Archive for Espionage

Nice T*ts

That’s not me talking; it’s Edward Snowden.

You should be flattered:

A British spy agency collected millions of still images while eavesdropping on Yahoo webcam chats by citizens of the U.K., the U.S. and other countries, according to a new report Thursday.

Citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the Guardian reports that the British program known as “Optic Nerve” was designed to test and improve the agency’s facial recognition software capabilities. According to the documents, the British spy agency GCHQ snooped on “unselected” Yahoo users—that is, people who were spied on at random regardless of whether or not they were suspected of any wrongdoing—during webcam chats and took millions of still shots at five-minute intervals. The GCHQ does not have the technical capability to ensure that no images of British or American citizens were included in the bulk collection, the Guardian reports, and proper legal authorization is required for GCHQ to conduct data searches on people likely to be in the U.K. at the time.

In sorting through the massive amount of information it collected starting in 2008, when Optic Nerve first launched as a prototype program, U.K. spies were met with an explicit challenge: pornography

“Unfortunately, it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person,” one document leaked by Snowden says. “Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.”

I’m sorry, is that wrong?

But it ain’t just British spooks:

The British surveillance agency GCHQ and the United States National Security Agency (NSA) have intercepted and stored webcam images of millions of users worldwide of the online news and social networking provider Yahoo.

Obama didn’t begin this massive violation of privacy, but it’s all his now. And he’s done so little about it, it makes me wonder what movies he’s showing in the White House screening room.

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You Know You Want One

An Edward Snowden action figure!

Move over, Captain Planet. A toy manufacturer in Oregon has commoditized the debate over government surveillance and is now selling customizable Edward Snowden action figures for the cool price of $99.

“This package includes Edward Snowden’s custom action figure head mounted on a 12-inch action figure body with a several [sic] choices of outfit styles,” the website, ThatsMyFace.com, boasts. “By selecting Head only in the Outfit selection box above, you can also buy Edward Snowden’s head for $60 only and fit it onto your own 12-inch figurines.”

Snowden’s head on my Skipper doll? Have they no decency?

Act now, and they’ll include a second doll for just shipping and handling. Julian Assange!

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But this dynamic duo is not complete without a villain. Who’s their Joker?

They may occupy different ends of the secrecy spectrum, but they share a tailor, that’s for sure!

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Our Friends, the Nazis

Hey, don’t laugh.

Or cry:

At a secret site in Germany, after World War II ended, Americans used the services of Nazi scientists to develop advanced techniques for the investigation of Soviet prisoners, including the use of “truth serum” (LSD) and mind controlling methods which they would use on prisoners.

The doctors and elite Nazi scientists helped the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US intelligence system test the use of LSD and other investigative techniques that would help them extract information from the Soviet spies they had caught. The work took place in a German base named “Camp King”, near Frankfurt. In 1945, the site served as a detention center for the German scientists, but within three years, the detainees were the Soviets, while the German scientists became collaborators with the Americans.

An important asset for the Americans was Dr. Walter Schreiber, the Third Reich’s former Surgeon General who was later moved to an Air Force base in the US. The services of former Deputy Surgeon General of the Third Reich Dr. Kurt Blome, who was involved in biological warfare research, were also used in the base.

Ew. It’s one thing to plunder German rocket ingenuity, as we did with Werner von Braun (“A man whose allegiance/Is ruled by expedience”). But the Nazi eugenicists? What possible common cause would we have with the likes of Mengele’s bosses? (The very idea of a Surgeon General for the Third Reich should make us sick. It does.)

The motive behind the establishment of “Operation Paperclip” was a suspicion raised by top security and military American leadership’s memos – that the US and the Soviet Union may enter a “total war” in 1952, a war that will include the use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. For that reason, the Americans decided to use every means at their disposal, including Adolf Hitler’s top scientists and the chemical warfare they developed under the Third Reich, including sarin gas and biological weapons.

