Revealing Surveillance Methods Just Result In More Complex Surveillance

Back in the 1980’s/90’s, the National Security Agency (NSA) was so top secret, the joke around Washington was that “NSA” stood for “No Such Agency”, because no one would even confirm its existence. I can remember when saying that you believe such a super-secret agency even exists made you sound like a conspiracy nut. But in January of 2000 (under President Clinton), the existence of the NSA was finally confirmed. Not only was it real, but had been around since 1951 (or 1948 under a different name). The reason for the sudden big reveal? Republican investigations into the anti-terrorism surveillance activities of the Clinton Administration had made its existence all but common knowledge. The endless GOP investigations into the Clinton Administration had found that the NSA had been instructed to monitor all electronic communications for terrorist threats. Cellphones were exceedingly rare, and the Internet was still in its infancy, so the bulk of surveillance was electronic monitoring of phone calls for word combinations like “bomb” & “target”. AlQaeda was already a huge and growing threat with a series of bombings and terrorist attacks across the Middle East (see the Khobar Towers bombing and the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Kenya & Tanzania). Thanks to the GOP’s obsession with bringing down President Clinton, the terrorists now knew that we were monitoring them, driving terrorist activities further underground. There was no longer any point in denying the existence of The National Security Agency, thus the big reveal. And so it continues. Republicans scream about violations of privacy when a Democrat is in the White House even if it jeopardizes public safety, and dismisses the president’s critics when a Republican is in office. The more they reveal, the more they “tip our hand” to the terrorists, forcing the NSA to become more intrusive trying to stay one step ahead of the terrorists. (I won’t be arguing the merits of the surveillance program here, only how it is being made worse by revealing its practices.)

It has been odd this past week listening to Progressives who feel upset & critical of President Obama (expressing everything from dismay to an outright feeling of betrayal), while many Republicans (like Bill Kristol) defend him. But there are also Republicans who… without a hint of shame or irony… are attacking Obama for doing the same thing as President Bush as just “one more example” of him using the government to trample our Civil Liberties (along with the IRS “scandal” and “Fast & Furious”)… unlike the guy who gave us The PATRIOT Act.

I am decidedly torn on the surveillance program. Personally, I was more bothered by the Bush Administration eschewing the FISA Court and Congress for permission than by the surveillance itself:

Bush 2004: Wiretapping only with a (FISA) court order.
Bush 2006: FISA was written in 1978
(explaining why they didn’t bother seeking a court order.)

Flash forward to yesterday (June 9, 2013):

Former NSA Director Gen. Michael Hayden on Fox “news” Sunday says
Obama has added “incredible oversight mechanisms” to surveillance program:

So the idea that what Bush did and President Obama is doing are “the same thing” is horse-pucky. In fact, the more we learn about the surveillance program under Obama, the more the argument against it falls apart. Where the Bush Administration flat out lied about seeking permission to do something clearly illegal, the Obama Administration has gone out of its way to keep the program “above board”.

But can’t such monitoring also be a good thing? In England, “CCTV” (Closed Circuit Television) cameras are everywhere as a crime-fighting tool. The 7/7/2005 London Bombings suspects were captured & convicted thanks to being spotted on surveillance cameras positioned throughout the city. And knowing that the cameras are there has likely proved as a deterrent against future attacks.

Others see such invasive surveillance as a “Big Brother” government invasion of privacy. ThinkProgress stated on Saturday that the tangible harm of these programs is that it “changes your behavior” so that even people who never do anything wrong feel they must act/behave a certain way for fear of reprisal.

Well, I’ve got news for you: You just defined RELIGION… the belief that an omnipotent being with the power to punish you is watching your every move to ensure that you’re being a good little boy or girl.

This also defines Santa Claus.

Americans are perfectly fine with the idea of “being constantly watched” as a means of “protection” and “behavior modification”. So anyone that whines about “Big Brother” on their way to church on Sunday… clearly you have no problem with the concept, so what’s your beef?

Conservative columnist Matt Dowd on ABC’s “ThisWeek” yesterday pointed out that “the same Conservatives supporting NSA snooping as an acceptable violation of their Civil Liberties in exchange for a little safety are the very same people unwilling to accept even the most modest gun control laws. I love when someone points out glaring Conservative hypocrisy.

But I digress.

As the presidents’ (whomever he may be) critics publicly reveal more & more about the types of information that is gathered, the MORE information they’ll have to collect as a result of our enemies now knowing what devices/words we are monitoring. If the president’s critics reveal we are checking Hotmail accounts for word like “bomb” and “embassy” in close proximity (the way I just did meaning this Op/Ed has been flagged as you have been too for reading it), they’ll just start using Yahoo mail instead and substituting words like “comb” or “qwoq” for what they really mean, making it tougher to catch them.

