Long Read: “NSA: They Know Much More Than You Think”

In the New York Review of Books, James Bamford (who’s been on this beat for some time) has a nice succinct history of our government’s Orwellian tactics:

… Looking back, the NSA and its predecessors have been gaining secret, illegal access to the communications of Americans for nearly a century. On July 1, 1920, a slim balding man in his early thirties moved into a four-story townhouse at 141 East 37th Street in Manhattan. This was the birth of the Black Chamber, the NSA’s earliest predecessor, and it would be hidden in the nondescript brownstone. But its chief, Herbert O. Yardley, had a problem. To gather intelligence for Woodrow Wilson’s government, he needed access to the telegrams entering, leaving, and passing through the country, but because of an early version of the Radio Communications Act, such access was illegal. With the shake of a hand, however, Yardley convinced Newcomb Carlton, the president of Western Union, to grant the Black Chamber secret access on a daily basis to the private messages passing over his wires—the Internet of the day.

For much of the next century, the solution would be the same: the NSA and its predecessors would enter into secret illegal agreements with the telecom companies to gain access to communications. Eventually codenamed Project Shamrock, the program finally came to a crashing halt in 1975 when a Senate committee that was investigating intelligence agency abuses discovered it. Senator Frank Church, the committee chairman, labeled the NSA program “probably the largest governmental interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.”

As a result of the decades of illegal surveillance by the NSA, in 1978 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was signed into law and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) came into existence. Its purpose was, for the first time, to require the NSA to get judicial approval for eavesdropping on Americans. Although the court seldom turned down a request for a warrant, or an order as it’s called, it nevertheless served as a reasonable safeguard, protecting the American public from an agency with a troubling past and a tendency to push the bounds of spying unless checked.

For a quarter of a century, the rules were followed and the NSA stayed out of trouble, but following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration decided to illegally bypass the court and began its program of warrantless wiretapping….

At the same time, rather than calling for prosecution of the telecom officials for their role in illegally cooperating in the eavesdropping program, or at least a clear public accounting, Congress simply granted them immunity not only from prosecution but also from civil suits. Thus, for nearly a century, telecom companies have been allowed to violate the privacy of millions of Americans with impunity…. Read more

Like the legend of the phoenix

Personally, I’m glad that Edward Snowden leaked all that stuff, and I don’t think he’s a Chinese spy or a traitor. Anyway, he’s certainly amusing:

“Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.”

Remember though, Daniel Ellsberg was never given a phoenix!

on impure vessels and public discourse

I’m up with insomnia.  Happens every so often.

So here’s a thought-

Most of the recent revelations’ good AND bad regarding our government’s covert activities’ legal or not, good or bad, have come to us via “impure vessels.”

Bradley Manning isn’t anyone’s idea of a good Soldier.  This other guy has some issues too,  or so it seems. *  The conduits through which these men choose to act are themselves less than ideal.  Julian Assange is a con man who strung his most lucrative source along for months and then left him high and dry, not even willing to make good on his half-assed pledge to donate money for PART of Manning’s defense fund.  Greenwald is a prickly sanctimonious blow-hard frequently more dedicated to self-promotion than the accuracy of his work.

In other words, they are imperfect vessels.  And while it is right to look at their specific claims with a healthy dose of skepticism, let’s not lose sight of the fact that these men have brought up subjects that we should be discussing.  This shit is important, as my dad would say.

A lot of important things we take for granted came about because of imperfect vessels.  I’m pretty sure no one would give up the right to be informed of the charges against them, and their rights at arrest, even though Miranda was a violent psychopath.  I doubt Clarence Gideon would make many short lists for dinner invitations, but I’m damn glad for the protections that came from his case.

So let’s have those discussions, and not in Mitt Romney’s quiet rooms out in the open, loudly and honestly, the way Americans are supposed to do.  Manning, by his own admission, should be in jail.  So should this other guy, probably.  But like Gideon and Miranda, the rest of us do owe them a debt of sorts, and we would do well to remember that.


* I’m on my tablet here at 5:00 AM, so I’m not going to hunt down details.  They’re available in previous threads.  Go knock yourselves out.

Black angel’s death song

Who killed the GOP brand for young people?

Here’s (via) a table of how Dems fared among voters under 30 in the last few elections:

Gore (2000) +0 18-24, +3 25-29
Kerry (2004) +13 18-24, +3 25-29
Obama (2008) +32 18-29
Obama (2012) +23 18-29

To be clear, the +13 among 18-24 is already quite anomalous, given that Kerry lost by 2.5 among all voters. If you leaf through the last 10 elections, there aren’t many examples prior to that where one age group votes more than 10 points differently than the population at large.

Maybe everything that dies someday comes back, and maybe the white hot intensity of a thousand Watergates has caused Bob Woodward’s long-dormant erection to return. But all the scandal bullshit isn’t getting the youth vote back, I’ll tell you that. Neither are Rubio’s references to Tupac.

If you got bad news, you wanna kick them blues

Stories like this are sure to put a dent in Obama’s approval rating:

While our consulate in Benghazi was attacked during the night of September 11 of last year, our fearless leader was allegedly hiding away somewhere getting “high as a kite” on cocaine. This is the speculation of Kevin DuJan, a self-described “gay conservative political analyst” writing for a publication called HillBuzz. DuJan states that his claim, which he appears to make based on knowledge and experience of drug addicts, explains the president being missing for most of the evening during the attack on Benghazi.

Keep fucking that chicken, wingtards.