Techies’ Efforts to Own #Snowden/NSA Surveillance Narrative = #Fail

Some Silicon Valley figures, along with some Democratic party-aligned media outlets, have tried assailing Glenn Greenwald, and indirectly, Edward Snowden, by trying to discredit certain aspects of the Guardian account of NSA surveillance in the US. Greenwald, who has an appetite for trench warfare, deigned to rebut their efforts as of last Friday. But the tech pedants’ efforts to take down Greenwald and Snowden aren’t simply petty and disingenuous, they are ultimately destructive of the interests of American technology companies and American security.

Some of the tactics used have been a bizarre combination of focusing on minutiae and straw manning. For instance, one site, Little Green Footballs, claimed that though the Guardian had said Snowden had smuggled four “confidential” laptops out, he’d in fact used a thumb drive to carry documents out of Booz. Golly gee, that means you can’t trust ANY of the rest of the story!

However, the Guardian had simply said that Snowden had four laptops with him when he first met with their reporters. The piece was silent on how exactly he extracted the data. So, using Little Green Footballs’ own logic, you should not trust one iota anything Little Green Footballs has to say on this matter, either. We similarly have the range war over the “direct access to servers” language, when anyone who read the original Guardian story would recognize that the ‘direct access’ language tracked that of a PowerPoint slide on the PRISM program, a document whose authenticity has never been denied; the story wrote up the slides. Funny how people who would have laughed at Clinton’s famed “it depends what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” were eager to use the same stick to try to beat Greenwald.

Or as Lambert has said, “Shorter tech dudes on Greenwald: The NSA slides show the servers weren’t built my way, so the slides are wrong. Also, my boss would never lie to me.”*

This front of the PR war against Greenwald, the Guardian, and Snowden is using a tactic familiar to anyone who remembers the financial crisis: that the story is a technology story, ergo, only technologists are qualified to opine on it. But that rhetorical approach (“it’s all too complicated, you just need to believe what we tell you”) was seldom used by people who were acting in good faith to unravel what had happened. It was instead used mainly by incumbents and people who wanted to preserve their relationship with them to circle the wagons.

There was at least some underlying logic for this position during the market meltdown. It was, after all, a financial crisis. By contrast, the NSA scandal is not a technology story. It is at its heart a story about surveillance, the Constitution, and whether we really have any rule of law left in the US. Technology is only an enabler, folks, although, as we will discuss, this story does have important implications for major US technology players.

This clip from The Lives of Others (which is a wonderful and important movie) will hopefully serve as a reminder:

The modern society with the most intensive surveillance, East Germany, had the Trabant as its most noteworthy home grown product. Now the technology fans may argue that the selection above proves their point, that the Stasi used the best technology they had to bug the suspect’s apartment. But they forget that the Stasi depended first and foremost on spying, meaning the active cooperation of much of the population. And as this selection shows, the effectiveness of the installation of devices could have been sabotaged by the watchful neighbor had she not been cowed into silence.

Spying and surveillance do not depend on fancy electronic toys, but devices can be helpful. Japan in the Tokugawa era had mind-numbingly detailed sumptuary laws, which were used to maintain fine social distinctions. And they were enforced via neighbors spying on each other. This sort of intrusion was sufficiently troubling to elicit a warning from Adam Smith. He opposed having “kings and ministers…pretending to watch over the economy of private people and to restrain their expense” and advocated taxation as a less intrusive way to constrain consumption. Similarly, the use of espionage as a tool of the state considerably antedates the Industrial Revolution; for instance Francis Walsingham, a minister to Elizabeth I, had a large, organized a network of informants and snoops.

Via e-mail, Ed Harrison honed in on what is wrong with the tech company fixation:

What gets lost is that the Internet companies are largely irrelevant here. They are the equivalent of hostile witnesses for the prosecution. What is more pertinent is that the NSA had serious unfettered access at the three largest US telecom companies and have had this for years. The second thread of interest is that private companies like Booz are running large pieces of our whole intelligence operations. These are two very big problems. And I would love to see people hone in on those two areas instead of bickering over Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc

My sense is that the Internet community is up in arms because they feel unfairly maligned and this is coming from journalists and tech people who are long known to be anti-surveillance. So it’s not just a ‘shoot the messenger’ thing. It is a sort of reptilian kind of self-protection thing that’s happening where these people, as part of an industry that prides itself on being counter-culture, feel unfairly attacked by someone they believe either has an agenda or doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

It’s actually worse than Harrison depicts. Recall how the PRISM slides depict the major telecom and technology players like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo as “partners”. That’s no misnomer. Look at the business model of Google, Facebook, Yahoo. If you think ordinary customers are all that important to them, given that most of the markets they compete in are oligopolies, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. It also helps to follow the money.

The NSA, and the Department of Defense in general, have long been sponsors and funders of advanced technology. Need we say DarpaNet? Physicists and mathematicians, many of whom wind up in Silicon Valley or Wall Street, can still get an advanced education without going up to their eyeballs in student debt thanks in no small measure to government funding. The NSA is an important customer and validator of tech products. It was a big buyer of NeXt computers back in the 1990s when the NeXT was the most advanced workstation/network device. It is a big funder of open source software today. A Wall Street Journal article last week details how the NSA adopts and builds on Yahoo’s and Google’s technology:

NSA stumbled in a number of its data-collection and management efforts, particularly a program called Trailblazer, but it began to gain traction with another program, which became known as Real Time Regional Gateway, or RTRG, former officials said.

Initially deployed in Iraq, the program’s focus moved to Afghanistan in 2010, where it assembled and analyzed all the data over a 30-day period on transactions that intelligence officials could get their hands on: phone conversations, military events, road-traffic patterns, public opinion—even the price of potatoes, former officials said. Changes in prices of commodities at markets proved to be an indicator of potential for conflict, they said…

A computing and software revolution, launched in Silicon Valley a few years earlier, made sifting all that data easier. That was particularly true with the development of Hadoop, a piece of free software that lets users distribute big-data projects across hundreds or thousands of computers.

Named after a child’s toy elephant and developed at Yahoo Inc., the software reached commercial scale for Internet-wide tasks in 2008 and soon became a favored application for handling big-data demands…

Mr. Garrett now runs RTRG’s successor program, which was moved to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and renamed Nexus 7. That effort has been using Hadoop and similar software to help manage large masses of data. One of the pieces of software, called Accumulo, was developed by the NSA using technology from Google, said a person briefed on the program.

And no less than Google’s Eric Schmidt has been touting this sort of collaboration as virtuous. His 2013 book The New Digital Age, co authored with Jared Cohen of Google’s in-house think tank, Google Ideas, stated: “What Lockheed Martin was to the 20th century, technology and cybersecurity companies will be to the 21st.”

An important Bloomberg article, U.S. Agencies Said to Swap Data With Thousands of Firms, last week cracked open the window a bit on how close these ties are. A sampling:

Some U.S. telecommunications companies willingly provide intelligence agencies with access to facilities and data offshore that would require a judge’s order if it were done in the U.S….

The extensive cooperation between commercial companies and intelligence agencies is legal and reaches deeply into many aspects of everyday life, though little of it is scrutinized by more than a small number of lawyers, company leaders and spies. Company executives are motivated by a desire to help the national defense as well as to help their own companies, said the people, who are familiar with the agreements…

In addition to private communications, information about equipment specifications and data needed for the Internet to work — much of which isn’t subject to oversight because it doesn’t involve private communications — is valuable to intelligence, U.S. law-enforcement officials and the military.

Typically, a key executive at a company and a small number of technical people cooperate with different agencies and sometimes multiple units within an agency, according to the four people who described the arrangements.

Yves here. This is why the early “I/we never heard of PRISM” denials were absurd on their face. Of course the spokescritters hadn’t heard of PRISM. Only a “need to know” group did. Back to Bloomberg:

Intel Corp. (INTC)’s McAfee unit, which makes Internet security software, regularly cooperates with the NSA, FBI and the CIA, for example, and is a valuable partner because of its broad view of malicious Internet traffic, including espionage operations by foreign powers, according to one of the four people, who is familiar with the arrangement.

