There are lots of things that can be said about NSA spying, but the one thing I seem to hear all the time is something flavored like this:
But please, please spare me the shock and surprise that the US spies on foreign leaders, even allies, even close allies. These countries spy on our leaders too.
The implication behind the “you shouldn’t be surprised” argument is apparently that the topic that shouldn’t be surprising is so commonplace, dull, ordinary, well-discussed and accepted that bringing it up is wasting everyone’s time.
So, for example, if a kid starts saying “people die” or “boys have penises and girls have vaginas”, we shut him up, because we’ve heard it all before and there’s nothing more to say. I don’t think the recent NSA leaks fall into the category of chatter of little children, no matter how hard some writers are trying to make it fit under that heading.
To use the latest example, we may have always believed that we spied on foreign leaders, but the detail that Angela Merkel’s cell phone was tapped, or more importantly, the revelation of the fact that Merkel’s phone was tapped, is definitely new information. It’s causing an international fuss, and Dianne Feinstein, who should have known about it, says she didn’t.
Reacting to this information by saying “why are you surprised” is just a more accepted (really, more savvy) way of saying “shut up”. The savvy general response that all nations spy on each other does nothing to address whether the US is getting a benefit from taking the risk of doing things like tapping Merkel’s phone.
To use a different example, to me it’s no surprise that immigration reform is DOA in the House, or even that Marco Rubio is running away from his own plan. Does that mean it’s not worth discussing? If you’re a centrist pundit in DC, it probably does, because centrist savvy pundits are uncomfortable questioning the status quo, and the status quo on immigration is Tea Party obstruction and Republican cowardice. I hope that we discuss Rubio’s cowardice and Tea Party xenophobia from now until election day.
My surprise, or lack of surprise, when apprehending a piece of news is about as relevant a fact as the state of my bowels or the presence of a hangnail on my pinky finger. It says something about me, not what’s being discussed. And right now, like it or not, the NSA is going to be discussed, as dull as it is to some center-right pundits and commenters.
Spot on, mistermix.
I’m waiting for the workboot to drop. Commercial espionage as a side benefit for being so helpful to the effort. A good bit of suspicion of that is in the pushback to quarantine the infiltration of US internet, so to speak.
No, when I say that other nations including allies spy on us, I am commenting on the hypocrisy of the game being played.
Gin & Tonic
What *is* surprising, and, I think, noteworthy, is that Deutsche Telekom couldn’t provide Merkel with a cell phone secure enough that the NSA couldn’t listen to it.
I read something yesterday which said the NSA started listening to Angela Merkel’s cell phone back in 2002.
I keep forgetting who was president back then, someone remind me?
@Southern Beale: Either Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter; I forget.
“You shouldn’t be surprised” (or more accurately, “only a naive poopyhead would be surprised”) is the new “because shut up, that’s why.”
NSA fangirl DiFi claims not to have known about Merkel’s phone, and allegedly neither did the president. But this can’t mean that the NSA is out of control on any level because Snowald. So DiFi, Obama, Merkel, etc., all knew about it, and all are just dancing their pre-choreographed steps for the naive poopyhead citizenry of all nations. Except for everyone who knew about it all along, of course.
dpm (dread pirate mistermix)
@Southern Beale: Good point. Pat Roberts was the chair of the Intelligence Committee in 2002, btw.
Well, since we won’t take Pat Lang’s site off the blogroll here’s his take:
I get the sinking feeling the NSA has gone a bit rogue. Who’s to say they’re not spying on Congress and SCOTUS justices?
And absolutely zero oversight by anything resembling real judicial review and Congressional input….
“You shouldn’t be surprised” is the policy analog of “Greed is good.” Well, maybe greed isn’t good, and maybe you should be surprised. There’s an old saying– that claiming you don’t have a political philosophy only means you don’t know what your philosophy is. ‘Not being surprised’ only means you’re not bothering to think about your expectations.
Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism
Yup. And I expect there will be a lot of similar leftovers.
I’m frankly beginning to think that Snowden was just another ratfucking operation. “Let’s see if the Obama administration has cleaned out these things we had in place, and if not, we can publicize them and waste a ton of his time cleaning up the mess.”
I took a political science class with this guy back in the late 80s/early 90s at UGA, and he told several war stories about being spied upon. (War stories were about all the class consisted of, actually, but it was still one of the best classes I ever took there.)
He spoke once about being in Berlin with a superior on a diplomatic trip, and his superior saying loudly – in the privacy of their suite – “Marty, you know what I’d like? A glass of scotch with three or four big chunks of ice in it. Wouldn’t you?” “Why yes sir, I’d love that.” Sure enough, five minutes later, there was a knock at the door and they had their scotches.
Another time, he said, Nixon, Brezhnev and all their aides were around a table, and Nixon had spread his notes and things out. An aide whispered in his ear, and Hillenbrand said Nixon literally dove to cover his notes. Brezhnev reportedly laughed and said “Don’t worry, the ceiling cameras were installed by the Czars and are very poor.”
Those guys all knew they were being spied upon. Hillenbrand told all those stories laughingly. Fuck, it served as fucking room service for them. This is a guy who was talking about Kennedy and Nixon. So, no, this shit isn’t new, and saying “Of course we spy on other officials and they spy on us” isn’t just blowing it off. It’s an acknowledgement of reality.
I think the only “shocking” thing is the level of technology we have to spy on other countries compared to what they can do to us.
I view the international uproar over this as a jealous bit of rage, because we have what they want.
mike with a mic
Well… nobody should be surprised. That’s the NSA should be doing.
Here is the thing, spying isn’t just about searching for a way to take military action. It’s about knowing what they are thinking, what they are talking about behind your back, what’s really going on. A good portion of the reason you want to know this is so you can stay out of armed conflicts, many armed conflicts and huge international disasters were caused because people didn’t know what the other side was thinking, confused something, or the other side lied.
So if you don’t want spying, you might as well just start screaming to shoot first and ask questions later, and say you hate diplomacy and just want perpetual war. Because espionage is far more for diplomacy than it is war. You’re free to want that, but as someone that prefers diplomacy I’ll stay pro espionage.
Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937
So everyone’s cool with the Russian vaccuuming up our phone calls like we do to the Spaniards, right?
“Don’t be surprised” doesn’t mean “shut up”, it means “don’t be surprised”.
what’s pissing Germany off isn’t that we’re spying on them. they spy on us too. it’s that we’re far and away better at it. Germany couldn’t even give merkel a secure phone; this makes them look stupid. they’re pissed because the us has an unfair advantage here. if they could listen to obama’s phone they would.
it’s still a stupid move on our part. it may provide intel but the fallout from it being discovered is just too much as this goes to show.
COINTELPRO was merely a primer.
As were previous overreaches.
How many times must we (overtly or covertly) okay the adoption and/or clandestinely justify mission creep of intrusive techniques – without robust, enforced stricture and publicly accountable oversight – and expect a different outcome before we learn?
That might be an argument when the state was doing the spying. That is not the case anymore, is it? The state gets its work product, but remember who is running the service–private, corporate enterprise.
Well said, mistermix.
I’d add that the flipside of the attitude that spying on allied leaders is a normal way for a state to behave, that it’s just a part of the Great Game….well, not getting caught is also definitely part of the Game. It’s self-evident that the more people know a secret, the more likely it is for the secret to be revealed.
So why the fuck does the USA intelligence establishment have an untold # of thousands of contractors who have access to the goods? They’ve built this huge edifice, and they can’t run it in house. They don’t even know how many more Mannings and Snowdens might be out there.
I’m cool with spying. I think we should spy the shit out of every damn country. There, I said it.
@Betty Cracker: I see an awful lot of Captain Renault in the people who are “shocked” that the US spies on other countries – even allies. Of course there is real value in determining how much is enough and which means are appropriate. It is quite reasonable to conclude that the risk/reward ratio in tapping Merkel’s cell phone made it a dumb idea. Also, if this stuff was going on without proper authorization, that is a huge problem. But surprise that the US spies is either naive or disingenuous.
‘You shouldn’t be surprised’ is the argument used here because you treated commonplace information as shocking revelations, not because the issue shouldn’t be discussed. If you gasped breathlessly that you just found out that the House GOP is obstructionist and that should change our opinions, we’d be telling you that you shouldn’t be surprised about that.
In a related vein, you have ducked any discussion of the actual issue here. Your post focuses entirely on trying to shame those who have disagreed with you on the Snowden leaks by using a completely different situation that sounds shocking. There is no relevance at all.
If you want to discuss this situation, it’s a bit surprising that we would have tapped Merkel’s phone. Is it going too far? Not sure, but it’s diplomatically pretty rude. Of course, Bush’s administration did it, not Obama’s, and it’s quite typical of the Bush administration’s contempt for the entire rest of the world. After 7 years I’m not even slightly surprised it was forgotten and took another 5 years for the administration to find out about it and tell Merkel they would have it stopped. We also don’t know whether the phone was tapped or just location tracked, but either seems diplomatically unwise.
@Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937: If we abolished the NSA, would Russia stop?
ETA: And no, I’m not arguing that “Just because all the other countries do it, would you do it to?” (though there is an xkcd for that).
I happen to think that spying keeps governments from being surprised. And the one thing you don’t want is a government being surprised. Spying is the gossip channels that allows countries to keep each other in check. See North Korea as an example of what happens to a country that keeps itself isolated.
Um, sorry but a lot of people both pundits and acquaintances are annoying me by expressing simple minded surprise that we spy on other countries and I repeat it’s annoying me and I’m going to say so and read sympathetically writers that say they are annoyed. It’s cluttering up the conversations with dumb born yesterday tutorials that obscure the conversations we do need to have.
We are supposed to spy on other countries. If we don’t bad surprises happen. This includes bad surprises can happen caused by friends. The other side of it was Bush was so out of control and stupid that he was a danger to our allies and I hope they saw some of his mistakes coming.
We are not going to stop spying on other countries and any President or Congress that really tried to stop it totally would lose office fast and should.
That doesn’t mean intelligence services can’t get out of control. Hoover anyone? It’s not good that Feinstein and the President say they didn’t know about Merkles cell phone. That’s important news and we need to discuss that. However this news comes after a bunch of nonsense revelations stretched over months and it might not even get noticed because a lot of people like myself have been tuning out due to frustration over the loud noise from friends who seem not to have heard of well…a lot of what I thought was obvious history. I mean they know history but seem to have skipped noticing all the stuff about spying. FISA, Patriot act, statistics of warrents approved for prior decades. I mean I learned this stuff in Americanism versus Communism which was supposedly so pro American slanted as to be useless but evidently wasn’t as slanted as not being taught it at all.
These spying revelations have been dribbling out for months and have repeatedly been not news so if there is going to be anything significant in it, I don’t think it’s going to be really noticed.
Doesn’t help that the opposition party did it before more and seems to be totally nuts at this time anyway.
Anyway if you try to say we shouldn’t spy, I think people will tune you out right away.
Say our senior government people are supposed to know about it…and you’ll get some people to listen.
So fine: go right on saying “people at the NSA have bowel movements” if that’s what keeps you jolly. You’ll continue to feel smug and everyone else will continue to be mystified by your sumgness.
To me, the most interesting aspect of this is that we were able to hack Merkel’s phone for so long, and not get caught. Heads will roll in Berlin over this.
Yes, Betty. Everyone who disagrees with you is not merely wrong, but infantile as well.
I dunno. Spying on furriners is why we have spy agencies. To be shocked and appalled that they were spying on our ostensible allies honestly does strike me hopelessly naive. Nobody is saying you can’t talk about, but unless you simply want to get rid of the agencies themselves I don’t really know how you craft a law to keep us only spying on “bad guys” or whatever.
@Belafon: OK. So, maybe I am arguing that if every other country does it you should too.
Manning was not a contractor. Having contractors does not inherently raise the risk of compromise.
And an argument or discussion beyond ‘This is shocking news!’ would be nice.
I agree with pretty much everything you just said.
Nor does faux-naive shock.
ETA: If you want a discussion of whether the US is getting a benefit from taking the risk of doing things like tapping Merkel’s phone, start one. You have a platform.
I think, like a lot of the other commenters here, that this is somewhat backwards. I’m not surprised that we spy on other top leaders and I’d be surprised if we didn’t. I don’t want to stop discussing it or criticizing the NSA for its incompetence–including the hiring of Snowden by incompetent proxies–but I do not care for the re-virginization of our press corps and our politicians as they pretend not to know what they have known since (as others have mentioned) the soviet era: people spy because they have need of knowledge of the other party’s goals and intentions and capabilities. And they always will.
This notion that we, as a country, have “friends” and not allies or co-workers is absurd. We don’t have friends. We have competitors who are sometimes allies. Within that category we have politicians who are counterparties in negotiations. The real question is do we use the information we have gathered wisely–who holds it?–and do we use it to extort control rather than to leverage negotiations and for whose benefit.
I’d be more shocked and horrified–but not surprised–to discover that the NSA spies on thousands of people and sells or passes the information to our corporate overlords than I would be to find out that Obama knew specifics of who we spied on.
In this particular case, I’ve got to agree with this. I’ve been aware since the 1960s that we spy on our allies, and vice versa. I don’t expect every Tom, Dick, and Harriet to be aware of that, but if you’re going to try to be talking knowledgeably about spying, you should be aware that this is hardly a new thing.
What IS new, I suppose, is that our allies can’t keep their own leaders’ communications secure, relative to our ability to intercept and decode those communications.
And I suppose one might have assumed that we’d play nice and not spy on the personal communications of allied heads of state, while spying on the entire rest of their government, as a last relic of the ‘gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail’ ethic from pre-NSA days, but on what basis?
no, it isn’t.
your strawman is straw, man.
the entire reason the NSA exists is to spy on other countries. that’s what it does. that why we have it. and most countries have their own spy agencies, which spy on everybody else. it’s what countries do.
Person A says, “you shouldn’t feel….”
Person B responds, “YOU CAN’T TELL ME HOW TO FEEL!”
Its posts like these that make me hate the internet. I reminds me of when I was 12. If you think someone is trying to shut you up, then ignore that person and keep talking. You’re the guy with the blog afterall, you have the megaphone.
