Stasi Surveillance State’s Local Deal Of The Day

And you thought Groupon, Living Social and Google stalked you.

Local, state and federal entities in 2011 served wireless carriers over 1.3 million demands for subscriber information. Note “over” 1.3 million. No one has accurate records. Or can explain how the information was used.

The 1.3 million number is farcically low. Sprint alone said it responded to 500,000 subpoenas in 2011, and each subpoena typically demanded information on more than one subscriber. Do the math. Want more? Governments demand (and get) *total* data dumps from entire cell towers for a period of time. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of subscribers’ information swept into government hands *each time*.

FBI, Surveillance, Warrantless Surveillance, cellular data, geo location

Is it legal? No one’s really sure. Carriers often require warrants. Or subpoenas. Or they comply without formalities, agreeing to governments’ burgeoning declarations of emergency. Digital information doesn’t easily fit in old analog legal frameworks. Thus, carriers are coming forward asking Congress to clarify the rules. And cover their expenses.

We’ve discussed here our experiences representing carriers during CALEA negotiations and implementation. Then as now carriers in public go through the motions respecting customer privacy. During CALEA, there was a tribal defense of the ‘cage’ from FBI intrusion. Still, carriers and equipment vendors’ real concern was — and is now – controlling their costs and getting reimbursement.

Increased government reliance on surveilling wireless data is not merely to exploit murky legality. Government and carriers both know that mobile users increasingly use their phones just for data, email, SMS, web, etc. Actual voice traffic is decreasing or is part of a digital app (Google Talk, etc.). Carriers say they soon will offer data only plans.

Seen in this light, Congress’ geo-location bills – the Geolocation, Privacy and Surveillance Act – are merely a start. (They provide useful limits on data use and require probable cause). These bills also focus on a tree and miss the forest.

What are digital realities in a mobile computing universe? Our data increasingly is in the cloud, stored precisely where? Phones are computers, now with quad cores and 1 and 2 gigabytes of RAM. For example, over a decade ago the Bureau began using roving bugs, cell phone microphones as remote wiretaps. Those implications — of old technology and notions of ‘wiretapping’, when people thought of cell phones as analog phones — are still not widely understood by the public. Activating cameras and recording? Already done, by government and even contractors. Cameras are now ubiquitous in your home, from tablets to PCs/Macs to er, mobile phones.

Fast forward to today. Much of the information government seeks from cellular carriers also exists elsewhere in the cloud – including old fashioned voice conversations. Our information is no longer in one place or even stored on your mobile computer-phone. What rules govern government access to our third party-held cloud data?

Geo-location abuses above are galling but no surprise. It’s depressing that Markey claims he is ‘stunned’. Geo-location legislation would be welcome even if incomplete and missing the point. The advent of mobile cloud based computing means we must re-structre completely law enforcement and National Security Nomenklatura’s role. It’d be nice if Congress found the will to use geo-location to begin the long walk out of the Bush/Obama surveillance night.

Can the Duma be counted on? Doubtful. Minorities, especially in the House, have almost zero agenda-setting power. Even as Chair Markey’s track record in the House is uneven, although his knack for publicity is undeniable.

Is it even Congress’ fault? Facebook and thousands of others teach us privacy is a transactional commodity. Americans daily click away their GPS data without thinking for restaurant deals and spa discounts. Nomenklatura abuses are abstract and complicated. Easier to tune out and return to Angry Birds (which also surveils us screen swipe by swipe).

Does location tracking really bother you? Tell the truth.

Made In America

You Never Hear It Coming

Officers are concerned that public revelation of the CTC (Counterterrorist Center) program will seriously damage Agency officers’ reputations, as well as the reputation and effectiveness of the Agency itself . . .

According to a number of those [analysts] interviewed for this Review, the Agency’s intelligence on Al-Qa’ida was limited to prior to the initiation of the CTC Interrogation Program. The Agency lacked adequate linguists or subject matter experts and had very little hard knowledge of what particular Al-Qai’da leaders – who later became detainees – knew. This lack of knowledge led analysts to speculate about what a detainee “should know”, vice information the analysts could objectively demonstrate the detainee did know. . .

When a detainee did not respond to a question posed to him, the assumption at Headquarters was that the detainee was holding back and knew more; consequently Headquarters recommended resumption of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques].

