A Philosopher's Blog

Spying, Ethics & Prudence

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 30, 2013
The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....

All up in your biz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was recently revealed that the NSA had been tapping the phones of world leaders, such as Germany’s Chancellor Merkel. Naturally enough, these leaders expressed shock and outrage at this practice. Equally naturally, experts on espionage have tended to note that this shock and outrage is mere theater—such leaders surely knew that they were being spied on. After all, they themselves head up countries with robust espionage systems that no doubt spy on everything they can spy on.

While not an expert on espionage, I have noted the various revelations over the years involving close allies spying on and stealing secrets from each other. As such, I was not shocked by the fact that the NSA had been spying on everyone they could spy on. In addition to having learned the lesson of history, I also accept the reality of the principle of Totally in Everyone’s Business. This is the principle that all states endeavor to get totally into everyone’s business to the degree that their capabilities allow. Or, put another way, states endeavor to spy as much as they possibly can. The main limiting factors on the totality include such factors as technology, competence, money, and human resources. Ethics and law are generally not limiting factors—as history clearly shows. Since I was aware that the NSA had the capacity to spy on American citizens and world leaders alike, I inferred that they were doing so.

There is also the fact that snooping, like cocaine, is addictive and it requires ever more to satisfy that desire. In general, people do like to snoop and once they get a taste of snooping, they often want more. As with any addiction, people can quickly become reckless and a bit irrational. This could be called the principle of addictive snooping. So, once the NSA snoops got to snooping, they really wanted to expand that snooping.

Another factor is the fact that folks in power tend to be a bit paranoid. Since they are usually up to something, they tend to believe that other people are also up to something. Hence, they tend to believe they need to keep an eye on these people—be they fellow citizens, foreign citizens or allied leaders.

As noted above, such espionage is generally not limited by ethics or law (although countries like the United States will go through the most insane legal gymnastics to give such things a coat of legal paint). Recently I was listening to bit on NPR about the spying and one of the commentators noted that in espionage it is a matter of prudence rather than morality. This stuck with me because I had recently been teaching Kant’s ethics and Kant makes a clear distinction between acting from prudence (what is “smart”) and acting from duty (what is right). In the case of espionage, the idea is the usual consequentialist calculation: is the potential for gain worth the risk? In the case of spying on allies, it is a matter of sorting out the likely damage from the revelation and the potential gains from such spying. In the case of established allies like Germany, it seems reasonable to take the harm to exceed the potential for gain. Then again, given the history of Germany perhaps keeping a close eye on everything might not be such a bad idea.

The notion that espionage is about prudence rather than ethics is part of a common notion that ethics is a luxury that cannot be afforded in the context of matters of great importance. This seems to rest on the assumption that ethics is for easy and safe matters. This is, of course, somewhat ironic given that it is in the hard and unsafe matters that ethics is most needed. It is rather like saying that safety gear is for the safe climbing situations and one should just go naked when the climbing gets really dangerous.

Of course, it can be countered that such matters as international espionage deal with things that are so serious and that the stakes are so high that one cannot be handcuffed by the restraints of ethics. By analogy, this would be like trying to fight with one hand tied behind your back. People also make the same argument when it comes to things like torture and assassination: we have to do these things to be safe and ethics must be set aside so we can preserve what is of value.

There are two obvious problems here. One is the usual concern that if we set aside our ethical values, then we have already destroyed what is of value. The second is the fact that judging what is of value and what should be done in its defense are matters of ethics. As such, this would be like saying that one must throw away his tape measure so that he might properly measure the board he is about to cut. However, his tape measure is just what he needs in order to make the proper cut. Likewise, to make decisions about such things as spying, torture and assassination we need our ethical values. To say they must be set aside is itself a moral judgment: it is the judgment that we should do wrong to achieve some end and pretend that we are not really doing what is wrong—just what is in our interest or expedient.

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130 Responses

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  1. TJB said, on October 30, 2013 at 8:33 am

    I’m still waiting for an explanation of how a 29 year old contractor managed to steal all the deep, dark secrets of the NSA.

    Why have heads not rolled over this gross incompetence? Why is there no accountability?

    • magus71 said, on October 30, 2013 at 9:01 am


      I don’t think he did. There’s tons of misinformation on this, and what the NSA actually does. Most of what they do involves metadata, the same thing used by Facebook.

      More on what Snowden actually did this weekend.

  2. magus71 said, on October 30, 2013 at 9:28 am

    “Equally naturally, experts on espionage have tended to note that this shock and outrage is mere theater—such leaders surely knew that they were being spied on.”

    Absolutely. All of this is decades-old info. Nothing I’ve seen Snowden say is anything he could not have garnered from reading a single open-source book on the NSA. Everyone is involved in theater, the media , too, in order to use a rehashed tale to sell articles. There are no deep, dark secrets. Only sources and methods are protected. Those are protected 1) To keep people alive that on our side, 2) So people will not be unwilling to help us 3) So our enemies cannot evade our tactics. Whereas in previous decades the tactic by our government was to inter all possible suspects (Roosevelt during WWII for example), what the NSA does now actually gets it right 99.9 percent of the time. Fewer innocent people go to jail or are killed.

  3. magus71 said, on October 30, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Using Metadata to find Paul Revere. Nothing secret here. We could all do it sitting at home on our computers.


  4. T. J. Babson said, on October 30, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Yes, but Facebook just wants your money. The government wants to punish you for Thoughtcrimes.

    • WTP said, on October 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

      But that’s a flaw with the government, not with the reality of surveillance. In a way, and admittedly this is a rather loose analogy, you are holding the government responsible for the knowledge they have (thoughts) under the presumption that they will use that knowledge to do evil (crimes). Yes, it is terribly uncomfortable to know that someone has breached your security, but what they do with that knowledge is the real threat.

      As for FB and its motives, they do their own punishment for thought crimes. Did you see my earlier post on the librarian getting the blogger banned from FB for presenting an opinion, all the while having no compunction for the Kill George Zimmerman pages?

  5. T. J. Babson said, on October 30, 2013 at 11:51 am

    “One is the usual concern that if we set aside our ethical values, then we have already destroyed what is of value.”

    Mike, you are being too facile here. Let’s say you are in a street fight and your opponent pulls out a set of brass knuckles. What are you allowed to do to defend yourself? Can you ethically pick up a broken bottle?

    • magus71 said, on October 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      Mike says that drones are VERY worrisome to him. How are they much different from airplanes. He falls prey to the same fallacies that those who are critical of “assault weapons” fall prey to.

      My take on the NSA is similar to that of John Stossel’s.


      • T. J. Babson said, on October 30, 2013 at 2:39 pm

        I don’t know, Magus. I’d feel better if we knew:

        (1) What kind of information is the government allowed to collect on an ordinary American who is not accused of any crime?

        (2) What is the government allowed to do with that information?

        (3) How long the information will be kept?

        (4) What safeguards are in place to ensure the information is not misused?

        (5) Who will be held accountable if there are abuses?

        (6) What checks and balances are there to ensure that the party in power does not use the NSA for political purposes?

        I think the IRS scandal should make us all very afraid.

        Now that the government is taking over healthcare, will the party you belong to determine your access to medical care? Will only Democrats get organ transplants?

        • magus71 said, on October 30, 2013 at 3:22 pm

          Though I’m not a libertarian, I’m not for arbitrary power either.

          IMPORTANT UPDATE: Please see the end of this article for a detailed response by Barton Gellman of the Washington Post. He clarifies some of my statements, calls me out on some, and gives us a much better understanding of others. He posted this response to the comments, but I don’t want it to get lost.

          Just how heinous is the National Security Agency? If press reports and blog postings are to be believed, the NSA and the entire government surveillance apparatus of the United States are completely out of control and we’re headed for a Gestapo-style state.

          But is that really true? What does the data have to say about it?

          Let’s start with a basic problem. Big numbers are hard for people to visualize. Really, really, really big numbers are impossible to visualize.

          The gotcha that comes out of this cognitive limitation is that it’s possible to distort public perception by tossing out big-sounding numbers. Even if an attempt is made to put those numbers in perspective, most readers grab the most savory bit of information, usually from the headline, and that’s what becomes their internal representation of the facts.

          So let me summarize the results of my data-driven investigation, and then take you through the details. Here is a summary of the results of my analysis:
          •Facebook captures 20 times more data per day (for just its server logs, not counting everyone’s posts) than the NSA captures in total.
          •The NSA’s selection systems are actually insanely accurate. If you compared all the data they capture to a year’s worth of time, the amount of errors they make amounts to about a quarter of a millisecond.
          •The actual byte quantity of erroneous data the NSA records amounts to less than one MP3 track per week.
          •If these numbers were reported in a corporate situation, they would be considered an absolute triumph of big data management and implementation.

          So, there you go. Headlines hyper-inflate the facts. Now let me take you through all the details. Let’s start with what happened on Thursday.

          Reports of broken privacy rules

          On Thursday, Bart Gellman, a Pulitzer-prize winning correspondent at the Washington Post, reported “NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds.” Disclosure: Bart used to write for one of my publications a decade or so ago.

          According to the Post, an NSA audit described “2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications.” This describes the period of about May 2011 to May 2012.

          From this report sprang a hue and cry across the land, notably from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who declared, “NSA Spying: The Three Pillars of Government Trust Have Fallen.”

          It’s important to note, before I go further, that I have an incredible degree of respect for both Bart and the EFF. But, to paraphrase President Clinton, it’s time to employ some arithmetic.

          Volume of NSA data

          Here’s where the really big numbers come from. According to the NSA itself, in a document released to the public (PDF), the Internet as a whole carries 1,826 petabytes of information per day. Hang with me here. The numbers are not going to make much sense for a little while, but I’ll knit them together so you can grasp the big picture.

          Of that 1,826 petabytes, the NSA “touches” 1.6%, or just under 30 petabytes. While the NSA doesn’t define “touches” in detail, we can assume from context that they mean the data briefly passes through their networks and/or data collection centers. I know you can’t picture either 1,826 petabytes or 30 petabytes, but don’t worry about that for now. Stick with me. This will make sense soon.

