the system is corrupt, all the way to the top.

      Damn, I hate the way the politics of the last decade makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.

      Charles Pierce opinion piece on the administration's treatment of whistleblowers. Based on long and thorough McClatchy piece.

    6. For me, that's the rub. Who has been put at risk because of Snowden? If, as we seem to acknowledge, this has been going on for awhile and we've always known to some degree or another, how has the security of the U.S. been compromised? I think Snowden should suffer consequences and think he knew he would as well. Why else would he leave the country? But I'm kinda glad he let the rest of the country know what was happening.

      And I'm with you on the legal vs unconstitutional thing. "It's not illegal until challenged in court" is just symantics. Why are we talking about it if we didn't think something was wrong with it. Ben Franklin was right.


    7. If he wanted this stuff out, all Snowden had to do was contact legislators that have been involved in the craziest of accusations against the President. All it would have taken is a tiny whiff of this information for people like Michele Bachmann to go off like a crazy woman ranting that the President is spying on Americans.

    8. I don't know if you read comments on old entries, but as of a couple of months ago, Snowden claims to have tried at least ten times to go through proper channels with his concerns, to no avail.

      I just discovered you via your Dying of the Light essay and have been archive-binging ever since. I agreed with almost everything I read up until I looked for the Manning/Snowden stuff. I can feel my mind trying to designate you as "Military Partisan Who's Unreliable When Talking About Martial Authority", but I know that that's actually just my brain's attempt to go on believing what it's comfortable with, so for now I'll just say thank you for making me question myself.

  29. Thank you for this! You have taken something that is confusing and kind of scary and helped me understand it better. Thank You

  30. In my little part of the world, Central Oregon, we have exactly one short stretch of conventional "freeway" (4 lane highway with on-ramps and off- ramps)in thousands of square miles. The speed limit on this section of road, deemed the 'Parkway' by city planners is a pedestrian almost awkward 45mph. Out on both ends this Parkway is where traffic cops set up shop (the speed limit heading out and into town on open highway is 55mph). When business is deemed to be slow (pun intended) the officers abandon their hidden perches and electronic sign boards are prominently placed roadside, displaying approaching traffic's oncoming speed. Both systems work to get me in compliance with the speed limit, though sometimes remembering a little late that a speed trap is coming up gets my butt to pucker some, and I'm not saying I do this every time, but when I pass one of our city's finest having pulled over a vehicle with a California license plate, somewhere inside me a little celebration goes off.
    I guess I'm just sayin' as a person who has a passing interest in using our freeway (metaphor intended) to get around. If our city's officials have determined that in the interest of keeping everyone safely going around here means using the above mentioned tactics, I can adapt, and in this case given the scope of what the challenge is I don't think any one has gone too far. Yet.

    1. One of my biggest gripes as civilian LEO was the PTB using us as a revenue generator. Which is what most of what you describe is. All for safety and responsible driving, but these clowns set it up so that people who are otherwise not scofflaws or bad people get screwed out of their money.

      While the cops are doing that, they're NOT patrolling and helping people. Ultimately, a waste of time and taxpayer money.

      Jeff Lamm

    2. These days, I just obey the speed limits. I realized, back when I was poor college student, that I couldn't afford what a speeding ticket would do to my insurance rates, so I started obeying speed limits, and the habit stuck.

    3. Me, too, Raven. After reaping what I sowed with my previous bad driving habits, I just started obeying the law.

  31. Rationality Rules! I thank you for proving it, Mr. Wright!

  32. "Honestly, where the hell have you people been?"

    Scared to death and silenced by money, largely through the efforts of the same people who most strongly support the national security state. Our elected representatives scarcely notice us any more.

    In part, this is the result of a propaganda campaign spanning decades. It began with the abrogation of the laws of media consolidation and balance starting in the 1980s, as documented by Ben Bagdikian. The 1990s we saw the emergence of a right-wing propaganda network, led by Fox News. During the same period, campaign finance laws were steadily weakened, with the result that increasingly elected officials responded not to the voters, but to the people who funded their campaigns.

    The decade of the Big Zero saw the triumph of right-wing views in the media. By then there were so few media outlets, and they were so much under the influence of the fearmongers, that few voices in the major media were raised against the war in Iraq or the vast expansion of the national security state. On January 16, 2003, perhaps 100,000 people demonstrated against the Iraq war on the National Mall in the DC. On the same day, over 150,000 people turned out in San Francisco. The demonstrations were scarcely reported, and made no difference to Congress.

