Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seriously: What are we going to do about the NSA?

As noted in the post below, NSA apologists have pointed to 9/11 -- and the German connections of the hijackers -- as a reason for tapping into Angela Merkel's phone since 2003 (an act which has evinced howls of pseudo-outrage even from Dianne Feinstein). A reader has reminded me of a fact which underlines the absurdity of this claim: The Germans tried to warn us about the great terror attack of 2001. There was no need to wiretap their phones -- we simply needed to pick up when they called us.

Just a few days after the attack, on September 14, 2001, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that the BND (the German CIA) knew about an impending attack as early as June. Specifically, the Germans knew that terrorists were “planning to hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack important symbols of American and Israeli culture.”

Of course, intelligence services don't like to depend on the cooperation of foreign countries. They prefer to snatch up the raw data for themselves. Nevertheless, a certain degree of cooperation is necessary -- as we will learn the hard way, if we continue to piss off the rest of the world.

That's the very point made in this Truthdig piece by Eugene Robinson...
The NSA does have its defenders. “I think the president should stop apologizing and stop being defensive,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said on “Meet the Press,” claiming that the spy agency’s snooping “has saved thousands of lives, not just in the United States but also in France, in Germany and throughout Europe.”

Besides, King said, “the French are someone to talk” because they routinely spy against the United States. And much of the planning for the 9/11 attacks took place in Hamburg, under German officials’ noses. And European countries sometimes have “dealings” with hostile countries such as Iran and North Korea.

That would be one way to look at it. Another would be that alienating key leaders—and broad public opinion—in friendly countries is a dumb, counterproductive way to fight terrorism. Following these revelations, are French, German and Spanish intelligence agencies likely to be more cooperative with their U.S. counterparts? Or less?
Meanwhile, the L.A. Times is leaning toward the theory that Obama knew rather more than he is letting on...
The White House and State Department signed off on surveillance targeting phone conversations of friendly foreign leaders, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Monday, pushing back against assertions that President Obama and his aides were unaware of the high-level eavesdropping.

Professional staff members at the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies are angry, these officials say, believing the president has cast them adrift as he tries to distance himself...
Ah, the old Obama bus-toss. It should be an Olympic sport.

Incidentally, DiFi may have offered a pro-forma scolding over the Merkel business, and she may have even given a thumb's up to the notion of a full review of NSA procedures. But she is still making it easy for the NSA to spy on Americans.

Obama may now ban spying on foreign leaders, if those leaders are allied. So what does this mean? Will Angela Merkel now have a right to privacy denied to you and me? Is this the only way to get a little privacy in the modern world -- become the leader of a nation? And what about the people Merkel talks to? I guess the new rules would still allow eavesdropping on them. But there are no minimization procedures in place overseas, so when Merkel calls Hans the Gigolo, the NSA can simply say to themselves: "Hey, we aren't spying on Merkel -- we're spying on Hans!"

The Germans now consider the new American embassy in Berlin to be little more than an NSA listening post. They even refer to the top floor as "Das Nest."
But in the past week, the anger has increased. The reason is simple: Germans might not appreciate the means but are as anti-terrorism as any people and could understand the motives. But tapping the cellphones of their chancellor and other political leaders clearly has nothing to do with anti-terror efforts.

Johannes Thimm, a North America expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a Berlin think tank, said it’s becoming increasingly clear that the NSA is violating a lot of laws around the globe, and for very little – if any – worthwhile gain.

“This spying cannot plausibly be explained as the prevention of terrorist activities,” he said. “The notion that the ends justify the means is a Cold War mindset, and I would argue this mindset didn’t serve the West well even in the Cold War.”
Odd, isn't it, how no-one mentions the obvious: Our intelligence apparat is also in the business of gathering economic and industrial information. That, I think, is one of the great unreported stories here.

So let's bottom line it. What's our goal here?

I know many Cannonfire readers are charter members of the "I live to bitch" brigade, and that's fine. Such people need no goals. But the rest of us do.

What do we want to achieve?

There's a lot of movement toward the establishment of some sort of NSA investigation. How can we assure that this will be a real investigation and not a whitewash?

And what kind of reforms do we need?

I'll offer my own suggestions in a later post.
Comments:
If the NSA quit sharing intelligence with Israel, that might be enough to get Feinstein really pissed.
 
Beyond self-serving boasts about saving thousands of people from vague threats of imminent destruction, is there any actual reason to think the NSA should even exist?
 
Well, if the NSA disappeared, my congressional district would become very impoverished.
 
Turn the NSA facilities in Salt Lake City and in Fort Neade into universities.
 
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