@J.W. Hamner: Well, you could set up a secret court whose job it is to check all attempts at collecting information outside of the country. You might give spies the ability to get authorization after the fact in cases where speed is of the essence. It would probably have a 100% clearance rate because the people asking for permission would have the ability to amend their requests.
@Frankensteinbeck: Thank you for that cogent post but I am afraid that you will be out of Mistermix’s “I like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony and spying sucks” hand holding event with our world community. Please drop off your coke bottle on your way out.
There’s a difference between adding transparency and control to a system that’s showing signs of getting out of hand, and indiscriminately revealing everything that takes place behind closed doors. You favor the latter because of your basic lack of understanding of what international espionage and intelligence gathering entails. That’s not the problem of the NSA or any other nation’s intelligence operation, that’s yours.
Just the other day, I read something somewhere, posted by someone who actually worked in a national security position (not classified, so he was able to talk about it), that made a great deal of sense. He said that the value of allies spying on each other is to maintain assurance all around that what is being said in private is the same thing as what is being said in public. Quite the opposite of being disruptive, it helps maintain smooth relations, because everyone is confident of everyone else being on the same page. That’s the reality.
What does cause problems is precisely the discussion of these realities that you so naively champion. Despite your idealistic insistence that sunlight is both good and necessary in this matter, the fact is that publicizing this system of international checks and balances leads to far more than hurt feelings on the part of people whose feelings you think need to be hurt. Any breach, anywhere in the system, makes everyone involved feel less safe. Intelligence procedures are compromised and have to be revised, additional safeguards have to be put in place to guard against further breaches, and undercover personnel may be put at risk as well. National leaders have to face their angered populaces, and may lose their jobs to more aggressively nationalistic candidates in the next election (and we all know how well that always works out). And procedures can change in knee-jerk ways, and not for the better (Patriot Act, anyone?). I read some blurb somewhere yesterday that claimed that the possibility of the US discontinuing its practice on spying on allies was actually on the table. Nevermind the unilateral-disarmament nature of such an action (while everyone else remains armed to the teeth, so to speak). If I’m an American corporation, I’m not happy about this at all — my own government, of its own volition, is going to go dark on events and innovations among the competition in other countries? And what if Golden Dawn does make a comeback in Greece, or the wacko far right in France manages to win enough seats in the next election to wield actual power, or a German version of the Tea Party rises to power, all helped along by naive popular anger over this spying business, and we choose to keep ourselves in the dark regarding their plans? What does the world look like then?
It’s not just the naivete on the part of otherwise intelligent people like you regarding the mere fact that espionage is taking place that’s objectionable. It’s the utter lack of ability and/or willingness to see the situation for what it is and to stop and think things through. We carry on early and often about the refusal of the conservatives to acknowledge facts even as they’re getting hit square in the face with them. I guess, in this respect, both sides really can do it.
General spying, yes — I don’t think anyone is surprised by that. The scope of the spying, e.g., hoovering up kajillions of overseas phone records, tapping Merkel’s personal mobile phone, etc. — was this really common knowledge? I don’t think so.
Well put, mistermix.
I think that this matter is worth discussing.
There is spying that is worth doing; and, spying that is not worth doing. I do not think that spying on countries such as Germany is worth doing. For one thing, I see very little benefit. That alone is enough not to do it.
And, there is a cost in lost trust, etc.
Germany and the USA should have a ‘no spying on each other’ agreement.
Plausible deniability has valuable uses for those holding powerful positions. However, when “Give me the information but I don’t want to know whence it came” becomes the operative norm, that invites abuse, both of trust and of agency mission.
@Chyron HR: It honestly wasn’t meant to be infantalizing (you’re mistaking my personal lack of maturity with a specific species of ill intent); basically I was saying there’s usually more sneering contempt that goes along with the admonition than was evident in DPM’s original formulation.
@Omnes Omnibus: what he said.
I think that people who had some idea of what the NSA does expected that it was scooping up the overseas phone calls. Merkel’s personal phone, I don’t know.
That is an interesting point about ‘everyone being on the same page’. Agreement and/or disagreement among allies ( and adversaries, come to that) should be clear to those concerned. If not, you can have difficulties.
I would make the point that the NSA appears to be collecting data for the sake of collecting data. On the off chance that something useful can be found. This can create the impression that the NSA is scattered and undisciplined.
Considering that companies like Wal-Mart data mine their data, and the techniques have been around for a while now, who thinks the US, the Russians, and the Chinese are the only ones that do it?
Also, is anyone surprised that presidents don’t always have control over every action that occurs under their watch, especially spying? Ike said that we don’t spy on the Russians, and then the U2 incident happened.
I’m not going to argue that we shouldn’t be keeping them under better control. I will be waiting for the bill from congress for the president to sign restricting the NSA’s capabilities.
Define “general spying.” If we were just hoovering up millions of German citizens’ phone calls, I’d criticize that as a waste of time.
Um, if it was, it would constitute a pretty poor excuse for “spying,” wouldn’t it?
Oh, for fuck’s sake Mix, just sledgehammer your computer, get out of IT as a living and do all your correspondence on paper if you are so fucking paranoid that some NSA intern might have the ability to read your email exchange with your mom or your kid, or might have the ability, if you become involved in something nefarious, to review your communications via a FISA warrant.
This is why I hate people with professed libertarian leanings and their bullshit vague pseudofears. John Birch Societants and the rest of their fellow travelers on the right have done a yeoman’s job of making it OK to be a complete fucking nutbag about the things which make them scared. Thanks to them, we don’t have a decent national ID in place (nor a uniform set of state standards), which has made it easier for undocumented immigrants to assume places in the lower strata of the national economy. Had we not gotten so wound up in their bullshit fears of the Antichrist, one of the things which bugs them most would have been far more easily managed. Not only that, but the issue of voter ID disappears as well.
@chopper: if this were a small European country like Albania, I’d feel sorry for the disadvantage Germany has. However, as one of the architects of this global system we have, the Germans shouldn’t be whining that they don’t know how to protect themselves from it.
@agrippa: If it was necessary to start spying on an ally like Germany from scratch then it could take years to get useful intelligence flowing, information with a high level of trust that could be used to create national policy to counter a new right-wing government along the lines of Greece’s Golden Dawn or France’s National Front.
The US was scrambling to get solid reliable information about Japans’ political intentions in the 1930s after a severe downgrade of its intelligence-gathering capabiltiies in the late 20s and the Japanese intelligence system’s inability to collect and present US attitudes and likely reactions to their own expansionist plans to their rulers were fatally flawed as history shows.
On the other hand why President Merkel would believe that her cellphone was secure and couldn’t/wouldn’t be tapped is incomprehensible to me. If you believe the NSA were the only foriegn intelligence agency tapping that phone then I have a bridge to sell you. I suspect the German intelligence agencies were also tapping it too.
Gin & Tonic
@agrippa: I would make the point that the NSA appears to be collecting data for the sake of collecting data. On the off chance that something useful can be found.
This is Google’s entire business model. Are they scattered and undisciplined, too?
@agrippa: Only if you don’t understand data mining. Now, what might be an interesting discussion is how much would people support the use of data mining techniques, or backtracking techniques like they used to find the woman who sent ricin to the present and the others or how they figured out who the Boston bombers were (we would have not figured it, out at least as quickly, had we not had all the random images and videos collected).
Stop Watching Me Not Care.
@Commenting at Balloon Juice since 1937: Actually I’m not gay so they probably don’t listen to my calls. Yeah, I know first they listened to the…..yadda..yadda..yadda..
@Ripley: Golf claps.
Josh Marshall often states his opinions poorly, or maybe just has poor opinions.
My problem with this revelation is that it shifts the focus away from the clear abuses, and toward the grey area of intelligence gathering. It doesn’t matter that it’s wrong — defenders can make a convincing argument to the American public that spying on foreign leaders is a necessary activity. It’s much more difficult to make an argument for domestic spying on law-abiding American citizens. But the NSA can use defenses of its more “legitimate” activities as a shield against its illegitimate ones.
Now the media focus will probably stay on this, because drama. While the clearly illegal, yet less soap opera-style story about domestic spying continues to gets swallowed up by this incoherent mess.
Mistermix is a libertarian PUMA brohadist.
Then by all means clean house at the NSA. Tighten up the procedures, fire idiots, do what needs to be done. But don’t scrub the espionage effort altogether. And for fuck’s sake, don’t embarrass yourself by getting all butthurt over something that you know — or should know — exists. (And by “you,” I don’t mean you, I mean the generic, collective “you.”)
@Betty Cracker: Oh yeah? Well you voted for Nader!
The argument isn’t that we shouldn’t talk about it. The debate becomes focused on the naive position of “oh my god! A spy agency is spying!!!”. Any basic understanding of a security/intelligence apparatus could lead to this as a logical conclusion.
@Betty Cracker: Exasperation, not sneering contempt.
Re Cost/Benefit or risk/reward analysis, specifically the potential damage to US corporate interests of NSA surveillance, here’s one concrete example of “blowback:”
“NSA Spying Allegations Put Google in Hot Seat in Brazil”
“The U.S. National Security Agency’s eavesdropping on foreign heads of state from Angela Merkel to Dilma Rousseff is poised to produce its first high-profile corporate casualty: Google Inc.’s operations in Brazil [the world’s 6th largest market for Internet users].
Brazilian lawmakers are under orders from President Rousseff to pause all other legislative proceedings until they hash out a proposal that would require Google and other providers of online services to keep local-user information in data centers within the country.”
Several months ago, there were reports that NSA spying could damage business for US-based cloud service providers. Now Village elders like David Ignatius and Christine Amanpour have begun to express concerns that this NSA “nothingburger” will have broader adverse economic consequences for American business.
As was recently evidenced by the government shutdown/debt ceiling, threats to American corporate interests will help to focus the minds of Washington lawmakers and reforms to NSA operations will be introduced, in good faith and bad.
Of course it means shut up. Why is that? Well, because only a moron, a media member, or perhaps a deeply concerned republican concern troll would ever express surprise at spy agencies spying on a foreign leader. And spare me the example of Feinstein saying she didn’t know specifics in the face of hostile media inquiries.
This is what I don’t understand about this whole flap. OK-suppose Merkel’s off limits. Presumably, a whole host of her staff is not off limits. Do they get a pass when they call Merkel’s phone?
There is a notable precedent for a powerful federal agency other than the NSA or even CIA gone rogue on collecting extensive dossiers on political figures across the land, both in and out of government: J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.
Hell, let’s discuss the basic issue, and get it out of the way. Is it ‘wrong’ to spy on other countries? What are the arguments to decide if it’s ‘wrong’? I can’t see many, myself. Is it a breach of trust? No. Even our closest allies expect that we spy on them, and they spy on us. There might be limits, and tapping Merkel’s phone might be beyond an understood boundary, but I doubt anyone here knows what the understood boundaries are. Does any government have a right to privacy? Absolutely not. There’s no moral value there. Does any government have a right to defend their own privacy? Sure, privacy is a matter of utility for governments. They serve their people’s interests by defending theirs and trying to breach ours. If Obama’s phone was tapped, it would be shocking that our intelligence service couldn’t stop it and worrying about what information might have been taken, but not immoral on the part of the other country. Rude, maybe, but I don’t know the standards of ‘rudeness’ here. It is not even reasonable to extend the trust to not be spied on. No country gives another country the information they need on a practical basis, because it is advantageous to withhold it. Do foreign citizens have a right to privacy? Maybe, but much less of one than domestic citizens, because the power imbalance is completely different. The US is less likely and less able to punish dissent or enforce conformity on a citizen level in other nations. It’s a whole different issue than domestic privacy rights.
What about overreach? That can be a tough question. Reading the email or videotaping random foreign citizens for shits and giggles is immoral on a personal level, but it serves no purpose for a government and is not likely to be happening. Tapping a foreign president or prime minister’s phone might be a breach of trust. Not sure. It’s diplomatically unwise, but Bush’s regime blew its nose on the rest of the world.
Which brings me to @Betty Cracker:
Was it common knowledge? No. The ‘hoovering’ of phone records is surprising only because we don’t spend much time thinking about what a government would or would not do as an espionage technique. Getting basic phone records – who calls who, when – so that they can be searched at need does not seem like overreach. Once brought up, it seems like a basic technique. The scale is emotionally impressive, but since phone companies record this information for their own billing purposes, it seems reasonable that the government would get access to them for espionage purposes. Tapping Merkel’s phone is surprising, but… well, see above. Mostly it’s a surprise because I wouldn’t have thought we could do it.
As for contemptuous tone of answers to Mistermix, I promise you, Betty, it’s tit for tat. Read the original post, and analyze its tone. Maybe we should rise above the provocation, but the provocations are constant and galling.
“Paulie hated phones. He wouldn’t have one in his house. He got all his calls second hand. Then you’d have to call the people back. There were guys, that’s all they did all day, was take care of Paulie’s calls. For a guy who moved all day long, Paulie didn’t talk to people.”
I listen to domestic French and German daily news. The general big media opinion in France boiled down to: NSA sure does have a lot of resources, and European security services suck and need to be improved, and yes, Everybody Does It. Then a sort of classic Gallic shrug. There’s history from the Chirac days when France got caught with their hands in the till. Also noted that they thought centered on certain immigrant communities and larger businesses. As an aside, a big part of espionage is counterespionage.
The Germans seem more pissed off, but report what Obama said about it and Merkel commenting that it’s probably quite boring. Some pointed comments that the government obviously has to improve security, and some other pointed comments about the history of the BfV, the domestic intelligence agency, and how-does-Merkel-like-it-herself-heh. Also that it gives a useful way for the bigwigs at the EU summit to pontificate about US spying instead of dealing with the treatment of refugees like they were supposed to.
@Raven: I always thought that a key part of the Echelon network was that although the NSA was not allowed to watch US citizens, the other nations effectively were, and versa visa – the NSA spied on British citizens for the British agencies that were forbidden to spy on their own citizens.
The description of it that I heard on NPR – that we will work together but not spy on each other – was exactly backward. It was designed to be transnational for the benefit of domestic spying.
