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Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Ghost of J. Edgar Hoover lives on -- A review of Sirota's article

David Sirota, in an article for, titled comically "Saying Boo to a Ghost" writes about the apparent disconnect between public outrage over NSA and spying related excesses and the response:

"What accounts for the disconnect between public outrage and Washington nonchalance? Is it money? Ideology? Or is it something even more sinister? In fact, it's almost certainly a combination of all three - with the third apparently so taboo almost nobody dares mention it."[]

He details the obvious:

..."money is the most obvious. The private intelligence industry is a $56-billion-a-year business whose profits are almost wholly dependent on government contracts"...which privides a lucrative source for revolving door bribes and corrupt rewards. And which is often spent grooming "future presidential candidates.[]

And we can't forget that over the years the Intelligence people has located major contracts in their home districts. That, in itself can explain why otherwise, seemingly progressive congress-critters, and the President, seem to "turn and cringe" from anything more than rhetorical flourishes about "more oversight."

And of course money is the reality behind the masks of ideology, the "public face of money". And in that topsy turvey world, a leak of highly embarrassing evidence of corruption, malfeasance, murder, and wholesale violations of human rights can be an "endangerment of people's lives", actually livelihoods. Always the rationale for more secrecy is that somehow the crimes kept secret will damage "national security" when released, and hurt people. In a way that is true. It hurts criminals when they are caught. But Sirota notes an even darker side to this. It gets even worse:

"That Congress nonetheless hasn't done anything about it - not even anything fake and PR-ish - suggests an insidious fear factor is also at work. No, not lawmakers' fear that without surveillance their constituents will be killed by terrorists, but lawmakers' deeper unspoken fear that if they don't continue supporting such surveillance, their careers could be killed by the NSA."[]

And considering that there have been an awful lot of "suicides", "unexplained deaths", and just plain strange events around people attempting to be whistleblowers, or involved in trying to combat official corruption surrounding the spy programs, it's more than just careers on the line. I'm sure some of these people fear for their lives to question the spy programs. Sirota is noticing what others have remarked on for years. It is dangerous to tangle with the security state. Any security state, including our own.

"Consider the deep messaging of the NSA's brand. Only forty years removed from the blackmail-tinged reign of J. Edgar Hoover, the NSA has developed an image which implies the agency is vacuuming up more than enough incriminating phone records, emails and text/sext messages to politically torpedo any rank-and-file congressman, should that congressman step out of line."[]

J. Edgar Hoover, bless his heart, kept two special file-cabinets available only to him. And if a congressman, politician, or for that matter activist or reporter, dared come too close to challenging his little empire, he'd give them a quiet little reminder of the materials in those files; Maybe a phone call. Maybe a warning. Most of the time he didn't have to actually arrest anyone. And less anyone think that our spy problems are only with the NSA, most of the issues regarding domestic spying turn out to involve "intelligence sharing" between all levels of Government, partly through Fusion Centers, but also through other programs. (See Bush's Loogie, and Surveillance Metastasizes for more)> And Bless his heart too, Deep Throat was Hoover's #2, Mark Felt, and Nixon had challenged the FBI when it created the Plumbers instead of working with them to spy on people and roll up enemies. So fear explains more than simple greed at this point. I know I'm giving up lucrative contract jobs just to talk about this since my field makes me a natural for designing and organizing the databases it takes to properly run a spy program. Heck if I were inside I'd be asking for "break the glass controls" and better audit trails and restrictions but not challenging it either. The problem is you can't trust human beings not to misuse a tool you give them, so "fixing that tool" is always a cludge.

And of course it always gets even juicier. Like with J. Edgar Hoover, a little bit of leaking about the program can a; scare ordinary people into shutting up; and b; guarantee that the powers that be won't challenge it. They can remind the President what happened to Kennedy for trying to do the right thing. As Sirota, somewhat ironically (or cynically) notes:

"And here's the thing: for all the agita intelligence officials express about new disclosures, those disclosures illustrate the sheer size and scope of governement surveillance. That doesn't weaken the NSA - on the contrary, it serves to politically strengthen the agency by constantly reminding lawmakers that the NSA 1) probably has absolutely everything on them and 2) could use that stuff against them."[]

So I'm not expecting anything to be done. Though I would like to see "break the glass" auditing, more transparency in decision making, and better controls on access. The whole exercise is designed to be super secret treachery against the constitution aimed at ordinary citizens. I doubt they'll do more than put a few fig leaf process controls on the system.

We are toast, and given the partisan reactions of my democratic friends, it's already baked.

I was working on linking together all the public disclosures that tell us that the "metadata only" stuff is barely covering malarky. But Sirota finishes the argument for me. So I invite you to read his article, and focus on the final paragraphs, especially that quote from Allen Grayson.

Usually I quote 5 or six sources so that I'm presenting something new (at least in synthesis). Think of this as a review of Sirota's article.


David Sirota:
Washington post released today:
how privacy advocates shined light on the NSA's unconstitutional surveillance
They even redact the FISC courts decision that they violated the law:

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