The NSA Tries To Secure Most Surveillance Powers Before Obama Makes A Statement About Surveillance

The NSA tries to secure most surveillance powers before Obama makes a statement about the future of American surveillance

Headquarters of the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland. This article or image contains materials that originally came from a National Security Agency (NSA) website or publication. It is believed that this information is not classified, and is in the public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:National_Security_Agency_headquarters,_Fort_Meade,_Maryland.jpg
Headquarters of the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland. This article or image contains materials that originally came from a National Security Agency (NSA) website or publication. It is believed that this information is not classified, and is in the public domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:National_Security_Agency_headquarters,_Fort_Meade,_Maryland.jpg

As the Guardian reports, the Obama White House wants to (or at least pretends that it does) reform the NSA’s surveillance apparatus.

Obama recently met with privacy advocates, among them the ACLU, to discuss American mass surveillance.

Guess who is launching a charm offensive targeted at the American public against limiting the scope of mass surveillance in any substantial manner.

If you do not let us spy on all of you at all times, then the terrorists win

The NSA recently argued in an interview on NPR that if they do not continue indiscriminate mass surveillance, then, loosely paraphrased, the terrorists win.

Speaking about the surveillance of the phone records of all Americans (non-Americans are fair game anyway for the NSA), outgoing NSA deputy director John C. Inglis said that one money transfer from San Diego to militant islamists al-Shabaab in Somalia had been prevented. Note that he talked about a money transfer that might have financed that group’s activities, but not a specific terrorist attack.

Let that sink in for a while. To prevent one unspecific terrorism-related activity, the private communication of all Americans (not to mention everybody else on the planet) has to be destroyed, according to the NSA. I think that the price Americans and other citizens of the world have to pay for this illusion of security is too high.

Freedom and absolute security are mutually exclusive

It is a truism that in a free society, there can never be one hundred percent security against all risks of life, including terrorism. Attempting to watch and predict every individual’s next move at all times inescapably leads towards an authoritarian dystopia.

It would be a shame if the country whose national imagination prides itself to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave” would end up as ‘democratic’ as the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was.

One Stasi was enough. Please America, stop this madness.

UK Parliament Questions Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger’s Patriotism In Anti-Terrorism Hearing

UK Parliament questions Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger’s patriotism in anti-terrorism hearing

Photograph of the debating chamber of the British House of Commons in the Palace of Westminster, London, looking north-east. | Author: UK Parliament | Used under the Parliamentary copyright | Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:House_of_Commons.jpg
Photograph of the debating chamber of the British House of Commons in the Palace of Westminster, London, looking north-east. | Author: UK Parliament | Used under the Parliamentary copyright | Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:House_of_Commons.jpg

On December 3, 2013 the Guardian’s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger had to testify before the House of Commons of the British Parliament  in a hearing on anti-terrorism.

One of the rather stunning questions asked by Chair Keith Vaz was whether Rusbridger “love[d] this country [the UK].”

Rusbridger replied:

We live in a democracy and most of the people working on this story are British people who have families in this country, who love this country. I’m slightly surprised to be asked the question but yes, we are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can in this country discuss and report these things [emphasis mine].

With us or against us – the excluded middle

Behind the questioning of Rusbridger’s “patriotism” because he, as a journalist, does not agree with the government’s national security narrative, lies the logical fallacy of the excluded middle. Either you agree with total surveillance of the world’s citizens in the name of national security or the terrorists win.

The possibility that there might be excesses in the surveillance architectures of the so-called Global War on Terrorism (there are!) , that much of what is being done in this area has probably more to do with gaining illegitimate advantages through economic espionage, or that there might be approaches that actually help fighting terrorism without eroding civil liberties does not occur in this line of thinking.

An uninformed citizenry cannot correct its government

The elephant in the room is this: Had it not been for Snowden, we the people of the world would never have known about the extent of surveillance against innocent citizens. Democracies rely on an adversarial press to keep the government in check.

Since the summer of 2013, the Guardian has been releasing articles based on the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden, exposing the indiscriminate mass surveillance by the American NSA, the British GCHQ, and other intelligence agencies of the world’s citizens.

Read, see, and hear more:

[Audio and article] “Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger appears before MPs – live coverage.” (Paul Owen, Guardian, 2013/12/03) – Summary of the hearing and an audio recording can be found here.

Highlights from Guardian editor’s Parliament hearing.” (Kristen Hare, Poynter.org, 2013/12/03) – Many more questions to and answers from Alan Rusbridger.

MPs question Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s patriotism over Edward Snowden leaks.” (Ian Burrell, The Independent, 2013/12/03)

The progressive talk show The Young Turks reports on the hearing here:

 

 

NSA Spies On Pornography Consumption To Discredit Islamists

NSA Spies On Pornography Consumption To Discredit Islamists

Telecommunications equipment in one corner of a small data center. Contributed and licensed under the GFDL by the photographer, Gregory Maxwell. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Datacenter-telecom.jpg
Telecommunications equipment in one corner of a small data center. Contributed and licensed under the GFDL by the photographer, Gregory Maxwell. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Datacenter-telecom.jpg

According to a report by the Huffington Post, the Snowden leaks reveal that the NSA attempts to gather data about the pornography consumption habits of radical Islamists. This information is then used as kompromat in order to discredit these actors inside their respective communities.