Sometimes Josh Marshall has to put on his hippy beater. If this is such common knowledge why isn;t it routinely reported on?
OT, I was watching the House Hearings on O-Care. Dave Camp just hassled the CMS woman about her not being on O-Care and being on Gubmint care. BTW, she seems pretty sharp. I hope Sebelius is as good as this woman. Hell, I hope Sebelius pulls a Hillary Clinton and does the banging on the table and says – “You guys weren’t going to like Obamcare anyway. What difference does it make whether it’s the website or the individual mandate?”
Oh, on topic, I don’t believe anything that comes out of DiFi’s mouth. I cannot believe that woman represents a true blue state. Disgusting.
This reminds me of a lot of the Manning wikileaks revelations. Some of it was damning, but a lot of it was just business as usual.
I offer the words of a cheese eating, surrender monkey:
“The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us,” former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a radio interview. “Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else. But we don’t have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous.”
Give me evidence that the US is using foreign intelligence to spy on its own citizens, and I will judge it on its merits. It might be devastating, and it might not. It certainly has potential.
dpm (dread pirate mistermix)
Do you mean the provocation of writing something you don’t agree with? Or is there some other form of provocation in the post?
And this, in a nutshell, is why the Master Surveillance State is inevitable, and why Orwell had it all right except the year.
I see two-way TV’s right around the corner, personally. 20 years.
Just Some Fuckhead, Thought Leader
You are describing the Cult of Savvy, mistermix. Of course, posturing of this sort does nothing to change the fact our spy agencies are out of control, are spying on everyone in contravention to the law and are lying to Congress with impunity.
@dpm (dread pirate mistermix):
Yes. The tone of the post is the same kind of lecturing contempt that we are being accused of. In particular, it does not address the issue you bring up, just how much one of our arguments – the least of our arguments – offends you.
There are the well-known Five Eyes (US, Can, UK, Aus, NZ) agreements that prohibit intelligence gathering on each other. The diplomatic fallout now could be colored by other NATO allies’ attitudes towards this pact (Germany apparently was interested in joining, at least historically, and France wasn’t), and there are probably other secret agreements that we don’t know about between the powers. From what I understand at least, it is illegal to launder intelligence like that in each of the nations.
@John O: It will take an extra few years to get them to look around corners…. and back at you. ;)
@Frankensteinbeck: I think you make a great point about it being surprising in part because we haven’t spent much time thinking about how it all works. Whether or not it’s “overreach” or “reasonable” is, of course, a matter of opinion, and I think it’s entirely possible to have good-faith differences of opinion on that score.
As for provocations, you’re right — it goes both ways for sure. But I think Mix’s point about that specific conversational gambit being used as a way to shut down conversation is a valid one. A similar gambit emerges whenever there’s a discussion about some of the NSA programs leaked in the Snowden docs, only in that case, it’s accusations of stupidity about networking, etc., that are flung around. Intentionally or not, it can have a chilling effect.
And I’m not saying there aren’t stupid mistakes non-techies make in assessing those docs, and that people who understand those issues better shouldn’t make their case! I can’t remember exactly who said it, but in a discussion about one of the NSA programs (centering around the release of PPT slides), someone noted that the budget numbers were all out of proportion to the alleged scope of the program, which was an excellent point that helped me (and others I’m sure) understand some of the issues with the Snowden doc dump.
I guess the thing that bugs me is the presumption of bad faith. I’m not innocent of it myself, not by a long shot. But that’s where I think we could all do a lot better, me included. I see us devolving into tribal boilerplate that wouldn’t even make sense to someone who just stumbled on the thread, and that is worrisome for the prospects of a rational discussion.
Wait … you don’t mean this, do you?
Actually, what I’m surprised at is that this post has been up for nearly two hours and it hasn’t even broken 100 comments yet.
One twist of this is the “Spying agencies spy” argument; and that citizens of OTHER nations should be prepared for spying all the time by the US. It is very convenient really. If asked about the drones constantly circling Pakistan’s NWFP, simply ask “What would you rather have? US soldiers on the ground?” and so on. You could stretch that line of argument to anything – “Military will kill” etc and take all accountability for your actions out. It is almost as if the NSA’s spying is some “natural” occurence and nobody can do anything about it.
What is surprising is these same people do not have the same reaction of fatalism or inevitability about, say, school shootings.
There’s been a lot of discussion in this very thread as to why ‘you should not be surprised’ was an appropriate argument in this particular discussion. In general, it might smack of ‘just shut up’, but Mistermix’s coverage of the Snowden angle has been to present a revelation as shocking and horrifying. That is a very limited discussion of the issue, and ‘this was obvious’ is the counterargument that meets it. I know I have issued many, many explanations of why the Snowden revelations were not just uninteresting, they were deceitful. I got few to no counterarguments, which has created a strong impression of bad faith.
EDIT – Please note the only argument Mistermix has chosen to address in this thread. For those attempting to address the real issues, yes, it creates an impression of bad faith. You get much less heat and noise, because you make arguments and counterarguments.
Snowden and Greenwald achieved their goal: This stuff needs to be talked about.
How it is talked about is uncontrollable.
As a citizen of another country, I certainly do not like the fact that the US agencies are spying on my data. I would welcome any attempt to stop this kind of arrogance.
Oh, it was her personal phone! Well, that changes everything! It’s clearly out of bounds to listen in to her phoning in her take-out orders and chatting with her husband! Bad NSA! No budget!
If you people ran the revolution we’d still be having tea under the Union Jack right now.
i feel the same about france. that place is eavesdrop central.
@John O: If their goal was to make us all dumber, then yeah.
@Belafon: People gotta work, you know? The only reason I’m on here is that I’m home sick.
dpm (dread pirate mistermix)
It is an argument I see all the time so I thought it was worth a blog post to address it. Seems that you basically agree that the argument is not a very good one (‘the least of”). So we have some common ground there.
As for the lecturing contempt, I just don’t see it. What I see is a group of commenters who would rather that I didn’t discuss this issue at all. Even the most basic posts about it, which are essentially a link to the latest revelation with little or no editorial comment on my part, cause a bunch of ad-hominem remarks about Greenwald and Snowden. Even if the reporter is Gellman, there’s always a discussion of what a terrible person GG is. I don’t think you’re in that camp, btw, but I’ve never gotten more pushback on just linking to stories about any topic other than this one.
Yet, B-J is a political blog, and this is a big story in our current politics. I do have some experience in the technology involved, so I’m interested in it from that perspective, as well as from the political one. So I’m going to continue to write about different aspects of the story. One aspect is the “why are you surprised” reaction, so here’s a post about it.
The more likely alternative is having the Pakistani Army send four thousand troops through the towns again, or their Air Force bombing the market again, so that puts a bit of a different spin on it.
I don’t feel dumber.
It’s a tough issue. Like some/most, I understand there is gambling going on in all these establishments, and that a certain amount of the criticism is from places who are just angry that they’re not as good as it as we are (hooray for the budget!) and for domestic political consumption.
But I do not personally see where the Surveillance State (let’s call it, “SS” for short) gets stopped, because a very high percentage of people don’t seem to care about it, until they get spied on (IMO), and of course they’re not doing anything wrong in the first place as people clearly like to tell themselves.
Hell, you’re already on camera when you leave the house if you live anywhere near an urban environment. No harm there, right?
I don’t see it ending well for privacy advocates.
@dpm (dread pirate mistermix):
That is because the basic argument backing all the others about GG being a terrible person is that he is a liar. The Snowden revelations universally turned out to be inflated and deceitful. ‘4000 violations of the law against domestic spying’ proved to be ‘4000 times the search engine was used wrong’. ‘The NSA spies domestically and gives evidence to the DEA to fabricate explanations for’ turned out to be ‘All enforcement agencies give other agencies anonymous-style tips on who to investigate if they find evidence of criminality while going about their business, and it’s been SOP for decades’. The terrible story about the NSA coming to someone’s home because of what they put into a search engine proved to be the local police asking questions because the man’s employer was spooked by his records of using his business computer. Greenwald has a long, long history of presenting information in a deceitful and hysterical way, and so the first thing that happens whenever he makes any argument is people going ‘You can’t trust Greenwald to tell you the sky is blue.’
What do you mean by this?
I have to go, and I think it would be dishonest not to mention that when I’ve been so deeply involved in this argument. Hopefully I can stay off Balloon Juice long enough to get some work done today.
@dpm (dread pirate mistermix):
IIRC, the “why are you surprised” comments have been coming a different group of commenters. YMMV.
That’s pretty much exactly me, yes.
I’m not just pissed at the naivete of the people going “ZOMG we spied on Angela Merkel!” or “ZOMG we spied on Angela Merkel – WITH HER CELL PHONE! That’s different, that is.” I’m pissed at the fact that a clear cut example of the NSA doing exactly what it’s fucking chartered to do is being tossed into the same heap as things like spying on Americans within American borders without a warrant.
Pass as many laws as you want to regulate domestic surveillance and I’ll support all of it, but for God’s sake don’t come and tell me that spying on foreign nations is the equivalent of that.
@Southern Beale: THIS. PRECISELY THIS.
My problem with this whole “scandal” isn’t that spying is happening, It’s that this level of spying has been going on for a decade – and the Very Serious People are only upset about it now. I’m just plain over all the Reichwing whinging over the whole thing. What did they think would happen when they pushed through the PATRIOT ACT? What happened to “with us or with Teh Terrrrrrrrists”? Is it me, or does the Right only feel better about things when they’re scared sh!tless?
@Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism: With you there, too. Funny, isn’t it, how Snowden could land an analyst spot and grow a conscience just when the US got the first Blah President.
@Face: What makes you think they’re not? One of the first groups infiltrated by US intel after 9/11 was the Religious Society of Friends – the Quakers. NATURALLY they look for violent troublemakers among the definitive group of pacifists. If they can do that and find some twisted way to justify it, anyone and everyone is fair game.
Jacques Chirac summed it up pretty well when he was discussing revelations that France had been bugging Air France flights with foreign CEOs on board: countries don’t have friends, they have interests.
Friendships between nation states are a historically fickle thing. France was our closest ally, until they weren’t. Britain was our enemy until they became our friend. Germany was our mortal enemy for two world wars, now they’re our friends.
This. Although, I don’t know what mm is trying to prove with this wanking away endlessly on this supposed scandalous cynicism he seems to think anyone who isn’t surprised by this and says so suffers from. Spying is both a hypocritical game that nations play and a not-all-surprising endeavor that nations (yes, all of them, Charlie!) take against friends and enemies alike. Apparently, mm can’t hold two thoughts in his head at the same time.
@Chris: I think it is worse. But obviously, a normal nation would think about this twice – because you end up making enemies this way. Unfortunately people of your country are so secure within your borders that you kind of lose sight of the fact that the larger world matters. As I said, any attempt to spoil that would help, because at this point you are a rogue nation.
@Cervantes: Frankenbeck at 96 has got it covered.
@Chris: tar balls are one of the favorite tools of the polemicist. Once you’ve got the “6 SHOCKING THINGS ABOUT THE NSA” wheel turning, you can get another 3 dozen things stuck to it without any antibodies looking up from their tea and crumpets.
dpm (dread pirate mistermix)
@Frankensteinbeck: I agree that GG is a polemicist who exaggerates in his column. I don’t know the last time I linked to a GG column.
GG is also a journalist who has a byline on news stories at the Guardian, where he’s edited by Guardian editors who also review the Snowden leaks. The Guardian has taken huge risks to safeguard and publish the Snowden leaks. GG is not the whole of the Guardian, and what has been written in Guardian news stories has not been shown to be false.
And, even if you don’t accept that, Bart Gellman has been writing the same stuff as GG and his stories get the same reception here. Gellman has nothing to do with GG other than getting in touch with Snowden via GG and Laura Poitras, IIRC.
So, you’re probably right that there is such a prejudice against GG that people are blind to the fact that many others have looked at Snowden’s stuff and vetted it. Does that mean the Snowden stories should be ignored? I don’t get what we’re supposed to do to write about this story without triggering the response these stories always get.
Talk to your own government agencies. It’s their job to protect you, your countrymen and your government from that.
@Chris: I’m pissed at the fact that a clear cut example of the NSA doing exactly what it’s fucking chartered to do is being tossed into the same heap as things like spying on Americans within American borders without a warrant.
Pass as many laws as you want to regulate domestic surveillance and I’ll support all of it, but for God’s sake don’t come and tell me that spying on foreign nations is the equivalent of that.
Hi, again. The last time we discussed this subject (a few days ago), I pointed out that some of what these agencies have been doing against foreign legations and international organizations here in the US is against Federal law. You agreed, I think, but then I’m not sure where you meant to go from there. Did you mean to leave the impression that you think it’s OK for these US agencies to violate US law? Is this a “grey area” to you?
I always thought that shoulder rubbing incident by W was weird. Maybe he got info from her phone tap that led him to be intrigued.
I think we should set the example for all foreign nations and dismantle all of our foreign intelligence gathering operations.
The rest of the world will surely be moved by this and follow suit. Mistermix can lead everyone in the singing of Kumbaya.
@dpm (dread pirate mistermix):
One of the recurring problems with a polemical style of writing is the overreaction it engenders.
Right. Your nation doesn’t spy on other countries, I’m sure. Certainly, nations that “don’t feel as secure within their own borders” as we do wouldn’t be spying on other countries, I’m sure.
@Baud: Problem? Don’t you mean feature?
Haven’t you heard? Obama is President of the world.
Nah. He was planting a tracking device on her collar. Saw the same thing on NCIS: Los Angeles.
If your government benefits greatly from effective, rampant spying overseas, then is it not a given that your government will develop a keen interest in using the same techniques domestically? It seem logical and inevitable.
For most of us, the distinction is clear. Spy over there, not here.
We are fools if we believe we are immune to surveillance simply because Murika.
Depends on your perspective. I’m sure the polemicist loves the overreaction because he can use it to score rhetorical points with his acolytes.
The other side of the equation is that just because European leaders are acting all outraged about these revelations, doesn’t mean that outrage should be taken at face value. They have no choice but to act outraged. What would most americans say if the Times ran a story that the Russians had tapped Obama’s cell phone and the President’s response was “Meh, No big deal. I figure everyone is spying on me.” ?
