NSA, Obama & Digital Vandals Shaping American Power

One of NSA Director Keith Alexander’s cruelest feats? Forcing some of his fiercest critics (us) again to defend American self-interest and the role and purpose of intelligence. Despite NSA’s (and the Community’s) wanton, flagrant contempt for both. If Neocons were America’s malignant Id at her moment of apogee, then as Nemesis follows Hubris, they ushered in her over soon decline. NSA and the Community, engorged on national security self-entitlement, scuttled behind as ever-present shadow.

We get no pleasure writing that. Nor seeing so much needless and perhaps irretrievable ruin in Snowden’s aftermath. Much of it gleefully celebrated by those who care nothing for American interests, privacy or otherwise. It takes a big man to bring down an epoch in American and global history, they say. So why are Alexander and Snowden perfectly, coevally so small?

Crushed Like A Spent Can Of Diet Coke

The seemingly ancient preceding post here about Obama’s first NSA-focused press conference reads quaintly now. We see in stark relief the cost of this Administration’s (typical) passivity. That’s not to excuse or diminish NSA’s stunning, profoundly stupid (and so totally unnecessary) transgressive acts. But we all should be clear about one distinction – intolerance for NSA’s transgressions is not embracing others’ attempt to exploit political fallout to see America diminished.

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FISA And The FAA Of 2008

DNI’s recent letter (the “Letter”) to Feingold regarding FISA and in particular Section 702 (PDF here) underscores three things:

  1. Many in the blog and twittersphere are unable to read a letter longer than 140 characters;
  2. Feingold’s opposition to the FAA (FISA Amendments Act) is even more marginal politically today than during his quixotic stand in 2008; and
  3. The National Security Nomenklatura are secure enough to toss Feingold a marginal bone, showing no concerns about repercussion.

Feingold sought DNI permission to discuss three statements about the FAA. He wanted political cover to avoid claims of violating security and to lock DNI into a position.

Feingold’s most notable statement of the three submitted was that after 2008 FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) ruled that the government acted unreasonably retaining information on AMCITs (American Citizens) in one instance. The Letter noted that FISC ruling but underscored remedial steps were since taken. Hardly the major admission characterized by breathless blog posts and tweets.

Feingold, FISA, DNI, FAA

Long time readers know our background and experience with FISA and intelligence oversight going back decades. Here’s our verdict on this little dust up.

In boxing terms, Feingold didn’t even land a glove. If that’s all Feingold has to work with since 2008, stick a fork in it. DNI knows it, too. A FISC determination was made, and allegedly their concerns were followed. Rather than a black eye, this episode becomes a poster child for ‘rule of law.’ The Letter is typical Nomenklatura bureaucratese, feigning interest in cooperation with Feingold, civil rights, etc. But there’s also a barely concealed gloating underlying tone in the formality. They know Feingold’s got nothing to work on. And he’s probably even more alone in the Senate than in 2008.

A long time ago we wrote about how unlikely Congress could prevail in re-asserting meaningful intelligence oversight. And that assumed Congress as a separate and co-equal branch of government re-discovered itself.

Congress failed all of us at the beginning. With PATRIOT ACT (and blowing past its sunsets), with each subsequent compromise and a decade of Duma-like timidity. One or even a handful of Senators can’t revive an entire institution, let alone the other body.

We are all of us like the people in our short story in the link above, prey for what was once supposed to guard. Now that Obama normalized and put his bi-partisan (albeit of the Kenyan, socialist, KGB mole variety) imprimatur on Cheney’s excesses, we don’t foresee rollback in our lifetime.

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.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Tweet About This: Intelligence Community Wants To Monitor Social Media

Large standing military and security forces have troubled ruling regimes from the dimmest tribal pasts down to today. Governing ideology doesn’t matter: totalitarian, Marxist-Leninist, Mao-ist or American corporatist democracy/demotic – all rely on and are often threatened by these – in political science terms – ‘power institutions.’

FBI, Surveillance, National Security State

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If Only People Opposed The PATRIOT Act Like SOPA; The Power Of LOLCats

All the Interwebs are buzzing about de-railing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate counterpart, Protect IP Act (PIPA). Those kidz at Reddit started a campaign against a company (GoDaddy) so dull (it registers Internet domains and sells email) it gets marginal mindshare deploying quasi-strip tease acts for ads designed to be blocked at the Super Bowl. Technology companies flirting with the IP crowd are now backing away.

SOPA is kitchen table talk now. Perhaps everyone wants to at least feel like they’re ‘in’. Like Tina Fey-kinda-in. It’s a simple talking point, too. Why, allowing Hollywood lawyers to tell backbone companies to block websites the lawyers deem carrying pirated material? That would “break the Internet.” Angry Birds would die. Mafia Wars end. And so on.