Some argue that there’s an upside to all this: Tell them that we’re monitoring cell phones and they’ll go back to using land lines. Tell them that we’re reading their emails and they’ll switch to snail-mail, greatly slowing down and hindering their efforts.

Problem is, our enemies are tech savvy now too. They’re not going to rely on “Smoke Signals” or “the Pony Express” (as suggested by Mary Matalin on ABC’s “ThisWeek” yesterday) to avoid having their communications intercepted, they’re going to get MORE sophisticated, not “less”. Hell, alQaeda publishes its own online magazine on its own website. Does anyone REALLY believe they’re going to get LESS sophisticated to avoid detection? Of course not. All these “revelations” do are push our enemies into using more complex methods to avoid detection, forcing US in turn to become ever more invasive. By that logic then, all we need to do is simply lie about how powerful we are and our enemies will just give up trying to attack us. (Hey, it worked for Saddam, right?)

We are sweeping up more data now because we’ve revealed the existence of these programs, putting our enemies on alert. We had all the information needed to prevent 9/11 before the attack without the extensive invasion of our privacy that we see today, we just didn’t analyze that data in time to prevent the attack. We didn’t have to collect the MASSIVE amount of data we do today from an infinite number of sources. Now we do because the existence and methods of these agencies have been revealed. These very revelations are driving the ever growing invasions of privacy the critics are screaming about. These leaks aren’t making us safer, and they DEFINITELY aren’t resulting in greater privacy.

Note: M.R.S. will be off next week for Father’s Day but will return to our regular schedule on June 24th.

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June 10, 2013 · Admin Mugsy · 4 Comments - Add
Posted in: Crime, fake scandals, Politics, Terrorism, Unconstitutional

  • Ebon June 10, 2013 at 6:58 AM

    I’ve actually taken to including a greeting to the bored boys and girls at Quantico whenever I use certain words in email.

  • Grant in Texas June 10, 2013 at 6:41 PM

    I guess as a child of the 1930’s growing up in WWII, often hearing
    “loose lips sink ships”, I am less concerned about government security
    methods than say Libertarians like Rand Paul (no surprise that Ted Cruz
    just jumped into the fray, too, attacking Obama) have to say.  Likewise,
    Paul has sympathizers on the “professional left” (will see what Rachel
    and other Young Turks on MSNBC). Thankfully, because secrets were kept
    in my youth (biggest was Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge/Los Alamos), I
    am not speaking German or Japanese today.  Some are saying we should
    notify in advance people that we are keeping their communications
    records.  That makes as much sense as local police calling a suspect in
    to testify before a judge before a search warrant can be issued, thus
    giving the suspected perp a chance to sanitize his/her property!  If we
    had had better intelligence from the Russians, such a program monitoring
    the Tsarnaev brothers might have prevented the Boston Marathon
    bombings.  The program has already worked in the past like preventing a
    bombing of the NYC subway system in 2009.  Our NSA has had the
    scrutiny of Congress, our federal judicial system, and the White House
    so information has not been collected in a vacuum.  In fact over the
    past decade such methods have been approved by both Democratic and
    Republican majority Congresses.  I’ve long just accepted that what I say
    on the phone or type into my computer is being read by others and act
    accordingly.  After all, if I am searching for a product, I start
    getting emails, ads attached to sites I visit featuring that same
    researched product offered at several different companies.  As
    far as Greenwald and Snowden, I see a book/movie deal in their future as
    why would high-school drop-out Snowden quit a $200,000 a year job (has
    only held for 3 months) to assuage his “conscience”. Was Snowden set up
    to dig into records?  I know that not all of 535 politicians on Capitol
    Hill are privy to everything our government does, only those on select
    committees (bad enough that Michelle Bachman is on the “intelligence”
    committee!). IMO, too many have security clearance or are not
    investigated thoroughly enough before getting such.  I’ve only had
    security clearance once in my life, to work on IDF military base
    construction in Israel for an American contractor.  I had to fill out a
    very detailed 10 page questionnaire for MOSSAD and wait nearly 2 months
    for approval for only mid-level security status. 

  • Loretta Q. Cline June 19, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    The document points the finger at CCTV and other security measures as privacy-invasive technologies (PITs): “Many technology applications gather data, collate data, apply data, or otherwise assist in the surveillance of people and their behaviour (the “PITs”). Among the host of examples are surveillance technologies (such as CCTV), data-trail generation (such as keystroke monitoring) and identification through the denial of anonymity (e.g., telephone caller ID, loyalty cards and intelligent transport systems), data warehousing and data mining, and the use of biometric information. In an internet context, there is considerable concern about the various types of malware, including viruses, worms, trojans, keystroke-loggers, ‘spyware’ and ‘phishing’.” Here the handbook suggests privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) such as computer firewalls, and advice against malware.

  • Oliver Z. Dunn July 9, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    We’ll talk about privacy and liberty in the age of the Internet and big surveillance with big web thinker Jaron Lanier.