What these leaders are outraged about, if anything, is the fact that they are now in the embarrassing situation of having to speak publicly about being spied on.
@Baud: Was that the episode where a bunch of Navy cops were in a shootout in the back alleys of Constanța, Romania?
The biggest laugh riot for me was the “revelation” that we’d been spying on the President of Mexico.
I mean, what interest could we possibly have on keeping tabs on a country: 1. That’s in the middle of a shooting war with narco cartels, 2. Where said cartels have moles throughout the Mexican government, 3. With whom we share a large common border, and 4. Where we are the principal black market for the cartels’ wares.
Two words. George Washington. The original big time American spyer and liar.
Sorry to burst your self righteous bullshit bubble.
Can someone tell me the alternative to spying? No, really, what’s the plan? We officially stop spying abroad and no metadata collection at all. Now what?
I think that describes all of the episodes.
@dedc79: The French and Germans are interested in getting a “no spy” agreement like the one we have the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Some of the reaction to this is, I’m sure, designed to help that cause.
@dpm (dread pirate mistermix): Even the most basic posts about it, which are essentially a link to the latest revelation with little or no editorial comment on my part, cause a bunch of ad-hominem remarks about Greenwald and Snowden.
Actually, you usually throw in things like this: Reacting to this information by saying ”why are you surprised” is just a more accepted (really, more savvy) way of saying “shut up”. This is either trolling your own post or basically what one of my professors used to call “trying to win the argument by sarcasm.” I remember the original discussions about Greenwald and Snowden’s so-called revelations. I spent a lot of time (and so did others) in trying to put the discussion on a rational level. I even listed things that I thought should be part of the overall discussion. In general, most of the comments seemed to deteriorate into exchanges between the “OMG the US GOVERNMENT is going to know everything I DO and we’re ONE STEP AWAY from the gulag” comments and the “You don’t really know much about real gulags, do you?” comments.
This is the thing. Most rational people, myself included, have a list of serious concerns about how the US intelligence services are working. A lot of the comments in this post have tried to address them. But it seems to me that the preemptive “if you don’t believe as I do you’re just trying to shut me up and that makes you an apparatchik of the security state” approach is incredibly counterproductive.
According to Wikipedia, NSA and CIA have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 employees. Pick a reasonable number of such workers in other countries. Certainly, tens upon tens of thousands of people in the line of work.
Let’s guess that the US has half the world’s spies.
What did you suppose all these people were doing?
In this case (bugging Angela Merkel’s phone), that’s not even what I’m talking about.
But on the topic of spying on consulates and embassies? Grayish, I suppose; like I said at the time, it’s impossible to run an effective intelligence or counterintelligence system if you choose to ignore the fact that embassies and consulates are exactly where intelligence operations against us are being run out of, and if you choose to declare those places off-limits. Make of that what you will.
A few years ago a relative of mine was posted in a U.S. diplomatic mission in a hostile country that will go nameless, and I got to visit several times. The diplomatic mission was bugged. The house we lived in was bugged. The locals employed by the mission or by its people – drivers, cooks, janitors, you name it – were on the local security agency’s payroll. Everyone was aware of it, and everyone knew that was exactly how these things worked. Maybe that colored my opinion of the relationship between spying and diplomacy, but I don’t see how the hell else it can ever work as long as the nation-state system remains in place.
@ruemara: We harvest the candy the unicorns pooped out. Duh.
@skerry: Depends on what view you take of contractors. Mine is pretty dim.
@dpm (dread pirate mistermix): Your entire post is a bunch of mildly passive aggressive, snottty bullshit. And implying that those who disagree with you are “center right” is a nice touch.
How long have we heard about the spy satellites that could read licence plates? All my life at least. But I’m now being chided for assuming the govt alphabet were similarly working at the technological forefront of telecommunications and data-mining? yes dear.
@Thymezone: Just like I said.
J R in WV
I could add 5 or 6 trolls if you would like… well, no, I couldn’t, I don’t understand trolling mentality. And I avoid poor construction and mis-spelling to the poor extent that I can.
Betty, Echelon was famously discussed years ago, so I am surprised (a little) that people forget so fast. It was sure never subject to any pressure that might have caused it to go away.
I bet. And if they weren’t completely ratfucking Southern Europe with their national financial policy, it would be something to consider.
I’m not really going to accept w/o challenge the idea that Josh Marshall is “center-right”. That’s also kind of a way of saying, “shut up”. I don’t think a person’s reaction to the news is as interesting as an arbitrary bodily function… it’s worth discussing the difference there.
For instance, I really wasn’t surprised. Just like JM, I am surprised other people are. I would in fact be surprised if it hadn’t been happening since shortly after WWII. Maybe it’s one of those things left unspoken that’s getting some unexpected daylight. Regardless, I’m interested in what other peoples’ assumptions were on the degree that espionage is conducted internationally & surveillance is done domestically.
@J R in WV:
Right, but back then you didn’t have the James Bond figure — all you had was Dr. Evil and SMERSH with nothing to play off of. Then Jimmy Bond showed up, and found his Flemming, and we were suddenly on the edges of our seats!
Griftwald’s white supremacist crushes will get to steal, threaten and blow shit up, and the chances of their getting caught will diminish.
Appears to be a sizeable contingent here who are awfully comfortable with spying of all sorts.
This combined with a younger generation who care nothing for privacy and secrecy will lead this country down a dark, perilous road for sure.
@nemesis: Please don’t insult our intelligence with such arguments. Nobody is that naive or that ignorant that the tools of intelligence gathering has ALWAYS been out there and will ALWAYS be out there. Sheer human nosiness guarantees that.
I am shocked to learn that polemics are being practiced here. Can’t we have calm, respectful and dignified debate?
Just fuckin with ya.
Yeah right, Capt. Renault. Herbert Yardley rolls in his grave over that one.
@nemesis: Yeah, exactly like acknowledging the existence of cancer is cheerleading for the process.
@nemesis: As a NYer, shut up. When you can guarantee me that world peace and enlightenment will breakout tomorrow, then I’ll say we should have no spying ever.
@nemesis: Will nothing rid us of these junior ruffians on our landscaping?
@Thymezone: TZ, maybe I’m not reading the right threads, but I haven’t seen you around here in a dog’s age, seems like. You posting under another nym lately or just dropping by every blue moon or so?
@different-church-lady: The beruffled fainting couches are not laughing.
Also forgotten is that the whole modern era of invasions, drones, and spying started because the Bush administration was hellbent on ignoring foreign intelligence gathering.
I don’t have a problem with the CIA and NSA spying on other countries. That’s their job, that’s why they get paid the big bucks. I also don’t have a problem with them tapping the phones of Merkel or whoever the Hell. I mean, if you’re going to listen in on people, I’d say that the head honcho is a good place to start (assuming you can pull it off). Now if we want to have a discussion about whether or not tapping her phone is worth the risk, well, I’d say it was, at least right up until Mr. Asshat blew the operation. You can’t evaluate operations with the assumption that they’ll be getting plastered all over the front page of the NYT. Nobody would ever do anything, if for no other reason than the worry that their human assets would end up in a shallow grave.
Now domestic allegations are a completely different story, and lumping all the NSA activity into one big story is stupid since it combines things that should be happening with things that shouldn’t be happening. NSA and CIA spying on other countries? Good. NSA and CIA spying on Americans? Bad.
@Chris: In this case (bugging Angela Merkel’s phone), that’s not even what I’m talking about.
Oh, I know — I was just reacting to your comments on the legality of things (“Pass as many laws as you want to regulate domestic surveillance and I’ll support all of it”). Yes, I’m aware that you don’t consider spying on the EU offices or the UN Secretariat to be domestic surveillance even though both actions take place in Manhattan. That’s understandable. What interests me is the instinct to enforce our own laws selectively. (Josh Marshall: “Please, please spare me the shock and surprise”!)
A few years ago a relative of mine was posted in a U.S. diplomatic mission in a hostile country that will go nameless, and I got to visit several times. The diplomatic mission was bugged. The house we lived in was bugged. The locals employed by the mission or by its people – drivers, cooks, janitors, you name it – were on the local security agency’s payroll. Everyone was aware of it, and everyone knew that was exactly how these things worked.
Not that it’s related but I’m just curious: what do you make of such things as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? Should we repeal it because (e.g.) it’s “impossible to run an effective [business] if you choose to ignore the fact that” deals work a lot better if you spread around a little baksheesh?
exactly. they have to admit that their own security blows.
@Emma: as an unrepentant Obot, I have no issues at all with your post or take. What bothers me the most about all of this that most of us agree that the Patriot Act, in and of itself was a knee jerk overreaction to the 9/11 attacks. The original law was much more blank slate than it is today. In 2008-9 the law had some oversight added to it. Gee, who was in office and controlled the veto then? Attempts at making the process more transparent and implementation of additional checks were done by a Dem controlled Congress. Perfect, no, but some checks were implemented and it certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t do more. Obama himself has stated that he’s not comfortable with all of the power that resides within that Act as his reasons for supporting reform, urging additional rewriting of that particular piece of legislation. It’s also painfully apparent that the current members of Congress have no interest in revisiting this anytime soon because the R’s do love themselves some unilateral authority and dream of the day of having another R in office to exercise that authority.
What bothers me most about the NSA “revelations” is that I feel that this has all been just one more agenda item in place for the entire ratfucking of this administration. The timing of the entire affair reeks of orchestration and the main players in the affair, based on their actions, say one thing and do something else. Again, they take the focus off of real issues with the Intelligence service….
what is and isn’t acceptable in the spying game?
what constitutes cause for someone to be tracked/monitored?
should this be a function of government that is privatized or outsourced?
Something to consider is that foreign leaders have to feign outrage for domestic consumption as they have been cooperating with us and have benefited from mutual sharing of intelligence.
And it’s probably a myth, for reasons of basic optical physics.
10-centimeter resolution is more likely: they can make out the plate but not read the number. Of course, there are a lot of better ways to get license-plate numbers…
(Update: Wikipedia says 4cm for the most recent satellites. That’s closer to the license-plate-reading regime…)
@MomSense: I would think especially Germany, with the faint aroma of Stasi lingering in half or so the hallways. The half-n-nhalf heritage has got to make it tough.
Nobody has made the case clearly yet, especially Greenwald, which serves as evidence for how utterly fucking bad he is at his job…
But the spying and the drone situations are largely the same when discussing implications. The concern from both programs is not that they do what previously was done in a new package, but that each do what was previously done at a much lower marginal cost. In the case of drones, it is not unrealistic to assume the government (and moving down to state and local in time) will weigh the decision ‘it used to cost us $x to stop this behavior, which was prohibitive, so we allowed the behavior to continue, but with the drone we can stop the behavior for $x/100, so lets do it’. We avoided all kinds of conflicts because the cost of shipping marines and their gear was massively expensive, but a long range drone costs nothing and there’s zero risk to US human life if its unmanned, so why not? So we move from killing military targets to terrorists to people that just piss us off.
Did we used to spy on world leaders? Of course. But there was a cost to doing it. We only had so many people, it required physical proximity which is expensive (expensive in terms of risk of getting caught as well) to maintain, and so we had to pick and choose. We couldn’t spy on everyone, and we might choose to spy on the leader of Germany, but making that choice cost us something. And it cost Germany something to spy back. Today it costs us nothing. Yeah, there’s this big overhead cost to doing it all, but the marginal cost of adding another person to the list is literally $0. Moving from spying on prime ministers to legislators to regional governors to local police chiefs to regular citizens seems inevitable, because there’s no cost to stop you from doing it. That it happens asymmetrically – that we have the capability and almost nobody else does, in part because the whole world is reliant on the DNS system run out of the US, on Microsoft/Apple/Dell/HP/Google for effectively all computing, on Cisco, etc for effectively all networking, on Facebook/Twitter/etc for effectively all light communication, and so on, all of whom have some sort of relationship with the US Govt by virtue of all being US companies. That means that this has gone from being an equal playing field in terms of capability (if unequal in terms of scale – small countries can do conventional spycraft very well but they must choose wisely) to an unequal playing field, that pretty much only the US can do.
The uneasiness people have here is that we can’t see the countervailing force. We could always see the economic costs being sufficient to keep the behavior in check, but that doesn’t exist now. Congress’s power of the purse is meaningless here. It is legitimate to ask ‘where is the check and balance in this system’. It should be Congress, but the public has a single-digit approval of Congress. Nobody believes Congress has the will or capacity to stop either of these things.
My issue with GG here is that being a lawyer, he connects everything to the law, while missing that this is a problem of economics and one which the law is extremely poorly equipped to deal with. Our legal system has always been highly deferential to economics – that a lot of bad behaviors will be held in check simply because of costs. The digital age has thrown a lot of that out the window, and the law really has no capacity to keep up. We’d have a better understanding of the underlying problem here if Krugman was writing about this stuff rather than GG.
Jose Arcadio Buendía
Saying “don’t be surprised is shut up” is not an argument about spying either. Saying that DiFi is surprised is not an argument by your own metric.
What is your argument that the NSA shouldn’t be spying on other governments? I agree they shouldn’t be spying on U.S. citizens without warrants, but that’s about where I draw the line. Everyone else is fair game.
So, continue to press that cases, but why should Angela Merkel not be spied on?
@different-church-lady: @Cervantes: Frankenbeck at 96 has got it covered.
I see. You’re saying that Snowden and Greenwald make us “dumber” when we discuss them, and optionally their revelations, because (per Frankenbeck @ 96) Greenwald is “deceitful and hysterical.” Is that it? (It’s a yes-no question; I’m just trying to understand you.)
@Matt McIrvin: Well, it was more the rumors of resolution and assumption of technological forefront that was required for my purposes. Although getting them all to park at the right time of day plus angle for the satellite cameras to work was another the tricky bit of the operation.
Now if we would just do them the courtesy of mounting our license plates on our roofs, then at long last we could say the past has truly arrived!