          The NSA disclosed that of that 30 petabytes it “touches,” only 0.025% is “selected for review”. That number is about 7.3 terabytes. By “selected for review,” we can fairly assume that about 7.3 terabytes is added to the NSA’s global databases and may be examined by federal agents.

          I’ll come back to the Washington Post’s 2,776 “incidents” in a minute. First, let’s get some picture of the difference between petabytes and terabytes.

          Picturing the scale of data

          The best way I’ve found to picture these data sizes is by comparing them to money. A single byte, roughly one character (like “B”) could be compared to a penny. If one byte is one penny, then the 140 characters in a tweet is worth about $1.40 (140 pennies).

          Okay, let’s raise the stakes a bit. A kilobyte is roughly a thousand (I know, 1024, but work with me), about a thousand characters of text. So far, in this article, you’ve read about three times that many characters. In terms of pennies, a kilobyte would be about ten bucks, or just about the cost of two Subway sandwiches.

          Following along, then, a megabyte is worth about a million pennies, or about $10,000 dollars, which is roughly the cost of a used 1998 Toyota Camry. A gigabyte (which in video form will hold just about one episode of a TV show) would be a billion pennies, or about $10 million dollars — the price of a very fancy mansion.

          Do you see how these numbers just get insanely bigger? When we go from a kilobyte (a thousand or so) to a gigabyte (a billion or so), we go from a few sandwiches to a Hollywood celebrity’s mansion.

          Hang with me. I’ll bring this back to the NSA in a minute, but you still need to get the full picture. Let’s punch it up. Let’s go from a gigabyte to a terabyte. Let’s say a terabyte is worth a trillion pennies. In dollars, that puts you in billionaire territory, roughly the net worth of Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, and about half the net worth of Jeff Bezos, who just bought the Washington Post for what, for him, is pocket change.

          So a terabyte in money terms puts you in Mark Zuckerberg, Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor territory. So what about a petabyte? We’ve been flinging the term petabyte around the news all last week, but how much is that? How can we picture it?

          Let’s use money again. If we’re talking a penny a byte, a petabyte is one quadrillion pennies, or about $10 trillion dollars. If it’s hard picturing billionaire-level wealth, try this one out for size: $10 trillion is the entire Gross Domestic product of China and Japan…combined.

          Okay, so let’s go back to trying to picture what the NSA is doing, and doing wrong. Now that we have a frame of reference (ranging from the cost of a submarine sandwich to the total income of China and Japan combined), we can get a feel for the relationship of the terms the press is flinging around.

          Parsing the NSA data flow using what we now understand

          Let’s start with the biggest number first. While the NSA “touches” about 30 petabytes (in the dollar analogy, about twice America’s GDP), it only selects for review about 7.3 terabytes (about the net worth of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos combined).

          By the way, as a reality check, according to Robert Johnson (Facebook Director of Engineering), back in 2011 Facebook collected 130 terabytes of log data each day. Facebook, just in terms of log data (not counting all the cat pictures and recipes everyone posts), gathers almost 20 times the amount of log data each day than NSA grabs of all data.

          Now, let’s look at the number 2,776, which is what has everyone all upset.

          Before we start playing with this number, let’s add one more fact. This number is over the course of a year, while the other data we’re looking at is over the course of a day.

          2,776 is the number of erroneous data accesses by the NSA that the Washington Post reported. First of all, how much data is that? Since we’re talking about metadata, we’re not talking full messages. A typical email header has about 4,500 bytes (or about 4K). Let’s give the naysayers the benefit of the doubt and let each NSA error be 32K.

          Putting it all into perspective

          So now, we can start putting the heinousness in perspective. 32K times 2,776 errors is a little under 90 megabytes — or about the size of one Justin Bieber album downloaded as MP3s — per year.

          To fit this into the daily numbers we’ve been working with, let’s divide that 90 megabytes by 365. That gives us about 252K. In penny-per-byte terms, that’s about $2,500 (or about the cost of one nicely equipped iMac).

          Read this
          Don’t blame the corporations for the surveillance state
          Has the NSA broken SSL? TLS? AES?
          Data-driven analysis debunks claims that NSA is out of control
          Six ways to protect yourself from the NSA and other eavesdroppers

          In terms of dollars, which is the analogy we’ve been using throughout this article, the NSA mistakenly grabs the penny-per-byte data equivalent of an iMac as compared to the penny-per-byte equivalent of the overall net worth of Bill Gates plus Jeff Bezos.

          The bottom line is this: the NSA runs about 30 quadrillion bytes through its systems each day. It records about 7 trillion of those bytes. It mistakenly records less than a megabyte a day — less than one MP3 worth of data per day.

          Let’s put it another way. When we talk about our goals for measuring excellent data center high-availability performance, we look for “five nines” of service availability, meaning that uptime is 99.999 percent. In terms of operating time, five nines means the network will be down all of 5 minutes and 26 seconds for the entire year.

          If we picture the NSA’s accuracy by comparing it to the commonly accepted IT goal of five-nines of high availability (or about five and a half minutes per year), the NSA’s error rate (described in terms of time) would be 0.2649 milliseconds per year. That’s not the Holy Grail of five nines of accuracy. That’s more like twelve nines.

          These numbers don’t look to me like a heinous disregard for privacy on the part of the NSA’s coders and systems engineers. Instead, it looks to me more like a triumph of IT and database engineering.

          Of course, information like that doesn’t cause outrage, it doesn’t sell newspapers, and it doesn’t generate page views. It’s just accurate. Looking at actual data rather than breathless hyperbole paints a far clearer picture of the activities of America’s most advanced technical intelligence gathering operation.

          They’re not the enemy. If anything, they appear to be doing a darned good job protecting us without getting all up in your privacy junk.

          The following was posted to the comments for this article by Barton Gellman. I’m thrilled he’s participating in our conversation. Thanks, Bart, for joining us and sharing clarifications.

          From the author of the Washington Post story (Barton Gellman)

          I’m the author of The Washington Post story. There’s a newsroom expression. “Danger: reporter doing math.” I’m not going to audit David, but in any case the math won’t be the problem here. The problem is that he misunderstands what he’s counting. I don’t blame him for that: This is a very complex set of legal, technical and operational questions. I have been following them closely since 2005, and devoted two chapters of my last book to them, and I still don’t find them easy. No time for a treatise but a few quick points:

          * The “compliance incidents” do not all involve collection. As the story and the documents note, they can take place anywhere along the spectrum of electronic surveillance: collection, retention, processing or distribution. Any of them can range from the minor, with little privacy impact, to the very serious.

          * David assumes the surveillance is all about metadata. It is not. Much of it — an unknown quantity, because the report does not break this down — is content. As the story notes, the NSA does not “target” Americans for content collection but it does collect a great deal of American content “inadvertently,” “incidentally” or deliberately when one party is known to be a foreign target overseas. Most of it stays in databases, and a single search can pull up gigabytes.

          * A crucial point to understand: the last two categories of collection on Americans — “incidental” and deliberate, when one party is overseas — account for the highest volume of American data in NSA hands. They DO NOT COUNT as incidents. NONE of them are among the 2,776 incidents. As the NSA interprets the law, it is not a violation to collect, keep and process it. Until my story that had never been clear, and the White House still works hard to obscure the difference between forbidden and routine collection (including collection of content) from Americans. “Minimization” rules strip out identities by default, but there are many exceptions and requests from “customers” to unmask identities are readily granted.

          * It is not possible to calculate or even estimate within several orders of magnitude the quantity of data involved in 2,776 incidents, nor the number of people affected, even if you know whether you’re dealing with metadata or content. A small but unknown number of incidents — those involving unlawful search terms but obtaining no results — do not collect, process or disseminate any data at all and thus have zero privacy impact. Other incidents may involve only a few surveillance subjects but includ large volumes of data, either because collection takes place over a span of time or because the previously collected data set is very large. One “incident” in the May 2012 report involved over 3,000 database files, and each file contained an unknown (but typically very large) number of records. Another episode — not counted as an “incident” at all — collected data on all calls from Washington, DC for an unknown period of time. There is no way to tell from the report alone, but based on the routine procedures and scale of NSA operations it is likely that some of these individual incidents (1 of 2,776) affected hundreds of thousands of people.

          * By the way, as again the story notes, the 2,776 cover only Ft. Meade and nearby offices. There would be substantially more incidents in an audit that included the SIGINT Directorate’s huge regional operations centers in Texas, Georgia, Colorado and Hawaii — and the activities of other directorates such as Technology, and such as Information Assurance, that also touch enormous volumes of data.

          * It’s fair game to take a full data set and challenge a reporter’s (or researcher’s) analysis of the data. But this was not a full data set and it’s a mistake for David to think he can suss out the whole story from the limited number of documents we posted alone. I drew upon other documents and filled the gaps with many hours of old-fashioned interviews. I took some primary material, combined it with other leads, and applied journalism in order to understand what the material says, what it doesn’t say, and what inferences can and can’t be drawn from it. That’s among the reasons we don’t just dump documents into the public domain. There are not many stories in the Snowden archive that can be told by documents alone.

          * Despite all this, David is surely right to say the error rate is very low in percentage terms. That is important in assessing individual performance, and maybe that’s the end of the story for you. That’s your choice. For some people, public policy question considers the absolute number as well. We might not accept the more mundane harm of 1 million lost airline bags a year, even if 99.9 percent of 1 billion bags checked annually made it to their destinations. Some systems have to be designed with less fault tolerance than others. That’s a political and social decision, but we have been unable to debate it until the Snowden disclosures.

          * Part of the importance of this story is that the government worked so hard to obscure it. In public releases of semi-annual reports to Congress, the administration blacked out ALL statistical data. (By the way, note that the tables in the 14-page document I posted are unclassified. In the DOJ/DNI report to Congress, they were marked Top Secret // Special Intelligence, which made public release impossible and restricted the readership in Congress.) Alongside the refusal to release any data, the government left the very strong impression that mistakes were vanishingly rare and abuse non-existent. That may depend on the definition of “abuse.” Marcy Wheeler quotes a tv interview in which I discussed that and makes some additional points here.