    If there was to be a national debate it had to be informed, and legislators had to be free to debate, and take public positions. Information was suppressed and legislators were forbidden to publicly discuss what they knew of the security state. The impossibility of discussion also made criticism from outside the closed circle of classified policy-making impossible.

    In the period running up to the Big Zero, a few voices were raised from the margins. Bagdikian I've already mentioned. Also the ACLU and the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, moderate libertarians, and the cipherpunks, radical libertarians. But these did not persuade.

    Russ Feingold, a moderate leftist and the only Senator who voted against the Patriot Act, was voted out in favor of a Tea Party Republican.

    The Senate was aware of the extent of surveillance and the Senators who knew were forbidden to speak publicly. Markey and Udall came nearest to doing so. The US press is likely to turn any whistleblower over to the tender mercies of the Federal government, which has been cracking down on whistleblowers. The same government that maintains an illegal prison in Cuba and has replaced its network of overseas black prisons with a network of overseas prisons belonging to countries willing to torture. If this story was was going to be published, it would be the work of a whistleblower and the international press.

    "You can blame the Left, and you can blame the Right, but both are equally responsible."

    Oh, nonsense. There has been no national left of any power in the USA since 1980.

    Who on the left does not know and fear the power of the surveillance state? The US left has been the target of it for a century, since the Bureau of Investigation was founded in 1908. This was followed by the Espionage Act of 1917, the Palmer raids of 1919, and the rise to power of J. Edgar Hoover. 1918 saw a President arrest the leader of his leftist political opposition under the Espionage Act: President Wilson's administration arrested Socialist Eugene V. Debs for opposing World War I. Debs went on to run for President from prison in 1920, gathering 3.4% of the popular vote.

    I hear a faint objection: this is in the past. Oh, but it is not. The USA has a long history of political panics against the left: the 1950s, 1980s, and 2000s all saw renewals of those panics, and the expansion of the national security state.


    All the US service oaths I know contain a paradox: they are oaths to uphold the constitution, some laws, and obey one's superiors. But how when one's superiors are corrupt, all the way to the top?

  33. Mr. Wright, I think that, as in other areas of politics, the world has changed and you have remained the same. NSA is not what it was when you worked for it. Our country is not what it was in 2000.

    What can I say? Much as I used to write to John Cole, then a staunch supporter of the Bush II administration and the Iraqi war (he has since become a Democrat) I wish you leaders worthy of your service and your loyalty. You deserve better. So do we all.

  34. Snowden apparently had some wish to live a life where he's the main character in a Paul Greengrass movie, and now he got it. I don't think he's a hero, and I'm really getting tired of seeing his douche face in the news every day. Been trying to put my finger on what it is about him that inspires in me zero sympathy, and I think you pretty much nailed it. He set himself up for this. Had to know the consequences. Went about it in a way that brought maximum attention to himself and now he's running scared and refusing to be held accountable for the laws HE broke. So really, he's not even a martyr in my eyes. Oh sure, his actions mean we're having a dialog about shit that most of us should have been talking about since 9/11 or even before, but doesn't it say something about our fucked up culture that THIS is the way we can finally have that discussion? When some, as you put it, IT dweeb states the obvious, and not when the Patriot Act was actually being passed and people were screaming from the rooftops that this is a very bad thing we're doing? Those of us who were shouting sure as hell didn't need a crystal ball to know that THIS would be our future. No one wanted to hear it then because they were so shellshocked over what happened in NYC, and of course saying anything counter to the The Decider at the time was deemed wholly unAmerican. And what if we're attacked again? Do you think the majority of people have really learned any lesson here? This collective outrage is the result of people who largely supported that initial legislation (in part because they were scared and in other part because they preferred our cowboy dunce of a president) being far enough away from a massive tragedy to forget precisely what that fear and vulnerability felt like. I fully expect their weather vanes to twist again when the wind switches directions and something else goes boom.

    Anyway, I lost track of my initial point, so I'll just finish with this. I don't know if it aligns properly with my generally left of center views or not, and I really don't care, but Edward Snowden is a fucking tool.

    1. So....it's technically our fault things have gotten as bad as it has, but Snowden is a Douche for pulling that wool off our eyes? Because....having the wool over our eyes (So we can't see that butchering knife coming) is so much better?