[T]he CIA soon showed an interest in using LSD outside of the battlefield, and in intelligence warfare. At the time, Americans were examining options of mind manipulation by using drugs, hypnosis and electric shock, in an attempt to match similar Soviet techniques of interrogation.

Take a second here. The Soviets were our allies in WWII (hard not to use “” around allies); the Nazis, the most evil regime the world had ever seen (until Mao?), were our enemies. (I’m going to excuse Genghis Khan out of multicultural sensitivity.) Yet we were cuddling Nazi “doctors” (had to use “” there) before the last mortar was fired, the last camp liberated.

It can’t have been because we didn’t know. Our interest in them meant of course we knew. What else did we want from the “Surgeon General” of the Third Reich? Cold remedies? Come on.

We were expecting “total war” (from ‘shrooms to mushroom clouds) with our “ally” less than a decade after celebrating victory in the ETO with them. There had to be a reason. Maybe we knew something there too.

Maybe we knew that Stalin had been ally of the Nazis too. (No need for “”; they signed a nonaggression pact.) Maybe we knew something about Lenin’s and Stalin’s “cleansing” of any reactionary forces or beliefs (which process was anything but clean). Maybe we knew something about Stalin’s role in the Ukraine famine that took millions of lives (not that we learned anything about it in the New York Times).

Churchill knew:

‘Terrible things have happened. A tide of Russian domination is sweeping forward . . . After it is over, the territories under Russian control will include the Baltic provinces, all of eastern Germany, all Czechoslovakia, a large part of Austria, the whole of Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

‘This constitutes one of the most melancholy events in the history of Europe and one to which there has been no parallel.

He got that right. He even wanted to go to war with the Soviets to push them back—even using German forces as they surrendered! But no one else had the strength or the nerve. Instead, they hunkered down for forty-five years of Cold War. Eastern Europe—half a continent—was lost to freedom for two generations. The wounds are still raw today.

Every war is dirty, ugly, cruel. The dogs of war maul the innocent as well as the guilty. It’s no different in a Cold War, even if no (or few) shots are fired. Maybe the “Surgeon General” of the Third Reich had clean hands.

Maybe. Doubtful. Nah…

They may have been Nazis, but they were our Nazis. That was not right, but when presented with the monsters of Hitler and Stalin (and later Mao), what the [bleep] was one supposed to do?

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Truth, Justice, and the Israeli Way

Everyone would rather that Iran not foment terrorism around the world. Everyone not Iranian, that is.

But if they are—and they do—there will be consequences:

The perpetrators of a 1994 terrorist attack on the main Jewish community offices in Buenos Aires have, for the most part, been eliminated by Israeli security forces operating abroad, a former Israeli envoy to Argentina sensationally revealed Thursday.

The AMIA (Argentine Israelite Mutual Association) bombing, carried out by a Lebanese suicide bomber who drove a car bomb at the multistory building, destroying it, killed 85 people and wounded hundreds. The bomber was subsequently identified as Ibrahim Hussein Berro, an operative of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group, and he was allegedly assisted by other Hezbollah and Iranian operatives.

In an interview with Agencia Judía de Noticias — or AJN, a Spanish-language Jewish news agency — Yitzhak Aviran, Israel’s ambassador to Argentina from 1993-2000, revealed that many of those involved in the attack had been targeted by Israel.

“The large majority of those responsible are no longer of this world, and we did it ourselves,” an AFP report quoted Aviran as saying.

Aviran castigated the Argentinian leadership, and claimed little had been done to bring to justice the Iranian authorizers and planners of the 1994 attack, or of a 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in the Argentinean capital, in which 29 people were killed.

The final decision to attack the AMIA center was made by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and then-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, according to the indictment. In the indictment, Argentinian prosecutors relied heavily on the testimony of an Iranian defector, former intelligence official Abolghasem Mesbahi.

The specific motivation for the 1994 AMIA bombing, according to Nisman, was to punish Argentina for suspending its nuclear cooperation with Iran. Once the decision was taken to act against the country, Nisman said in an earlier Times of Israel interview, it was a Jewish target that was decided upon — again, a familiar Iranian strategy. “When they choose to act against a country, the attack is commonly on the Jewish community,” he said. “It’s the first target.”