If I want to say shut up, I usually say something like ‘please stop talking’ or ‘can we discuss this later’ or ‘be quiet’. I may have pretended to be on the phone when approached by a crazy neighbor, and I admit this was not my best moment, but I never say this is not surprising when I want to stop a conversation.
What bugs me is how DiFi has been a total NSA fangirl until she finds out they’ve been spying on someone she views as an equal, one of “her sort of person”. NSA spying on US or German citizens is no big deal, run along children. But spying on a fellow member of the elite? Why, she had no idea such a despicable thing was happening, and it will stop immediately!
Jockey Full of Malbec
I’ve wanted this discussion since at least 2005. It’s how a Republic is supposed to function. And I’m glad that the majority seems to have finally caught up to issues we’ve been having since at least 1995 under Clinton. (Just as I’m glad that they seem to have finally lost their taste for reflexive war, albeit 11 years too late).
Yet no such discussion has been forthcoming. Not from St Greenwald. And certainly none from the front pagers here.
(And no, quasi-tribal shibboleths don’t count as “discussion”).
That was another leak last week, but I don’t know the source. The Pakistani government got briefed a whole lot more than they let on by the US on planned drone strikes.
@nemesis: the proliferation of weapons in this country is going to do that before “spying”, if you really want to call it that. What they do isn’t much different than any big corporation. Walmart collects more data on you than the NSA does.
@Jose Arcadio Buendía: What is your argument that the NSA shouldn’t be spying on other governments?
In your view, would the existence of a US statute against X constitute an argument against X?
(By “X” I am not talking about “spying on other governments” per se.)
This has been my take on it. I’ve read Snowden’s posts prior to BO’s investiture. He was perfectly ok with the security state then. The focus hasn’t been on any sort of proven domestic spying illegality, it’s been “ZOMG, US has SPIES” and conflating that to the US is listening to calls and reading emails-none of which is what GG has said past his headlines. Just that the US is capable. Then it’s that the US can break high level encryption. So? I want that. I want my government to be able to unscramble high level encryption, because it shouldn’t be behind on security. There’s a whole slew of regulations, oversight issues, definitions of what possible transparency could be-things we could be discussing. Instead, I keep hearing that I’m supposed to outraged at the mere fact that governments spy on each other and one of the biggest governments in the world, has the best spying mechanisms. Naw son, I’m more pissed that it’s outsourced to unreliable companies than I am that the US spies. Show me the alternative to data collection for NatSec and then we can travel the GG et al route.
@Cervantes: I’m saying when a guy steals shit he doesn’t understand, gives it to another guy who doesn’t understand it, both those guys present it to the world in a deceitful and hyperbolic way calculated to fit their preconceived narratives, and then we all have arguments about it, we all come out dumber instead of smarter.
@Frankensteinbeck: Yup. Mix doesn’t want a discussion. He just takes too long to say “shut up, because, argle bargle”.
@ruemara: I don’t think people are suggesting that we just stop spying: The extent and means are being debated. Is it okay to tap Angela Merkel’s personal phone? Is it okay to store metadata from foreign countries that flows through US-based infrastructure? And by okay, I mean, do the benefits of these actions outweigh the possible repercussions, e.g., pissed off allies, less cooperation and the world fleeing US infrastructure assets? All legit questions, no?
@dpm (dread pirate mistermix):
You make a very important point about the central role of the Guardian in the publication of the Snowden NSA material, and that Greenwald has been only one of several reporters to file stories there. Moreover, as its editor Alan Rusbridger has confirmed in recent interviews a great deal more of it remains to be evaluated for future publication.
In so doing, the paper has begun to come under increasing scrutiny and fear-mongering rhetoric from both British politicians and British media competitors. A Commons select committee has already been convened to look into allegations that the Guardian has jeopardized national security with its Snowden series. Yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron declared that it may be necessary to invoke certain judicial restraints on the press, specifically citing the Guardian’s coverage, “David Cameron makes veiled threats to media over NSA and GCHQ leaks”:
What puzzles me is why the British government would go to such lengths, not simply to dismiss, but to suggest potential suppression of material that some here have referred to as “so-called revelations” or “revelations that have universally turned out to be inflated and deceitful.” Perhaps this too is just “political theater’ for domestic consumption.
On one other point, however, I do disagree: Barton Gellman’s several articles based upon the Snowden material and published by the Washington Post have largely passed unnoticed here (to the best of my knowledge), and on the rare occasion Gellman himself is mentioned, he gets a pass rather than the “same reception” afforded to the polemicist Greenwald.
@piratedan: Bush had his own issues with FISA, room 641A, and the NSA leaker. Much of this was ranted about right here on this blog in 2005 and 2006.
Snowman gets traction because
1) He’s got docs
2) The media darlings were all butt-hurt that the microscope of federal toolsets were turned onto them (how’s that leak investigation going, btw?). What else should they be after years of evoking Cheneyisms to justify these programs?
3) The President is black
You know, there was a bit of outrage back when Obama flipped on telecom immunity and all that, and a number of people thinking playing with Bush rules was going to come back and bite him in the ass. The excuse was, well, he has to play the game because if there’s any attack he’ll be blamed for it.
Well, he was going to be blamed either way, so why play the game? Now even Diane has her knife out.
You’ve left signal-to-noise ratio out: it’s one thing to scoop up that much data, or open the spying to that many targets. It’s another to be able to process it all into something valuable. It’s the difference between data and intelligence.
I was laughing today because it was released that the US was using its embassy in Athens as a listening station so of course the Greeks had to chime in with their listening activities (for instance listening to the US ambassadors calls to Ankara and DC) even saying they hadn’t learned anything new because they already knew everything.
@MomSense: Neither do I. When, in this instance, I say “this is not surprising” it is STATEMENT OF FACT. It isn’t surprising to me that the US spies on other countries and it isn’t surprising that they overreach their mandate. Both as a librarian and a historian I am aware of the intrusiveness (is that even a word?) of the security apparatus and how it goes back for decades.
(added) I am concerned primarily that the role of Congressional oversight seems to be completely broken by the Republicans’ games. Until and if there’s a sense in that “august body” that the NATION matters more than the PARTY, we are screwed.
There seem to be a number of folks here that enjoy throwing their weight around for no apparent reason. You sound like a child.
Nowhere did I intend to say that spying isnt part of our countries strategies. The only issue that interests me is how the news of recent spying overseas affects what we as US citizens will allow to happen domestically.
Frankly, this is the umpteenth time Ive been attacked and accused of something bizarre, like being a troll or something.
Thats it. You want less traffic, you got it, because Ill not return for more bullshit. Many of you will proclaim victory over whatever imagined foe. Enjoy and fuck off.
mike with a mic
Snowden is an IT guy who worked in the intelligence/defense/contractor arena. He does understand what’s going on from the technical side as well as the diplomatic/defense/security reasons for it. He’s just a Paullite libertarian. Greenwald doesn’t know his ass from his elbow about the technical issues involved, doesn’t give a damn about the diplomatic and defense reasons for it, but feels it’s a great weapon to beat the administration over the head with.
Greenwald is on record saying that liberals need to punish the Democrats in office because of this and wants to wage an assault on the American government. Snowden went from your average contractor to a libertarian. Assanage wants to take down governments and has come out and said that the libertarian party is Americas only hope.
If you understand the technology involved and that espionage is needed tool for the most rudimentary diplomacy, skip past the hyperbolic fits and personal slander, and then look at what the players in this state they want to achieve, it’s nothing more than a libertarian fit to discredit another basic function of government and undermine it in the eyes of the public. And like every libertarian freak out they’ve managed to drag some of the far left along with their silly crusade.
Personally as soon as I see libertarians rallying around something and demanding world plus dog pay attention to the most evil government thing ever, I run for the hills. Because at the end of the day it’s a just a ruse for privatising it, government bashing, and picking someones pocket.
Bob In Portland
Bamford’s PUZZLE PALACE was out in the 80s. If you only read the section about “the Jew room” you could pretty much estimate the extent of US spying going back thirty years. I remember reading an extensive article on Echelon in Covert Action Information Bulletin back in the 90s. Having been in the anti-Vietnam and labor movements going back to the sixties I knew about government spying on dissidents firsthand. Back when state-of-the-art spying was dumpster-diving and humint my union was being spied on. My bookstore was being spied on. My public television station was being spied on. Heck, Feinstein and Boxer were among the politicians being spied on. Because this was that operation tied in with the ADL you were accused of being an anti-Semite if you noticed or discussed it, but it was clear that the ADL had no use for information about letter carrier unions or CISPES or anti-apartheid student groups. I came to the realization that as long as taxpayers were footing the bill even marginal information on slightly-dissident or left-of-center politicians was worth it for the intelligence industry.
So of course this is all old news to me.
When I’d repeat any of this in an open forum I would likely be called a conspiracy theorist (back then the term wasn’t merely addressed at tea partiers).
So, yes, many of us knew all this was going on for a long time. If anything I find some comfort that my files might get lost with the millions of other files that they’ve collected on everyone else.
And whether or not the readers of Balloon Juice knew anything about government spying it’s pretty obvious that world leaders did. The BND was built from Gehlen’s Org, which the CIA had appropriated for the first decade after WWII to spy on the USSR and Eastern Europe (per the Treaty of Fort Hunt), so I’m sure there were valuable alliances formed way back then. That makes Merkel’s surprise and anger at the very least dishonest. If Snowden isn’t working for an element in US intelligence it would not surprise me to find out that he was turned by the BND when he was polishing the CIA desktops in Switzerland.
By the way, the false intelligence about Syria being involved in that sarin attack earlier this year was spun on a BND listening post ship sitting in the eastern Mediterranean. That’s right, the Germans were listening in on phone calls of the leaders of a foreign nation. Surprise surprise! But the real surprise is that they hewed the intel to make it appear that the Syrians had actually deployed the sarin. Having the US degrade itself getting involved in wars against Muslims apparently serves the purposes of the folks who used to host the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in WWII.
So, yes, this is all old news, or least information that researchers extrapolated long ago. In my dotage I am happy that the extent of government spying is now more widely known. Now is the time for people to start extrapolating the implications.
@Jockey Full of Malbec: In your opinion, what’s the actual issue that should be discussed but is not being discussed?
@nemesis: I don’t know how I’ll go on without nemesis.
Jim, Foolish LIteralist
Would you like a cookie?
@Belafon: Also, is anyone surprised that presidents don’t always have control over every action that occurs under their watch, especially spying? Ike said that we don’t spy on the Russians, and then the U2 incident happened.
Reasonable point — even American presidents are not omniscient — but not the best example.
Initially, Ike did not want US pilots manning the U2s that flew over the Soviet Union but he was perfectly happy to ask British pilots to do it for him. He himself asked the Pakistanis to allow the use of an air-base for the purpose. After the Brits brought back the goodies, twice, Ike was sufficiently tempted that he authorized two more flights, this time piloted by the CIA. The first of these went off without a hitch, except that the Soviets detected it. When the second flight entered their air-space three weeks later, the Soviets shot it down. Ike’s denials at that point were, how you say, economical with the truth.
Bob In Portland
@scav: While the Stasi were in operation the West Germans weren’t all going to prayer meetings.
@ruemara: I’ve read Snowden’s posts prior to BO’s investiture. He was perfectly ok with the security state then.
Really? Where did you read Snowden’s posts?
And if you mean Greenwald (I know, they all look the same), then can you please show me where he was “perfectly ok with the security state” prior to January, 2009?
@Bob In Portland: All the more important to insist they were, in a stunned and booming voice.
Bob In Portland
@handsmile: More being evaluated? If you looked at Snowden’s revelations during his world tour it seems he was releasing information to coincide with Obama’s schedule. Chinese leader visiting the US? Let’s release something on the US spying against China. Snowden must be pining for Octoberfest.
Well, also remember that one of the effects of diplomatic immunity is to place people entirely outside the boundaries of the law as we mere mortals understand it.
I mean, if federal agents find out that a building in downtown Manhattan is being used as the headquarters of a Mafia family, or a terrorist cell, or even an intelligence network under non-official cover – they can go to a judge, explain the situation, and they’ll almost certainly get a warrant to search or wiretap the place, and eventually disrupt the offender’s operations. With embassies and consulates, you can’t do that because it’s illegal under any circumstances. And like I said, you can be absolutely positive that operations are being run out of there. The legal anomaly that comes with diplomatic immunity sort of dictates how you’re going to keep an eye on them.
Never really thought of the FCPA in the same light given the lack of national security implications (and that I’ve read a lot less about that than the intelligence topic). But I do have another relative who specializes in it, and that’s one of her main complaints – that the FCPA by its very nature allows you to target corrupt businessmen, but not corrupt politicians, which means it effectively addresses only half the problem.
Jim, Foolish LIteralist
This was after 01/09
“Those people should be shot in the balls”
Said Edward Snowden in a January 2009 Ars Technica internet chat.
“Are they TRYING to start a war? Jesus Christ. They’re like Wikileaks.”
Subject was the New York Times publication of negotiations between the US and Israel on Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
@Ramiah Ariya: What is surprising is these same people do not have the same reaction of fatalism or inevitability about, say, school shootings.
Well, to be fair, I doubt you’ve seen them complain about school shootings in Pakistan’s NWFP.
@Cervantes: here ya go:
I think that much of this comes from some people being “shocked” that spying is going on.
Now, people can no longer pretend.
I would be shocked ( as in actually shocked) if it were not.
The real intelligence failures arise from an inability to accurately interpret the intelligence.
Bob In Portland
@scav: Exactly. The US-Germany post-WWII alliance wasn’t just because we were wanting to be chummy with this new democracy and protect them from the evil commies. Everyone in their intelligence circles were former employees of the Nazi regime. The corporations and banks that flourished in West Germany were mostly the same bastards that sat around the meeting table to figure out where to build the concentration camps a decade earlier. The dissolution of Yugoslavia was merely the completion of German goals from WWII. Notice how while all the other countries in Europe are splitting along ancient tribal lines that there is one country that’s gotten bigger?
@Bob In Portland:
Why I’m entirely okay with spying on Germany:
Germany isn’t even removed from living memory from having a continent-wide genocide industrial complex for Jews, Slavs, Poles, Romani, homosexuals, and mentally impaired, because their democratically elected leadership decided that continental Europe would look good on a German map.