Such a relationship would start with an approach to McAfee’s chief executive, who would then clear specific individuals to work with investigators or provide the requested data, the person said. The public would be surprised at how much help the government seeks, the person said…

According to information provided by Snowden, Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, had at that point been a Prism participant for more than a year.

Google CEO Larry Page said in a blog posting June 7 that he hadn’t heard of a program called Prism until after Snowden’s disclosures and that the Mountain View, California-based company didn’t allow the U.S. government direct access to its servers or some back-door to its data centers. He said Google provides user data to governments “only in accordance with the law.”

Notice the hiding behind the fig leaf of legality. The Wall Street Journal article on the surveillance establishment’s reliance on private sector technology included this revealing comment (emphasis ours):

As it has gathered ever more data, the government has had to develop new ways to include privacy protections by reworking legal theories

“Reworking legal theories”? In the light of John Yoo-like language-torturing statements like national intelligence director James Clapper trying to deny he’d committed perjury before Congress by trying to depict his statement as the “least untrue” he could make (um, untrue is untrue), just imagine what “reworking” amounts to. Actually, you don’t need to imagine all that much. Marcy Wheeler has done a lot of spadework on this front. For instance, a post on Saturday, PRISM: The Difference between Orders and Directives, lays out some key elements of the framework, such as it is, for the surveillance regime. Marcy highlights one element: that a considerable ambit of these programs are defined not by specific orders, but by “directives”. She quotes an Associated Press story:

Every year, the attorney general and the director of national intelligence spell out in a classified document how the government plans to gather intelligence on foreigners overseas.

By law, the certification can be broad. The government isn’t required to identify specific targets or places.

A federal judge, in a secret order, approves the plan.

With that, the government can issue “directives” to Internet companies to turn over information.

Read that twice. Every year, the Feds draw a big line around the patch of sand in which they’d like to operate. A judge rubber stamps signs off on the program. So when the various tech companies talk about the various “orders” they’ve received, this great big enabling one that lets the government make lots of binding requests is ONLY one. And if you watched the video of Alan Grayson reviewing the Verizon order that the Guardian leaked, he stressed that it had no start date, meaning that on its face, it demanded that Verizon cough all all of the customer data going back as far in time as its records allowed.

Marcy describes how, quelle surprise, when Obama came into office, he found that the NSA had been overzealous and had been accessing far more data about US citizens at home than it should have. Marcy notes:

Remember, this overcollection was self-reported by the Obama Administration at the time, not discovered by the FISA Court. Good for the Obama Administration, though we’re trusting them at their word that the overcollection was unintentional.

But lo and behold, Obama in 2009 said he’s fixed the problem but three years later the FISA court (remember, this is the FISA court that approves 99.97% of the order requests submitted to it) said it found cases where the collection overstepped the Fourth Amendment. And that took place even with deficient oversight structures and a hand-picked-to-be-complaint FISA court in place. The court doesn’t do its own monitoring; it relies on self-scored report cards semi-annual certifications by the Department of Justice and the director of national intelligence (now our “least untrue” Clapper).

I also wouldn’t take as much comfort as some have from New York Representative Jerome Nadler’s retreat on his widely reported statement over the weekend via CNET, that Congressmen had been told in a classified briefing that the NSA could obtain the substance of a phone call based on an analyst’s decision. His spokesman walked that back on Sunday, but as NC readers pointed out, the retreat was in the formula “the Administration has reiterated that…”. And bear in mind that the CNET story also said:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the head of the Senate Intelligence committee, separately acknowledged that the agency’s analysts have the ability to access the “content of a call.”

Similarly, the various disclosures by major tech players that are coming in the tens of thousands ranges aren’t necessarily what they seem to be. For instance, Facebook said it received, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “9,000 to 10,000 requests from all government entities in the U.S.—local, state and federal as well as classified national security-related requests—in the second half of 2012,” supposedly on 18,000 to 19,000 individual users. But what is a request? The sweeping Verizon order published at the Guardian that kicked off this firestorm was a single request. And the New York Times reported last year that law enforcement officials were relying more on “requests” and less on actual warrants.

And please don’t try the line of argument that the technology companies are blameless, that if there was any overreach, it was the doing NSA and the FISA star chamber. What can they do besides fight some orders in secret, lose, and follow orders?

The truth is plenty. If the technology companies were really concerned, lobbying dollars would go a hell of a lot further than money spent in quixotic fights in the FISA star chamber. But where has Silicon Valley been spending its money? Let’s look at Google. It is the 8th biggest spending lobbyist in DC, outstripping defense contractor Lockheed Martin. And where does the money go? From a June 2013 story in the Atlantic:

So far the fruits of Google’s lobbying efforts have resulted in a huge win in an anti-trust case, but the company has even bigger plans to prod legislation in its own self-interest. See, back in 2010 Schmidt realized “much of the laws are written by lobbyists,” he said during The Atlantic’s Washington Idea’s Forum. Google hired and funded an army of capable policy crafters, not only to save itself from government fines that don’t even make a dent but also to help write Google-powered legislation. In the near future, that means ramped up efforts to influence immigration reform. Schmidt is part of the contentious Silicon Valley group, which is lobbying for a very specific type of immigration reform. Google also has Molinari working on updates to the Electronic Communication Privacy Act — that pesky bill the government uses to justify spying on your Gmail without a warrant.

But in the long term, all those billions of dollars will also go toward Schmidt’s foreign policy visions, and Google’s attempts at worldwide domination outside of Washington. Along with his book, Schmidt has attempted (and so far failed) to broker diplomatic relations with foreign nations, visiting North Korea back in January and Myanmar in March.

Oh, so Google is lobbying on your behalf, right? Don’t get too excited. Their focus as far as the Electronic Communication Privacy Act is concerned is to get e-mails older than six months to require a search warrant to access them (right now, these aged e-mails require only a subpoena). That does little to restrain law enforcement officials or the NSA; its big implication is to make it harder for civil litigants (such as the SEC) to get access to e-mails in discovery. Google has spent a great deal of money in Washington beating back the Department of Justice’s antitrust suit. For Silicon Valley companies generally, their lobbying dollars go to trying to get a tax holiday so they can repatriate foreign earnings and use them to pay bonuses in dividends (that’s what they did in the last tax holiday, in 2004, so don’t believe their blather about using it to invest), on immigration policy (more HB-1 visas). And remember Google on net neutrality. It was happy to accede to a deal brokered by the FCC, so long as the telcos were required not to block Google. And perhaps I missed, it but my recollection and brief Web search shows Google was nowhere to be found in the outrage over the suicide of Aaron Swartz.

As much as the tech industry defenders may feel that they’ve scored some points in their Internet rows, they are losing the battle where it counts, in the court of public opinion. While a significant number of Americans still have no point of view on l’affaire Snowden, poll results here have been showing more and more support for his whistleblowing.

And far more important, as Ed Harrison pointed out, the tech industry loyalists seem not to grasp the real stakes in this battle. The Administration and tech industry have a full court press on to demonize Snowden and reassure the public that there is nothing to see here. But this all boils down to “trust me.” That’s also the position of the tech titans. As Evengy Morozov wrote in his review of the Schmidt/Jared book:

The goal of books such as this one is not to predict but to reassure—to show the commoners, who are unable on their own to develop any deep understanding of what awaits them, that the tech-savvy elites are sagaciously in control. Thus, the great reassurers Schmidt and Cohen have no problem acknowledging the many downsides of the “new digital age”—without such downsides to mitigate, who would need these trusted guardians of the public welfare? So, yes, the Internet is both “a source for tremendous good and potentially dreadful evil”—but we should be glad that the right people are in charge. Uncertainty? It’s inevitable, but manageable. “The answer is not predetermined”—a necessary disclaimer in a book of futurology—and “the future will be shaped by how states, citizens, companies and institutions handle their new responsibilities.” If this fails to reassure, the authors announce that “most of all, this is a book about the importance of a guiding human hand in the new digital age.” The “guiding hand” in question will, in all likelihood, be corporate and wear French cuffs.