          • magus71 said, on October 30, 2013 at 3:31 pm

            Should we get rid of the technology, Mike? This is similar to the waterboarding issue where Mike talks of America “losing its soul.” BS of course.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 30, 2013 at 4:48 pm

              I never claim that we should get rid of the technology. In general, technology is morally neutral-it is the use that matters morally.

              To use an analogy: the fact that I am against murder using guns does not mean that I think we should get rid of guns. Rather, I’m against the murder part.

              If we take the Bill of Rights as part of what makes up the soul of America, then such broad and invasive spying does seem to involve losing our soul.

            • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 4:58 am

              Did interring thousands of Japanese Americans or nuking Nagasaki take away our soul? I do agree we’ve lost our soul, but not for these reasons.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 31, 2013 at 12:36 pm

              The interment damaged our soul. Nuking a city probably wounded our soul-after all, even what is a necessity can be damaging.

        • WTP said, on October 30, 2013 at 3:50 pm

          You’re asking for secrets about secrets. Stuff will always go on that you don’t, and likely don’t want to, know about. I’m not advocating burying one’s head in the sand, but the problem does not lie with the existence of the secret information or there being insufficient “safeguards”. The problem lies with the kind of government you permit to have and hold such information. And with sufficient consequences for its misuse. The Cpt Louis Renault “shock” is a waste of time and energy.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 30, 2013 at 4:45 pm

          Good questions.

          But, I don’t think that party affiliation will determine medical care. However, politically based decisions of this sort are not unprecedented in other countries.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 30, 2013 at 4:50 pm

        It is not drones as such that worry me. If I was a commander, I’d rather send in a drone then send in my guys. What worries me is some of the ways the drones are used. That is, what appears to be assassinations. I’m generally against assassination especially when it involves American citizens.

        • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 5:06 am

          Drone kills, another massively misunderstood phenomena. I guess I have a lot of writing to do this weekend. One thing that I have found out over the last decade or more, is that when you are intimately familiar with a subject and see it written about in the media, you come to an understanding just how often they get things wrong. When I read stories about things I know little about, I don’t get the same feelings because I don’t know the facts myself.

          • WTP said, on October 31, 2013 at 6:26 am

            What Michael Crichton described as the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. Surely I’ve mentioned it?

            Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

            In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.


            • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 8:34 am

              Oh, wow. I didn’t know there was a name for it. Crichton was great by the way.

              I really do see this stuff all the time. It bugs the crap out of me.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 31, 2013 at 12:38 pm

            My ethical view of drones hinges on the actual facts. If you can show that the drone kills were predominantly morally legitimate targets and that the collateral damage was within a tolerable range, then I’ll accept the drone kills are morally acceptable.

            • WTP said, on October 31, 2013 at 1:02 pm

              Are you saying that our military wastes time, money, and resources on attacks that are not “morally legitimate”? Barring an unfolding, chaotic battle, before any attacks are made, considerable recon and deliberation goes into each drone strike. Show us one that such did not. You operate from an ivory tower of “perfect” after-the-fact knowledge without ANY responsibility or skin in the game.

              Why don’t you show US the kills that were clearly immoral based on knowledge available at the time?

              BTW, we also get to decide on whether or not your criticisms of military personnel in real war time situations are morally acceptable. Along with the collateral damage that your “moral” position takes on our troops being unnecessarily killed or injured. Whether you accept this fact or not.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 30, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      Sure. But you shouldn’t grab a baby to use as a human shield or a club. Likewise, if we have reasonable grounds to believe that a country or person is up to no good, then we generally have a right to look into that. But if we just get in everyone’s business because we think someone somewhere might be up to something, then that would be wrong. And unjustified.

  6. ajmacdonaldjr said, on October 30, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    “When you pull in the call records at the rate of three billion a day over 12 years and you graph them, what that means is you now have the total communications communities that everyone has in the world, or in the United States, basically. And at that point, that shows you all of your relationships. And that’s part of what he was talking about. The other part was the Narus devices that they deployed starting, I think, around 2003 onto the fiber optic networks, were capturing the emails and voice over IP, and that was being stored…”

    Inside the NSA’s Domestic Surveillance Apparatus: Whistleblower William Binney Speaks Out – http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2013/6/10/inside_the_nsas_domestic_surveillance_apparatus_whistleblower_william_binney_speaks_out

    Narus – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narus_(company)

    NSA shares raw intelligence including Americans’ data with Israel – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/11/nsa-americans-personal-data-israel-documents

    Israel spies on the USA part 1 – http://youtu.be/JWpWc_suPWo

  7. magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 5:41 am

    So, is anyone as outraged by the fact that the American military does not aggressively fight the people that are killing its soldiers? I witnessed this; Taliban fighters routinely gathering to fire rockets and mortars, injuring people, killing some, while our commanders did nothing for fear of hurting their career with a civilian casualty. Google: FOB Shank. Or read the book, “The Outpost”. You may find a few stories, but they won’t be the complete picture. We were hung out to dry on a daily basis. But outrage about Awlaki and waterboarding KSM, cases in which the system actually worked. We got the info and killed the right person. But let our own countrymen who are doing their duty to fight people (who want to kill all our mall-shopping, mouth-breathers) rain rockets on our soldiers and watch our soldiers scurry like ants, unable to strike back for fear a villager, who was actually helping the Taliban, now THAT’s Mike’s idea of a just way to fight.

    Awlaki and KSM don’t raise a single iota of moral outrage in my soul. Not one.

    • WTP said, on October 31, 2013 at 6:48 am

      My father had the same frustrations about reporting from Vietnam. The job of the army is to kill the enemy. The enemies of the US are overwhelmingly evil and desperate in their tactics, thus dealing with those who hide behind civilians will result in civilian deaths. If society is too delicate to accept this, they never should have given the OK for the war in the first place. In a certain sense I have more respect for the absolute pacifist than the weak kneed general public in this regard. The Idiot Alan Grayson was on about this recently, complaining that drone strikes kill innocents. How many innocent allied and “neutral” civilians were killed in France, Belgium, The Philippeans, etc.? Not to mention friendly fire, which probably happened far more frequently than was ever reported. My dad mentioned two incidents of such that he witnessed himself. War is a messy, confusing, horrible business. By its very existence, if not by definition, it is outside the bounds of civilization and humane behavior. I doubt any military in history has ever gone to the efforts that US has in avoiding the excesses of war relative to its enemies.

      • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 9:25 am

        I found a quote by Edmund Burke that I think applies well to the decade of braying by the Left on the war on terror. It conveys that much of this is theater and and not true pain, but similar to the pleasure we feel at false “horror” from scary movies:

        “The person who grieves suffers his passion to grow upon him; he indulges it, he loves it; but this never happens in the case of actual pain, which no man ever willingly endured for any considerable time.”

    • WTP said, on October 31, 2013 at 10:32 am

      I also meant to add this in regard to I witnessed this; Taliban fighters routinely gathering to fire rockets and mortars, injuring people, killing some, while our commanders did nothing for fear of hurting their career with a civilian casualty

      As a teenager I worked with several Vietnam vets. One guy related a story about how their outfit observed a sampan moving in on them, ostensibly fishing, but acting in a very suspicious manner. Don’t recall the details but they knew that the sampan was not fishing but on a recon mission to get coordinates for an attack. They sought approval to investigate and/or deal with the situation but were for whatever reason refused. Within the hour they were under mortar attack and took casualties. It’s the way we operate any more. Our enemies have studied us. They know our weaknesses and they will exploit them by any means necessary. But hey, better that Americans die than foreigners, enemies or not. It keeps the hands of the Mike-o-masses clean. Or so they think.

      • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 11:04 am

        The hand-wringing over KSM and Awlaki drives me nuts when I think about what we put soldiers through every day. And not a peep frm the holy left.

        • WTP said, on October 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm

          Oh, I’m with you. I heard it regularly with the evening news in the early 70’s. My old man despised John Kerry for his portrayal of the day-to-day realities of war as “war crimes”. To equate collateral damage resulting from taking a village with the sort of things he regularly saw the Japanese do, tactics which the VC and the NVA used to an even greater extent, would really upset him. They had done many of the same things in the Philippines and Okinawa. He said when they entered a village occupied by the Japanese, “If it moved, you shot it. If it stopped moving, you shot it again”. In the chaos and fear that comes with battle, to hesitate was to die. Japanese hid amongst the innocent civilians and refugees and would fire at US troops from within the columns of evacuees. Often the Japs were not even in uniform. As a result, refugees were killed. The blame rested with the Japanese for using the civilians as cover, NOT with the GIs.

          • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 1:08 pm

            The collateral damage is lower than ever–but we dont decively win. Yet it’s still nt good enough.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 31, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      Outrage at water boarding does not preclude outrage at other things. Also, even if some people do not express outrage about X but express outrage at Y, this does not make Y morally acceptable.

      My idea of a just way to fight is to apply the force needed to achieve legitimate goals in the context of a just war. You’ve seen how I operate in the context of wargames-I fight to win.

      • WTP said, on October 31, 2013 at 1:03 pm

        Also, even if some people do not express outrage about X but express outrage at Y, this does not make Y morally acceptable.

        Yes it does when done consistently by the likes of you and the academics and media. Sins of omission.

  8. magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 8:45 am


    What do you think of the fact that Snowden applied for his job with the intent of doing what he did? He applied, was hired, and immediately went about stealing things. He admits that he applied with the intent of stealing.

    He was likely already recruited by a foreign intelligence agency at that point, probably the Russia’s FSB. Do not forget, that Putin is VERY good at divining the subtle zeitgeist in America and around the world. This is world class analysis on his part. Analysis in its highest form is not comprised solely of cold data, charts and mathematical equations, but is instinctive and subtle, knowing things but not always able to explain why.

    Snowden was likely part of a Russian active measures campaign to further undermine America’s confidence in itself.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 31, 2013 at 12:46 pm

      Given that the NSA is engaged in behavior that is unethical and clearly violates the bill of rights, then a case can be made that he acted rightly in that intent. Just as a cop who joins a drug cartel to bust it is acting right.