Those nuggets, buried within the released CIA IG Report, are all you really need to know. The rest is dressage. The Report like most well crafted government documents obeys certain forms and rituals. The damning truth above is embedded — like steganography; there was and is no professional intelligence justification for any of it. The Report also confirms what we’ve known, the Agency’s Office of General Counsel was an active participant in shaping and distorting information (such as hiding the SERE proponents’ lack of credentials or skills from the Agency’s Office of Medical Services, etc.) As a lurid distraction, we are also treated to the utterly disheartening spectacle of Agency officers or contractors role playing like unusually dim Chekists in Lubyanka’s basement.

Writing a report like this as noted is a stylized ritual like a waltz. Even with the black out this is an intricate and synchronized affair. Major FCC Orders recite a factual record similarly but on a more mundane level (and oddly are as opaque on pages as the black out).

The IG’s Office (and we’ve personally known and respected senior personnel in that office) weave a tapestry around the wreckage that shields but does not contradict this devastating, damning finding. For example, the Report notes that valuable information did indeed come from detainees while carefully noting the information obtained was not due to torture and emphasizing the disorganized program can not demonstrate any clear cut instance where the torture produced uniquely helpful information [we will eschew Cofer Black’s et. al preferred faux macho euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’].

The Scott Horton types justifiably will be up in arms about the human rights abuses and torture. There is also a more nuanced discussion to be had about the corruption of the intelligence product cycle, as well as continued human capital problems. And as you know, we continue to believe the Nation and currently serving personnel would be better off starting clean and letting CIA’s corpse be interred.

We can’t think of any platform where this more serious conversation could occur, especially sans tired culprits like John McLaughlin stroking The Beard in his comedic ‘Situation Room’. Perhaps Rachel Maddow can help out.

We doubt much will come from any of this (particularly the glaring collapse of congressional oversight). With Obama’s promise of non-prosecution for any officer or contractor who acted within the four corners of the absurd OLC memos Holder is free to go after the few, new Lynndie Englands. If they play their cards right, they will position themselves as martyrs, get book deals, air time on Fox and then become senior fellows with that titan of international policy analysis, Cliff May. Embedding the rendition and detainee program with Brennan in the White House would not have occurred to Terry Gilliam even with ether and a Samoan attorney.

Sad times for the Stiftung. We used to pride ourselves as being different. We *were* different. One more thing destroyed by Tenet, Black et al.

Why Should ‘Torture’ Be Any Different?

Of course the Obama Administration punted today and delayed yet again the oft promised public release of CIA’s [sic] own internal investigation into torture and abuse of detainees. Why should this play out any different than say, don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT), defense of marriage, state secrets or a host of other broken commitments?

Imagine the scene. A 47 year old self-professed ‘change agent’ and Commander-in-Chief meets at the White House a decorated war veteran facing career termination because he happens to be gay. He looks the war hero in the face. And says without blinking or apparent irony while shaking his hand that he, the Commander-in-Chief, is helpless to sign an executive order placing DADT on hold pending congressional review. He’s helpless doncha know before some ‘generational prejudices’ in his own armed forces. (Something, oddly, his Secretary for Homeland Security can surmount and has no qualms doing, btw).

The Illustrated President

Now imagine what this towering oak, this schwerpunkt of progressive achievement is gonna say when he is stampeded by a herd of terrified GS-15s et al. braying at him for releasing yet more ‘secrets’? All while a bureaucratically weak Panetta tries to ride his internal stampede by calling Rahm on the backside?

When we labelled Obama ‘Boy King’ last Fall we worried about ineptitude, inexperience and general Peanut Farmerisms. All while secretly nursing -dare we say it? — hope that he would be a principled, focused and consistently progressive president. As stabilizing antidote to the Warlord’s perhaps fatal corrosiveness. He is far and away a much more canny politician than we credited him. And far and away just as much a disappointment.

Catering To The Pride Of Dead Bureaucracies

First, on the report issue one should note there are not many meta-level secrets left in it anyway. The most damning is, of course, that CIA had no legitimate purpose for using *any* enhanced interrogation techniques at any time. Why? Because it was and remained completely blind about the enemy. It had no assets. There simply was no way to evaluate whether anything said to them was true or false. Torture or abuse can not be rationalized in this situation even in McCain’s Jack Bauer wet dreams. This is CIA’s real shame. A complete and utter failure as an institution. Among many others. So on first principles of intelligence, the practice was unfounded. And another reason why Tenet helped lead CIA to its tragically deserved destruction.

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Just One Degree At A Time

“We’re the United States of America. You’re just passing through.”