The wee problem is of course that Obama has so often lied egregiously, well beyond previous political norms, that it’s remarkable that he has any brand equity remaining. Admittedly, his strategy has worked just fine up to now, but he’s made the mistake of relying heavily on propaganda rather than action, and then went and alienated a big chunk of his messaging apparatus by going after 20 Associated Press reporters in a widely-criticized secret phone records request. And the Democratic party stalwarts such as MSNBC, had fallen badly in the ratings before this scandal broke out. And the more the NSA appears in public, at least so far, the less convincing it becomes.

That does not mean that Obama and his fellow travelers might not eventually turn public opinion around. They still have tremendous resources at their behest. But overseas is quite another matter. US technology companies and their privacy policies already grated on the EU. China has been wary of US “openness” excuses to have its Internet vendors establish large footprints. And reassurances directed at US audiences aren’t going over so well abroad. For instance, the Chinese Army’s official newspaper attacked the PRISM program today. As recounted in the Australian (hat tip 1 SK):

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Daily on Sunday hit out at the US for implying that spying on citizens from other countries was justified…The remarks about the program are some of the most scathing to appear in China’s state-run press after Beijing’s refusal to make an official comment..

“US President Obama has said that PRISM is not directed at US citizens,” the article said.

“The implication is that for the purposes of US security, monitoring citizens of other countries is not a problem. This simple, overbearing logic is the frightening aspect of the PRISM program.”

The Snowden disclosures are hitting an already sore nerve hard. Richard Kline gives a recap of what is really at stake:

The position of the US spyboys, now shown redhanded as spying far over any formally granted authority on American citizens, is “You can trust us with absolute power, we’re the good guys and know what’s right.” Snowden is *systematically* destroying that plausibility by giving up evidence that the US spyboys are a) not ‘good guys,’ b) lie utterly in every utterance, c) can’t be trusted with a postage stamp, because d) they couldn’t find ‘what’s right’ to within a few parasecs using all of SETI’s resources and the Hubble’s chillun for back-up. Snowden has set out to prove that the US spy apparatus isn’t simply unconstitutional but is utterly untrustworthy.

If I was guessing, which is all that I’m doing, I would say that Snowden’s move is “You can harm me, but I’m leaving you cut off at the knees before you even start.” It’s like the situation of the French Army in the Drefuss Affair: they were able to hound their critics into exile or prison, but their own credibility never recovered, they were demonstrated as despicably abusive liars who’d hurt anyone to cover up their own treachery and incompetence. And yes, the US power apparatus really is that bad. I mean, _most are_ so that’s no surprise, but we’ve a demonstrated record over the last twenty years of being everything we claim to despise and assail others for: torturers; murderers; conquerors; looters; trafficking in racism; propping up and even creating odious quislings abusing their won peoples; megalomanic spiers; hyper-paranoid ubermenschan; completely indifferent to law, treaty, or custom; ready to frame and jail domestic critics of any of that; so deep in the chamber pot of our own hypocrisy we’ve come to take the stuff for mustard on our foot-long untruths; frequently incompetent because under a vail of pervasive secrecy accountability goes to zero. “And you _TRUST_ these guys?” Ed Snowden is saying. His move isnt to play for sympathy, it’s to irreparably damage the credibility of the securecrats. And yes, he’s managed to do much to that effect _without_ revealing any military secrets…. I don’t know whether he’ll get out of Devil’s Island intact, but one has to acknowledge he has a strategy, and it’s a well-founded one.

The best move for the technology giants would be to throw their DC dollars at getting the Department of Defense, via the NSA, out of domestic operations, as long-standing US laws prescribed, and making those strictures look plausible enough to appease America’s aggrieved foreign web product and services customers. Otherwise, the most likely outcome is the worst for them, that the security state apparatus and the Administration succeed in getting through this crisis with at most cosmetic changes to their domestic surveillance apparatus. That means the FISA star chamber remains intact. And the record of the original Star Chamber was that it went from being a useful and well-regarded part of the jurisprudence system over time to a being a potent political weapon.

The implication is clear: it’s too easy for secret courts to be abused, and the NSA’s history of whistleblowing shows that they are precisely the sort of folks who have no compunction about power grabs and deception, and that includes deceiving the America public. If the tech industry does not throw its weight decisively on the side of curbing the agency, the odds are high that the EU countries and China will exploit this spectacle to wrest control of the Internet in their countries away from the US (a long term project, mind you) and to encourage domestic champions to develop more secure devices and services. The result will be exactly what would be the opposite of professed US security interests: a balkanized and somewhat opaque Internet overseas (serves you right!) with Americans at home still subject to ongoing, escalating surveillance.

But I don’t have much hope. Americans, especially members of what passes for our elites, are unable to take a good look in the mirror. Ironically, Schmidt and Jared, in their New Digital Age book, which the New Republic reviewer Morozov called Future Schlock, had an unexpected moment of prescience in their algorithmic image generation:

Or consider their prediction that the world will soon “see its first Internet asylum seeker.” Don’t tear up just yet: “a dissident who can’t live freely under an autocratic Internet and is refused access to other states’ Internets will choose to seek physical asylum in another country to gain virtual freedom on its Internet.” I have no doubt that someone might one day try this excuse—it would hardly be the oddest reason for requesting asylum—but would any reasonable government actually grant asylum on such grounds? Of course not.

Snowden comes awfully close to this model. But perilous few among America’s tech elite appear ready to face that they are the purveyors of what is on the knife’s edge of becoming an autocratic Internet.

* Please don’t try the “they had a dropbox.” This was the New York Times’s account on June 7:

In at least two cases, at Google and Facebook, one of the plans discussed was to build separate, secure portals, like a digital version of the secure physical rooms that have long existed for classified information, in some instances on company servers. Through these online rooms, the government would request data, companies would deposit it and the government would retrieve it, people briefed on the discussions said.

The negotiations have continued in recent months, as Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveled to Silicon Valley to meet with executives including those at Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Intel. Though the official purpose of those meetings was to discuss the future of the Internet, the conversations also touched on how the companies would collaborate with the government in its intelligence-gathering efforts, said a person who attended.

Notice the use of the conditional, and “discussions have continued”? There may be a plan for a dropbox, but the Times sources said they were merely under consideration.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. wunsacon

    >> For instance, one site, Little Green Footballs, claimed that though the Guardian had said Snowden had smuggled four “confidential” laptops out, he’d in fact used a thumb drive to carry documents out of Booz. Golly gee, that means you can’t trust ANY of the rest of the story!

    Sadly, Slate published the same nonsense argument.

    1. Cheyenne

      A good, reliable way to get pissed off is to go read Kevin Drum, who was saying the same thing at Mother Jones. What a slimy turd of a man

  2. Rutger

    Excellent and comprehensive post, I must say. But why have the tweet button disappeared?

  3. JJ

    The plot thickens. The efforts of companies like MS and Google to hide behind teh letter of the law, given past commitments (or lip service) to users’s privacy, seem to show they are worried about a backlash.

    But thanks to Congress the private companies can’t be sued and thanks to sovereign immunity neither can the government. Answering the age old question of “who guards?? Clearly no one.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Google is brand first. Nothing they do isn’t difficult to replicate or hard to switch to.

      Microsoft has a litany of problems going forward from their late arrival to tablets, the decline of the PC market, and saturation of XP. No one wants to upgrade, but instead of recognizing and making the product better, Microsoft has insisted on whole new office suites.

      1. They didn't leave me a choice

        You forgot the dismal failure of their upcoming console (NSA one) as well, though I guess that’s more or less a minor side business to them.