Nisman also said there are “clear signs” that terrorist networks first established by Iran in several South American countries in the 1980s and 1990s are still in place.

So, the real trick is to take action against the Iranian terrorists before they act. What are you waiting for?

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Who’s the Traitor?

That was then:

This is now:

Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive American security contractor granted temporary asylum by Russia, has appealed to Washington to stop treating him like a traitor for revealing that the United States has been eavesdropping on its allies, a German politician who met with Mr. Snowden said on Friday.

Mr. Snowden made his appeal in a letter that was carried to Berlin by Hans-Christian Ströbele, a veteran member of the Green Party in the German Parliament. Mr. Ströbele said he and two journalists for German news outlets met with Mr. Snowden and a person described as his assistant — probably his British aide, Sarah Harrison — at an undisclosed location in or near Moscow on Thursday for almost three hours.

Mr. Ströbele had gone to Moscow to explore whether Mr. Snowden could or would testify before a planned parliamentary inquiry into the eavesdropping.

In his letter, Mr. Snowden, 30, also appealed for clemency. He said his disclosures about American intelligence activity at home and abroad, which he called “systematic violations of law by my government that created a moral duty to act,” have had positive effects.

Yet “my government continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges that provide no defense,” Mr. Snowden wrote. “However, speaking the truth is not a crime. I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior.”

Germans—and everyone else—ask Obama: how could you do this to us? We were so into you. He understands your feelings. Not your outrage, but your adulation. You weren’t into him half as much as he was into himself. Eavesdropping was just a version of the old line: enough about me—what do you think about me?

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He Knows, He Knows Not; He Knows, He Knows Not

Does President Obama know his ass from his elbow? It depends:

‘No matter how we reform health care,’ a newly minted President Barack Obama told a meeting of the American Medical Association in June 2009, ‘we will keep this promise: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.’

But regulations formulated by his own administration make it clear that the White House never intended to to give Americans that level of free choice about their medical insurance options.

Washington, D.C. buzzed Friday with reports of what NBC News had surfaced: an under-the-radar notice in the Federal Register, which MailOnline has dated to June 17, 2010, laying out the administration’s expectation that most people who buy their own health insurance will soon have no options other than paying exorbitant rates or joining the federal government’s insurance exchanges.

So, he does know sh*t from Shinola.

Or does he?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who chairs the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, seemed miffed at the idea that she and her colleagues were out of the loop when the president’s men conducted surveillance on foreign leaders in Europe and Latin America.

And she said President Obama’s lack of knowledge about monitoring of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phones going back to 2002 posed ‘a big problem.’

So, he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. Hard to say, really:

Did anyone tell him about this?

A pair of tweets sent by President Barack Obama’s Twitter account re-directed users to to pro-Bashar al-Assad YouTube videos Monday afternoon.

One tweet about immigration reform was supposed to send followers to an article from The Washington Post. Instead, it linked to a video montage of terror attacks, starting with the attacks on 9/11.

The account, @BarackObama, is used by the president’s Organizing For Action campaign.

“OFA links that were posted on Twitter/Facebook was hacked and redirected to a video showing the truth about Syria,” a member of the Syrian Electronic Army told CNNMoney. The hacktivist group claims that it gained access to multiple OFA email accounts, in addition to MyBarackObama.com and donate.barackobama.com.

The two manipulated tweets were retweeted hundreds of times.

Though the hack of the president’s tweets was relatively minor, security expert David Kennedy said the SEA could expose more if they gained access to other Website and Twitter management tools for the OFA campaign.

A President who couldn’t rouse himself to follow the sealed fates of four Americans in Benghazi on 9/11/12, while he was prepping for a fundraising jaunt to Las Vegas, has this coming to him.

Enjoy that Shinola sandwich, sir. At least I hope it’s Shinola.

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What Did the President Know

And when did he know it?