A quote from “Good Shepherd” that we find useful when thinking about the engorged Permanent National Security State. Our old fable about the craven people who created and eventually surrendered to a monster in illusory pursuit of security is timely as ever.

One objectively can understand the apparat’s disdain for Obama-as-political-force, Dems and that noisome rabble called the American people. Yawn. The apparat is swollen beyond recognition by hundreds of billions recklessly squandered by a cowardly Duma. Cheney/OVP’s raging paranoia nurtured the permanent apparatchiks’ darkest, basest instincts. And not a burp from the usual merry go round of ‘public intellectual’ worthies except on single issues like torture. Let alone the Duma et al.

Tonite's Top Story, Brad and Angelina Agree To Settle Iranian Crisis But Demand Their Percent Of The Gross Upfront !

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Quite. Torture Is Right Out!

A friend mentioned this item on Steve Clemons’ blog citing The Guardian’s correction of President Obama’s claim last night that the Brits didn’t torture. Next we will learn that Mother Theresa coached Bernie Madoff.

You must be referring to another establishment.

Still an interesting historical footnote The Guardian explores.

The London Cage was used partly as a torture centre, inside which large numbers of German officers and soldiers were subjected to systematic ill-treatment. In total 3,573 men passed through the Cage, and more than 1,000 were persuaded to give statements about war crimes. The brutality did not end with the war, moreover: a number of German civilians joined the servicemen who were interrogated there up to 1948 . . .The Cage had space for 60 prisoners at any time, and five interrogation rooms. [Lt. Col.] Scotland had around 10 officers serving under him, plus a dozen NCOs who served as interrogators and interpreters. Security was provided by soldiers from the Guards regiments, selected, one archived document asserts, “for their height rather than their brains”.

A journalist alleging it was easier in a Gestapo prison that under British custody does seem self serving. But then again, if anyone had heard of the Boer War it shouldn’t be surprising that some SS captives had a hard time of it in The Cage.

None of this affects the validity of President Obama’s decision to stop American torture. A Movement friend of ours predicted recently that the President’s decision would backfire. America, according to this view, is in the same frame of mind as post 1975. And Americans will rise up in resistance to unpatriotic attacks on CIA, assorted Neocons, hack attorneys and institutional fluffers like Tenet.

We have a hard time seeing it play out that way. A factual inquiry by DoJ with the Administration indemnification of CIA officers and contractors is hardly akin to the Fall of Saigon. The Left will want more visceral action taken without a doubt. Last night’s 100 Day presser makes it clear that the President isn’t going to go there. In fact, we see the Movement doubly screwed: Bush (Movement/Republicans) tarred with torture *and* no faux innocent officers/contractors/victims/patriots as a wedge issue. Politically, if the Movement wants to embrace discredited Neocons once more that is, as Axlerod might say, more cheese on the pizza.

Torture In The Movement's Imagination

Blinking In The Sunlight

The aftermath of Obama’s release of the torture memo continues to activate profound anxieties only tangentially related to the actual crimes committed. Most interesting to us is how it shines a light on those in the Democratic party who acquiesced to the Warlord’s extra-legal ideology. Daschle, Pelosi, Rockefeller, Harman, etc. are likely it seems to the Stiftung complicit either overtly or by omission.

Oh say can you see

All the more reason to be thankful that the American people according to recent polls continue to have personal and institutional faith in the Obama presidency. It helps that there is trust somewhere. Congress is not likely to distinguish itself handling the torture inquiry as a matter of day-to-day political acumen. That’s a lead pipe cinch where Republicans are concerned. Still, congressional leaders’ moral contamination will be only the proverbial icing on the cake.

A Different Kind Of Expendiency

So the OLC final torture memos are out. They make grim reading.

History helps put them into a broader context. How a new ruling regime attempts to radicalize and eventually suborn legal norms into ideological formlessness is an important barometer of their progress in freeing themselves from the despised Older Order’s shackles. The shirt or barracks color is not particularly relevant. It’s a manifestation of sociological and political science basic precepts.

The post immediate post-9/11 period and these memos are the more extreme examples of this phenomenon. But it would be a mistake to buy into that singular cause and effect narrative. The intent and even initial processes were pre-existing. Same process, albeit without the extra voltive charge of these examples, rolled down other silos of American life, government and expertise for 8 years: from the environment, NASA and science, civil economic and health safety regulations, etc. Professional isolation and insularity of each silo arising from American regulatory/legal/government complexities prevented an overall societal awareness to dawn for years.