  4. from Mexico

    Ed Harrison said:

    My sense is that the Internet community is up in arms because they feel unfairly maligned and this is coming from journalists and tech people who are long known to be anti-surveillance. So it’s not just a ‘shoot the messenger’ thing. It is a sort of reptilian kind of self-protection thing that’s happening where these people, as part of an industry that prides itself on being counter-culture, feel unfairly attacked by someone they believe either has an agenda or doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    I really have to disagree with this. What is at stake here is not bruised consciences or a sense of shame, but money.

    Yesterday one of the Mexico City dailies had an opinion piece on Snowden and the importance of what he revealed. I usually don’t pay much attention to the author of the piece, Alfredo Jalife-Rahme, because he’s a doctrinaire Marxist (he’s never seen a policy implemented by Hugo Chavez or the Communist Party of China that he didn’t like), plus he’s a horrible writer, difficult to follow and understand. Nonetheless, he made some points that I believe are right on, which I will attempt to summarize and embellish upon as follows:

    1) The main import of what Snowden revealed is not that state secrets are insecure, but that business secrets are insecure

    2) That if business secrets fall into the hands of traders, these can be extremely valuable.

    3) That these breeches of security place the entire world capitalist system (confidence in the markets) at risk.

    4) That the distinction between the public sector and the private sector in the United States no longers exists because the corporate sector has completely captured and controls the government, so that any information uncovered by the security state immediately becomes available to privileged players in the private sector.

    1. charles sereno

      What’s the disagreement? One or the other ‘necessary’ assessments? Maybe there are more than one peepholes (I prefer peekholes) in the fence. Dogma is a natural defense against mortality, sometimes useful, often not.

      1. from Mexico

        @ charles sereno

        What’s the disagreement?

        Well supposedly, according to Marxists, Marx was hostile to religion, and even to such things as heart and soul.

        But Marx may have gotten a bum rap, as Susan Neiman explains:

        Metaphors have long lives, and Marx’s description of religion as the opium of the people helped mislead us all. In fact, though Marx was the first thinker to show how deeply our worldviews may be shaped by material needs, his views of religion are more complex, and less condescending, than most leftist critics who followed. Far from reducing religious needs to economic ones, Marx called the criticism of religion the first premise of all other criticism because he understood its power. Here’s what he actually says in the passage leading up to the one-liner about opium:

        “Religion is the general theory of the world, its encyclopedia, its logic in popular form, its spiritualistic point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and general ground for the consummation and justification of this world….Religious suffering is at once the expression of real suffering and the protest against real suffering.Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

        Sitting in the British Library, Marx may have got his drugs wrong. On his account, religion is anything but a sedative; in fact it sounds more like cocaine. In Marx’s description, religion is the force that keeps the world awake. Heart of a heartless world calls up love as well as courage; hearts are also sometimes seats of purity, another quality one longs for when one longs for faith. But saccharin allegories aside: anatomically speaking, the heart is the organ that keeps us alive.

        Marx’s judgment of the forces arrayed against religion was just as savvy as his judgment of its power. His description of what capitalism did to the world it found might, with few changes, have been written by believers in Afghanistan—or Arkansas.

        “The bourgeois…drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—free trade…All that is solid, melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.”

        Of course this is irony, and verbal acrobatics, but it’s also ambivalence. Marx’s attitude towards the religious standpoint is hardly one of scorn. Something fateful was lost when bourgeois calculation replaced religious devotion, and we are right to feel bereaved. Marx’s ambivalence towards the holy is echoed in contemporary critics of globalization from the left as well as from fundamentalist forces on the right. As the freedom to buy cellphones or sneakers expands from Boston to Beijing, something within us contracts; the price of this world is an absence of soul. You don’t need to have a political direction to view the process with disgust, and yearning. Whether out of disgust for principles preached but not practiced, or for principles one would rather not practice at all, the cry for a heart for this heartless world grows louder every day.

      2. from Mexico

        @ charles sereno

        Or is what you are saying is that you reject the two-world duality (body & spirit) and/or the three-world theory (mind, body and soul)?

        1. charles sereno

          I was not aware of your present 3:18 pm comment when I made my one above at 3:45 pm. (I’d be delighted to engage in theories you mention when appropriate within a topical NC context although I don’t regard myself a brilliant thinker. I suspect you’d say as much yourself.)

        2. charles sereno

          I was not aware of your present 3:18 pm comment when I made mine above at 3:45 pm. (I’d be delighted to engage in theories you mention when appropriate within a topical NC context although I don’t regard myself a brilliant thinker. I suspect you’d say as much yourself.)

    2. Nathanael

      Well, duh.

      “1) The main import of what Snowden revealed is not that state secrets are insecure, but that business secrets are insecure

      2) That if business secrets fall into the hands of traders, these can be extremely valuable.

      3) That these breeches of security place the entire world capitalist system (confidence in the markets) at risk.”

      Revolutionary movements don’t usually get traction when *only* the poor people are being hurt. When the middle classes and the businessmen are threatened *too*, then they do get traction. The American Revolution was triggered largely by threats to what was, frankly, the upper class of the United States.

      The importance of Snowden’s revelations geopolitically is that he has shown businessmen and would-be businessmen that their commercial secrets are insecure. They cannot tolerate this. And unlike poor people, they have resources and they have ego.

      1. Synopticist

        It’s slightly odd that it’s taken a communist to point out how this screws the free market.

        1. Monte Letourneau

          Not odd at all, I see it all the time.
          The best reason to read Marx, and the main reason I mostly haven’t bothered, is to understand capital.

          I’m more concerned with the next step, I’ve studied the past well enough for anyone.

          US ideology is long dead.
          Praxis is all that matters.

    3. ScottS

      So it’s good news for communists?

      Outside of Marx’s books, it’s hard to tell communism from fascism.

      1. from Mexico

        @ ScottS

        Well you’re certainly not going to get any disagreement outta me. As Hannah Arendt wrote in “Thoughts on Politics and Revolution,” the “alternative between capitalism and socialism is fale — not only because neither exists anywhere in its pure state anyhow, but because we have here twins, each wearing a different hat.”

      2. American Slave

        “Outside of Marx’s books, it’s hard to tell communism from fascism.”

        At least with real or fake communism you cant just close down a factory and move it to China.

    4. Synopticist

      Yeah, all true.
      You might wonder why no overseas rival to the US hi-tech oligopoly has ever been able to gain any traction.

    5. middle seaman

      Strangely enough, no one should have been surprised by Snowdon’s revelation. We allowed companies to cookie spy on us forever. We didn’t complain. We allowed the Patriot Act knowing we’ll enough that it opens the door for full scale, just give them time, spying on each and everyone of us since we allowed a police action to be WWIII.

      Why all the cry now?

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Broken promises matter more than one would thinks, and a recognition that there is no quality control. Snowden’s status as a high school dropout is huge because it undermines the narrative that adults are in charge.

        *Obama’s promise on NSA-type spying was clear. He can hide behind negotiations for the failure of a public option as long as he has something to offer, but this NSA issue is a zero, sum situation. The other issue is people are sick of everything. If this happened in 2007, much of it would go away as people (such as myself; apologies) focused on the election with the promise of “the Democrats will make everything better. All we have to do is win.”

        The relative Democratic popularity only exists because a multi-cultural/american melting pot fascist party is preferrable to a neo-confederate party. In the end, neither party would be liked. Even many Republicans vote Republican because they tell themselves that GOP rhetoric is the result of politics.

  5. NotTimothyGeithner

    I’m just glad we have an opportunity to expose the connect the anti-Snowden Democrats with Cheney who took a time out from playing cowboy in Wyoming to inform everyone Snowden is likely a Chinese spy. Who would have thought Cheney could ever provide a service to the country and world?

  6. Old Hickory

    “Americans, especially members of what passes for our elites, are unable to take a good look in the mirror.”

    That’s because they are deep into what Jesse calls a “credibility trap.”