The US National Security Agency was forced on Sunday to deny that its director ever discussed a surveillance operation against the German chancellor with President Barack Obama, as the White House tried to contain a full-scale diplomatic crisis over espionage directed at allied countries.

The Obama administration appeared in disarray as it struggled with the fallout over the disclosure that the National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of at least 35 world leaders, and that the phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had been monitored.

Early on Sunday, the White House refused to comment on an overnight report in the German tabloid Bild, which alleged that Obama was personally briefed about by the operation to target Merkel’s phone by the NSA’s director, Keith Alexander, and allowed it to continue.

That appeared to conflict with a second report, in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. It said that when Obama spoke to Merkel over the phone on Wednesday, he assured the German leader he had not previously known her phone had been monitored.

Der Bild ain’t buyin’:

President Barack Obama personally authorised the phone tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile because he wanted to ‘know everything’ about the world’s most powerful woman, it was claimed on Sunday.

Bild newspaper in Germany – which also reported surveilance on the phone of her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder who opposed the war in Iraq – called US denials of eavesdropping ‘diplomatic lies’ as new documents from the Nation security Agency in Washington suggest the bugging against the politicians began at least ten years ago, during the Bush administration.

Bild quoted a secret intelligence source saying the president was informed in 2010 about the operation against Merkel by NSA boss Keith Alexander and he sanctioned it.

‘Obama did not stop the action at that time but allowed it to continue,’ said an intelligence official familiar with the NSA operation against Merkel image on Sunday.

‘Obama did not stop the action but rather furthered it,’ said the Bild informant.

So, Obama did—or did not—know that Merkel’s phone was tapped.

Just as he did—or did not—know that Healthcare.gov was an online Chernobyl.

Hmm, he dowsn’t seem to be as smart as advertised. He’s not as articulate, either, when off teleprompter. I’m beginning to wonder how clean he is.


You BETTER be sweatin’!

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Do You Like Apples?


Well, I have all y’all numbers. How do you like them apples?

The National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department, according to a classified document provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The confidential memo reveals that the NSA encourages senior officials in its “customer” departments, such as the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their “Rolodexes” so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems.

The document notes that one unnamed US official handed over 200 numbers, including those of the 35 world leaders, none of whom is named. These were immediately “tasked” for monitoring by the NSA.

The revelation is set to add to mounting diplomatic tensions between the US and its allies, after the German chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday accused the US of tapping her mobile phone.

Hell hath no fury:

The revelations are threatening to create a major rift between the US and its European allies. The former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that such activities had to be curtailled. “There is no reason to spy on Angela Merkel. It’s a real scandal,” he said. “A new agreement is needed between the EU and the US; this cannot continue.”

Despite US efforts to placate Merkel – including a phonecall made by the US president, Barack Obama, on Wednesday – she has refused to conceal her anger over the issue. “We need trust among allies and partners,” Merkel told reporters in Brussels on Thursday. “Such trust now has to be built anew. This is what we have to think about.”

Although the US and Europe were allies facing the same challenges, she said, “such an alliance can only be built on trust. That’s why I repeat again: spying among friends, that cannot be.” She added: “It’s become clear that for the future, something must change – and significantly.

“We will put all efforts into forging a joint understanding by the end of the year for the co-operation of the [intelligence] agencies between Germany and the US and France and the US, to create a framework for the co-operation.”

Her sentiments were echoed by the French president, François Hollande. “What is at stake is preserving our relations with the United States,” he said. “They should not be changed because of what has happened. But trust has to be restored and reinforced.”

What do you want to bet that Obama’s abject apology to Merkel sounded something like this?

Besides, Angie, you know he’s never shy about speaking in Germany!

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What Part of “Shhhh!” Don’t You Get, Punk?

One of my brother’s favorite expressions was “To Err Is Human; To Forgive Is Not Library Policy”.

Remember when librarians were butch?

A librarian who fended off an FBI demand for computer records on patrons said Wednesday that secret anti-terrorism investigations strip away personal freedoms.