      Jeff Lamm

  35. ANONYMOUS' true identity?
    Anonymous 6/22 6)4pm: The fact that I, and any number of others throughout history, do know or have learned a few things doesn't demonstrate that I or they actually didn't or don't, ...but if you think you can rhetorically create some circular illogic as to that very point in order to attempt to give yourself more credulity, or to make yourself more comfortable, or some such, you know you will

    White Goodman(Dodgeball: An Underdog Story) Oh, I don't think I'm a lot dumber than you thought that I think that I thought that I was once.

    How could this be anyone else?

  36. A great sentiment, as I usually find the posts on here to be. The only thing that stuck out to me (this is small, not really worth any time, and superfluous to the spirit of this post, but it's been bugging me in a larger context) is the mere mention of the capital 'F' Founders (again, this isn't meant as a critique in any sense of the word). I've found it increasingly troublesome how often this celebrated group of historical individuals has been invoked lately as though we, as a people, routinely invoke the expertise of 18th century gentry on any contemporary issue. It seems as though there attempt at creating a representative democracy with a secular constitution (running contrary to the monarchies that dominated the period) has now become the basis for a cult of worship in U.S. politics; it leads me to imagine political factions arguing like the many sects of Islam over bloodlines to the prophet... but I digress...

    It seems like more often now that the somewhat contrarian viewpoints here (I use that term loosely because I find the points validated, but the subjects are topical in nature to current political controversy) are more and more about hypocrisy and reminding people how shallow they've become, in general, instead of broaching something new~ likely because that's what we've become, a revolving door of invented drama; with each dose getting our entertainment, and then needing even more to get our fix again.

    I have a lot of respect for your opinions and views, Jim. I would almost say you're a role model to me, but I guess 26 is too old for those fantasies anymore, right?

    I look forward to reading more.


  37. If the GOP was still in control of the White House and Congress, we would be hearing a totally different kind of out-rage and demand from our leaders. Snowden would have already been tried and convicted of treason by some government court and black ops would be hunting him down. Fox News would be issuing hourly reports on Snowden's movements and subsequent take-down.

    The leaders who demanded the Patriot's Act in the first place and have voted every time to keep it are now they very ones claiming it is unconstitutional???????????????? What a JOKE!!!

    But the fact that the American voters have actually bought into these same leaders only shows exactly how STUPID Americans really are

  38. Jim,

    Fuckin' A!


  39. I agree that Snowden is no hero and Manning is no hero. The press has called them whistleblower. I don't think they fit that definition either. The Harvard proffessor Lessing has called Snowden, on PBS Moyers show, " fits the definition of civil disobedient." Not to me. Chaining yourself to a fence to protest illegal segregation after a court ruling to open up Old Miss is "civil disobedience." I just can't lump young Snowden in with those who risked their ass to a social cause that had real social value to society. I believe that there is a reason for official secrets. Clearly there are many out there,usually those who never served their country at war that believe transparency means no oaths of secrecy. They are wrong. We are at war. And Snowden by his own admission has opened the door to helping those we are at war with. We know who they are. And thank Providence we have some oath takers who get that picture. No hero. A criminal by my definition. Anyone who ever was a custodian of Top Secret recalls the fear that a piece might be mislaid....not too many wear that badge these days. And they gets no respect, until the next connect the dots demand comes up. May it never come up.

  40. Ok. Here's what's really irritating me about this whole debacle.

    Yes, the NSA has the CAPABILITY to read/record/archive almost every electronic communication that happens.

    WHO exactly is supposed to be reading EVERYBODY's email/Twitter feed/Facebook posts/pick a social media platform?

    The paranoid fringe is worried that SOMEBODY somewhere may read/record archive your precious musings on the web or your oh so delicate converstions with your significant other on your brand spanking new telephone speaking device.

    It ain't so.

    NOBODY is reading your freakin mail.

    Somebody once mentioned that the total volume of internet/phone calls/social media traffic passing through the interwebs is somewhat approximate to the entirety of the Library of Congress PER SECOND.

    Unless there is a VERY large underground bunker with MILLIONs of people sitting around printing and perusing your most intimate communications, it just ain't happening.

    NOBODY is reading YOUR mail.

    You're really not that interesting. Particularly with all the cat pictures and stuff.......