      But, it could be argued that he had no right to engage in such a deceit and betrayal-that he should have gone through the proper channels.

      Much hinges on the ethics of what the NSA has done. If the deeds are wicked, then they have little grounds on which to claim a right to keep their wickedness in the dark. While it is true that everyone who can do this, does this the appeal to common practice is a mere fallacy.

      Is there evidence that he was being run by a foreign power?

      • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 1:21 pm

        “then a case can be made that he acted rightly in that intent.”

        How did he help Americans? He will now be working for the Russians. He tried to go to China, too. Do these countries have splendid human rights records?

        • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 1:25 pm

          And I stilll say no one has proved the NSA willfully violates any law. If we dont like the law, let’s change it.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 1, 2013 at 9:39 am

          He did expose the spying so that now there is some open discussion of the matter. Since this is supposed to be a democratic stare, he helped Americans by allowing us to actually know about what our government is doing and to give us a chance to approve or disapprove of its actions.

          His work for the Russians seems to be in tech support.

          The records of the Russians and Chinese, although bad, are not relevant to the ethics of spying or the revelation of spying.

          • magus71 said, on November 4, 2013 at 6:18 pm

            I actually believe this is true:

            NSA’s Activities:

            Valid Foreign Intelligence Targets Are the Focus

            October 31, 2013

            Recent press articles on NSA’s collection operations conducted under Executive Order 12333 have misstated facts, mischaracterized NSA’s activities, and drawn erroneous inferences about those operations. NSA conducts all of its activities in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and policies – and assertions to the contrary do a grave disservice to the nation, its allies and partners, and the men and women who make up the National Security Agency.

            All NSA intelligence activities start with a validated foreign intelligence requirement, initiated by one or more Executive Branch intelligence consumers, and are run through a process managed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. When those requirements are received by NSA, analysts look at the Information Need and determine the best way to satisfy it. That process involves identifying the foreign entities that have the information, researching how they communicate, and determining how best to access those communications in order to get the foreign intelligence information. The analysts identify selectors – e-mail addresses and phone numbers are examples – that help isolate the communications of the foreign entity and task those to collection systems. In those cases where there are not specific selectors available, the analysts will use metadata, similar to the address on the outside of an envelope, to attempt to develop selectors for their targets. Once they have them, they task the selectors to the collection systems in order to get access to the content, similar to the letter inside the envelope.

            The collection systems target communications links that contain the selectors, or are to and from areas likely to contain the selectors, of foreign intelligence interest. Seventy years ago, the communications links were shortwave radio transmissions between two points on the globe. Today’s communications flow over technologies like satellite links, microwave towers, and fiber optic cables. Terrorists, weapons proliferators, and other valid foreign intelligence targets make use of commercial infrastructure and services. When a validated foreign intelligence target uses one of those means to send or receive their communications, we work to find, collect, and report on the communication. Our focus is on targeting the communications of those targets, not on collecting and exploiting a class of communications or services that would sweep up communications that are not of bona fide foreign intelligence interest to us.

            What NSA does is collect the communications of targets of foreign intelligence value, irrespective of the provider that carries them. U.S. service provider communications make use of the same information super highways as a variety of other commercial service providers. NSA must understand and take that into account in order to eliminate information that is not related to foreign intelligence.

            NSA works with a number of partners and allies in meeting its foreign-intelligence mission goals, and in every case those operations comply with U.S. law and with the applicable laws under which those partners and allies operate. A key part of the protections that are provided to both U.S. persons and citizens of other countries is the requirement that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and the Attorney General-approved minimization procedures. These limitations protect the privacy of all people and, in particular, to any incidentally acquired communications of U.S. persons. The protections are applied when selectors are tasked to the collection system; when the collection itself occurs; when the collected data are being processed, evaluated, analyzed, and put into a database; and when any reporting of the foreign intelligence is being done. In addition, NSA is very motivated and actively works to remove as much extraneous data as early in the process as possible – to include data of innocent foreign citizens.

            NSA Public Affairs Office


            • T. J. Babson said, on November 4, 2013 at 7:05 pm

              Magus, what about this. Why is the DEA using NSA information for domestic prosecutions?

              (Reuters) – A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

              Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

              The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

              “I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.


            • magus71 said, on November 5, 2013 at 6:10 am

              If the NSA gains intelligence on say, Heroin coming from Afghanistan (the world’s number 1 source), to an American dealer, it would share that info with DEA. This creates a problem, because as the article states, the DEA now has to come up with a cover story on how it got the info. CIA shares info with FBI, too, in order to help in its domestic anti-terror role. For better or worse, The War on Drugs was classified as being important to national security. This happened when Colombian drug cartels became more powerful than some states. The NSA got involved in hunting the cartels back in the early 90s, as documented in “Killing Pablo”.

              Mike says that Snowden got the ball rolling on NSA activities. Nothing I’ve heard is anything new. I thought everyone knew we spied on heads of state in allied nations. The French, Germans, British, and Israelis spy on us.

              James Bamford’s., “The Puzzle Palace”, “Chatter”, “Killing Pablo”, it’s all there and it’s all decades old. These journalists should read a few books instead of just each others’ articles. Heck, al-Qaeda seems to know, how can a journalist not know? Why do you think bin Laden was using a courier in Pakistan instead of computers and phones? As you see in “Zero Dark Thirty”, we had to follow his human courier.

              You must admit that the classified nature of the work sometimes prevents NSA and others from actually defending themselves. Why is the president letting all these other people take the heat on NSA activities? He has the power and authority to stop any illegal activities; he’s the chief law enforcement officer of the land. But again, I do not think NSA willfully breaks laws. I know how giant bureaucracies work (well, kind of), and I know that a newspaper article could be written about my Army unit that could show how messed up it is. Everything out of context, and it would convince. An article could also be written to show how great it is.

              In ending, if the DEA has to change stories of how it got info, it’s probably just better off not prosecuting. But remember, too, that in some cases the identities of witnesses on stands is hidden for their protection.

            • WTP said, on November 5, 2013 at 7:26 am


              I know that a newspaper article could be written about my Army unit that could show how messed up it is.

              So true. An article could be written to show how messed up the media and academia are. Some have, like Duke 88, Dan Rathergate, Broken Glass, but only after repeated pressure from the “phony” “right wing” journalists in the blogosphere and even then they rarely get legs. It’s bad for morale, you understand.

      • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 1:33 pm

        “Is there evidence that he was being run by a foreign power?”

        Again, more on this when I have time off and time to write.

        This written by a former NSA counterintelligence analyst:

        Ever since the remarkable case of Edward Snowden broke into the limelight at the beginning of the summer that’s now winding down, I’ve had a great deal to say about it here, on Twitter, and on radio and television. As one of the very few former NSA officers who’s in the public eye and willing to talk about Snowden, I’ve had an audience. As a former NSA counterintelligence officer with experience dealing with the Russians, I’ve been pretty much a solo act.

        From nearly the outset I’ve stated that Snowden is very likely an agent of Russian intelligence; this was met with howls of indignation which have died down in recent weeks as it’s become apparent that Ed’s staying in Russia for some time, along with whatever classified materials he had on his person. (Since Glenn Greenwald’s partner when stopped by British authorities at Heathrow had 58,000 highly classified documents on him, thanks to Ed, one can only wonder how big the initial haul actually was.) That Snowden was in contact with the Russian consulate in Hong Kong during his pre-Moscow visit there, including spending his 30th birthday with his new friends, is now admitted. Even President Vladimir Putin has conceded that Ed’s contacts with Russian officials did not commence when he landed at Sheremtyevo airport, rather before.


      • magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 1:59 pm

        and….as I myself stated, the NSA CI officer states also.

        “Of course, for anyone versed in the ways of Russian intelligence, the notion that Wikileaks is a Moscow front that’s involved in anti-US espionage is about as controversial as, say, the notion that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. Running false flags, creating fake activist groups, using Western journalists and activists for deception purposes – this sort of thing is in the DNA of Russian intelligence going back to the 19th century and is second nature to them. They call espionage tradecraft konspiratsiya (conspiracy) for a reason.”


  9. magus71 said, on October 31, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Have you ever read or listened to someone, or studied something and it was as if a blanket were pulled from your head that you never knew was there? When I read of Burke and his thinking, I finally found someone else who felt the same as I did. I finally knew what it is I felt. “He thought that human society was way too complicated to ever get completely to the bottom of.” 7 minute mark.

    I now know what I am so skeptical of things like evolution and climate change “science”. When I listen to the “experts” on these fields, I see how much they assume they know, and it cannot *possibly* be so. A lot off subject, but I just found this video.

  10. T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I still don’t understand how a 29 year old contractor was able to gain access to sensitive NSA secrets.

    Shouldn’t about half of the NSA leadership have been fired over this?

    • magus71 said, on November 1, 2013 at 11:23 am

      Contractors go through the same clearence procedures as military and are privy to the same info based on clearence. Most contractors are more competant than military counterparts because they have lots of experience.

      • T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2013 at 11:33 am

        Do they get polygraphed?

        • magus71 said, on November 1, 2013 at 12:41 pm

          Polygraphs are periodoc and based on information access. He propably was not polygraphed, but I’m not sure. Yes, contractors get polygraphs, too.

        • T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2013 at 1:08 pm

          But they civilian and not subject to the UCMJ.

          • magus71 said, on November 1, 2013 at 1:19 pm

            They are not subject to UCMJ but are subject to the laws binding in the Non-Disclosure Agreement (Standard Form 312) under titles 18 and 50 of the US code that they sign when they get a clearence. These are federal laws that apply to anyone that signs a NDA.

            There are other laws which the government could use but chooses not to. Specifically, it is not legal for the NY Times to release classified info. But the government rarely takes on the media.

        • magus71 said, on November 1, 2013 at 2:59 pm

          The clearence system is EXACTLY the same for contractors as military. It uses EXACTLY the same people to investigate backgrounds.

