Angelo M. Codevilla, professor of international relations at Boston University, Vice Chairman of the U.S. Army War College Board of Visitors, and author of America's Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution, responds to the gutless whiners angry at Edward Snowden for forcing them to pay attention to what the Ruling Class is actually up to.
From Barack Obama to Karl Rove, the ruling class is in unison: The NSA's collection of data on virtually all Americans is essential to preventing you from "being blown to smithereens on your morning commute" – as the Wall Street Journal editorial put it. In the words of General Keith Alexander, director of NSA, this surveillance has "helped to prevent" "dozens of terrorist events." Later, the tally rose to "over fifty." Project Constant Informant, which tracks essentially all American phone calls, allows matching the account holder's identity with each call's precise location in time and place. Another, PRISM, gives access to all records of email, chat, photos, videos and file transfers from the servers of leading US internet companies. These programs stand between Americans and terrorists. Worries that they will be misused are misplaced or downright kooky.
This chorus' authority depends on ignorance. Here are the facts.
Since our Intelligence agencies have an unbroken history of crowing about even tiny successes, using finely parsed assertions with zero evidence to impute multiple triumphs to programs publicized by a leak is prima facie evidence of insincerity. When (rarely) independent persons look behind such claims, they almost invariably find the Wizard of Oz. More important, anyone who has followed telecommunication technology and intelligence during the past three decades can only scoff at the claim that universal collection of telephone externals and access to internet traffic can thwart serious criminals or terrorists.
In fact, the expansion of the US government's capacity to intrude on innocent communications happened just as technology enabled competent persons who intend to hide their communications to do so without fail. This means that the US government's vast apparatus is almost completely useless against serious terrorists or criminals, and useful primarily to do whatever the government might choose to innocent persons. [emphasis added]
Let's be real here. Sifting through Grandma's emails and voice chats with her grandkids isn't going to stop a single act of terrorism. But living under the assumption of being watched and/or judged by bureaucrats in a secret and unaccountable government surveillance program, can (will) subtly change Grandma's actions and behaviors (and thoughts), thus remolding her in a State-designed image. Nudge …
The NSA has to collect the metadata from all of our phone calls because terrorists, right? And the spy agency absolutely must intercept Skypes you conduct with folks out-of-state, or else terrorism. It must sift through your iCloud data and Facebook status updates too, because Al Qaeda.
Terrorists are everywhere, they are legion, they are dangerous, and, unfortunately, they don't really do any of the stuff described above.
The NSA isn't targeting terrorists. The NSA is targeting you.
The infrastructure set up by the National Security Agency, however, may only be good for gathering information on the stupidest, lowest-ranking of terrorists. The Prism surveillance program focuses on access to the servers of America's largest Internet companies, which support such popular services as Skype, Gmail and iCloud. These are not the services that truly dangerous elements typically use.
In a January 2012 report titled "Jihadism on the Web: A Breeding Ground for Jihad in the Modern Age," the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service drew a convincing picture of an Islamist Web underground centered around "core forums." These websites are part of the Deep Web, or Undernet, the multitude of online resources not indexed by commonly used search engines.
The Netherlands' security service, which couldn't find recent data on the size of the Undernet, cited a 2003 study from the University of California at Berkeley as the "latest available scientific assessment." The study found that just 0.2 percent of the Internet could be searched. The rest remained inscrutable and has probably grown since. In 2010, Google Inc. said it had indexed just 0.004 percent of the information on the Internet.
Websites aimed at attracting traffic do their best to get noticed, paying to tailor their content to the real or perceived requirements of search engines such as Google. Terrorists have no such ambitions. They prefer to lurk in the dark recesses of the Undernet.
Even complete access to [Microsoft Corp. (and therefore Skype), Facebook Inc., Google, Apple Inc. and other U.S. Internet giants] servers brings U.S. authorities no closer to the core forums. These must be infiltrated by more traditional intelligence means, such as using agents posing as jihadists or by informants within terrorist organizations.
[T]he government's efforts are much more dangerous to civil liberties than they are to al-Qaeda and other organizations like it.
Even though it's not very convincing as program for catching terrorists, it's not exactly a stretch to see that the NSA's massive database of call-records, phone-locations, emails, Internet searches and financial transactions makes for one helluva political weapon (just itchin' to be abused).
What's that you say? "Our" government wouldn't do such a thing?
- Brandon J. Raub, Former Marine, Detained After Anti-Government Facebook Postings
- Marine who criticized Obama on Facebook is discharged
- Blogger Could Be Thrown in Jail for … Writing About His Diet
- Climate of Fear: Jim Risen v. the Obama administration
- Obama's War on Journalists
- IRS targeting of Tea Party is no mere political scandal
- IRS Thuggery In The Past
- 9 Horrifying Botched Police Raids
That's just a (very) short list.
What about the inevitable mistakes that will be made, and with the consequences of over-zealous agents? As Robert Wenzel explains:
With the data the NSA is going to store, all kinds of wacky coincidences are going to pop up that are totally innocent but very difficult to explain. And, it is going to be totally random, once they start running different screens, as to who gets caught and harassed because of a series of coincidences.
Innocent people are probably now sitting in jail because of bad groups of coincidences. The Utah Center sounds to me like a huge search engine that will churn out all kinds of coincidences that will cause trouble for many, many innocents. Coincidences on steroids, if you will. And that's only one of the ways data on steroids will be used against us.
It's amazing what can be discovered using the metadata collected by the NSA. See "Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere" for a thorough illustration. The "prospect of discovering suggestive but ultimately incorrect or misleading patterns" (like Wenzel detailed in his post above) is quite considerable too.
Remember those DHS right wing extremist reports?
- "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic And Political Climate Fueling Resurgence In Radicalization And Recruitment."
- Homeland Security document targets most conservatives and libertarians in the country
- Md. Guard Issues Warning to Staff about Local TEA Party Protestors
- FBI spied on TEA Party Americans
- Federal Reserve, FBI spied on Occupy Wall Street movement, documents show
- "Full Spectrum Operations in the Homeland: A 'Vision' of the Future"
- Pentagon Exam Calls Protests 'Low-Level Terrorism'
Again, this is just a small sampling.
Do you still think the NSA databases won't be used for political purposes?
Think about the ramifications of this too: "I can foresee people using the argument that historians could someday use the information that is being collected by the state."
Spying without a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing is immoral even if the Ruling Class' motives are pure. But unlike their average American targets, there's more than enough evidence to support a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing on their part.
Now go grab your tinfoil hat and "connect the dots" …
Despite its legalese double-speak, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 (NDAA) authorizes the arrest and indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial … The military recently granted itself "the ability to police the streets without obtaining prior local or state consent, upending a precedent that has been in place for more than two centuries" … The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution has been effectively nullified … Domestic military drills have become increasingly (and eerily) common events … FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed that Predator drones "custom designed to identify civilians carrying guns and track cell phone signals" are flying the friendly skies … TSA VIPR squads plague the highways … And National Service has once again reared its ugly head.