    1. No human is reading your e-mail, but a computer can be programmed to search for key words and phrases. (This is how Google knows which ads to show you in Gmail. No secret!) Enough of those, and your mail gets bumped up to a low level human. Pretty simple.

    2. And no-one is listening to your phone calls, but they know you spent 15 minutes with the suicide hotline. From the Golden Gate bridge. And called Planned Parenthood after consulting your gynecologist. And even about that porn line.

      They know who your friends are, who your friends friends are, and who their friends are.

    3. It's actually more like a library of Congress worth of data every seven and a half minutes, but....

  41. I once reported (thru the Army ASA as an analyst) to "Daddy DIRNSA"...so I very much get what you say about that. However, I do decline to accept responsibility for the current ongoing move to security state actions. I protested them as soon as they began, I beleaguered my Congressional critters by phone, email, and letter IN 2001 telling them it was so NOT a good idea. I was ignored by them and castigated as a "communist" in a red county of a blue state.

    And yes, I laughed even while bitching at the idea of some poor analyst sorts having to plough through what could conceivably be "gathered"....because you know, if they HIRED enough people to actually DO that? Besides the government going broke, we could finally have full employment!

  42. I grew up with a mother who spent her formative years living in 1930s-40s Germany. I remember hearing about the rise & reign of Adolf Hitler (I know, I know, "And, NAZIS!!!") from the viewpoint of someone who had been there first-hand. Now, my mother did not hail from Berlin, or Munich, or any of the seats of power within Deutschland, she was from a very small town down in Bavaria. The stories she related from her childhood were not those that we read about in our textbooks here; there were no marching hordes of brown-shirted milita-types in the town square of Laichingen. There was only one Jewish family in the whole place, and they were highly-regarded in the community.

    I remember growing up hearing these stories and wondering, how could it have happened? How does an entire friggin' country lose its collective sanity to the point at which a guy like that comes to absolute & unquestioned power? Then 911 happened, along with the year-and-a-half that followed, and I was like, "Okay. Nevermind. Got it." I'm not saying we are, collectively, anywhere near as far down that particular rabbit-hole, but the situational parallels are fairly striking: You make a people afraid, and they will give you any amount of power that you might wish to ask. Just saying.

    But that wasn't the main point of my comment. I posted only to point out that we seem here in America never to have conversations about things like the NSA program unless some dweeb like Snowden comes forth with some disclosure that's salacious enough to grab the media's fleeting attention & proceeds to run around with his hair on fire for a week or two. The ability for our government to do the things that were recently 'revealed' has been in-place for a decade now, and everyone not living under a rock should damned-well have known about it. There was plenty of national discussion about the Patriot Act back when it was first passed. We knew, in the back of our minds that it was going on, but its taken this guy making a mockery of his oath & playing out his spy-novel fantasy to get us all actually talking about it.

    If there is any small sliver of redemption for this guy, I would say that is it.

    Snowden said, during one of his interviews, that his greatest fear out of all this is that nothing will change. If the past is any indicator of
    future performance, he's liable to see just that. There is little question that there is a great deal of concern about these programs, among the People; the question is, what are we going to do about it? It is going to require more on our collective parts than doing nothing. If this isn't worth the effort of writing a letter or two, and voting differently in the next couple of elections? Well, then, all I can say is, Okay. Nevermind. Got it.

  43. Jim, I really appreciate how you began this post. It is spot on like most of the rest of it. I am in total agreement except for your "should have known" argument and your dismissal of Snowden's contribution.

    The simplest way of saying why we "should have known" is grossly inaccurate is that there is no way of knowing absent an action like Snowden's. Suspect? Fear that the fear inspired powers of ill thought out post-9/11 laws would be abused? Hell yes! Almost to a certainty but far from know. Maybe that's a quibble, so shoot me.

    Like so many others I spoke out loud and clear against an Iraq adventure/distraction, the Patriot Act, and the many abuses of national international law that followed 9/11. I have destroyed lifelong friendships to show for it. Friends from my old squadrons as well as school who would listen to no disagreement that 9/11 and Iraq were the worst threat to our way of living EVAH!!!! One has come around but none of the others. Maybe their arch enemy Obama is involved up to his neck might change their minds. Dog help us. The simple fact is that nobody was listening with the rush to bloody vengence pounding in their heads and fear stink coming from their own bodies. What hurts is that they still don't get it.