          • WTP said, on November 1, 2013 at 3:04 pm

            Magus, I don’t think you’re understanding. Mike objects to the word “contractors”, not anything specific about how they are administered, etc. Mike likes single-payer everything. All people working for the government should work for the government directly. Makes more jobs, you see. Mike knows all about making jobs.

            • magus71 said, on November 1, 2013 at 3:14 pm

              This is again the “assault weapon” fallacy. They are scary because they look different.

          • magus71 said, on November 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm

            I’ve noted before on several occasions the porblem with the clearence system. The cases noted in the article you posted just shows that individual people in the sytem can do the wrong thing. We will never stop this. No one can fool me on this issue. I am the Personnel Security NCO for my Battalion. I do clearences every day in garrison.. In Germany, I read people on to TOP SECRET. I know how the system works, and just as when a company hires someone and looks at a resume, there is a chance bad people get in. This system only seeks to reduce risk.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 1, 2013 at 7:07 pm

              I don’t hold up a standard of perfection. But there is adequate evidence that the current system can be improved.

              Slacking is probably an issue. Some folks are conscientious and do their jobs properly. Others are just going through the motions and getting a check.

              But there are probably structural and procedural issues that can be addressed as well.

  11. T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2013 at 10:15 am

    My working hypothesis is that the NSA has gone rogue and that they know so many secrets the politicians are afraid of them.

  12. T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2013 at 10:19 am

    I think Snowden has every reason to fear for his life. Obama has asserted the right to kill any American as he sees fit, with no oversight or judicial review.

  13. magus71 said, on November 1, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Wikileaks is likely fully penetrated by Russia’s FSB. The Russians are able to use Wikileaks as a front to gain intelligence, fully seizing on the current zeitgeist and meme put out by the Anonymous types.

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm

      This is certainly plausible. Years ago it was shown that the USSR was behind the disarmament movement in the UK that was very powerful for a while.

      • WTP said, on November 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm

        C’mon TJ, do you really believe that right-wing propaganda?

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 1, 2013 at 7:09 pm

        Ah, the Cold War. Who would have suspected we’d look back and miss the days when we had a rational enemy?

      • magus71 said, on November 2, 2013 at 6:38 am

        There are more Russian spies in the US right now then there was during the “first” Cold War. We’ve entered the second.

  14. magus71 said, on November 1, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Manning was a soldier. He betrayed us. Snowden was a contractor, he betrayed us. Made no difference. Personally I would include the question on the SF 86: “Were you ever picked last for kickball?” If they answer yes, they’re out.

    • WTP said, on November 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      How about “were you ever singled out by the coach for being a wuss at basketball camp”?


    • T. J. Babson said, on November 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm

      “Snowden was a contractor, he betrayed us.”

      This is only true if he really had other options.

      Was there somebody in government he could have gone to that was willing to take on the NSA?

      I think for a while he considered staying in the U.S. and facing the music. Then he probably started wondering if Obama might kill him without a trial.

      • magus71 said, on November 2, 2013 at 6:35 am

        Snowden worked for the NSA for 3 months. He has zero intelligence background or experience. He probably doesn’t even know the nature and context of 90% of what he took. There were 1000s of documents. This does not sound like a situation where a person carefully considered the damage they may do. He planned this before he even got hired, TJ. He’d already made up his mind, then took piles of stuff he probably never read.

        • T. J. Babson said, on November 2, 2013 at 9:49 am

          What do you think about the NSA tapping into the networks of Google and Yahoo with no warrant? This is clearly illegal.

          As Ars reported yesterday, documents provided to The Washington Post by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden show that the NSA was able to harvest enormous amounts of unencrypted information from Google and Yahoo by grabbing the data straight off the companies’ wide-area networks. Analysis of the documents alongside previously leaked data and other information explains why engineers affiliated with Google shouted expletives when they were shown how the NSA effectively bypassed the safeguards that the companies had put in place to protect customer data.

          In an interview with Bloomberg TV yesterday, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said, “I can tell you factually we do not have access to Google servers [or] Yahoo servers.” Technically, Gen. Alexander’s denial is truthful—the NSA did not access Google’s or Yahoo’s servers itself. But the agency’s MUSCULAR program, undertaken in collaboration with the United Kingdom’s NSA equivalent, the GCHQ, does tap into the traffic of the networks that links those companies’ data centers.

          The taps, described as a “minor circuit move” by NSA documents, simply plugged into the telecommunications infrastructure that carries Google’s and Yahoo’s private fiber links. It gave the NSA access inside the two companies’ Internet perimeters, allowing the agency to scan and capture massive amounts of data—so much that the NSA’s Special Source Operations complained that it had too much garbage to sort through.


          • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 2, 2013 at 4:47 pm

            Harvesting information is what Google and Facebook are supposed to do. Has the NSA no sense of shame? Is Yahoo still even a thing?

          • magus71 said, on November 2, 2013 at 5:08 pm

            What the NSA was doing was not illegal. The accessed those networks that were outside the US. They tracked whom foreigners were calling. If known terrorists routinely contacted an American, this was a tipper.


            “Well, it’s different because if you want to tap into communications from a place inside the United States on U.S. territory, you have to have — you have to do it under either FISA authority or what’s called transit authority, but, in general, you can’t just bulk-collect information that would reside in a database of Yahoo! or Google.

            If you’re doing it from overseas, different rules apply. You’re not relying on statutory authority. You’re not relying on the FISA court. Instead, you’re relying solely on presidential authority under Executive Order 12333. And there, the rules are a little bit different. And when you’re tapping into a foreign access point, you’re allowed to presume legally, if you’re the NSA, that the people using that foreign access point are foreigners. “

        • T. J. Babson said, on November 2, 2013 at 12:05 pm

          Why is Snowden worse than the White House?

          Israeli officials are “furious” with the White House for telling the world that Israel was behind the October 30 strike on a Syrian military site.

          According to The Times of Israel, although Israel “has not acknowledged carrying out the strike,” U.S. officials made it clear that Israel bombed a Syrian storage site containing Russian missiles.

          A November 1 report on Israel’s Channel 2 said the leak “came directly from the White House.” Israel’s Channel 10 TV described the leak as “scandalous” and “unthinkable.”


          • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 2, 2013 at 4:49 pm

            People usually figure out that Israel hit them without anyone telling them. But, I suppose we shouldn’t tattle on them.

  15. magus71 said, on November 2, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    The NSA has not gone rogue. It is not what Mike says it is. think of Mike’s view of what a typical capitalist is and then apply it to the NSa and you can see the problem.

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 2, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      Magus, has the NSA lied to Congress?

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 2, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      Only a rogue agency lies to Congress.

      The NSA has lied to the Congress, the courts, and perhaps even to the president himself, but no one seems to care.

      The Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper admitted he lied to Congress about the NSA metadata collection program. He said the NSA had no such program – and then added that that was the least “untruthful” remark he could make. General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, lied in 2012 that the NSA does not hold data on US citizens, and repeated similar misstatements, under oath, to Congress about the program:

      We’re not authorized to do it [data collection on US citizens], nor do we do it.

      NSA lawyers lied to secret Fisa court Judges John D Bates and Reggie B Walton. In recently released opinions, Bates said he had been lied to on three separate occasions and Walton said he had been lied to several times also.

      But Clapper and Alexander have not been held in contempt of Congress. Nor have the Justice Department attorneys, who lied to Judges Walton and Bates, been disciplined. Part of the answer as to why this is so came out last week.


      • magus71 said, on November 3, 2013 at 6:02 am

        Clapper was asked a question about highly technical, top secret capabilities in a public forum. He answered improperly, because he should have said he could not answer the question at all.

        “When someone who knows top-secret information is asked about it in a public congressional hearing, what should he or she do?

        “The traditional answer is so easy: ‘Frankly, senator, I’m unable to answer that in an open hearing,'” said Jim Lewis, a former Foreign Service officer at the State and Commerce Departments.

        But James Clapper, director of U.S. national intelligence, one of the highest ranking intelligence officials in the country, didn’t do that. He answered the question.

        Sen. Ron Wyden asked Clapper at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March whether the government collected data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans, and Clapper said, “no,” or at least “not wittingly.”

        The rub is that government officials do, indeed, collect data on millions of Americans, even if they don’t necessarily read it all.

        So why would a senior intelligence official, who has in the past undoubtedly answered dozens of questions about classified programs with a quick pass, flub it this time?

        The answer could be as simple as this: Wyden’s question was confusing.

        Wyden began by probing Clapper about a statement that National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander made at a conference. “The story that we have millions or hundreds of dossiers on people is completely false,” Alexander had said.”


  16. magus71 said, on November 3, 2013 at 7:04 am

    I think people need to be more skeptical, and not *only* of the government or NSA. Be skeptical of the media’s reporting and Snowden. Mike automatically jumps to the defense of people like Snowden and Assange without really knowing all the facts. The most glaring thing about Manning’s release of tens of thousands of documents to the public, is that there is in fact no deep dark conspiracy. 99% of it is mundane data. The “best” thing to come out of it is a video showing an Apache killing some journalists on a battlefield inn Iraq. The fact that the pilots cheered when they thought they killed insurgents was marked as evidence of the evil of the US government. This conclusion came from people who would feel very uncomfortable in a locker room or a football field. It came from people who have never had an entire population try every day for a year to kill them. I have been on the cheering end. I have watched on video as men set up mortars and fired them at me and my soldiers. I cheered when the thunder of F16 engines roared overhead and strafed an insurgent whom was planting an IED outside our FOB with 20mm canon fire. The thought still makes me happy. Just as the thought of a rocket hitting people I worked with made the Taliban happy. I do not accept the judgments of people picked last in kickball in these matters, because for the rest of their lives they try to get revenge on the strong. Meanwhile they’re raping women (Assange), getting sex changes (Manning) and deserting to countries who want us to fail as a nation (Snowden). They are evil losers.