Those questions are legitimate.
I do not have, right now, good answers to them.
@mike with a mic:
I agree 100% that libertarian attention to an issue generally has an inverse relationship to its actual importance. It’s abso-fucking-lutely a giant red flag. Where we may differ is I don’t think having a libertarian source automatically disqualifies evidence. In my book, it just adds a boulder of salt to be weighed.
Bob In Portland
@mike with a mic: Mike, I suspect you’ve correctly sussed out the grand libertarian alliance.
So what should a good citizen’s position be? Recognize the information being released but don’t necessarily think that Ron Paul would ever let dope-smoking abortionists get gay-married. It’s just another okeydoke for the rubes who read the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence.
Oversight is great, but I’m tired of Dianne Feinstein’s entitlement issues. She throws a shit fit whenever she’s not in the inner circle. It’s never about CONGRESS being excluded, it’s about HER being excluded. It’s a personal ego thing, not necessarily a good public policy thing, for her.
So, yeah, we really should pull back the Cold War spy-vs-spy apparatus, but I’m tired of Feinstein’s bullshit.
Bob In Portland
@Cervantes: Actually, Ike ordered all U-2 flights over the Soviet Union to stop prior to the planned Paris Peace Talks with the Soviets.
Francis Gary Powers’ flight was in direct conflict with his orders. If you need a tell, the CIA took out their top-secret camera out of the U-2 before Powers was sent up to be “shot down.” The Soviets got upset and refused to meet with Eisenhower, but they didn’t get the new technology. Who benefited from the continuation of the Cold War?
@piratedan: Oh, come on. Some out-of-context image from Twitter? Really?
Recall that I was responding to the claim that Snowden (or Greenwald) was “perfectly ok with the security state” during the Bush 43 administration. But in the very same article from which your Twitter image derives, Greenwald wrote:
How does this show that Greenwald was “perfectly ok with the security state” prior to January, 2009? He’s not arguing in that 2005 article that US (or Bush) policies should be spared criticism; he’s arguing that “international unpopularity” of said policies is not the best criterion for criticism.
PS: Good luck with that surgery and here’s wishing you a quick recuperation.
@Cervantes: and yet it’s THIS administration that has attempted to close down Gitmo and to rein in the Patriot Act by instituting checks and balances with a Dem controlled Congress and Senate and GG has completely fucking ignored it. If he was so opposed to the NSA security state during the previous administration, where was his outrage? It’s only shown up now, does it mean that he’s simply a chickenshit or that he found a willing conspirator in Snowden that he could manipulate?…. and again, his actions have not allowed us to focus on the very things he’s supposed to oppose, instead he’s gone off on this Dr. EEVil vibe “I will expose one major security revelation each month!” to what fucking end?
and how else am I supposed to interpret “whatever measures it deems appropriate” other than as a huge pass on the then current administration’s policy of doing what they thought was in the nation’s best interest.
Bob In Portland
@fuckwit: I am proud to say that I voted for Jello Biafra way back when Feinstein made her move up from SF’s Board of Supervisors. She’s always been what she’s been. Treated service people with disdain too. Like I said, there was a file with her name on it during the ADL spying operation in the late 80s-early 90s. Apparently, whoever was reading her file liked what they saw.
@Cervantes: Don’t you read what people write that you are interested in?
@piratedan: Sorry, I can’t understand your response.
@ruemara: Of course, but that doesn’t answer my question.
@Cervantes: and ty for the thoughts on the surgery and for the discussion, not sure we’ll ever agree on the finer points but I do think that we both want more controls and restrictions on how the NSA does it’s job and a close to Gitmo. The hard part, as always, is getting those cats herded in order to make that happen.
I want to know if there was a huge sweep that caught her phone calls,too or if it was a huge sweep and a separate targeting of her phone. Because if it’s about “Don’t you people know who I am?” I don’t wish to give any additional fucks to her just because of who she is.
If David Hasselhoff has a problem, however….
1. It was fairly clear, in the way that Josh Marshall was using the ‘spare me the shock and surprise’, was in a way to normalize the conversation, and stop asking questions.
2. John Marshall has been wrong-footed on this, from the beginning. TPM spent a month snarking and belittling Snowden and the revelations. They finally stopped, when it became too obvious that a lot of relevant and newsworthy articles, and some profound questions, were being published as a result of the Snowden releases.
3. The last thing I read on the ‘main’ site, TPM was hawking an article by some ‘former intelligence’ person, who had left the organization, and for the last two years, has been turning his experience into becoming an intelligence issues security reporter. In that circumstance, the article written was decent, but, the guy had already had a few interviews where he totally dismissed Snowden. So while the article was about ‘free-thinking tech types’ and how they are needed, but they don’t mesh into the national intelligence security mindset – he had already written several articles DISMISSIVE of the same mindset. Not that he, or Josh Marshall, pointed out that history. In fact, when Billmon pointed it out on Twitter, JM told Billmon something like ‘you are failing so hard’, while totally oblivious to his own, ongoing failure, in terms of these NSA issues.
4. It really doesn’t matter whether ‘everybody does it’. Where does that philosophy lead? Every country developing their own security protocols, and an even more tightly locked internet. Every country’s internet, becomes China’s internet.
If that is where Josh’s “everybody does it” leads – is that where we should be going?
5. What is the right internal relationship, of what should be captured, what shouldn’t? Who sets policy? Who maintains policy? Who watches the watchers? Are the watchers blackmailing policy makers?
6. Should the NSA have carte blanche to spy on ALL traffic, through Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, including foreign traffic? What is also totally missing from these conversations, is how NSA – which is a total money suck, it and all of the secondary corporations sucking at the black budget funding (which is HUGE), are hitting the bottom lines of our most important export companies. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo.
It is an outrage/joke, that these companies which suck ten, (hundreds?) of billions from our – yours and mine – pockets – may also be killing the future profits, and job creation abilities, of our most innovative companies.
How much is it worth to now be able to prosecute one guy, who gave a few thousand to a madrassa, which hits at the billions in future profits, thousands of jobs created, if Google/Yahoo forced to share worldwide traffic with NSA?
I know there are some apologistS on here – but you really haven’t thought through all the consequences, longterm, of given the NSA and associated agencies, carte blanche, in the pursuit of ‘terror’.
THINK IT THROUGH.
@piratedan: I am no fan of Greenwald, but it’s categorically untrue that he only became interested in NSA issues when Obama became president. I can find tons and tons of pre-2008 links if you’re interested, or you could Google “Unclaimed Territory” (his old Blogspot blog) and see for yourself.
As for the Dr. EEE-ville vibe, that’s Greenwald’s take on America, regardless of administration, not just Obama. Someone here described it as “reverse ethno-centrism,” which I think captures Greenwald’s shtick quite well. The US is the font of all evil. I find it as annoying as the “American exceptionalism” bullshit.
Anna in PDX
@Southern Beale: I was screaming at the radio this a.m. during the John Stewart Minute to that effect!
Anna in PDX
@Ripley: Seriously, at least 2/3 of internet comments can be reduced to this. Not just on this blog. It seems that most of what people want to do by commenting is not discuss issues but show how they are too cool for school.
@Betty Cracker: ty Betty, when I checked earlier for his blogspot stuff i got 404’d, but I’ll google-fu it to get myself up to speed.
@piratedan: Here’s a good place to start.
@Bob In Portland: It is interesting that only two months ago the German press was jubilant about the country’s display of power in eavesdropping on Syrian military officials:
See this Spiegel article.
At the time, the eavesdropping was supposed to put the country on the international stage. The other side of being on the international stage, however, is being eavesdropped upon. I can’t count the number of times the German government and public has lambasted the US for doing exactly what Germany does. I don’t think Germany has even noticed the irony of its complaint this time around.
Don’t forget, though -we were often perfectly happy to work with those Nazis (Reinhardt Gehlen?) Not to disagree with y’all’s basic points, just saying that we weren’t there just to keep an eye on the ex-Nazis, it was also to channel them in ways useful to us.
The problem I have with the original post, is that his premise is an offshoot of the right’s favorite meme of fake outrage. In this case the front pager is crying, how dare you challenge my fake outrage!!!! So he adds in the poor me I’m being attacked canard to boot.
I have seen it creeping more,and more into the fabric of the left. It is though they are jealous of the right’s constant employment of the faux outrage Syndrome, and want to get some of that sweet, sweet disingenuous fury for themselves. Honestly, it aggravates me that so many on the left seem to be gravitating to the B.S. tactics of the right. All it does is reinforce the entire “both sides do it” argument.
It’s not surprising that we spy on our allies, and not particularly outrageous either. Is it bad policy? Certainly if you get caught, otherwise it’s a fairly gray area.
That’s the part that I think isn’t getting enough play. Even if you think it’s awesome to be spying on our allies, we’re allowing tons of people access to this information (and apparently not giving some of the proper people access, like DiFi).
This is not a good system.
Addendum: yeah, ignore this (just reread that whole line of argument and realized y’all were making the same exact point).
For whatever it’s worth, my understanding of Greenwald’s viewpoint there is this:
1) America is Greenwald’s home country, thus the one whose policies are of the greatest interest to him
2) America is the most powerful nation on earth, so what happens here has significant impact on the rest of the world.
So that’s why he focuses on problems in America. I imagine if you put the question to him, he’d be able to say many things he likes about America: some of the best free speech protections in the world, for instance. (though of course that comes with caveats, such as reporters being detained at the border, etc)
Center-Right BJ commenters get their panties in a bunge when Center-Right pundit Josh Marshall is mocked.
Center-Right BJ commenters get their panties in a bunge . same debate, different day. keep up the good work, mistermix
mike with a mic
@Bob In Portland:
A “good citizen”, I don’t buy that language.
I consider myself an establishment Democrat. I believe in government functions and institutions as critically important things we need for ourselves. So before I explain my stance let me readily admit I’m ex military, I’ve done defense contracting, and I still work in the greater Washington DC IT bubble having to do with international issues.
I have no problem with a government run security apparatus. When espionage is conducted properly it’s to glean information that is first used to inform things related to diplomacy, the world around us, and ferret out the truth of what’s going on rather than the bullshit. If needed it can be used for war. When it’s used wrongly… well you get what happened with Bush. It’s a tool and like all tools it depends on how it’s used.
I’m not going to demonize it, because we need it and we will never live in a world where we don’t. For me the goal is to elect into office people who can be trusted with it, rather than just obliterate it. I have no tolerance for libertarian thought where any attack on the government always boils down as an excuse to privatize something, or to sow distrust about our institutions to help chip away at the government completely. Frankly nothing that’s been revealed concerns me. Largely because I’ve worked around this sort of thing, and also because anybody who’s worked in IT has been telling world plus dog that nothing has ever been private and you’d have to delude yourself to think that.
Rather than fix the NSA I’d rather focus on putting people into office who will not abuse the tools they have. People who will use intelligence to work in the diplomatic arena with sticks and carrots to promote our best interests. I’d rather stop NSA abuse by making sure not to elect people that would use it as a weapon against their opponents or to manipulate us into a war.
It’s the same shit with the FBI. Any sort of federal agency powerful enough to protect us against corporations and to help with international issues can be abused. When I hear libertarians ranting about destroying them I worry who is going to step into fill that power void.
The more people who have access to the information, the greater the risk of compromise. That’s the point. A system that allows an Army Private or a contractor more access to information than the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee is a bad system.
@Jim, Foolish LIteralist: This was after 01/09
Not exactly; it appears to have been January 10, 2009. Anyway, at that time Snowden appears to have been upset that (1) US covert operations in Iran were being exposed via leaks. Later it appears he was upset about (2) domestic spying and offensive cyberwar, so he exposed them via his own leaks. This strikes you as hypocrisy, I guess, but I’m not sure that’s a necessary conclusion. The differences between (1) and (2) may be significant to some people.
And in any event, even if it is hypocrisy, it does not demonstrate that either Snowden or Greenwald was “perfectly ok with the security state” prior to January, 2009.
Jockey Full of Malbec
(1) What level of secrecy WOULD be acceptable to you?
(2) What checks and balances would you like to have that are NOT currently in place?
(3) What concrete legislation would you propose to achieve (1) and (2)?
(4) Which elections in 2014 and 2016 should sympathetic Democrats target to achieve (3)?
@TG Chicago: All good points, PUMA cat lady. ;-) But I do find it irksome when Greenwald holds forth about US press oppression to audiences in, say, Brazil and Venezuela, which have some freedom of information issues of their own, to put it mildly.
Jim, Foolish LIteralist
@Cervantes: You’re the one who conflated Greenwald and Snowden in this discussion, with your still unexplained “I know, they all look the same”. Ruemara and I were both talking about Snowden.
@Chris: Never really thought of the FCPA in the same light given the lack of national security implications (and that I’ve read a lot less about that than the intelligence topic). But I do have another relative who specializes in it, and that’s one of her main complaints – that the FCPA by its very nature allows you to target corrupt businessmen, but not corrupt politicians, which means it effectively addresses only half the problem.
Yes, but you’re missing my question. If it is OK to selectively enforce laws, and OK on pragmatic grounds to ignore the laws against the aforementioned NSA activity in Manhattan, then why not as well ignore or repeal the FCPA on pragmatic grounds (the pursuit of US interests abroad, defined broadly)?
mike with a mic
Greenwald has openly stated he wants to bust down the two party system in the US and that liberals punishing Democrats at the polls by not voting for them is a key part of this.
Look at what he actually wants, look at what he’s actually said, then you realize you’re following a libertarian pied piper down to crazy land.
@Jim, Foolish LIteralist: Fair enough. Ruemara mentioned Snowden once in that paragraph and Greenwald twice. I must have misunderstood.
But even if the reference was to Snowden as opposed to Greenwald, I stand by my response to you: I’ve seen nothing to show that Snowden was “perfectly ok with the security state” prior to January, 2009 and then promptly ceased to be “perfectly OK” with it because Obama took office. The claim may be true but I don’t see that it is.
@Bob In Portland: @Cervantes: Actually, Ike ordered all U-2 flights over the Soviet Union to stop prior to the planned Paris Peace Talks with the Soviets.