    Snowden is a tough subject. I'm less sympathetic to him since his most recent statement that he joined the NSA project with the intent of finding what he found. Agreeing to the conditions of a security clearance with the purpose of violating it has little honor attached to it. It certainly fouls any whistle blower claim.

    On the other hand, the discussion his revelations began needed to be started. There was no way to have it without his data confirming our suspicions. I choose to be grateful for that at a minimum. Hero, spy, martyr, or traitor are beyond my ability to decide. It is what it is and nothing more. I certainly cannot condemn him doing something that desperately needed done even if I have a hard time with the how.

  44. Wait til Hillary Clinton is the Executive in charge. Tea party riots all over the country.

    1. Of course, everyone knows tea parties are for little girls.


  45. Thank you for putting into eloquent words pretty much exactly what I've been thinking. I was not surprised by the "revelation" that NSA was monitoring communications of American citizens, but I am certainly not in agreement with it. Like others here, I have argued against the use of traffic cams and other types of surveillance devices in our day to day world. And, like others, I was horrified at the Patriot Act, and if I was actually important, I'm sure I'd be on someone's "list", because I voiced my objections to such an anti-American piece of legislation. I also find the liberties allowed the TSA in violating personal privacy in the name of security to be offensive. If I had to fly for business or family situations, I'd have a serious dilemma!

    But while I was reading through the rest of the comments here, it suddenly occurred to me that we are being lulled into acceptance of this with several TV series': The two NCIS shows and Hawaii 5-0 come to mind. Every week we see the main characters violating the hell out of the U.S. Constitution - the Patriot Act is regularly "invoked" on the two NCIS shows, and don't get me started on Hawaii 5-0! And these are some of the most popular television shows in the country. I watch them all the time myself. Not to sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist, but could someone be using these shows to desensitize the American public to Consitutional violations by the police and the government? Ok, it's too late, I know it sounds like crazy conspiracy theory, but ... well, you know what they say - just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you!

    As for Snowden, as I said in a comment earlier, all he'd have had to do is contact Michele Bachmann and this would have been all over the news immediately. So I agree that he is not a "whistleblower" and he deserves what he has coming to him.

  46. You and some of your commenters touched briefly on one of my biggest concerns about this whole thing: Since when has it been better to outsource our national intelligence to foreign-owned corporations? Since when is it a good idea to outsource it at all? A majority in this country seem to have ingested the right-wing meme that all government is bad and all private businesses are good. When our national security was being done by the government, as Jim said, those involved took an oath and took it seriously and could be convicted of treason if they broke it. Snowden took an oath to Booz Allen (there's a trustworthy name for you) a subsidiary of the Carlyle group, owned in part by the Saudis.
    NSA has records of phone calls made, Booz Allen employees possibly have access to content. Who do you trust more?
    This should be the question all Americans should be asking why are we outsourcing any thing that should be done by government? Why are we adding a profit motive? Why should we trust corporations at all?
    In 2002, I almost got fired for speaking out against the Iraq war. Someone reported me to security for "threatening" the president, and for speaking out against the "Patriot" act. The infiltration of corporate money into our governments really worries me. If you've read FM Busby's "Rissa Kerguelan" books, there is a hint where all this could end. The Honorable Representative from Exxon, anyone?
    And I live in a state where outsourcing is rampant, AZ.


    1. I...and not a few other people I've spoken with about this, think it's for the plausible deniability. NSA is constrained by the 4th amendment. Private corporations are not.

  47. Agree with most of the article, but the simple solution to the majority driving above the speed limit is to raise the speed limit and take the incompetent drivers off the road (or train them).

    If a person can't drive safely at 100mph on a flat, straight, empty highway, then they should not be allowed to push a shopping cart.

  48. "If you, as an American, are in any way whatsoever surprised by the revelation of these NSA programs, well, you, my friend, are part of the problem and you have absolutely nobody to blame but yourself."

    Never before have I waited so anxiously for one blogger to release on post on one subject.

    ........as I spent the last two weeks furiously typing and screaming the same things at my monitor.

    As someone who has worked in the same situations...............Thank you for saying it!

    1. ......P.S. ...and as for your evaluation of Mr. Snowden........spot on!

  49. As I've been telling folks for the last week - "If you are surprised by this (NSA) then you are either delusional or have been asleep for the last decade." Of course the government was doing it. We told them to!