According to the article, this is seen as a rather benign way of derailing radicalization efforts.

Still, it makes one wonder whether Islamic extremists are the only target of this strategy. My guess is that it is not. I speculate that the whole point of the NSA’s mass surveillance is to gather compromising materials on everybody, just in case.

And the article mentions a historical precedent in this regard, coming from another intelligence agency: the FBI, especially under J. Edgar Hoover. It is noteworthy that by no means were only actual threats to society at the receiving end of this kind of surveillance, but also legitimate emancipatory projects, such as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

While the NSA’s blanket mass surveillance is a scandal in itself, the potential for repressive action against legitimate democratic forces in society should alert everybody.

While I do not have the slightest bit of sympathy for the religious radicalizers that are discussed in the leaked document, the trajectory of a panoptic state that potentially knows every intimate detail of its citizens’ private lives is undeniably anti-democratic in spirit.

Read more:

Top-Secret Document Reveals NSA Spied On Porn Habits As Part Of Plan To Discredit ‘Radicalizers’.” (Adriana Usero and Ryan J. Reilly, Huffington Post, 2013/11/26)

 

Guardian and BBC Arabic Reveal Pentagon Involvement In Iraqi Torture Centers

An Investigation By The Guardian and BBC Arabic Reveals Pentagon Involvement In Iraqi Torture Centers.

The abyss of US military involvement in torture in Iraq widens. According to a report by the Guardian and BBC Arabic, top US military brass was well-informed about Iraqi torture centers.

The expert for the dirty work: An ex-special forces organizer of deaths squads in El Salvador in the 1980s

The Pentagon brought Colonel James Steele to Iraq. “Who is this man?” you ask. Steele is a special forces veteran who spent his time in the US military, among other things, setting up right-wing death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s.

In Iraq, according to the report, Steele organized setting up Iraqi torture centers for detainees of the insurgency.

Petraeus knew about torture

Another top military advisor, retired Colonel James H Coffman, worked together with Steele in the detention centers and—this is where it gets interesting—reported directly to General Petraeus.

It follows that Petraeus knew exactly what kind of abuse was going on, and let it happen.

WikiLeaks as threat to the official war narrative

The Guardian’s report is in part based on material that was leaked to WikiLeaks. It is not hard to see why the Justice Department is currently attempting to make an example of Bradley Manning and get their hands on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

As the dirtiest secrets of the Iraq war are revealed, the liberation narrative begins to unravel. Top military officials stand embarrassed, for they have been caught red-handed as ruthless condoners of torture. But as the maintenance of the facade of democratic values is elementary in order to win the home front, whistleblowers are quickly declared enemies of the state.

‘We’ are becoming ‘them’: Torture poisons our democracies

Reading the details on the practices in the Iraqi torture centers is frankly disturbing. It is all the more disgusting to learn that ‘we,’ i.e. the ‘West,’ and US military officials at the highest levels in particular, were completely fine with this.

It does not take much to realize the unbearable hypocrisy of it all. Not only is torture morally wrong, it is also ineffective, because victims will say anything to make their suffering stop.

Here in Europe, we have the best historic example of this: witch hunts in early modern times. Tortured victims would accuse neighbors or others they did not like of being witches just to save themselves. But that is besides the point.

If in this century’s ‘war on terrorism’ realpolitik prevails über alles, then the line between ‘them,’ the maligned autocratic rogue states, and ‘us,’ the liberal democratic West, becomes thinner and blurry to the point of being barely distinguishable.

And if we are not watchful, there might come a day when the next Mubarak or al-Assad has a more familiar-sounding name and speaks our own language. But then it will be too late.

Neocons, I beg to differ

Here is where I disagree with the neoconservative world view behind the Iraq war: I do not think that the end always justifies the means. And I doubt that the end of fighting terrorism can be achieved by becoming torturers, or having detainees tortured by proxy.

As for building a democracy, I am skeptical about how torture prisons constitute a solid foundation in this regard. But then again, the attachment of the neoconservative architects of the Iraq war to democratic values is questionable.

Torture enablers should be in prison

I do not know at which point the George W. Bushes, the Dick Cheneys, the John Yoos, the Donald Rumsfelds, or the David Petraeuses of the world became attached to this kind of amoral thinking, but when you read what is now publicly accessible, these men were not at all troubled by deploying torture and constructing a legal framework to make it seem legit. To the contrary. But torture is still wrong.

And to the big disgrace of the Obama administration and the Holder Justice Department, which I put high hopes in, none of these crimes had any consequences for the perpetrators.

In an ideal world, all of those who enabled the torture regime, including European government officials, would spend the rest of their days in prison for crimes against humanity. Call me naive, but not to speak up against this evil would make me an accomplice.

Read more:

Revealed: Pentagon’s link to Iraqi torture centres.” (, , and , Guardian, 2013/03/06)