Francis Gary Powers’ flight was in direct conflict with his orders. If you need a tell, the CIA took out their top-secret camera out of the U-2 before Powers was sent up to be “shot down.” The Soviets got upset and refused to meet with Eisenhower, but they didn’t get the new technology. Who benefited from the continuation of the Cold War?
Sorry, I can’t seem to find any way to document these assertions. Do you have a way?
As far as I know, the only order Frank Powers disobeyed in May, 1960 was the one to commit suicide in case he was captured.
Pffft. The NSA Spying Scandals were okay when they were appearing in tiny bars and clubs with nothing but post flyers letting you know. Now they’re totally overdone.
@Chris: I mean, if federal agents find out that a building in downtown Manhattan is being used as the headquarters of a Mafia family, or a terrorist cell, or even an intelligence network under non-official cover – they can go to a judge, explain the situation, and they’ll almost certainly get a warrant to search or wiretap the place, and eventually disrupt the offender’s operations.
Reuters is reporting this afternoon that:
@mike with a mic: Again, those are excellent reasons to take anything Greenwald says with a heaping pile of salt, but insufficient (in my view, anyway) to automatically dismiss the Snowden docs, etc., as a nothingburger. Greenwald isn’t always wrong about the NSA, as his copious criticism of that organization during the Bush years illustrates.
@Jockey Full of Malbec: All great questions. I know some of them have been discussed here (some maybe even within this thread), but mostly in a hit or miss fashion in comments, it is true. I am bookmarking your questions for next time I start an NSA thread.
mike with a mic
Spying on foreign officials and nations is a nothingburger. Spying is an essential function of diplomacy. You might as well just say “hey man, fuck diplomacy, fuck knowing what’s going on, fuck getting things wrong, we’ll just bomb the fuck out of anyone over the slightest confusion”. Espionage is what let’s diplomats do their jobs, take it away and diplomats are utterly pointless and we can just go around dealing with every country as we do North Korea.
That this tool can be used internally… that’s not an argument for abolishing the NSA in the slightest, it’s a solid argument for voting for people you trust to use it responsibly. Along the same lines that the large amount of contractors involved isn’t an argument against the NSA either, it’s an argument against voting for people who have a privatization fetish and keep demonizing government workers and screwing with their paychecks.
The libertarians are cranking people into abolishing this mess and hating government, which is what they do. The better solution is more people like Senator Wyden or Sanders who can be trusted with these tools and not electing neoconservatives to the presidency. But that will never be the goal of libertarians because it puts liberals in office and doesn’t get people to hate the government.
Is opinion about what spy agencies do overseas a particularly important part of finding one’s position on the left-right spectrum? I don’t particularly care what kinds of things people want to find important or join movements over. I care a bit more about being told that No True Liberal would think otherwise, when the issue in question is peripheral. I would say the same thing about GMOs. I know a lot of people who care about GMOs. Most of them are liberals and leftists on other issues. But their anti-GMO stance isn’t “left,” it’s simply another thing they think is important.
@Cervantes: Thanks for the history update.
Just wait, any moment now DiFi will tell Angela M. that if she hasn’t done anything wrong, she has nothing to worry about.
“Don’t be surprised” is something I’ve said in private, because I’ve personally simply not been surprised by what’s been coming out, but doesn’t encapsulate my attitude entirely accurately.
I’d rather say, “Why not try to place this whole kerfuffle in its wider context, especially if you’re privileged enough to have a bully pulpit like Balloon Juice to do so?”
Because sure as fuck, you won’t find that wider context in anything Greenwald writes, so why use piecemeal revelations from him, by virtue of the trove of materials he was gifted, as the entire basis for your blogging coverage unless you’re just trying to score points off a not insignificant segment of your regular readership and commenters with whom you have a sometimes antagonistic hiistory?
It’s a pathetic “investigative journalist” who relies on materials literally dropped in his lap by a source and doesn’t then do some proper research into what others have turned up over they years to flesh out the story. It’s a plain dishonest one who who doesn’t acknowledge that there’s more to the story than current time and word count can encapsulate.
In 2008, Greenwald had a legendary run-in with Al Giordano, because Giordano, who’s been embedded in these issues for fucking years and knows his stuff, refused to spoonfeed Greenwald information about collaboration between South American and other governments and the US intelligence services because greenwald was too stubbornly incredulous, antagonistc, and sheer lazy to do his own donkey work. It’s comical that Greenwald at the time soured any slim chance of Giordano being inclined to cooperate with him by accusing Giordano of making such statements from his own wide experience, “in your desperate effort to defend Barack Obama in all that He does.” – Note that Obama was apparently the arch-culprit before he even got elected!
So it is with bloggers – like I have been in the past and may one day be again, and you, mistermix, whom I will own up to having a major soft spot for in general – who may or may not have standards similar to those we all would like to see journalists held to.
Each shock-horror revelation in the current drip-drip has a context, and if you just lazily grab onto each one as it passes because you feel that otherwise some amorphous entity is “silencing” you without looking at the wider picture and trying to convey that to your readers, taking on board the not inconsiderable experience of quite a number of them, then you’re in danger of being just as bad as the tabloid-ish reporters we so eagerly, and rightly, castigate.
I’ve shied away from commenting much on all this publicly and haven’t blogged about it myself because (a) to do so at all competently in a way that wouldn’t just add to the noise would require a multi-part series of posts that would take time and energy I just can’t spare at present, and (b) if you do due diligence and research what’s being written at present, never mind in the past, there are a number of others much better qualified than I am and blessed with much better resources who do have the time and energy and who are doing so.
You also have a lot more faith in the editorial abilities and good faith of the Guardian (especially its current incarnation) than I do, and I speak as a British reader of that esteemed organ for the past 35 years or so (it has worn its spasmodic anti-Americanism on its sleeve for as long as I’ve read it, and that’s a sentiment I’ve shared for better worse, at times, along with most of the rest of the British left). It’s among the best of the lot, but that really isn’t saying much, and it’s had shameful epidodes in its past that I have direct knowledge of, having been among the subjects of some of its coverage. As for the idea that cash-strapped Rusbridger could trammel online clickbait cash cow Greenwald’s rampaging overweaning ego while he’s been holding all the cards in terms of the Snowden cache, that’s just laughable and unrealistic.
@mike with a mic:
Uh, thanks, but again, no one is saying there should be no spying, ever, period — the questions are who, where, how, does it stand up to a cost-benefit analysis, etc. These are valid questions, even if a libertarian douchecanoe touches off the discussion.
That would be a swell plan if we could always be certain our candidates are in power, but since we can’t guarantee that, I’d prefer to have really specific rules in place to govern NSA activities and congressional oversight of the organization.
Those safeguards are supposedly in place, but if the strength of those protections is called into question — even by the activities of libertarian douchecanoes with foul ulterior motives — I find that worth discussing. YMMV, naturally!
@Betty Cracker: I am looking forward to the post. I would suggest adding: “How much surveillance is acceptable?”, “What types? Metadata, e-mail content, phone locations, phone conversations, CCTV?”, and “What should be the standard for allowing the surveillance? Probable cause, reasonable suspicion, etc.?” Or something similar but better worded.
mike with a mic
Then we might as well get rid of social security. After all, we can’t always be sure that people in charge won’t just use it as a slush fund and load it up with treasury bonds to give taxes cuts to rich people and fund the military. So since it can be abused if the wrong people get in charge, we have to get rid of it completely.
The argument that “because the wrong person might be put in charge of it and do something bad with it” is the argument against all government. It’s pure libertarianism. Can’t have regulators because if the wrong person is in charge they will be corrupt and help big business instead of the common man, thus get rid of it.
Sorry I don’t buy that, because I”m not a libertarian.
@some guy: Stupid douchebags who loathe Obama and/or all democrats provide nothing whatsoever to the conversation, and instead label anyone who doesn’t agree with their shallow stupidity as “centrist.”
@mike with a mic: That doesn’t remotely follow from BC’s comment. Obviously, if someone really wants to abuse their position or break a law, they are going to do it. But we can make it easier or more difficult to do. Right now, it appears that our intel folks could use some help. That Manning and Snowden were able to do what they did the way they did indicates one area of potential change. Talk of improper domestic surveillance indicates yet another; even if nothing improper actually happened, the fact that this has become a thing shows that roles and procedures, at least, to be clarified. Also, the rapid changes in technological capacity have not been matched by equivalent legislative changes. Finally, the Patriot Act simply sucks.
Is it, in fact, the pursuit of U.S. interests abroad? I know corporate America loves to conflate the two in an international version of their “if it’s good for us it’s good for the whole nation” creed, but is it actually? “Pragmatically” does it in fact serve America’s interests to support corrupt and unstable systems like the Shah’s Iran or Somoza’s Nicaragua, where the government is nominally bought and paid for by American corporations but could collapse into revolution or civil war at any moment, leaving America shut out of the system altogether? Is that actually preferable, “pragmatically,” to supporting more honest and stable governments that are are less likely to give your companies special breaks, but also less likely to break down into anti-American regimes under too much pressure?
Oh, I heard. And I’m not surprised – but as Reuters implies, I doubt if that’s the end of our efforts to spy on the missions.
@mike with a mic: we have to get rid of it completely.
I must not be paying attention. Who here has spoken of getting rid of anything completely?
@Chris: Is it, in fact, the pursuit of U.S. interests abroad? I know corporate America loves to conflate the two in an international version of their “if it’s good for us it’s good for the whole nation” creed, but is it actually? “Pragmatically” does it in fact serve America’s interests to support corrupt and unstable systems like the Shah’s Iran or Somoza’s Nicaragua, where the government is nominally bought and paid for by American corporations but could collapse into revolution or civil war at any moment, leaving America shut out of the system altogether? Is that actually preferable, “pragmatically,” to supporting more honest and stable governments that are are less likely to give your companies special breaks, but also less likely to break down into anti-American regimes under too much pressure?
Well, exactly! It’s almost enough to make one wonder whether the same skepticism regarding the argument from pragmatism (I won’t call it your argument from pragmatism) could be applied to the case of NSA surveillance/spying/abuses.
@mike with a mic: Thanks, Captain Non Sequitur.
@Chris: Oh, I heard. And I’m not surprised
Reuters also says:
Were you surprised by this?
And as for:
but as Reuters implies, I doubt if that’s the end of our efforts to spy on the missions.
Where do you find this implication?
Probably from this part of the article.
certainly. while the expanding scope of spying is a more basic problem, the use of contractors all over the place in our gooper-led need to privatise the fuck out of everything is a big deal. not just because it makes our secret organizations leaky (that can be good at times but is usually a bad scene), but because the overall quality drops. contracting out secrecy is never a good idea.
of course, the republican ideal is not to fully privatise this stuff, contra what everybody thinks. it’s to privatise it just enough to make boatloads of cash off it while keeping the government on the hook for the blame when it inevitably fucks up, proving once again that ‘gubbermint doesn’t work’ and that privatising is the right call.
this is an issue all over the place, not just with secret shit like the NSA. look at obamacare; the big reason federal IT is such a fucking mess is that it’s all contractors all the time and every system is different. there’s no overarching infrastructure or systemic consistency and it’s made healthcare.gov’s job a hundred times harder. plus, it aids the GOP movement to fuck it over.
@Chris: We ordinary citizens would have been–right now, right here–much, much better off had many supposed ‘national’ interests favoring concentrated corporate & financial power not been pushed & furthered by our government in our name.
Had we chosen, for example, rather than spending most of the 20th century, to support & encourage domestic, indigenous pushes toward democracy & social welfare reform throughout Central & South America and the Caribbean versus pushing to slaughter the natives like livestock and install & support nasty murderous regime after nasty murderous regime, we ordinary people would all have prospered from the greater trade, the greater intellectual interchange, the saved resources, the higher level of human development through an entire hemisphere, far lower immigration pressures, etc.
‘The national interest’ is whatever the foreign policy establishment — and in the social sciences an actual analyzeable subject comprising far more people and institutions in & beyond government than the few elected political representatives & known Cabinet members typically considered — considers it to be at that moment.
If their conception of ‘our’ best interest is actually harmful to us? Well, fuck us. And when in doubt, keep it ‘secret’ such that obedient & complaisant major media will go along and pretend not to see, and reports from the natives and foreign journalists can always be treated unseriously.
and “He” is capitalized, of course. over 4 months before the election, when he had just clinched the nomination, he was already ‘lord jesus’ to his followers in GG’s book.
@Omnes Omnibus: Yes, but that surveillance of individual diplomats is distinct from cracking the UN’s electronic infrastructure — and it’s the latter that Obama has apparently curtailed.
@Cervantes: What is your point?
@Omnes Omnibus: It was not a big point. Chris wrote: “I doubt if that’s the end of our efforts to spy on the missions.” I was just observing that the thrust of the article was not about spying on missions; and that there was no reason at all to think that surveillance of missions and diplomats would abate.
@Cervantes: Then you were saying the same thing.
@YAFB: Agree with some of what you say but as for the following:
In 2008, Greenwald had a legendary run-in with Al Giordano, because Giordano, who’s been embedded in these issues for fucking years and knows his stuff, refused to spoonfeed Greenwald information about collaboration between South American and other governments and the US intelligence services because greenwald was too stubbornly incredulous, antagonistc, and sheer lazy to do his own donkey work.
If you make an assertion and I politely ask you to support it — e.g. (quoting Greenwald), “What’s your basis for stating that every country in the hemisphere other than the three you mentioned turns over all communications involving a U.S. citizen to the U.S. Government?” — am I thereby asking you to spoonfeed me? The suggestion seems more than a tad silly.
It’s comical that Greenwald at the time soured any slim chance of Giordano being inclined to cooperate with him by accusing Giordano of making such statements from his own wide experience, “in your desperate effort to defend Barack Obama in all that He does.” – Note that Obama was apparently the arch-culprit before he even got elected!
That was rather silly of Greenwald, I agree. Even if he thought it was true, stating it explicitly was ill-advised, at best.
@Betty Cracker: I don’t take any offense or anything, but I truly don’t know what you mean by PUMA cat lady. Oh well, whatever.