“Terrorists win when the fear of them induces us to destroy the rights that make us free,” said George Christian, executive director of Library Connection, a consortium of 27 libraries in the Hartford, Conn., area.

In prepared testimony for a Senate panel, Christian said his experience “should raise a big patriotic American flag of caution” about the strain that the government’s pursuit of would-be terrorists puts on civil liberties.

He said the government uses the USA Patriot Act and other laws to learn, without proper judicial oversight or any after-the-fact review, what citizens are researching in libraries.

A recent report by the Justice Department’s inspector general found 48 violations of law or rules in the FBI’s use of national security letters from 2003 through 2005. Some congressional critics want to tighten legal safeguards on the letters.

” ‘Trust us’ doesn’t cut it when it comes to the government’s power to obtain Americans’ sensitive business records without a court order and without any suspicion that they are tied to terrorism or espionage,” said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on civil rights.

Isn’t “trust us” the Obama administration’s defense against NSA snoopery?

Yeah, well, that was then. Any of you fetishists out there who fantasize about trysts with repressed librarians deep in the stacks should be warned: now they give it up without being asked.

The nation’s librarians will be recruited to help people get signed up for insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Up to 17,000 U.S. libraries will be part of the effort to get information and crucial computer time to the millions of uninsured Americans who need to get coverage under the law…

Libraries equipped with public computers and Internet access already serve as a bridge across the digital divide, so it made sense to get them involved, said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services…

So, Congress passes the Patriot Act—it becomes the law of the land—and the nation’s librarians practice civil disobedience. Congress passes ObamaCare—and it’s Constitutional, bitches—and the nation’s librarians go past obedience to subservience to servility to supinity (supineness, if you prefer).

May I suggest to the friendly librarian down at my local branch that you are full of [bleep]? That you are motivated by politics not principles? That the ALA is as much an organ of the state as Stasi was for East Germany?

You may love ObamaCare and hate the Patriot Act—you would not be alone—but one was enacted to save Americans from a very real threat to their lives and security, while the other rewrote the doctor-patient relationship to stick a government accountant in between. You can’t cite your purported freedom and independence only when it suits your political fancies. Or you can, but you’re full of [bleep], as noted above.

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President Obama Unites the World

In fear and loathing:

Top secret documents detail the mass scope of efforts by the United States to spy on Germany and Europe. Each month, the NSA monitors a half a billion communications and EU buildings are bugged. The scandal poses a threat to trans-Atlantic relations.

Four-star General Keith Alexander — who is today the NSA director and America’s highest-ranking cyber warrior as thie chief of the US Cyber Command — defined these challenges. Given the cumulative technological eavesdropping capacity, he asked during a 2008 visit to Menwith Hill, Britain’s largest listening station near Harrogate in Yorkshire, “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?”

All the signals all the time. Wouldn’t that be the NSA’s ideal haystack? So what would the needle be? A trail to al-Qaida, an industrial facility belonging to an enemy state, plans prepared by international drug dealers or even international summit preparations being made by leading politicians of friendly nations? Whatever the target, it would be determined on a case by case basis. What is certain, however, is that the haystack would always be there to deliver.

The whole episode is a fiasco for the NSA which, in contrast to the CIA, has long been able to conduct its spying without drawing much public attention. Snowden has done “irreversible and significant damage” to US national security, Alexander told ABC a week ago. Snowden’s NSA documents contain more than one or two scandals. They are a kind of digital snapshot of the world’s most powerful intelligence agency’s work over a period of around a decade. SPIEGEL has seen and reviewed a series of documents from the archive.

The documents prove that Germany played a central role in the NSA’s global surveillance network — and how the Germans have also become targets of US attacks. Each month, the US intelligence service saves data from around half a billion communications connections from Germany.

No one is safe from this mass spying — at least almost no one. Only one handpicked group of nations is excluded — countries that the NSA has defined as close friends, or “2nd party,” as one internal document indicates. They include the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. A document classified as “top secret” states that, “The NSA does NOT target its 2nd party partners, nor request that 2nd parties do anything that is inherently illegal for NSA to do.”