    It’s easy to be skeptical of authority, and I’m as skeptical as anyone in that regard. I just know what Snowden and Assange are all about, and it’s not a noble cause. So if we start with the premise that they are not acting out of nobility of cause, it is easy to see that their actions are not all that noble, especially when you look in to the details which have been wildly spun and intentionally confused.

  17. T. J. Babson said, on November 3, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Magus, why do you think Obama fires top ranking military officers left and right, but no one in the NSA, IRS, or Justice was fired for their screwups?

    • magus71 said, on November 3, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      I think he has a bias against the military, just like Clinton did.

    • magus71 said, on November 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm

      Also, most of the people on the civilian side that you are referencing were appointed by Obama’s administration. Note that not a single person involved in developing the Obamacare website has been canned either. Obama wants to keep reshaping things. Purging general officers whom he did not appoint are part of the revolution. In a cult of personality, it’s very important that there be no dissent.

  18. T. J. Babson said, on November 3, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Janet Daley. Right on target.

    When exactly did the West stop referring to itself as the “Free World”? Presumably, it roughly coincided with the end of the Cold War. When that clear division between a totalitarian Eastern bloc, with its command economy and closed society, and the Atlantic model of individual liberty, gave way to a much messier and more ambiguous global picture — that must have been when the certainty of our commitment was lost. Perhaps because freedom does not seem under such imminent existential threat, nations that would once not have dreamt of trifling with its basic principles are taking cavalier risks.

    Who would have thought that just a couple of decades after the collapse of those governments whose power was protected by an infamous army of secret police, the nations of the West, which had triumphantly seen them out, would be so complacent about mass surveillance operations? Or that the indiscriminate monitoring of millions of people’s communications would be accepted (almost) without complaint?

    Some people in the Western democracies, of course, have not forgotten. Angela Merkel has made clear, to the excruciating embarrassment of the White House, that she has a vivid recollection of what it was like to live under the Stasi, and finds the attentions of the US National Security Agency (NSA) altogether too reminiscent. Barack Obama makes tactful diplomatic noises, but does he really sympathise? Does David Cameron — with his very British world-weary acceptance that everybody spies on everybody all the time, so let’s all grow up — really understand the terror of a life without privacy, without the true freedom that can only come with the sanctity of confidentiality, and a clear distinction between public and personal space? And surely this old assumption, that everybody had to spy on everybody else, is a relic of the Cold War — in which everybody’s agents had to be suspected of working for the other side — that ought to be up for reassessment.

    But mostly, it is the dangers of a newly unstable world that are held responsible for this complacency about un-freedom. Paradoxically, we must now emulate the illiberal intrusion of the tyrannies we defeated a generation ago in order to protect ourselves from the nihilistic threats that have emerged to replace the old, more predictable danger that they presented. Maybe you are prepared to buy this. I personally find it hard to understand how bugging Mrs Merkel’s private mobile phone would be likely to produce information on the next al-Qaeda strike. Don’t we assume that if she were in possession of such information, she would pass it on? Or is Germany regarded as an untrustworthy ally?

    The latest furore with which the Obama administration has had to contend is the allegation that the NSA spied on the Pope — or at least on the Vatican conclave that was in the process of electing him. I would enjoy hearing the explanation of just what relevance the selection of a new head of the Roman Catholic Church might have had to the threat of Islamist terrorism on the United States. (Or could this have been another throwback to the Cold War, when the Catholic clergy in Latin America did indeed have some active Marxists?)

    Perhaps we should stop, just for a moment, talking pious codswallop about our brave security personnel being so determined to protect us that they must monitor everyone’s emails and mobile-phone traffic (even the heads of Nato countries), and consider the possibility that many of those engaged in the more surreal surveillance outreach programmes are getting carried away with the technology; that they might be doing what they do because they have discovered that they can, and because nobody has told them not to.

    But not even the innocent bystanders who have become collateral damage in this security frenzy — ordinary members of the public for whom normal expectations of confidentiality seem to be lost for ever — are protesting much. The desire for absolute “safety”, however unattainable that might be, seems to have trumped the concept of liberty once and for all.

    Nobody, in fact, seems very inclined even to ask the defenders of our security to justify what they are doing, except in the more adventurous organs of the press.

    Which brings us to the next shocking development in the march of un-freedom. Would you have predicted that a generation after the ignominious demise of states in which people had to risk their lives to disseminate samizdat literature, in which nothing that was unacceptable to those in power could be published without fear of arrest, that a free society would embrace political oversight of the print media? But here we are. In a land in which robust, irreverent journalism and unflinching satirical commentary have been characteristic features for centuries — since the emergence of England as a full-blown parliamentary democracy, in fact — we have allowed politicians to seize oversight of the press.

    Even though the excesses that genuinely caused innocent suffering and provoked outrage against sections of the newspaper trade (such as phone-hacking and the bribing of public officials for information) were already criminal acts that required no further government action in order to be prohibited, the British people have accepted this with equanimity. Because, apparently, they believe that if an identifiable group of people has behaved badly, the government must intervene — somehow — even if its interventions are superfluous or pernicious.

    Economic freedom, as well as political liberty, is being traded in at a startling pace even in the US, where it was once the be-all and end-all of the American dream. US citizens are discovering that their president’s flagship health-care programme is going to force them to buy the sort of health insurance that he believes they should have rather than the (cheaper, less comprehensive) kind they had chosen for themselves. They may have been willing to take their chances with minimal coverage that would pay only for catastrophic events, but the government says no. In its paternalistic wisdom, it will insist (by law) that they pay for everything it thinks is desirable, whether they want it or not.

    The principle of the ideological struggle with communism — that the power of the state was an inherent danger from which the individual must be protected — is being lost to memory. Government is always the custodian of virtue now, holding out against the wicked, self-serving forces of profit and private interests. It is as if we have learnt nothing from the history of the 20th century about which values and beliefs actually delivered a life that was worth living — and how much vigilance is required to preserve them.


  19. T. J. Babson said, on November 3, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Mike, any comment?

    According to the new book “Double Down,” in which journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann chronicle the 2012 presidential election, President Barack Obama told his aides that he’s “really good at killing people” while discussing drone strikes.

    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/obama-said-hes-really-good-at-killing-people-2013-11#ixzz2jbTlk2Xr

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 3, 2013 at 2:57 pm

      He is really good at having people killed with drone strikes. So, I’d say that is true.

      I’ve made my position clear on what amounts to assassination by ROV-I am against it.

      • magus71 said, on November 3, 2013 at 3:27 pm

        killing terrorists is the same as killing heads of state? I don’t think so.

      • magus71 said, on November 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm

        Terrorists can’t have it both ways; they can’t seek protection from the rules of state and war and also do everything they can to remain outside those rules when it helps them kill us.

  20. magus71 said, on November 3, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Read “Killing Pablo” by Mark Bowden. It shows how much sneaky stuff has always been going on. Until I can see a concrete way that it effects my life or people I know (like Obamacare does), I remain skeptical that anything in intelligence is different than it ever was. Except of course that we did in fact kill an American in a drone strike.

    What baffles me, is why didn’t the US simply strip Awlaki of his citizenship, since the laws state that that those who fight in a foreign army with intent of harming the US can lose their citizenship?

    “What about citizenship? If you hold a U.S. passport, you’ll note that it advises that you “may lose your U.S. citizenship” by “serving in the armed forces of a foreign state.” The word may is critical. In the 1967 case Afroyim v. Rusk, the Supreme Court ruled that under the 14th amendment, U.S. citizens cannot be involuntarily stripped of their citizenship. (That case involved a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen who had his U.S. citizenship revoked after voting in an Israeli election, but the precedent applies to military service as well.) Since then, the government has had to prove that an individual joined a foreign army with the intention of relinquishing his or her U.S. citizenship. The army in question must be engaged in hostilities against the United States or the individual must serve as an officer.*”


  21. T. J. Babson said, on November 3, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Awlaki was never even charged with a crime. His son was killed, too–2 weeks later. The son was never even accused of any wrongdoing.

    • magus71 said, on November 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      I’m assuming Awlaki went through what is called the JPEL (Joint Prioritized Effects List) process. It is the process though which “targeting packets” aka dossiers, are developed. In this process, the information is passed up a chain of command. At the top of this chain is a legal team that OKs the packet. All info that goes into making the JPEL packet must be of a certain quality before it is accepted. The packet is reviewed periodically and if the info gets too old, authorization to kill/capture goes away until further intelligence is gathered.

      This system, too, is not new. See The Phoenix Program, from the Vietnam War.


      • T. J. Babson said, on November 3, 2013 at 9:10 pm

        Do you think this Wikipedia article is accurate and fair? It is horrifying and seems hard to believe.

        • magus71 said, on November 4, 2013 at 6:24 am

          No, I don’ think it’s fair. For a better view, read, “Stalking the Vietcong”, by Stuart Harrington, retired Army general who was an intel officer in Phoenix. Phoenix, like most secret things the government does, has been sensationalized. Harrington by the way is staunchly against anything resembling torture.

          • magus71 said, on November 4, 2013 at 6:40 am

            When I say that it is unfair, I mean that it focuses too much on the scary aspects of what happened. Most of those things are exactly what happen when you use a foreign service as a proxy; Phoenix did just that with the South Vietnamese. This happens in Afghanistan, too, where there is torture in Afghan prisons.

            The world is not America, and it would be better served if people like Mike looked at the rest of the world’s atrocities, and stopped splitting metaphysical hairs when it comes to what we do. It’s Jesus’ dictum turned on its head: There’s a beam sticking out of the other guy’s eye, not our’s.

            • WTP said, on November 4, 2013 at 9:52 am

              Exactly…If TJ/Mike think Phoenix is bad, perhaps they could look into the atrocities of the NVA and VC themselves. Talk to regular people who lived under communism, not the elites, and find out what it really was like. Surely TJ, working in IT you know some people who got out of Vietnam, China, or eastern Europe/Russia? If not, I highly recommend the book Red Azalea


              Vietnam was little different from any other jungle war or insurgency fight, except for the media focus and leftist/communist propaganda.