  50. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  51. People reading might be interested in Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere. The NSA people here of course know all this--it's basic stuff--but it's a good introduction on intelligence information is gathered from metadata.

  52. I'd love to see the "What my friends think I do, What my Mom thinks I do...." meme for your previous career. Guess I'll just have to imagine my own wrong stuff and the "what I really do" would be blacked out anyway. Thanks for another fascinating post. Way too much power was turned over, but who will undo it and risk the blame when something happens?

  53. Comparing traffic cams to abrogation of the 4th Amendment is like comparing Justin Bieber to Elvis or The Beatles, the analogy just does not hold water. The damage and potential for abuse of warentless total surveillance is orders of magnitude greater than traffic cams collecting government revenue or the anecdotal, isolated blow job from a mistress. Combined with the privatization of the defense and intelligence industries, what the NSA is doing spells the end of any democracy in the US. The last 2 decades have shown that the "will of the 95%" counts for jack in the policy decisions of the government. Do you really think Booz Allen is ever going to now say, "The threat is gone, you can now pay us a lot less money? Of course, the Mil-Industrial-Congressional Complex has been doing this for years./JR gunghodevildog@hotmail.com

    1. I think you are confusing "analogy" with "equivalence". The analogy deals with the similarities of two definitively different things in order to make a point : in this case how the urge to feel safe & secure causes us to employ ill-advised and intrusive means. But it is pointedly comparing two different things.
      (Bieber would make a better analogy for Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck: Someone gave them airtime, and now they WILL NOT GO AWAY!But otherwise, they don't compare either.)


  54. Senator Mark Udall on the abuse of the classification system:

    "As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I am concerned to see news reports about the CIA’s response to the Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program before the information was provided to the committee. Committee members have not yet seen this response, which we have been expecting for nearly six months.

    "The American people’s trust in intelligence agencies requires transparency and strong congressional oversight. This latest leak–the latest incident in a long string of leaks from unnamed intelligence officials who purport to be familiar with the Committee’s Study and the CIA’s official response to it–is wholly unacceptable. Even as these reports emerged today and over the past several months, the CIA and the White House have repeatedly rejected requests to discuss the Committee’s report with Members or Committee staff."

    Via <a href="http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2013/06/is-senator-mark-udall-radical-nut-too.html>Digby</a>, who I recommend as a commentator.

    1. Jim, agree with you about the traffic cams..not about knowing about the NSA or its equivalents..Do know I fought against the Congress and warrantless arrests..and detention of undocumented immigrants (see the Frontline: LOST IN DETENTION and both parties like the idea of private detention centers to hold people without adjudication..

      Mark Udall really railed against the repeal of Posse Comitatus...but without a majority of both parties to keep that law..NDAA Law re-passed now says that military can arrest U.S. citizens on U.S soil...so much for FBI...Jim. do you have any idea why there has been no lawsuit challenging Patriot Act and NSA necessity?

      Marilyn Ciucci

  55. Sorry too disagree with you. But as a former federal worker, and was in a former need to know position of the government, contractors fall first to their employer, not to the government. And all contractors fall on their contract differently. Not like federal employees. Fed's are created equally, not contractors. They are over-equal. They can get away with stuff an fed would be canned for. That said, there are a lot of discrepancies, in the fed storyline. Such as his clearance, and the materials that he had the ability to look at. From some friends, they said the intel community was stricter coordinated after manning. More contractors looking over their shoulders, even as a SA's, some reported more controls over their actions.

  56. "According to a recently declassified Inspector General report the CIA embedded four intelligence officers inside the New York Police Department even though an Executive Order and the National Security Act of 1947 explicitly forbid the CIA from conducting domestic surveillance. The report, completed in 2011, says that officers believed there were no limitations on their activities and the scope of their work went beyond foreign intelligence."--http://news.firedoglake.com/2013/06/28/cia-agents-were-embedded-with-nypd-and-had-no-limits/

    It just keeps getting worse and worse.

  57. Jim,

    I would read the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. You will then see the game plan of the Republicans, Industrialists, and where we are in their plan.

    They made one mistake with Hitler, and they are not repeating it now.

    As to the NSA, and Snowden, see what happens in Congress after these programs that we already knew about have been exposed? It will move them forward in the next step. Which means it was planned long ago.

    I would be worried about some other agency we don't know about not the NSA, although there is nothing like telling a lie in front of everyone to hide it.