We won’t rehearse all the original machinations of the Motion Picture Association of America, the Business Software Alliance (MSFT eta al.). You’ve seen it elsewhere. And of course, watching MSFT and others at BSA cave to pressure and retreat is not un-fun. But it’s the same old story of IP holders’ greed and fear from the DMCA days. Turned up a notch. Except now there’s social media – like Reddit. And it bit them in the backside but fierce.

Still, it’s a bread and circuses thing. We’re just puzzled why Amerikhuns care more about access to online porn, Pirate Bay wannabees and LOLCats than, say, oh, their personal freedom. Nobody lifted a finger to slow PATRIOT down then. Except Dick Armey and a few who demanded and got sunset provisions. OK, it was right after 9/11. Feelings were raw.

Feelings weren’t that raw when Democrats and Republicans voted to blow past the original sunsets. How raw could feelings be with the Boy King in office? To get *expansions* to the PATRIOT Act, notwithstanding its classified offshoots. Chirp. Chirp. You’d think this would be something custom made for social media, ala Cairo, etc. But alas, people can’t conceive of losing something that’s not tangible, like a shiny new iPad suddenly no longer showing a favorite website.

So if you go to one of those usual suspect aggregators news sites proclaiming this ‘dramatic’ SOPA victory to ‘preserve the Internet’, just remember, sure, Amerikhuns may get LOLCats unimpeded. And the torrents running free in Sweden.

High fives all around. Because, like, saving the “integrity of the Internet” is so much more important than a constitutional republic. You know we’re right.

Dick Cheney’s Final Sadism

Of all of Cheney’s various crimes and corrosive acts, his book may be the cruelest. Not because of its dubious authenticity. Rather, Cheney gives new leases of life to mealy-mouthed Colin Powell and the entire spineless cavalcade of our past.

Across D.C. one can’t escape General Jello’s plaintive, salad fork-like rebuttal. Again we are forced to endure the spectacle of a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and alleged warrior whining about ‘cheap shots’ — as if he’s in the NBA working refs after getting dunked on. A patent lawyer almost wholly oblivious of anything political couldn’t shut up about seeing Colin Powell on TV. Now that’s evil. Curse you again, Dick Cheney.

It’s Cheney’s misfortune that books themselves mean so little in 2011. As a cultural artifact they no longer command and monopolize the Imperial City hive mind. Not in the way say the former court reporter (in all senses of the words) Woodward’s routinely used to. Certainly not in the way Kissinger’s ghost written memoirs did. In fact, as Palin showed, a few well placed tweets command as much media spotlight. We draw comfort in our assessment because the kids at the WaPo disagree:

The difference between all these books and Cheney’s is the author. While the books listed above were often written by staffers and sometimes by political appointees, Cheney is a former Vice President of the United States. That gives his autobiography a certain amount of heft lacking from the others.

We doubt it. Not just because the WaPo is itself so enfeebled. Cheney, no matter how malefic, can not repeal the Law of Commodification. Already his book has been read, reported on. Thousands have fed its contents into the Twitter, StumbleUpon and other disposals of the modern intellect. Sliced, diced and churned. We doubt there are significant new details remaining that haven’t already been reported whether on Iraq, torture, Wilson/Plame, Rumsfeld, Afghanistan or domestic spying.

Cheney can count on the AEI/Hudson networks for a certain annuity. But his publishers want sales and Cheney clearly relishes attention. So both need Tenet, Rice, Leahy and others rise to the bait (“heads will explode”).

Thus is the full scope of Cheney’s sadism revealed. He is like the manipulator from the Saw movies. He opens a path to escape if the victims immolate themselves. Our only hope is they show the good judgment, courage and fortitude that evaded them when in office and spurn the invitation. General Jello already failed.

And for us, once again, we are forced to recall the bitter taste of pinning expectations on such a sorry bunch of self-serving mediocrities. We can in a way slightly sympathize with Cheney’s contempt for them all.

Curse you indeed, Dick Cheney.

Surveillance Explodes – Winning The Future At Home, Too

By every available measure, the level of domestic intelligence surveillance activity in 2010 increased from the year before, according to a new Justice Department report to Congress on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And doesn’t even include the significant spike in activities like the Bureau’s use of national security letters, which jumped to 24,287, pertaining to 14,212 different U.S. persons.

Thank goodness we got change we can believe in. Go team.

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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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers ! Go Sweet Jane, Sweet Jane !

The 3 year old scandal involving Jane Harman’s alleged trading of influence with suspected foreign agents gets new legs. According to Congressional Quaterly, NSA surveillance provided the evidence against Harman in 2006. Oh, and Goss at the time was in a ‘all signs are go!’ mood.

Other than that we’re not entirely sure what exactly is new. A congressional promise to look into a matter with a caveat that not much can be done? Pretty normal. A few calls and then nothing happens? Same. Politics determining congressional committee assignments? Gasp. Perhaps the real story being clarifying the agenda of those making ‘new’ leaks? Par for the course. How perfect that the alleged foreign agent is an American citizen responsible for creating the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.