If you don’t think he’s Lord Jesus to his followers, I suggest you try criticizing him about anything and see what zealots pop up at you.
@PopeRatzo: Obama’s education policies suck. There.
ETA: When should I expect to be savaged?
hah! that’s comedy gold.
BTW, it’s Lord Black Jesus to you.
any second now.
i find it infinitely ironic, given that criticizing GG brings out all sorts of zealotry. i guess that means greenwald is ‘lord jesus’ to his followers as well.
TONIGHT! ON PAY PER VIEW! JESUS VERSUS JESUS: THE FINAL BATTLE
Damn you, firebagger!
ancient spirits of General Stuck, transform this decayed form to OBOT, the Ever-Living!
@Baud: I also think that the drone program is causing more problems than it is solving and should be limited to recon only.
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own
You know just what I was there for
You can always come by my page at FB (Ty Emzone) and say hello.
What happened to you?
In all seriousness, I’m hoping for at least a significant scale back next year if we leave Afghanistan on schedule.
Herbal Infusion Bagger
Let’s say you need a BA computer scientist or engineer. OPM guidelines have them starting at GS-9.
Let’s say you really do a heroic job on getting them a good deal and get them Step 4. That’s $46k in the DC area.
Median starting salary for BA engineers was $63k; for comp sci it was $60k. That’s a 25% difference. And that’s not counting situations like St. Snowden of Sheremetyevo, a high school dropout, pulling down $120k.
Government GS pay rates don’t match what a person of equivalent technical skills can get in the private sector.
That’s why, or part of the reason why.* Contractors fill in what the gubmint can’t provide because we want to squeeze squeeze squeeze those gubmint employees.
* There’s cases when you have a one-off project where you’d want to contract in the skills than make a lifetime hire, but that’s only part of the contracting issue in the Federal government.
Hmm, what would be a good example of something a kid might say?
Yeah, that. “Sure, I’m doing a shitty thing, but all the other kids are doing it too.” Isn’t it nice to know that our discourse is dominated by fifth graders?
It goes without saying for all us savvy folks that all the stuff about America being exceptional is therefore a titanic load of horse manure. So the next time a talented public speaker offers us soaring rhetoric about the American Dream and sundry just remember that America tortures, invades, renders to gulags, extrajudicially kills, spies, systematically destroys privacy, taps the phones of friend and foe alike, and generally behaves in ways that even Rupert Murdoch would be ashamed of. But all the other kids are doing it too.
It depends if you construe the tone of such an email approach and challenge out of the blue as polite. You’d have to read Giordano’s article and the comments to see the context (see what I did there?) for my use of the word “spoonfeed.”
Giordano initially gave Greenwald a lengthy reply in answer to his question, outlining his rationale for the statement Greenwald had queried, which boiled down to Giordano’s firsthand interactions with various security services over a number of years and his general hard-earned familiarity with the field, ending with a relatively jocular (for Giordano) jab about Greenwald’s “prosecutorial tone” and referring to the then current FISA “crusade” he saw Greenwald as involved in. (Reading between the lines, it looks like there was no love lost even before this correspondence, but then this was during the 2008 Democratic primaries and the FISA kerfuffle, and there was blood in the air anyway.)
Greenwald’s reply asked for published details, describing the claim as “extraordinary.”. That might have been fair enough, but that’s also exactly when he launched the “your desperate effort to defend Barack Obama in all that He does” Greenwaldbomb, so it was game over. Giordano retaliated in a characteristically prickly way, ending, “Let’s stop the fake courtesy, Glenn, and do your own heavy lifting on the matters that concern you, and I’ll do mine.”
If you read on, you’ll see that some of Giordano’s readers then embarked on a degree of investigative lay journalism that was apparently beyond Greenwald’s abilities, which amounted to some Google searches that turned up published sources backing up Giordano’s statements, some of which he cited in an update and some in the comments, like here, where Giordano (having sent some of the requested links to Greenwald via email) said:
Which is, in a roundabout way, quite prescient, IMO.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, it looks like the 48-hour rule about Snowden revelations is playing out, and it’s a pitched battle on Twitter and elsewhere between those who avidly insist on the truthfulness of one set of anonymous sources versus another regarding the controversial Spanish phone surveillance (i.e. the NSA claim is that the Spanish authorities passed the info on to the NSA, which is quite plausible, if potentially embarrassing for a US ally so recently publicly up in arms about it). I don’t have the resources to follow all this and make absolute sense of it in real time and may never know the truth, but if I save hard, I may one day be able to afford a bijou datacenter to help with the job.
One might. But for me, at least, I’d have to be convinced that the two situations are actually analogous, which I’m anything but.
Was I surprised by the White House announcing that intelligence collection on our allies wouldn’t continue? No. I expect governments to deny that intelligence operations are going on until the lid is completely blown on one of them, and when that happens I expect them to say “it’s all over, honest” whether or not it actually is. That’ll always be how it works.
Where do I find the implication? As your excerpt pointed out, all Obama’s really saying is “we’re not conducting intelligence gathering on the UN headquarters right now,” without saying anything about whether or not we had in the past. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it seems to me that the other half of that statement is “… and without saying anything about whether or not we’d go right back at it, though probably not exactly in the same way, once things have cooled down.” (Though you’re right, that was a reference to the UN headquarters specifically and not to any other diplomatic missions).
@Heliopause: Where do you get the idea that intelligence gathering is, per se, a shitty thing? I don’t grant that premise.
Enhanced Voting Techniques
Been going on since the 1920s’
Why did the US Security of State have the Japanese declaration of War before the Japanese Ambassador did?
Enhanced Voting Techniques
Why is the US spying on Germany merely for the fact the US fought two major wars against Germany and occupied Germany for fifty years?
@Herbal Infusion Bagger:
That’s not entirely accurate.
The General Schedule includes a base salary plus locality pay. The Washington DC/NoVA area gets a locality increase of +24.22%. So, a GS-9, step 4 would be $56,791.
@chopper, interrupted: Nice. Thundercats rule!
Enhanced Voting Techniques
Can someone please explain to me how the Military Attaches on an Embassy staff aren’t publicly acknowledged spies. Bonus points point to the first libertarian who thinks a Military Attache’s primary job is to look smashing at the Ambassador’s ball.
@Omnes Omnibus: No, no, no, you’re doing this all wrong.
Here, try this: “OBAMA IS A CORPORATIST WARMONGER WHO DOESN’T CARE ABOUT BROWN CHILDREN!!!”
@different-church-lady: I was being honest and posting real criticisms that I have. And I did get called a firebagger with 2 minutes so PopeRatzo is spot on,
Bob In Portland
@mike with a mic:
Ah, but that’s the problem. CIA has been out of control since its inception. When JFK tried to rein them in he was gunned down. Ever since the CIA has more or less had control over the White House, and for that matter, the Republican Party. LBJ knew. Nixon was a bit of an independent operator and every “former” CIA employee in DC ended up being involved in Watergate. Ford was the CIA’s friend and a member of the Warren Commission. Stansfield Turner tried to get rid of the cowboys at Langley and the next thing you know Ollie North was overseeing the hostage rescue operation, while the October Surprise happened. Reagan had been the spokesman for a CIA program in the early fifties (the name of the operation escapes me, but it was one of those deals where the CIA brought in Nazi residua) but more important, for the next 12 years GHW Bush was in charge as both VP and P. I won’t bore you with Clinton’s career but suffice it to say when he was governor of Arkansas duffel bags of CIA cocaine were raining down on Mena. Then son of Bush and now Obama. From his problems with the national security establishment I’m guessing that he’s slightly less pliable than other Presidents, which isn’t saying much, but it does give you an idea of the limits of democracy.
Bob In Portland
@Cervantes: I saw a couple of clips on You Tube of the late Flectcher Prouty. He was running flights to aid Tibetans at the time that Ike cancelled all overflights and was surprised that the CIA had disobeyed him. He’s written on it too, don’t know where you’d find that.
@YAFB: @Cervantes: It depends if you construe the tone of such an email approach and challenge out of the blue as polite. You’d have to read Giordano’s article and the comments to see the context (see what I did there?) for my use of the word “spoonfeed.”
Thanks, but I had already re-read Giordano’s article and comments before responding to your previous post. As I said, I found Greenwald’s initial inquiry perfectly reasonable. (See what I did there?)
The comments do show that Giordano’s readers (would you call them his fans?) did not like Greenwald’s initial tone. To me, this is neither remarkable nor dispositive.
Giordano initially gave Greenwald a lengthy reply in answer to his question, outlining his rationale for the statement Greenwald had queried, which boiled down to Giordano’s firsthand interactions with various security services over a number of years and his general hard-earned familiarity with the field, ending with a relatively jocular (for Giordano) jab about Greenwald’s “prosecutorial tone” and referring to the then current FISA “crusade” he saw Greenwald as involved in.
Yes, here’s Greenwald’s initial inquiry:
41 words, not counting Greenwald’s quoting of Giordano.
You correctly refer to Giordano’s response as lengthy. The first 435 words did not respond to Greenwald’s inquiry. Then Giordano says:
No doubt Greenwald was naive to have expected a more revealing response.
Remember Greenwald’s 41 words quoted above? Look at the response. A comparison to Roy Cohn? Really?
Now that’s what I call prescient.
You write: Greenwald’s reply asked for published details, describing the claim as “extraordinary.”. That might have been fair enough, but that’s also exactly when he launched the “your desperate effort to defend Barack Obama in all that He does” Greenwaldbomb, so it was game over.
As I said before, Greenwald made a mistake there.
On the other hand, Giordano’s referring to Greenwald as a “Joe Camel” look-alike wasn’t exactly calculated to be edifying, either.
If you read on, you’ll see that some of Giordano’s readers then embarked on a degree of investigative lay journalism that was apparently beyond Greenwald’s abilities, which amounted to some Google searches that turned up published sources backing up Giordano’s statements,
Did you look into those links to see if they answered Greenwald’s specific question?
(If not, would you care to hazard a guess as to whether they do?)
Anyway, the whole thing, far from being a “legendary run-in,” strikes me as little more than a storm in a tea-cup, as most of these things are. Giordano could have saved himself (and me) a lot of trouble had he just responded to the initial inquiry thus: “Sorry, as I’m sure you understand, I cannot reveal my sources.”
@Enhanced Voting Techniques: Old joke in Latin America:
Q: ‘Why are there never any coups in the US?’
A: ‘Because there are no American embassies in the US.’
Oh, it was definitely a storm in a teacup, as most online spats are. It’s still legendary because it gets cited quite frequently by people like me who find these sorts of things amusing and somewhat revealing. It was in any case just one paragraph as an illustrative aside in my earlier comment above which touched on much wider issues of context, but since you asked, I felt it would have been rude not to respond.
Your mileage varied about the perceived tone of Greenwald’s approach and your interpretation of it all. I’ve no idea why that should concern me since it’s inevitable that different people will respond in different ways, but I’m impressed you’ve gone to the lengths of taking word counts, not that I see they demonstrate anything.
And again, since you ask, it does seem like Greenwald never followed up on the leads at the time despite being provided with those links, perhaps because they bore out Giordano’s claims about activities administrations without Obama at the helm had been undertaking with the cooperation of foreign governments, despite Him being apparently somehow implicated, but you’d have to ask Greenwald about that.
If those particular links didn’t satisfy an investigative journalist who was genuinely in search of some truth, I’d imagine that journalist could have done his own digging having been given some pointers in the direction of an interesting lead. It might have provided some context and useful background for the data he was later given, because what seems to be becoming apparent at the moment is a lack of input from anyone who’s familar enough with the field and wider historical context to help to properly interpret the Snowden cache so that the 24-hour (or 48-hour, depending on how you measure news cycles around the world) rule stops being proven time and time again. The BBC’s been going apeshit with these most recent revelations, as it did with some of the past ones, and it looks like it may have to walk back some of its coverage yet again,
For all the revelations earlier this year about the NSA spying on South American heads of state, I’ve seen no mention, yet at least, of the Snowden cache revealing the collaboration of South American states’ security services with the Americans’. Given that there are current claims that the recent revelations of wide-ranging surveillance indicate French, German, and Spanish collaboration with the NSA, not the NSA acting unilaterally abroad and compromising others’ national sovereignty, they may be coming down the pike if the gloves are coming off, as they did today. That may eventually supply a fuller and more accurate picture of what’s been going on, but it does seem to waste a lot of time and energy when we keep having to go through this cycle. How often can you cry “Wolf”?
Yes, and as I said originally, I agreed with other parts of your first comment.
What the word counts suggested to me is that Giordano’s response was not only non-responsive but disproportional as well. And add to that torrent the fact that he ended by comparing Greenwald to Roy Cohn and it’s no surprise to me that Greenwald proceeded to over-react.
(But if you think I went to “lengths” in order to obtain word counts it may be that you’re using the wrong writing tools.)
Actually, what I asked is whether you followed up on those leads to see if they answered Greenwald’s question (because if they did not, they were irrelevant).
No problem. Fun joust!
One thing I’d add is that Giordano’s prime activity nowadays is training South American journalists. I suspect at least some of his bristling at Greenwald’s brashness (you probably don’t see it that way, but his reputation no doubt preceded him even back then, which probably primed the pump for Giordano, who certainly laid out his lawn in his first response) and the later jibe in comments about “You have no idea how many Pulitzer Prizes came out of such spoon-fed Pablum” stems from that and bitter experience.
@Bob In Portland: Oh, boy. You’re citing Fletcher Prouty in support of something? The same Fletcher Prouty who denounced Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle as one of the “greatest propaganda schemes ever put forth by man”? I’ll pass, thanks.
This. All this. So very much this.
I’ll do Ash Can one better – Long time ally has a nuclear meltdown. Political and corporate leadership checks out and are apparently operating in a state of denial. We shouldn’t have been giving Naoto Kan and those bozos at TEPCO a proper electronic fisting? Because spying is bad?
Are you fucking idiots for real?
@? Martin: Insightful comment.
A pearl that makes it worth plowing through all the dreck.
Herbal Infusion Bagger
Sorry, that should have been GS-7, not GS-9.