            • WTP said, on November 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm

              And the propaganda continues today:

              I can’t quite believe that I’ve just sat through ten minutes of BBC television in which British journalists Owen Jones and Zoe Williams have defended Karl Marx as the prophet of the End of Capitalism. Unbelievable because I had thought Marxism was over with the fall of the Berlin Wall – when we discovered that socialism was one part bloodshed, one part farce. But unbelievable also because you’d have to be a pretty lacking in moral sensitivity to defend a thinker whose work sent millions of people to an early grave.

              I don’t want to have to rehearse the numbers but, apparently, they’re not being taught in schools anymore – so here goes. Sixty-five million were murdered in China – starved, hounded to suicide, shot as class traitors. Twenty million in the USSR, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Africa. The nightmare of Cambodia (2 million dead) is especially vivid. “Reactionaries” were sorted out from the base population on the grounds of being supporters of the old regime, having gone to school or just for wearing glasses. They were taken to the side of paddy fields and hacked to death by teenagers.

              It’s possible to argue that Marx was an economist rather than a politician – that he only analysed the failings of Capitalism and never offered the blue-print for building socialism that would end in disaster in the 20th century. But that misses the point that Marx’s analysis was what informed that blue-print and, so, he bears intellectual responsibility for it. His view that all human relations are shaped by economics and that everything we do is measured in purely material terms reduced the individual to a pawn in a historic war between competing classes. You’re not a person – you’re either an exploiter or an alienated peasant. At least the crowned tyrants who preceded him had some sense of the value of the human soul; at least they saw their power as limited by God, tradition and a passing respect for conscience. After Marx, all these things stood in the way of progress and could be brushed aside with the swish of a signature on a death list. Throw into the mix Karl’s belief that the working-class could not lose – historical determinism – and you get the kind of fanatical, anti-human view of life that would end inevitably in gulags. “To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss,” said the teenage vanguard of the Cambodian communists. Compelling logic to the intellectually unformed.


              How many more millions must die before Mike and his ilk stop making excuses for Marxist theology?

            • WTP said, on November 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm

              Heh…the major point was to bold this part and I forgot:

              he nightmare of Cambodia (2 million dead) is especially vivid. “Reactionaries” were sorted out from the base population on the grounds of being supporters of the old regime, having gone to school or just for wearing glasses. They were taken to the side of paddy fields and hacked to death by teenagers.

            • T. J. Babson said, on November 4, 2013 at 4:23 pm

              Magus and WTP: thanks for the book recommendations–I haven’t read either one, but they both sound interesting.

              Indeed, I have had several Chinese colleagues who lived through the cultural revolution and also some that had friends protesting in Tienanmen Square.

              My main worry is that our response is way out of proportion to the threat. How does the amount we have spent fighting Al Qaeda compare to the amount we spent during WWII? I would guess they are comparable, but the threat posed by Al Qaeda is immeasurably smaller.

            • magus71 said, on November 4, 2013 at 4:40 pm

              There’s no easy answer to Islamic fundamentalism. My friend Tom Kratman pointed out that evil must be measured not only in intensity but in time. The Third Reich was a flash in the pan.

              More people died in 2012 from terror attacks than has ever been recorded before. Entire portions of the planet are going dark as we speak.

              What we should not have done is inhabit countries for long periods of time that have antithetical beliefs to ours. Culture is too powerful to change with Armies. Governments fall, but culture remains intact.

              Fighting terrorism is like taking out the trash and doing the dishes. And it should be done economically. Nation building in Islamic countries is a fool’s game.

            • WTP said, on November 4, 2013 at 4:46 pm

              TJ, you might save some time and ask those coworkers (if you know them well enough) if they’re familiar with the book. I’ve had a few interesting conversations with refugees/new citizens/coworkers from Vietnam, Hungary, and USSR. Some rather mild, some reminiscent, on a smaller scale, of what my father went through in the Pacific in WWII.

              As to the degree of the threat, either way thus my argument AQ is not anywhere near as serious a problem as our internal cultural decline driven by the degeneration of our academia and media institutions. In WWII we were far more united in opposition to our enemy (and WWI as well) in spite of the large number of German (both wars) and Italian (WWII only) first generation citizens. Not that there wasn’t a strong anti-war sentiment before both wars but once the US got involved there was a much stronger commitment from the people and the cultural influence of both the news and film media.

            • WTP said, on November 4, 2013 at 4:53 pm

              What we should not have done is inhabit countries for long periods of time that have antithetical beliefs to ours. Culture is too powerful to change with Armies. Governments fall, but culture remains intact.

              Magus, this is the stock answer to our current problems and while there is some truth in it, we did quite well in dealing with the Japanese. The difference is we went in and conquered the country and asserted absolute authority. There was no pussyfooting around, though we did use the Emperor to our advantage regardless of his true culpability in the war. Perhaps that would be the difference, and perhaps you/stock answer are right all things considered. I just tire of that answer without some perspective. Germany similarly but the cultural differences were not as deep or as you say, the Nazis were a flash in the pan in that country’s history.

  22. magus71 said, on November 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Gotta love the hair splitting when it comes to killing terrorists, but the silence about everything the terrorists actually do.

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 3, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      It’s not the end result that bothers me, but the due process. I’m simply not comfortable giving anyone the power to order the assassination of a U.S. citizen with no due process or judicial oversight.

  23. magus71 said, on November 8, 2013 at 8:04 am

    TJ, you’ve asked how Snowden managed to get all the data he did. I’d suspected all along and believe I stated in another post, that it was probably something simple. And it was. He managed to get 20 NSA employees to tell him their password. Again, Snowden was likely in the employ of a foreign intelligence service before he even got hired by NSA.


    • T. J. Babson said, on November 8, 2013 at 10:16 am

      If Snowden was in the employ of a foreign intelligence service, he does not appear to have received a very good deal.

      The lack of basic computer security protocols at the NSA is pretty shocking and tends to confirm my view of the NSA as a rogue, unaccountable organization. I think my kids’ school probably has better computer security than the NSA.

      • T. J. Babson said, on November 8, 2013 at 10:18 am

        If I were the president, I’d fire the top 2 or 3 layers of the NSA management and start all over again.

      • magus71 said, on November 8, 2013 at 10:31 am

        ” I think my kids’ school probably has better computer security than the NSA.”

        Probably. And this should refute the idea that these intelligence organizations are able to pull off any grand strategies. I work in the field; I can tell you that the system is so bad it degrades the abilities of competent individuals. I used to think I could make a difference. I can’t.

      • T. J. Babson said, on November 8, 2013 at 10:43 am

        It looked like he was doing pretty well for himself in Hawaii–good job, hot girlfriend. Now what does he have?

  24. magus71 said, on November 8, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Pretty much:

    Having spent much of two decades at various levels of our intelligence infrastructure, often at levels above top secret, and still helping out now and then with unclassified training, I simply do not recognize the supposedly malevolent, subversive and generally nasty agencies portrayed by Hollywood’s lazy scriptwriters or by grandstanding politicians who never knew one day of selfless sacrifice in their lives.
    Of the many, many career professionals I met from Military Intelligence or the alphabet agencies (CIA, NSA, DIA, etc.), not one got up in the morning saying, “How can I harm the American people today?” On the contrary, the lengths to which we went to avoid even including the isolated name of an American citizen in a message or report could border on the absurd. We had a lot more respect for your privacy than Facebook or Google does.
    I never heard a subversive word, to say nothing of devious plots to overthrow the government. Not that every intelligence-agency employee was a hero: These were human beings, with human flaws. Most were dedicated, some were truly selfless, and others were careerists. Most worked hard, some at the heart-attack-express level. A few were lazy. The majority had safe desk jobs. A minority took incredible risks to protect our country.
    Overwhelmingly, though, the intelligence personnel I knew were patriots who believed in and took oaths to protect and defend our Constitution. Unlike the NSA leaker, they meant it.
    What evidence — hard evidence — have we ever seen that these people who chose to dedicate their lives to defending our freedoms are the enemies of our freedom? These are, overwhelmingly, good — often great — Americans who experience the same personal joys, sorrows and challenges as the rest of us. They ride around in Hondas, not black helicopters. And virtually every one values what our country means a bit more than most Americans do — because their work teaches them how fortunate we are.
    A crucial factor in vilifying our intelligence agencies really has been Hollywood. Enthusiastically ignorant, blithely irresponsible, execrably lazy and thoroughly amoral, those who make films and television shows routinely default to plots in which our government leaders and, especially, our intelligence agencies, are scheming fascists-in-waiting determined to topple our republic — and who can only be defeated by Tom Cruise, Matt Damon or one of their countless avatars.
    I honestly forget the name of the film, but the goofiest was an action-thriller some years back in which the National Security Agency (NSA) had killer teams and extensive direct-action infrastructure menacing our way of life. In fact, NSA is a big collection of super-wonks — computer specialists, linguists and analysts — who do tremendous work for our country but have no direct-action capabilities. Frankly, they couldn’t take over a Dunkin’ Donuts.
    As for Edward Snowden, the narcissistic traitor who proclaimed himself our defender after fleeing to China, it’s a black mark on our journalists that those with access to him didn’t demand proof of his claims and didn’t challenge his nuttiest assertions (Snowden had no authority to order wiretaps on anyone, doesn’t know the locations of all our CIA stations, lied about tech company cooperation with government, etc.). Those reporters need to go back to Journalism 101, where I learned that, if a story’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.
    And you know what? Some things have to be secret in order to work. I often complained myself of our tendency to over-classify inconsequential stuff, but we do have vital programs that need to remain veiled. Our more responsible senators and representatives have oversight authority and are aware of every single one of those clandestine efforts. And they decided that every program Snowden misrepresented was legal and necessary.
    Please stop and think before you reflexively blame the men and women of our intelligence system for everything that goes wrong. They’re not allowed to defend themselves. Yes, they’re human and they sometimes make mistakes or miss a clue (not surprising, given that most are run ragged). But, in the great majority of instances, they get it right enough to keep us safe. Intelligence work is hard, folks.
    And Mr. Snowden, for all his bluster, was unable to cite a single concrete example — to name one name — to prove that intelligence professionals betrayed your trust. That should tell you something.