Running on, running blind

CIA again both helped cause and bore the biggest brunt of the radicalist imperative. It was in many respects a no win situation.

White House demands for CIA to ‘act’ in response to this or that burning political imperative over the decades taught the Agency the hard way caution and bureaucratic self preservation. CIA learned the D.C. game of hard knocks – who would end up holding the bag when tempers and emotions cooled? White Houses and staff come and go. That this cynical caution was one of many reasons ushering in the Agency’s twilight and final destruction is also arguably true.

Obama’s decision to provide indemnification for officers and contractors who relied in good faith on OLC legal opinions is the correct if painful one. Without question a bureaucratic CYA element involved. But it’s also true that an officer or contractor is not expected to be a constitutional scholar. One familiar with constitutional law, the personalities at CIA, WH and OLC and customs and norms reading these memos easily sees their shoddy, subpar and brazenly amateurish analysis. And many officers wisely dodged this entire tar patch knowing its moral and career implications.

Government can not function if the government provides its employees the allegedly highest caliber legal sanction and then later subjects them to retroactive punitive measures based on demos’ current mood. Moreover, the statutory provisions for indemnification is a decades long established defense and Community legal framework to protect those providing governmental services from crushing liability. (Everything from space shuttle launches, etc.) It was the right call.

As Anon noted here last nite, not every situation is Nuremberg. It’s a facile historical factoid debased in a Youtube ‘public intellectual’ world. Administration defense and indemnification as set forth is limited to those officers and contractors operating in strict compliance with the appalling OLC green light. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the program exceeded in the field. Video destruction, etc. assumes greater saliency in this light.

Stabilization of liberal democracy remains our primary goal post-Warlord. War crimes do not have statute of limitations. Those who knowingly orchestrated OLC’s debasement and set the overall radicalization process in motion remain subject to prosecution. Obama is right to ignore the Olbermanns of the world and focus his immediate political capital going forward if by doing so the door remains open for creating the necessary factual record for a future reckoning.

Timing is also critical. The rump Movement *needs* a stab in the back betrayal meme and political theater to accelerate reconstitution. What a Pyhrric victory for Olbermann et al.’s heedless, zealous calls for prosecution to assist its over soon return.

A Long Bedtime Story

“Once upon a time* . . . a frightened people created a new machine. They made this machine to feel safe. You see, just before, while they were sleeping, bad things came creeping in the night. One even bit many people and took them away.

The machine would protect the people. It would never sleep, never tire, never stop looking at the bad things. The peoples’ warriors with it on the walls and lawgivers would always keep the machine working.

So the people went back to sleep.

After a while their dreams turned scary. Some of them woke up. And they saw why. The machine had grown very big. It no longer stayed on the walls. Some trusted warriors and lawgivers in secret added many links to the machine’s leash. Some did this hoping the growing machine would not attack them. Others wanted to tame the machine for their own plans. And when the machine got hungry, they all closed their eyes. At night the machine would crawl inside. And eat some of the sleeping people.

Scary Monsters And Super Creeps

Those people who woke up and saw all this cried out in fear. Many of their friends and neighbors still slept.

So the small group of people built and gathered around two campfires. To decide what to do. The machine frightened them. The betrayal by the warriors and lawgivers angered them. But some of them also remembered the bad things still outside.

They asked the warriors and lawgivers to sit in the lights. Why did they do this? Some told their story. Some were ashamed and lied. And some were happy with the new machine. They knew the machine got hungry. But they claimed the bad things outside were even bigger than before.

The people around the campfires saw that they were few. So many, many more of their friends still slept. And the machine still prowled around them in the darkness.

A debate lasted all night until the campfires burned out. The people still awake got strength from the new morning sun. They decided to make a new chain. This new chain would be shorter. The machine would stay. They could not unmake it now. But back on the walls. It would not eat sleeping people again. But just in case, because bad things were out there, too, the new chain could be made longer. But only if the lawgivers and warriors asked and got permission. Only then would they get the new chain’s extra links. The machine bowed its head, closed its eyes and let the people put on the new chain. It slowly returned to the wall.

Then the people went back to sleep. And soon came again the scary dreams.


Our friend Comment asks us about a recent item in Salon reporting on potential investigations of ‘abuse of executive power’ by Congress in 2009. Our reaction is threefold.

First, if once is tragedy, second is farce, the third decadent, then the fourth time is without doubt just an NBC prime time reality show.

* In the mythic sense

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