  7. from Mexico

    Yves said:

    Physicists and mathematicians, many of whom wind up in Silicon Valley or Wall Street, can still get an advanced education without going up to their eyeballs in student debt thanks in no small measure to government funding.

    Noam Chomsky gives a short rundown here of the unholy marriage that exists between the interests of the academe, business and the security state:

    It seems to me the institutional interests of “science” are also very much in the crosshairs.

    1. sierra7

      Most of the “collusion” was covered extensively in the 1976 Church Commission Report.
      Obviously no succeeding president has ever paid this report any credence….and we have what we now have….

      1. LucyLulu

        The Church Commission was formed in 1976, following whistleblower Daniel Ellsburg’s release of the Pentagon Papers to the NYTimes. From that time until the presidency of GW and 9/11, there were no whistleblowers coming forward. A credible argument could be, and has been, made that the Church Commission and the establishment of judicial oversight by FISC were effective in reining in intelligence abuses during the Carter through Clinton presidencies.

        I’m not so sure that the tendency to become drunk on power isn’t inevitable with the position of most powerful person in the world. That’s why we have a system of checks and balances. However those checks and balances have malfunctioned. Congress isn’t providing oversight. They don’t attend the classified sessions or read the briefings to know what’s going on. Even if they did, they aren’t told the truth. FISC may likely have become a rubberstamp, given its 0.03% rejection rate. But nobody knows because nobody sees the secret decisions on the secret cases made by the secret court for the secret program. They don’t spy on Americans. But again, how do we know, when the warrants are secret?

        The Congressional Intelligence Committees allegedly are aware of the programs and have approved them but only now, after 10 years, are asking if any plots have been foiled. Only now are they asking how many Americans have been targeted. Only now are they trying to clarify if court orders are needed to access data contents. Is it just me, or is it stunning to anybody else that these answers wouldn’t be the most basic information required from an oversight committee?

        They aren’t making any laws and they aren’t providing oversight either. If they were all “drowned in a bathtub” and there was no Congress, would anybody even notice?

  8. Andrew Foland

    “By contrast, the NSA scandal is not a technology story.”

    Please keep repeating this. Over and over. At every possible opportunity.

    “The NSA scandal is not a technology story.”

  9. Jackie Dope

    Google is the commercial face of the NSA. Techies Inc are not concerned with freedom in any sense of the word profit. Send your resumes to Booze, but then stop by

    1. jrs

      It’s no secret to techies that the NSA is a huge employer of CS grads. And probably even less a secret to math grads. That that is the easy way to go, not just for money, but especially if you want really challenging interesting work (writing another business app isn’t challenging – though there’s adequate income there). And those who will gladly walk away from all that. Techies with principles that don’t allow them to do that. Of course if they only end up working for Google ….

  10. Uncle Bob

    …” …the effectiveness of the installation of devices could have been sabotaged by the watchful neighbor had she not been cowed into silence.”..except when they already live in a gated surveillance community such as “Silver Creek Valley” in the hills east of Silicon Valley where lots of Cisco and Google techies live. It’s a way of life to them to be called by the front gate and asked or told that a Mr. so and so wants to visit them.Yes.If you don’t live up there, you are stopped at the front gate, asked where you are going and wait until the guard calls the house to verify.all this as you are being watched by a video camera..creepy..I hate going up there

  11. from Mexico

    The techies have also been trotted out to unleash another tried and true propaganda tactic: shoot the messenger instead of the message.

    John Herrman, editor of Buzzfeed Tech, here says Snowden “is definitely a geek” who fits one of two prototypes. He is either a “weird and strange gamer,” or sort of a “troll” or “type,” “a little bit of a know-it-all” who has “very strong convictions” about privacy, freedom of information and government.

    Xavier Amador, founder of the Leap Institute, then jumps in and says Snowden suffers from a “kind of grandiosity.” He “broke his oath,” adds Amador, “which says something about his personality.” Snowden, according to Amador, suffers either from “an immature personality” and “grandiosity” or “he’s been compromised,” he’s “involved in espionage.”

      1. ScottS

        I, for one, enjoy the fact that a story about routine and constant surveillance has the media scrambling to exhume the minutia of a normal man’s life to needlessly scrutinize.

        I am absolutely confident the irony is lost on the media.

    1. Nathanael

      Those aren’t techies. Those are professional propagandists.

      Snowden is, of course, an actual techie.

  12. from Mexico

    Also germane to this discussion, because it explores the cultural environment in which techies operate, is Adam Curtis’s most recent production, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.

    The movie delves into the securlar religion of the techies, what Curtis calls the “Californian Ideology,” a “computer utopianism” which is a synthesis of the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, the theory of self-organizing computer networks and the selfish gene theory developed by William Hamilton and popularized by Richard Dawkins. It can be seen here:

    1. jrs

      Yea there are libertarian techies, there are also hard socialist/communist techies. The pattern maybe poltiical extremism. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s better than the aweful corporate centrism that is all we get for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day.

  13. Jackrabbit

    As the US market is saturated, maybe this constitutes a SELL on the Internet giants?

    Note: this is not investment advice. I am not an investment advisor.

  14. Jackrabbit

    In addition to the tech/internet services fallout, it seems likely that more countries will seriously consider alternatives to the dollar.

  15. Johnny Manhatten

    Why didn’t the NSA spy on BOA et al and the Treasury Department?
    Lil’ collateral damage is ok? Lil’ torture is all
    right, debt isn’t like water boarding? Horse whipping the poor is somethin’ from another time and it ain’t so bad in the day o’ drone strikes?

    Note: these questions are rhetorical in nature. I am not a spy.

  16. charles sereno

    Yves was on the verge of coining a term for “is-ism” (Clinton) and Lambert for “boss-ism” (‘my boss would never lie to me’). NC readers, suggestions?

    1. Watt4Bob

      This might not be what you’re looking for, but I like this;

      Credulism (from

      A credulist can be understood as someone who is apt to accept claims without sufficient evidence, that is to say, someone whose epistemic standards are too low.

      My own take is that Americans are not only natural credulists, but are more and more required to be credulists, or face un-employability.

      1. charles sereno

        I may be full of it, but I see America harking back to times long past. A vast new land populated by conquerable aboriginies facilitated by an endless flow of disparate immigrants. After Manifest Destiny, it became a magnificent new Atlantis, risen from the Ocean (forget the shining city on a hill crap). The only difference from past history now is a matter of scale. The horror of a realized myth.

  17. Frank Miata

    The best post ever and at 6:45 a.m.! The botton line is the EU”s reaction and the balkanization of the internet. Paranoia is true perception in light of Snowden’s revelations. What you point out is that this is not new in this country. The elites put out the same self serving bable they always do:in this case their own hastening their own downfall. The backlash will be long term.
    By the way, I’m long on Carrier Pidgeons.

  18. Nathanael

    “even the price of potatoes, former officials said. Changes in prices of commodities at markets proved to be an indicator of potential for conflict, they said…”

    If they were surprised by this, they are incredibly ignorant people.

    Food prices are the measure of whether a government is doing its job in providing for the needs of the people. If I were running things, I would be checking market prices for staples like food daily.

    This doesn’t require a massive spying operation; it’s public information!

    Our people in power are idiots.

  19. Mike

    There has always seemed to me to be a very real possibility that the tech companies have always been intelligence companies from the get go. The stories of tech companies have always been suspiciously almost identical to the Hollywood “making it” stories. Anyone with more than a superficial knowledge of Hollywood knows that the odds of an unconnected person actually making it approaches very close to zero.

    Tech companies do start with technologically gifted people but the uptake of certain companies over other fairly similar companies (without any obvious financial advantage) has never made sense. Literally overnight everyone started talking about Facebook and Twitter for example. There were already strong competitors to Facebook when it took over the world. Despite some peoples claims there was no compelling reason why Facebook was so much better than the already available alternatives. Another example happening right now is Snapchat, where photos “disappear” seconds after being opened. Facebooks version of Snapchat has no one interested despite its overwhelming marketing advantage of being on a platform everyone already uses! Instead a couple of kids working on the beach in Venice can supposedly overpower an incredibly wealthy corporation.

