Archive for December 23rd, 2013

by lizard

Writing under a pseudonym is a joke. You don’t write about impeachable violations of our constitutional rights committed by America’s Chief Executive without the reasonable expectation doing so will get you flagged.

I have tremendous respect for writers who put their real names on the line, which is precisely what Dave Eggers did when he called for writers to take a stand against the surveillance state because ‘It’s going to get worse’.

I strongly recommend reading the whole article. For now I’ll highlight this paragraph, because I think it effectively describes what many of us have already internalized:

Think back to all the messages you have ever sent. All the phone calls and searches you’ve made. Could any of them be misinterpreted? Could any of them be used to damage you by someone like the next McCarthy, the next Nixon, the next Ashcroft? This is the most pernicious and soul-shattering aspect of where we are right now. No one knows for sure what is being collected, recorded, analysed and stored — or how all this will be used in the future. “Citizens of a democracy need a zone of privacy, and have control over it,” Levinson-Waldman says. “If you really don’t have control over it, you can’t become an actualised member of society.”

Language–and how we use it to communicate—is going to be more important than ever in the coming years. That’s why totalitarian states aren’t big supporters of the arts, like poetry. It’s a space they can’t completely control without fear—and for that fear to be credible, some degree of force is necessary.

Michael Hastings, for example, who obviously was the victim of poor car engineering by Mercedes.

Paranoia creeps in if you let it. That doesn’t mean we aren’t living in a panopticon of surveillance.

The Dave Eggers piece does a great job illustrating, in concrete terms, the chill effect already happening:

In an effort to get someone riled up about these troubling trends, PEN International, an agency that protects creative expression worldwide, surveyed its American members about their feelings about the NSA’s unbounded reach. The resulting report, “Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives US Writers to Self‑Censor”, reveals that 88% of the writers polled are troubled by the NSA’s surveillance programme, and that 24% have avoided certain topics in email and phone conversations. Most disturbingly, 16% of those answering the survey said they had abandoned a project owing to its sensitivity.

The survey is troubling on many levels. The gut-level response is dismay that any writer would give up so easily – that any writer would be so readily cowed into submission. After all, to date, the NSA’s surveillance hasn’t landed any writers in jail, and though there is no doubt a watchlist – and, by the way, any constitution-loving writer should want to be on such a watchlist – no one on PEN’s membership has so far been hauled in for questioning based on their phone calls, searches or internet activity.

Before jetting off to Hawaii, Obama had a press conference where he was asked some questions. One of the questions was about the NSA, and Obama assured us that in 2014 he is going to say something about it, because if there’s one thing Obama is good at, it’s opening his mouth and letting words tumble out:

The second question, from Reuters, is about the NSA and surveillance. Obama was asked to respond to the advisory panel’s recommendations, as well as a federal judge’s ruling that one of its programs is likely unconstitutional. And he’s asked, directly, if the NSA’s gathering of phone metadata has stopped terrorist attacks.

“I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement in January,” Obama said. He defended the NSA, saying that there has been no evidence they have abused their power.

“I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around,” he said.

Too bad Americans don’t feel the same confidence in the president, as evidenced by his dropping approval rating, not seen this low since Nixon.

Since anything the president says can’t be trusted, we must look to the people tasked with managing the propaganda to get a sense of what 2014 has in store. When it comes to the NSA, Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA, got the nod to do some of the heavy lifting on Sunday:

Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA and a member of President Obama’s task force on surveillance, said in an interview on Sunday that a controversial telephone data-collection program conducted by the National Security Agency should be expanded to include emails. He also said the program, far from being unnecessary, could prevent the next 9/11.

Morell, seeking to correct any misperception that the presidential panel had called for a radical curtailment of NSA programs, said he is in favor of restarting a program the NSA discontinued in 2011 that involved the collection of “metadata” for Internet communications. That program gets only a brief mention in a footnote on page 97 of the task-force report, “Liberty and Security in A Changing World.” “I would argue actually that the email data is probably more valuable than the telephony data,” Morell told National Journal in a telephone interview. “You can bet that the last thing a smart terrorist is going to do right now is call someone in the United States.”

Morell also said that while he agreed with the report’s conclusion that the telephone data program, conducted under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, made “only a modest contribution to the nation’s security” so far, it should be continued under the new safeguards recommended by the panel. “I would argue that what effectiveness we have seen to date is totally irrelevant to how effective it might be in the future,” he said. “This program, 215, has the ability to stop the next 9/11, and if you added emails in there it would make it even more effective. Had it been in place in 2000 and 2001, I think that probably 9/11 would not have happened.”

This is utter crap. 9/11 could have been stopped if Bush had taken the warnings he received seriously, but he didn’t:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.

The 9/11 terrorist attack is getting some new scrutiny, focusing on 28 pages that still remain classified because they apparently reflect poorly on Saudi Arabia:

For more than a decade, questions have lingered about the possible role of the Saudi government in the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, even as the royal kingdom has made itself a crucial counterterrorism partner in the eyes of American diplomats.

Now, in sworn statements that seem likely to reignite the debate, two former senators who were privy to top secret information on the Saudis’ activities say they believe that the Saudi government might have played a direct role in the terrorist attacks.

“I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia,” former Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, said in an affidavit filed as part of a lawsuit brought against the Saudi government and dozens of institutions in the country by families of Sept. 11 victims and others. Mr. Graham led a joint 2002 Congressional inquiry into the attacks.

His former Senate colleague, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a Democrat who served on the separate 9/11 Commission, said in a sworn affidavit of his own in the case that “significant questions remain unanswered” about the role of Saudi institutions. “Evidence relating to the plausible involvement of possible Saudi government agents in the September 11th attacks has never been fully pursued,” Mr. Kerrey said.

The NSA spying programs are not about stopping terrorists. No, the surveillance state is about fear and control, which is what the plutocrats will need as they continue pursuing policies that will decimate our domestic economy and security.

Obama won’t make any waves in 2014, or 2015, or 2016, because doing so would compromise his lucrative, post-presidency speaking gigs. Instead he’ll give a few deceitful speeches about cosmetic adjustments.

How much worse will it have to get before Americans realize how damaged our constitutional rights have become? I don’t know, but Americans do seem exceptional in their capacity for delusion, so I suspect it will have to get much, much worse, and by then it will probably be too late.

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