But the new aspect of the revelations isn’t that countries are trying to spy on each other, eavesdropping on ministers and conducting economic espionage. What is most important about the documents is that they reveal the possibility of the absolute surveillance of a country’s people and foreign citizens without any kind of effective controls or supervision.

We’re all Americans now! Everybody gets spied on, from Frankfurt, Kentucky to Frankfurt, Germany. Billions of people under surveillance—we should form our own country, call it Snoopistan. Sorry, Canada, New Zealand, you can’t come. Maybe you’re so boring, no one listens to you. (Though there’s plenty of fiery Islamic rhetoric and violent scheming north of the border, surely deserving of an eavesdrop or two, no?)

No comment.

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Hah! UK Spied On Allies At G20 Summit

Lord Snowden is at it again

Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.

The revelation comes as Britain prepares to host another summit on Monday – for the G8 nations, all of whom attended the 2009 meetings which were the object of the systematic spying. It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week.

Hehehee. Snortle. How did they do it?

This included:

•Setting up internet cafes where they used an email interception programme and key-logging software to spy on delegates’ use of computers;

•Penetrating the security on delegates’ BlackBerrys to monitor their email messages and phone calls;

•Supplying 45 analysts with a live round-the-clock summary of who was phoning who at the summit;

•Targeting the Turkish finance minister and possibly 15 others in his party;

•Receiving reports from an NSA attempt to eavesdrop on the Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, as his phone calls passed through satellite links to Moscow.

- Aggie

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Putting the Roach in “Modest EncROACHment”

Oh dear.

So much bluster on both sides: what is one to make of the so-called meta-data mining by the NSA? Left-wing wackos like Bernie Sanders and conservatives wing-nuts like Rush Limbaugh find themselves uncomfortably on one side of the issue—while other left wing wackos and conservative wing-nuts find themselves on the other. First, the facts, as we understand them:

The National Security Agency has at times mistakenly intercepted the private email messages and phone calls of Americans who had no link to terrorism, requiring Justice Department officials to report the errors to a secret national security court and destroy the data, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials.

At least some of the phone calls and emails were pulled from among the hundreds of millions stored by telecommunications companies as part of an NSA surveillance program. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Thursday night publicly acknowledged what he called “a sensitive intelligence collection program” after its existence was disclosed by the Guardian newspaper.

Blair drew a distinction between the “collection” or mining of data on specific U.S. citizens by NSA and the massive trove of phone call information that was turned over to the NSA under a negotiated agreement among intelligence officials, the telecommunications companies and the FISA judges. The purpose of the FISA order was to store information in the event that U.S. intelligence agencies need to access it after getting specific intelligence that somebody in the U.S. might be tied to terrorism. It is only at that point, he explained, that the NSA goes back to the court to get permission to mine or “collect” the data.

But the intelligence community’s distinction between “storing” and “collecting” data does not satisfy privacy and civil liberties advocates. “They are playing games,” said Cindy Cohn, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing U.S. phone companies over their cooperation with the NSA. Of the improper collection acknowledged by Blair, she said, “Who knows how many times this has happened?”

Let’s look at that argument in a little more detail:

[I]ntelligence officials – echoed by President Obama today, who characterized access to metadata a “modest encroachment” on privacy – are implying that the information they’re collecting is relatively innocuous, since they don’t listen in on the actual phone conversations.

In an op-ed for Reuters, Ben Wizner and I explain why government access to metadata – which reveals whom you talked to, from where, and for how long – is a gross privacy invasion:

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study a few years back found that reviewing people’s social networking contacts alone was sufficient to determine their sexual orientation. Consider, metadata from email communications was sufficient to identify the mistress of then-CIA Director David Petraeus and then drive him out of office.

The “who,” “when” and “how frequently” of communications are often more revealing than what is said or written. Calls between a reporter and a government whistleblower, for example, may reveal a relationship that can be incriminating all on its own.