    These stories are all cute but the world simply doesn’t work like this. In the real world overwhelming advantage wins. So what has been giving these companies their overwhelming advantage to go from the mythical dorm rooms to the commanding heights?

    1. charles sereno

      In answer to your final rhetorical question…oops, I got distracted… let’s see… maybe go to wikipedia…sorry, I really gotta get back to your comment…oh yeah, I agree. Totally! Overwhelming advantage wins in the real world. Psst. Some of us “disadvantaged” are still here. How could we not be? The advantaged assholes are inordinately committed to their tried and true methods. Yes, they don’t bother thinking about the inevitable consequences. I say, “Who gives a shit?” I’m more concerned about the imprisoned, stressed-out, dumbo lot of us.

  20. sgt_doom

    They’re saving us from those G8 Summit terrorists!

    The latest revelation is that the American gov’t bugged/surveilled/spied on the members attending the G8 Summit in the UK awhile back.


    Edward Snowden passes on tax haven data (highly probable supposition) to the IRS in a circuitous manner, and after announcing the tax investigation based upon said data, the IRS chief is fired.


    Snowden, through The Guardian et al., releases information on NSA’s PRISM program.


    President Obama gives a speech, claiming the NSA has no real idea of what they are copying and intercepting and blah…..blah….blah!


    The Guardian releases further Snowden leaks, exposing NSA’s Boundless Informant program, putting the lie to the previous Obama speech!


    Various cretins, Obama’s DNI and former Bush guy, Gen. James “I was part of Bush’s fabricated intel WMDs in Iraq team” Clapper, NSA director, Gen. “I lie like the devil” Alexander, and Sen. “candy assed-draft-dodging-neocon-cracker-jackhole” Chambliss, all claim that Snowden doesn’t have access to such data, and the NSA is saving us from the terrorists (instead of reporting to the richest five families in North America even before they report to the president of the USA!).


    The Guardian releases several more leaks; one involving the penetration of the Chinese EP, or Exchange Point (a k a IXP, or Internet eXchange Point) and even more damning, the leak that the American and Brit gov’ts spied on the G8 Summit in the UK awhile back.


    They, the intel establishment of the USA, is now attempting to suggest this is all a ruse to pass along misinformation utilizing the unwitting dupe, Edward Snowden — didn’t work with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange when they attempted it, hasn’t been working with Mr. Snowden either!

    The douchetard Ivy Leaguers at the CIA/NSA/DIA et al., have always been too full of themselves and are easily bested by superior people!

    Sure, they have all the expensive toys, but not the intelligence to properly use them!

    1. LifelongLib

      Re the notion that the Snowden leak/revelation is a ruse, I recall seeing a similar claim about the “Falcon and Snowman” spy scandal of the 70s. Basically a version of “We didn’t screw up, it was all part of the plan!”.

  21. citizendave

    There may be a way to protect our 4th Amendment rights, while allowing NSA to have its way. If the Agency could be split into three separate functional parts — one purely mechanical, another purely analytical, with a third as a specially-trained ethical interface between the other two — maybe we could be confident that universal intercept and storage SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) would be used only to gather evidence in already-developed cases. What we don’t want is a bunch of adolescent authoritarian red-neck mofos reading our mail looking for words that seem to paint us as enemies of the state.

    I think I would not mind having my electronic communications stored in perpetuity, as long as nobody would ever sift through it hoping to find words that give them the first glimmer that I am the kind of patriot who dissents, rather than the kind who knows only fealty. But if a dude with an urban address buys a ship ton of fertilizer, I think it would be prudent for the Federales to follow up a tip from the fertilizer vendor and look at his electronic footprints.

    So put the mechanical division at the new data center in Utah, and convert The Building at Fort Meade to do strictly analytical work. And for those entrusted to work the interface between the two, make sure they are well-schooled in ethics and the law, and set them apart as a special group, with an ombudsman that reports to Congress.

    The fact that NSA is so super-secret that they can defy the law and do whatever in hell they think is needed is beyond frustrating and maddening. They seem to be able to thumb their collective noses at us with complete impunity.

    We can only hope to dissuade NSA from domestic spying if we can persuade them that there will never be another domestic enemy of the constitution. Here is the soldier’s oath: “I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” They will persist in defying the laws against domestic spying unless or until we can find a way to give them universal intercept and storage that does not ruin our 4th Amendment rights.

    1. Jackrabbit

      Whether its one govt entity or three or a dozen, readily accessible, pervasive info on everyone invites abuse.

      Furthermore, in a oligarchical political system where money buys influence/control, can there every be sufficient and effective checks and balances that would allow safe operation of such a system?

      1. citizendave

        As has been said here before, I wonder if I’m being cynical enough. I worked for NSA, in the Army, in Vietnam. My take is that NSA can’t be stopped — for the same reasons that the whole fracking military-industrial-financial leviathan cannot be slowed or steered or altered in any way by us unrepresented proles. Imagine, if you will, that we are in a permanent state of war, which swings between cold and hot, but never ceases. Most people have no idea how fierce is the determination of the National Security Agency, and no doubt other agencies, to do their utmost to protect and defend the constitution — or the American Way, or however each individual views the USA. They will not be deterred, as long as they can show up for work and find the lights on and the doors unlocked. For them, the law is nice, if it suits them, but it will not deter them if it does not suit them. If there is a way for them to get what they want — without us losing what WE want — then we need to find that way. Otherwise, they will get what they want, but we won’t get what we want.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          I think there is a public perception change afoot. Over the last 10 years much of the money was spent abroad or in single area. If the money spent over the last 10 on “defense” wasn’t concentrated, people would be more supportive of their neighbors, but when the suburbs of D.C. and Denver received the money its tough to get excited about people who listen to private conversations losing their jobs and being stuck with an overpriced condo. People will show up to protest a local school closing.

          When home values were rising and the promise of Democrats being back in the White House to solve problems, many things could be ignored, but now too many people won’t put their heads in the sand.

  22. from Mexico

    @ ScottS

    Well you’re certainly not going to get any disagreement outta me. As Hannah Arendt wrote in “Thoughts on Politics and Revolution,” the “alternative between capitalism and socialism is fale — not only because neither exists anywhere in its pure state anyhow, but because we have here twins, each wearing a different hat.”

    1. Jackrabbit

      In some sense, yes. But that seems to imply that “we” have made a choice. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      Secret findings and directives have created secret capabilities that have been rumored but not confirmed until now.

      Previous whistle-blowers have tried taking their concerns ‘up-the-ranks’ to no avail. Those who talked about the possibility that the government could be created such systems and the potential for abuse

      1. Jackrabbit


        … were labeled conspiracy nuts.

        So, it is only NOW that we real debate is possible. And by the looks of it, TPTB are trying to squash any real debate by BS-ing the public, glad-handling representatives, and stonewalling or lying if necessary.

        Many important questions have yet to be answered, such as:
        – Why do we need pervasive surveillance?
        We defeated Al Queda before these systems matured.

        – If it is continued, should it be under military control?
        Gen. Alexander is a military office who is also head of cyber warfare.

        – Is it possible to regulate? If so, what is the best way of doing so?
        Secret courts and peek-a-boo oversight amount to a very poor safeguard.

        1. The rabbit hole

          May be Naomi Wolf sugestion about the consistency of the message conveyed by Snowden is spot on ? I mean even Dick Cheney’s suspicion about other socalled traitors in the NSA is also spot on. Are they organized “traitors” or truthers ? Snowden’s control may use the precarious situation of Dick Cheney and the republican party vis-a-vis a 911truth moment with some unbreakable evidence to bargain something importance like who will be Benanke’s successor ?

          Two interesting excerpts:

          “It’s important to bear in mind I’m being called a traitor by men like former Vice President Dick Cheney,” Snowden wrote in response. “This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead.