    Good Blog,


  58. Hi Jim,

    I've arrived at your blog recently and have read the most recent posts and most of the comments, and your posting guidelines. I'd like, perhaps belatedly, to share a few reactions to this article. I'm interested in your and other readers' thoughts.

    On the idea that no one should be surprised by the NSA revelations: I think that changes in consciousness in society usually require repeatedly more serious provocations before widespread reaction takes root. I think what is being seen now is emotional surprise by a large middle group of people who are experiencing a suspected but denied activity finally becoming completely confirmed. I wouldn't loose hope on these people.

    Add to this the aggressive (“you sign away all your rights”) position advertisers and corporations generally have taken about the new knowledge infrastructure of the net (say as compared to libraries of the past), and you have a moment where society feels like it has stepped on a nail and needs to stop and take a look.

    I think it is healthy for this first wave of corporate and government vision for the net to be seen as a deliberately manufactured thing, with consequences and possible alternatives. People need to realize they’ve been offered a swimming pool full of leeches and being told “that’s the way it has to be”. BS.

    Let me offer an example: it would be possible to take two cable channels and dedicate them to broadcasting RSS content (without videos or pics). One sending daily snapshots of site contents say going back a year, and an index of the sites. One sending moment to moment updates to the midnight image for all the sites as the updates are published. Then, allow people to subscribe, and have their computer offer them the index of sites, and according to the user's selections, listen for and store the content they want to read. Add a browser plugin that makes this content accessible along with online content.

    You could broadcast vast amounts of content this way, which would take no more than a day a user to activate any subscription.

    This would let the monitoring agencies go as far as they want, even up to censoring content, but still allow users to read content without their particular reading being tracked.

    Technically, it is not a new idea at all, but its time may finally have come. There was a scheme decades ago to send this sort of thing through the white space between TV frames, it goes back at least that far. And before that, there was the magazine stand :-)

    It could be designed to allow advertising, too. The feed reader could receive ad content from the stream, display it according to the articles read (with large enough bundling of articles to prevent individual tracking), and report back hits of the ads. Perhaps an intermediary mechanism could remove personal identities from the ad data entirely while keeping the data bank-reliable and providing some aggregate social data without getting as insanely intrusive as things have become today.

    So there's a new business for someone, if they want it.

    Now, on the matter of needle in the hayfield. I have to say, look at something called Complex Event Processing, info all in the public domain. With CEP software, you hook up to various data input streams like news text, stock info, etc, and define filters of what you want to see. You get analyzed outputs in realtime as data inputs flow in at very high speed from multiple sources.

    You may have to spend some time figuring out what an effective filter is, but once you set it up, its a fountain of reliable inferred results forever. You can build filters upon filters in layers, so if your questions are smart, you can support multiple study domains atop a base of shared filters. AND, you can go back and replay recorded data through it. Which all means, as computers become faster, and smarter filters are designed, all that unsearchable data being archived becomes more and more retroactively searchable. Bye bye hayfield.


  59. Part 2/2:

    I absolutely agree about needing tight restrictions on the uses of the data. But this is the rub, isn't it? Once the data exists, people with legitimate (according to their public agency mandate) needs will realize what they can do with it, and will push to get access. And over in the private sector, firms will try to get more and more inferred information from net use. How do you restrict scope creep? The only way I see is to control certain classes of inferences and data subject matter for ALL data collectors, as is done in European data protection legislation, and by having aggressive sunset provisions on collected data. This probably has to arise as rights defined for individuals.

    People say "what does it matter, I have nothing to hide". Well, please. Its not that simple. Here is a concrete example. I would like to invent some useful things. Yet, Google says they have the right to keep the chain of my searches for any use whatsoever, so long as they don't personally identify me (even if I say "don't track" - that just means don't log it on my Google account). Hey, great. How can I usefully do research without revealing the essential ideas I am working on to Google? Some analyst team at Google running 'new ideas' filters could snatch the metadata inferred from my queries and selected websites, and apply their unlimited resources to beat me to market. Now, I know various simple, public ways to prevent Google from pinning together my queries. But it is an arms race, and further, most people don't know how to deal at all.

    And then there is that wonderful assurance, "no need to worry, its only the metadata, not the content". Metadata is not just (or even really, at all) the data, it is the inferences gleaned from the data. I believe that as time goes by, just as people generally have come to understand how to use computers (I remember when discussions of CPU architectures were only among serious IT people and student geeks), people will come to really understand the significance of inferences being culled en-masse from their activities online.