    • T. J. Babson said, on November 8, 2013 at 11:48 am

      “And Mr. Snowden, for all his bluster, was unable to cite a single concrete example — to name one name — to prove that intelligence professionals betrayed your trust.”

      What about the 20 people who gave Snowden their passwords?

      • WTP said, on November 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm

        I haven’t followed this too closely, but was he some sort of system admin? Might be easier from that position, but still in a high security environment you’d be expected to change your pwd after giving it out internally even. Not sure how that works as last I worked in such an area, there were no passwords on the machines. The whole room was it’s own secure element.

        • magus71 said, on November 8, 2013 at 2:20 pm

          Yes he was admin. We train people to know not to do these sorts of things. This type of operation is based on the idea that people will want to help you. People who work in the same organization will instinctively want to trust other people they work with. Things like phishing, spear-phishing and shoulder surfing work. Espionage is not based on James Bond style technology, but knowledge of how humans really work.

          All classified systems that I work on are password protected. In addition, these terminals can be inside secure rooms, often referred to as a SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility.) The security system is supposed to be multi-layered to minimize the risk of compromise. It begins with the clearance process. First a person is given a clearance based on an assessment of their trustworthiness. Then the individual terminals and systems have passwords. SCIFS have some sort of badging security system to physically keep people out who do not belong.

          It is possible for these things to fail, and sometimes they do. We train people to NEVER give out their passwords.

      • WTP said, on November 8, 2013 at 12:40 pm

        Also, doesn’t that implicate Snowden even more? He wouldn’t know what he knew if he wasn’t snooping in the first place using other people’s passwords. On the rare occasion I’ve gotten someone else’s pwd, I made zero effort to keep/remember it…unless it was something really stupid and/or funny. For him to have collected 20 passwords indicates to me he was up to no good from the beginning.

        • T. J. Babson said, on November 8, 2013 at 1:59 pm

          I agree that Snowden was a bad apple, but a military intelligence organization like the NSA should have some safeguards against internal threats. Did not the NSA understand that some effort might be made to infiltrate it?

          I agree with Ralph Peters that the average NSA employee is a loyal, hard working patriot with nothing but the best interests of the U.S. at heart. My problem is that the people running the agency are incompetent and drunk with their own secret power. Fire the top 3 layers and rebuild.

          • magus71 said, on November 8, 2013 at 2:05 pm

            “What about the 20 people who gave Snowden their passwords?”

            I believe those people were fired.

            Hanlon’s Razor, not 1984.

        • magus71 said, on November 8, 2013 at 2:23 pm

          “For him to have collected 20 passwords indicates to me he was up to no good from the beginning.”

          Yes, this is exactly what the evidence shows.

      • magus71 said, on November 8, 2013 at 2:04 pm

        Hanlon’s Razor.

        • T. J. Babson said, on November 8, 2013 at 2:27 pm

          Let’s not forget mission creep. Remember RICO laws? They were designed to be used against organized crime, but before long they were used by overzealous prosecutors to go after ordinary people.

          Similarly, the NSA needs to stay within the scope of its mission. It does not need to be listening in on the Vatican when they are electing a new Pope.

        • T. J. Babson said, on November 8, 2013 at 5:11 pm

          Good intentions are not enough.

          The growth of the federal criminal code has come in the wake of attempts by politicians and federal bureaucrats to “do something” about perceived crime rates, to stop illegal drug use by Americans, and to punish individuals who engage in “whitecollar” crime. In the process of expanding the federal role in identifying and prosecuting “criminal” behavior, however, the federal government has become a formidable conviction and imprisonment machine. Unfortunately, as Rosenzweig writes, many of the “crimes” and punishments can be described only as arbitrary, reflecting neither the seriousness of the offense nor the harm (if any) caused to other individuals.

          Much of the growth of federal criminal procedures has been tied to the expanded use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which Congress passed without much opposition in 1970 as the centerpiece of President Richard Nixon’s “Crime Bill.” In this article, we focus on prosecutions under RICO. In many ways, this law has turned out to be a modern-day rendition of the infamous Waltham Black Act of 1723, which, according to Follett, “originally outlawed poaching in disguise or in ‘blacked’ face, but judicial interpretations soon divorced its various provisions from their original context, leading to a list of fifty or more crimes punishable by death” (2001, 21).

          Similarly, RICO has metastasized from its original intent, which was to deal more effectively with the perceived problem of organized crime. Federal prosecutors have discovered that RICO is a powerful weapon that can be wielded against most business owners, should the feds choose to target them. Rudy Guiliani’s prosecution of Michael Milken and other Wall Street luminaries in the 1980s—the springboard from which Guiliani rose to become first the mayor of New York City and ultimately a popular public speaker collecting $75,000 per speech—involved some of the early attempts to expand criminal RICO provisions to prosecute private business figures who clearly were not mafiosi. Today, federal prosecutors use RICO routinely to win easy convictions and prison terms for individuals who in the course of business run afoul of federal regulations. For every John Gotti who is brought down by RICO, many obscure business owners and managers are also successfully prosecuted under this law.

          Much has been written about the RICO statute.1 Rather than a summary of this vast literature, we offer a view of RICO from another angle, examining how it has revolutionized federal criminal law and how it has been used—with federal judges, members of Congress, and the press acting as cheerleaders—to overturn the protections inherent in due-process guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. Overturn is not too strong a word in this regard, given that in a RICO case, those charged are treated as guilty until proven innocent.

          In tracing the development of RICO, we find that the law was little more than a “bait-and-switch” statute that has had little or no effect in stopping or inhibiting the crimes—murder, rape, robbery, and so forth—that most concerned the public in 1970. Instead, RICO has enabled federal prosecutors in effect to circumvent the constitutional separation of powers between the national and the state governments. Since RICO’s passage, the once-clear jurisdictional boundaries between state and federal law enforcement have been erased as more and more individuals find themselves in the federal dock with almost no chance of acquittal.


  25. T. J. Babson said, on November 11, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    What say you, Magus?

    NSA’s Vast Surveillance Powers Extend Far Beyond Counterterrorism, Despite Misleading Government Claims

    Time and again we’ve seen the National Security Agency (NSA) defend its vast surveillance apparatus by invoking the spectre of terrorism, discussing its spying powers as a method to keep America safe. Yet, the truth is that counterterrorism is only a fraction of their far broader authority to seek “foreign intelligence information,” a menacing sounding term that actually encapsulates all sorts of innocuous, everyday conversation.

    The New York Times demonstrated this disconnect last week, reporting, “the [leaked NSA] documents make clear, the focus on counterterrorism is a misleadingly narrow sales pitch for an agency with an almost unlimited agenda. Its scale and aggressiveness are breathtaking.”

    Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, NSA is given a mandate for collecting “foreign intelligence information” but this is not a very substantive limitation, and certainly does not restrict the NSA to counterterrorism—rather, it is defined to include “information with respect to a foreign power … that relates to … the conduct of the foreign affairs of the United States.”

    Read that carefully for a minute. Anything “that relates to the foreign affairs of the United States.” Interpreted broadly, this can be political news, anything about economics, it doesn’t even have to involve a crime— basically anything besides the weather. Indeed, given the government penchant for warped and distorting the definitions of words in secret, we wouldn’t be surprised if the government would argue that weather could fall under the umbrella of “foreign intelligence information” too.

    After all, government lawyers have managed to convince the secret FISA court that “relevant to” an investigation it no limitation at all – rather, it can encompass records of every call made in, to or from the United States. It seems unlikely that the government would interpret “relates to … the conduct of foreign affairs” to be any narrower.

    This tactic is nothing new. Back in 2008, FISA Amendments Act supporters were invoking terrorism without mentioning this far broader definition, which has since been used to gather information from Internet companies as part of the infamous PRISM program.

    Lead sponsor of the bill Sen. Kit Bond infamously said, “There is nothing to fear in the [new FISA] bill, unless you have Al Qaeda on your speed dial.” Yet at the time, as Marty Lederman, a legal scholar who would later become a key lawyer in Obama’s Justice Department, explained that in reality, “There is nothing to fear in the new FISA bill unless you make international phone calls or e-mails that arguably implicate the federal government’s national security, foreign affairs or law enforcement interests.”

    Yet, government officials consistently refer to terrorism as the reason NSA is conducting this surveillance, while occasionally adding the spice of nuclear proliferation or “cyber”-hackers. For example, Rep. Mike Rogers defended the NSA like this two weeks ago, telling CNN’s State of the Union that if French citizens knew what terror plots the NSA was protecting them from “they would be applauding and popping Champagne corks.” While Rogers knows full well that there is no terrorism connection to tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, he wants the conversation to go to more familiar ground.

    Other times, NSA mentions “foreign intelligence information” and says examples of such information include terrorist activities, conveniently omitting the vast authority granted to spy for diplomatic information. After a story in Le Monde last month, the Director of National Intelligence referred reporters to the statement, “The government cannot target anyone under the court-approved procedures for Section 702 collection unless there is an appropriate, and document foreign intelligence purpose for the acquisition (such as for the prevention of terrorism, hostile cyber activities, or nuclear proliferation)…” (emphasis ours)

    It’s in the NSA’s interest to sell their programs playing off the fears of Americans, and they do with great regularly. In fact, NSA talking points, obtained by reporter Jason Leopold using the Freedom of Information Act, state that NSA should continually invoke 9/11 under the heading “sound bites that resonate.”

    Counter-terrorism and WMDs are certainly an important part of the NSAs mandate, but are not limits on its authority. As we have seen from the reports about spying on foreign heads of state, foreign businesses, and even the World Bank, the NSA is using its spying superpowers to the full limits of “foreign intelligence information,” while trying to keep the conversation in a narrow band.

    So let’s get one thing straight: when the NSA vacuums up millions of innocent people’s communications and metadata, the agency is not limiting itself to counter-terrorism uses. Pretending there is a narrower scope is not an honest way to have a debate.


  26. magus71 said, on November 20, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    Where do you think the FBI got the initial tip off on this?


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