          “Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and [Rep. Peter] King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.”

          “How many sets of the documents you disclosed did you make, and how many different people have them? If anything happens to you, do they still exist?” a questioner asked Greenwald in a livechat on the website of The Guardian, to whom Snowden has provided some of the documents.

          Here is his answer:

          “All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”

  23. c.raghavan

    Thanks for excellent post. As for espionage, in fact the oldest known treatise, with details on domestic and foreign espionage, is commonly dated to be around 3rd or 4th century BCE – the Arthashastra of Chanakya also known as Kautilya who as minister to Chandragupa Maurya built that empire extending over all of today’s India and Pakistan

  24. Paul Tioxon

    The continuing story of secret organizations operating in secret, with little or no over sight is updated for the 21st Century America. Today, on her MSNBC show, Andrea Mitchell played a 1994 report featuring her coverage of the Clinton – Japanese meeting over the then current concern over Japanese trade taking a too big a bite out of America. Around that time, it was apparent high value technology consumer electronics were completely being off shored to Japan and where ever their supply chain led. The Japanese politician returned to his hotel in DC and called Tokyo to report. Then, Andrea comes on camera and declares that NBC News has learned that the US Government tapped into the phone call, and a complete transcript was provided to the White House. Back to the 21st Century, Ms. Mitchell then opined, that nothing is new, spying on top level ally politicians, in America, over the telecom system was going on. One of the frequent commentators joined, that he was reminded by another long time DC observer that the 1970 cover of TIME magazine asked: “IS THE AGE OF PRIVACY DEAD?”
    1970!*!* the commentator intoned with world weary exhaustion brought on by disbelief that something happened before he was born!!!

    It is clear, that the knowing demeanor inside the Beltway is that this Snowden thing isn’t news, it’s not EVEN new and at best, it is a trivial event that will cause Obama undue questions about what all of the fuss is about, and by by the way, does Snowden where boxers or briefs?

    This is a most dignified spin, as opposed to Dick Cheney declaring treason most foul, prosecution, damaged security, weakness blah blah something something. But, as far as I can tell, it is worse that demonizing Snowden and asking if he is hero or villain.

    Normally trust worthy news-nose for crap, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, host of the Venerable Face The Nation, denounced Snowden in the style I admire most, blunt, plain worded I just don’t like this guy and what he did. He stinks as much as what he did stinks.

    In conclusion says Schieffer:”I don’t know what he is beyond that, but he is no hero. If he has a valid point — and I’m not even sure he does — he would greatly help his cause by voluntarily coming home to face the consequences.”

    Mr Schieffer, you need to look at the name of your program and your profession. You want Snowden to Face the consequences. Well 3 former NSA officials tried to do that by going inside the system, to the Inspector General with their whistle blowing info and it was turned over to the FBI for prosecution. You want Snowden to Face The Nation when the organizations he is exposing will never face the nation because they are secret organizations from their inception. Which is the long standing problem going back to 1947 and the National Security Act.

    Secret formal and informal organizations, with secret agents who wear no uniform, have black budgets, top secret and above top secret unknown unknowns! They die on secret missions that no one can know of, and are marked nameless with a star in the secret HQ. Face The Nation: When?

    The world weary beltway national correspondents need to drop the affectations of informed and informing members of the front line of the FIRST AMENDMENT. From the Kennedy Assassination, to COINTELPRO and THE US SENATE CHURCH COMMITTEE REPORTS ON DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITY BY THE GOVERNMENT ON US CITIZENS, there has been an ever EXPANDING use of secret policing practices against the citizens of America by their own government for indeterminate and varied reasons for over half a century.

    The only pattern that emerges is continued abuse of power and a need to spy on Americans while behaving like a people with a government of, by and for the people. When we act on what we presume to be our rights, such as reporting illegal activity of the government, we are subjected to criminal charges. Even when reporting to the authorized Inspectors General of the Federal Government. When people repeatedly go to the safety valve on hidden government corruption, with in the system and are then attacked by the very system that was supposed to have been reformed with the establishment of an Inspector General system, of course, Snowden would do the right thing and go outside the system to blow the whistle.

    If he stayed here to be arrested like MLK or Rosa Parks, he would not have an extensive national network of supporters such as they did in the African American Churches. Bob Schieffer, Ms Mitchell and others, the esteemed elders of news, who are living witness to the decades of abusive government power and the attempts to reform, codify how far they can go under the law and how they can, within the system due to 1978 Inspector General Act, could safely for the whistle blower and the confidential info reported, be reviewed by independent eyes, they have all chosen to ignore what they know is wrong, was uncovered as wrong in the past and can not be allowed flourish under the thin patina of legality due to the now discredited Patriot Act and the end of the war on terror. Bin Laden is dead. Al Queda is smashed as a formal organization, Iraq is history and Afghanistan is all but completely over. The isolated acts of criminal activity inspired by religious politics is no more consequential than organized crime, drug lords. They are all deadly to the average person on the street at any given time. The reforms needed to place our form of government first, do not have to sacrifice safety anymore than organized crime countermeasures have undermined our rights. And the dismissal as trivial: this in not new, not news, it’s been done before, does not reveal the ongoing history of government abuse that only gains in power, not just by advances in information technology, but by the unquestioned acceptance of this state of affairs as institutionalized, beyond questioning not out of fear, but out of acceptance. The terrible new phrase of the 21st century: THE NEW NORMAL. It’s not normal to think all of the people will put up with this when we have repeatedly resisted in the past. But the past is what they would like us to gloss over.

    1. Howard Beale IV

      Bob Scieffer, like Candy Crowley at CNN, ought to retire, or practice real journalism.

  25. Jackrabbit

    It would probably useful to have a cut and paste rebuttal for the arguments that we see over and over again.

    I don’t have the time to do so right now, but below is a list of arguments I made as a start.


    Nothing to see here:
    – its nothing new
    – we lost our privacy long ago
    – we give a TON of info to private companies

    Operational Constraints
    – its only meta-data: they cant get contect without a warrant
    – they don’t have the resources to read your email, listen to your phone
    – only a small number of warrents/disclosures are issued each year

    Trust our fine, democratic Government
    – they can’t look at anything without a court order
    – there’s Congressional oversight
    – The President and people that report to him (Director of National Intelligence, Inspector Generals, Attorney General, etc.) will ensure legal and proper operation
    – Its all LEGAL

    – The world is a dangerous place
    – Chinese hackers!

    – he’s a traitor or foreign spy
    – he’s suffering from a mental defect
    – his information is incorrect
    – he has done harm to the USA and undermined our security


    Some points to be made:
    – The Constitution provides a very strong right to privacy. There is a process for amending the Constitution and the burden of proof for any such amendment is on those who seek to make achange.

    – Whistle-blowers have previously come forward and been ignored or sidelined

    – History shows that leaders – even when Democratically elected – and groups regularly seek to accumulate power and then find it difficult NOT to abuse it.

    – We have repeatedly been lied to and misled about the scale and scope of surveillance. They harp on threats but tell us little about the safeguards for preventing the system itself from becoming a threat by enabling a Stasi-like opression.

    1. Howard Beale IV

      One leeetle problem: the right to privacy may be inherent, but it is NOT explicit, Griswold vs. Connecticut notwithstanding.

      Freedom of Speech is explicit, Gun ownership is explict-all the Amendments are explicit.

      Any Amendment for the Right to Privacy? Pfffft.

      I find it ironic that Texas of all places just passed an email protection act. Too bad it won’t stop the Feds, but it does put a crimp on the locals and the State of Texas.

      A Pyrrhic victory at the least-but who knows?

      1. LucyLulu

        No, but the Fourth Amendment which provides for protection against unreasonable search and seizures, and the Fifth Amendment which guards against taking of private property without due process, IS explicit.