    Its going to take time, but I think this will eventually lead to restructuring of the information infrastructure for normal civilan use into something which sheds much of the first generation "you give away all your rights" model of the net and of electronic information access in general. This model is frankly an historically large dump all over the heads of everyone who participated in bringing the current net infrastructure into place. Some shift or other to the technology and public perceptions will make this era of the net as vulnerable as the LP+studio music model, and users will probably shift. Its not all set in stone.

    As for addressing national security, its such a big thing, I don’t know what I can say about it other than the precise comment you made that it needs clearly defined limits. I would prefer defined privacy rights in the data arena.


  60. When I worked for the Navy, the civilian department head would occasionally ask us to do something truly bone-headed, reckless, and dangerous. This was not something that would injure us, but which stood a good chance of injuring some overstuffed suit from Washington. We were civilians, and we did not take an oath like people in the armed services do, and we said no. Sometimes they insisted, and we stood our ground. But sometimes, when human safety was not directly at risk, and the request was merely stupid rather than dangerous, they stood THEIR ground, and we had little choice in the matter.

    In such circumstances, my operational partner (a Navy veteran) would shrug philosphically and say: "Sometimes you just have to give them what they want."

    What he meant was that sometimes you have to give people what they want before they will understand that it isn't really what they want at all.

    This is a lesson that we have to take over and over, generation after generation, because we simply do not learn. We, as a country, with our vaunted brain capacity, our so-called "exceptionalism," are remarkably stupid. This is evidenced by the sort of officials we have elected at every level of government, many of whom are actively dedicated to stripping us of our civil rights, consigning us to permanent poverty, tearing down environmental protections, fomenting hatred, instituting ubiquitous surveillance, defunding and subverting education, wiping out critical thinking, and replacing thought with belief.

    We have asked for this, we have welcomed it with open arms, now we will have to deal with the consequences.

  61. Great blog and interesting discussion as well. During my time in the field, I never did anything that I felt morally compromised by doing. The people I worked with were very diverse, but honorable through and through. The discussion thread does make me wonder just what that Emily girl said, though...

  62. Jim, I'm curious to know if you still feel the same way about Snowden now that we have more information.

  63. My apologies for the thread necromancy I perform now.

    My view of Snowden is largely similar to your own, while he may have had cause to question the constitutionality of the program that did not give him leave to violate the binding oaths he freely undertook. At least not without exhausting all the avenues available to him before being left with seemingly no recourse than to blow the whistle. He leaped straight to the big expose seemingly in a play for being the hero du jour.

    However, after his latest attention seeking antics that only deepen the hole he's dug for himself the issue of who broke the law resurfaced and up came J. Kirk Wiebe. I wonder, does the experience of former NSA man Wiebe give Snowden sufficient cause to believe that he had no avenues available, could expect to be swiftly set-upon and therefore possessing sufficient grounds for a whistleblowing? Or is there some nuance to Wiebe's experience that places him in a different place, not similar to Snowden's situation?

    Mind you, given the very public open letter to Brazil it would seem that Snowden is merely out to gin up attention for himself, that his entire mtoive from the beginning may be less rooted in his keen sense of justice and more to do with histrionics.

  64. From Daniel Ellsberg:

    "Such an oath doesn't exist (look up "oath" on the web). Rather he—and I—broke an agreement (known as Standard Form 312) which was a condition of employment. It provides for civil or administrative penalties (e.g., losing a clearance or a job) for disclosing classified information: serious enough to keep nearly everyone quiet about...anything classified, no matter how illegal or dangerous.

    The reason this matters is that Snowden, as he said to Gellman and as I've repeatedly said, did take a real "oath," just one oath, the same oath that every official in the government and every Congressperson takes as an oath of office. He and they "swore" ("or affirmed") "to support and defend the Constitution of the U.S., against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

    They did not swear to support and defend or obey the President, or to keep secrets. But to support and defend, among other elements of the Constitution, the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments in the Bill of Rights, and Article I, section 8, on war powers. That's the oath that, as Snowden correctly said to Gellman, he upheld (as I would say I eventually did) and that Clapper and Alexander broke (along with most members of Congress).

    As Snowden and I discovered, that oath turns out to be often in conflict with the secrecy agreements that he and I signed, and which we later chose to violate in support of our oath."



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