Repeated calls to Alcoholics Anonymous, hotlines for gay teens, abortion clinics or a gambling bookie may tell you all you need to know about a person’s problems. If a politician were revealed to have repeatedly called a phone sex hotline after 2:00 a.m., no one would need to know what was said on the call before drawing conclusions. In addition sophisticated data-mining technologies have compounded the privacy implications by allowing the government to analyze terabytes of metadata and reveal far more details about a person’s life than ever before.

As I wrote at the beginning, conservatives and liberals are on both sides of this issue. I don’t have a clue who’s “right”. But I do have a finely-tuned hypocrisy sensor, if I do say so myself… takes one to know one, I guess.

Liberals who shrieked about Bush’s efforts in this area have no business remaining silent now; similarly, conservatives who defended those efforts then can’t reasonably attack them now (unless there are substantial differences). That’s why my post on the subject, “What if Bush Had Done This?” answered with “Oh wait, he did!”

As a conservative, I like nothing more than to watch a blowhard liberal choke on his words. I am often spoiled for choice. But if that’s all I get, it becomes—like a second slice of double-fudge chocolate cake or a third measure of Lagavullin single malt—too much of a good thing. A very good thing, and way too much.

I said above that we need the facts, and we need to know the differences between Bush’s initiatives and Obama’s. But this is top secret classified material, so we can’t. So we have to assume, and let’s assume the worst. The NSA and the FBI (why not?) have at their disposal every telephone call, email, and web page that all of us have placed, received, written, or visited over the last, say, seven years.

All of them; you do the math. They don’t necessarily act on them, are forbidden to do so without further authorization (with the occasional “mistake”), but they have them—just in case. Feel better? Me neither.

This is substantially more data than I thought they were mining. Maybe that makes me ignorant, but it also makes me a little perturbed. Remember my high dudgeon over the airport scanners? It wasn’t so bad, I once thought, that because Muslim terrorist manqué planted a bomb in his shoe, we all had to take off our shoes before boarding a plane (though only in American airports). No, because another Muslim terrorist manqué loaded his shorts with a bomb, we all had to get our junk x-rayed and appraised by those stalwart and sober sentries of the TSA. Some of us have little to hide, and much to declare, but that’s not the point.

The point was it was everybody. Grannies in wheelchairs and little girls with stuffed animals. Our solution to a very real, if narrowly defined, threat to national security was to put everyone’s privates on parade. Beyond the massive invasion of privacy, it was a colossal waste of time and money. Just as loaded loafers yielded to Semtex shorts, so Semtex shorts yielded to undetectable explosive undies. The terrorists had moved on, while we were still asking curvaceous blondes to stand spread-eagle in front of leering “security” agents and say cheese. (I’m just envious.)

Here’s what the president actually said:

[...] But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration without a name attached and not looking at content, that on, you know, net, it was worth us doing. Some other folks may have a different assessment of that. But I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. [...]

Not exactly: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Nor is it: “A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”

But then one can’t always be so articulate. (Or clean.)

We weren’t willing to make the difficult choice to identify likely and possible suspects for additional screening, choosing instead to put everyone through the Boob-o-Vision 3000™ and the Junk-o-Meter Deluxe™. How that meets “probable cause” or constitutes a “reasonable” search and seizure is lost on me, but most of you were fine with it. I could have led a citizen’s revolt and gotten myself arrested as a domestic terrorist (more likely just a nuisance)—or I could just have chosen to fly less and submit when so commanded. I’m not proud that I chose the latter.

I had no problem with FISA warrants when I thought they involved intelligence agents asking for specific searches through specific channels, more secretive and more selective than ordinary channels. Maybe that was the process once upon a time. But now this administration—which has hassled conservative Americans for two years (at least), using the most empowered and unassailable Executive Branch departments at its disposal—is asking us to trust their “modest encroachments on privacy” (which sounds like being a little bit pregnant). Every electronic conversation, spoken or written, every online query or search, all in government hands—what could go wrong?

“You can trust us; we’re not like the others,” President Obama is saying. But I can’t. I won’t.

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