        I’m not an attorney but I believe arguments have commonly been made regarding private ownership of data. If snail mail can not be intercepted and searched without a warrant (could it be seized, copied, and stored for later use, even if unread? me thinks not!), then likewise private email would require a warrant.

        Besides, courts have long ruled that wiretapping a phone line requires a warrant……. phone conversations carry an expectation of privacy.

        1. polarbear4

          Lucylulu sez:
          “No, but the Fourth Amendment which provides for protection against unreasonable search and seizures, and the Fifth Amendment which guards against taking of private property without due process, IS explicit.”

          Thank you! So nice to see the Amendments mentioned.

  26. ChrisPacific

    I was interested to see whether you would pick up the AP story. It’s worth a read in full. The most alarming content is actually contained later in the report (the part beginning with “Deep in the oceans…”) Here it is under a different headline:

    Synopsis: the NSA already has access to all traffic flowing into and out of the USA at a wire level (thanks to a program that was made public in 2005). Because of the nature of the Internet, this includes an ever-increasing amount of data on US citizens, which the NSA is not supposed to have access to. (Note this protection is not extended to foreign nationals, who have no privacy right – in fact it’s explicitly NSA’s job to find out as much about them as possible).

    So what does the NSA do with the info? Does it delete it? Sorry, that’s classified:

    The government has said it minimises all conversations and emails involving Americans. Exactly what that means remains classified.

    But according to sources, it ring-fences the data somehow and stores it for safekeeping:

    But former US officials familiar with the process say it allows the government to keep the information as long as it is labeled as belonging to an American and stored in a special, restricted part of a computer.

    That means Americans’ personal emails can live in government computers, but analysts can’t access, read or listen to them unless the emails become relevant to a national security investigation.

    The government doesn’t automatically delete the data, officials said, because an email or phone conversation that seems innocuous today might be significant a year from now.

    What’s unclear to the public is how long the government keeps the data. That is significant because the US someday will have a new enemy. Two decades from now, the government could have a trove of American emails and phone records it can tap to investigative whatever Congress declares a threat to national security.

    I would personally say that in the absence of concrete info regarding a deletion/purging strategy, we should assume that the data is kept forever.

    So why, if the government already has all the info, does it need PRISM? From the article again:

    Technology experts and a former government official say that phrasing, taken from a PowerPoint slide describing the program, was likely meant to differentiate Prism’s neatly organised, company-provided data from the unstructured information snatched out of the internet’s major pipelines.

    In a slide made public by the newspapers, NSA analysts were encouraged to use data coming from both Prism and from the fiber-optic cables.

    Prism, as its name suggests, helps narrow and focus the stream. If eavesdroppers spot a suspicious email among the torrent of data pouring into the United States, analysts can use information from internet companies to pinpoint the user.

    So Prism isn’t so much for the NSA to obtain new data as it is for the NSA to make better sense of all the data it already has – which, again per the article, we should assume is everything.

    1. helpless helpless helpless

      Prism – jism. They are jerking off in our faces, telling us it’s good for us, and making us pay for it.

    2. Howard Beale IV

      It’s actually much simpler than that-a prism splits optical light.

      The Internet backbones are all optical fibers.

      Coincidence? I think not….

    3. Jackrabbit

      Even if they have safeguards in place:

      – How do we know that nsa will respect their own limits?
      The nsa uses many corporate contractors and has close alliances with several foreign intelligence services. There are many ways that they can sidestep oversight.

      – What about incrementalism/mission creep?
      The more historical data that they have on citizens, the more attractive it becomes to use that data for purposes other than terr0rism. Imagine: the President wants maximum clarity on his Supreme Court choices? Its “for the good of the nation…”

      Furthermore, the same programs that they develop to harness the information collected about foreign citizens can be turned on Americans at any time. Once the capabilities mature, will a future President make a secret finding that doing so is in the country’s national interest?

      – How does pervasive data collection affect other rights? Free Speech? A Free Press?
      There is some concern that awareness that one is being ‘watched’ dampens dissent as many will be reluctant to express support for initiatives that are known to be anti-government/anti-establishment.

      – How can we trust that they are being vigilant with our info?
      DNI Clapper lied to Congress. But he continues to serve the President. Holder is less than forthcoming about media surveillance. The President claims that Congress has been briefed – but it is appears that many of them are just learning of these programs. Whistle-blowers are treated as criminals.

      Note: this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of questions raised by pervasive surveillance and long-term data retention.

      1. ChrisPacific

        All good questions.

        Re: #1, we don’t, as everything is classified, including the oversight (if any). Obama’s answer of course is ‘Congress,’ but you covered that in your fourth point (plus I suspect this is more in the realm of the hypothetical than the actual – somehow I doubt there are any recurring entries in congressional staffers’ calendars for regular reviews of NSA compliance).

        Re: #2, why stop at future Presidents? What about a past President, or the current one? If it had been done already would we have any way of knowing?

  27. skippy

    So all the data on banks plus mega corperations – is stored – some where?

    Skippy… occupy the data methinks…

      1. skippy

        Ummm…. something about claims on the future thingy…

        skippy… not unlike an old friend that would cut out the last few pages of a book you were reading… deftly…

        Only to arrive at his bedroom window around 2:30AM and have him read them through the screen… stuff…

  28. JTFaraday

    “If the tech industry does not throw its weight decisively on the side of curbing the agency, the odds are high that the EU countries and China will exploit this spectacle to wrest control of the Internet in their countries away from the US (a long term project, mind you) and to encourage domestic champions to develop more secure devices and services.”

    Yes, and notice how this screws up the neoliberal public narrative on free trade–that countries like China will get US manufacturing and the US will develop its high tech industries, presumably to export high end products and services.

    Unless what Booz-Google-NSA, Inc. already intends to export to China is High Tech Police State in a Box.

    Nations with sovereign currencies are, after all, our most reliable customers. (I’ve always found this notion very reassuring myself, LOL).

    “Americans, especially members of what passes for our elites, are unable to take a good look in the mirror.”

    Yeah, that’s for sure.

    1. Howard Beale IV

      This affair has shown clearly beyond a shadow of a doubt that US ownership of the internet root DNS servers ought to be yanked and that the US ad its corporations MUST be Balkanized.

      Which is the currency that is worth more than that of any nation: hard money, or data?

  29. TC

    Where’s Greenwald on the official 9/11 story? He’s a hook, line and sinker believer in a fairy tale even taller than that being told these days by the Federal Reserve and captive assets of imperial finance more generally. What did Greenwald report that we really didn’t already know? Actually, nothing. It’s fair to say, then, Greenwald is a CIA dupe. Funny how the British and French have been pounding their chest over Syria and, wha la, this Greenwald report surfaces in London, evidently aiming to soften Obama on the need for an imperialist intervention there. The late-week announcement re: Syria’s use of chemical weapons is no odd coincidence.

    Not to detract from serious constitutional issues you raise, yet already long established is a U.S. ruling class exceedingly proficient at treating the Constitution like so much toilet paper. We have Obama violating the War Powers Act in Libya, and U.S. citizens being murdered by drone absent due process, just to mention a couple serious matters one could argue even more egregious, unconstitutional acts than NSA spying. So, some greater measure of analytical balance might be in order here.

    Per “the best move for the technology giants” it’s rather attacking weak flanks, like the captive assets of imperial finance so hopelessly bankrupt that overt acts of theft via war are becoming increasingly imperative. Indeed, if you want to look into enterprises behind the increasingly oppressive U.S. police state, look no further than Wall Street and the City of London whose “currency” has become so frightfully threatened as a result of a decades long escapade in the wild, wild west of Ponzi finance that, well, the next thing you know we’ll all be distracted by some other folly certain to be as far as humanly possible from the root of all our problems: a hopelessly insolvent trans-Atlantic banking system levitated in fantasy it is anything but.

    1. The Rage

      Please, the banking system can be nationalized and eradicated at anytime.

      Don’t fall for that bs. It is the capital owners and their lust for global domination that is the big issue.

Comments are closed.