a thoughtful web.
Good ideas and conversation. No ads, no tracking.   Login or Take a Tour!
comment by kleinbl00

    I've looked through past hubski posts about surveillance, spying, NSA and such topics and come across several of your interesting, insightful and valuable comments, so I know you're knowledgeable about the topic,

Less smokeblowing, more snark. I'm a blowhard, not an unapologetic narcissist. ;-)

It isn't "dismissively defensive" it's "sardonically pessimistic." It's like this:

- in 2003 you find out that Ned S. Anderson had been fishing your credit card numbers for the past four years, probably with an illegal card reader. Unfortunately, Ned keeps everything he owns in a giant bank vault. Equally unfortunately, nobody has any ability to compel Ned to open the vault.

- In 2005 you lawyer up and demand that Ned stop fishing credit card numbers. Ned says he isn't and disputes whether he ever was, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Your lawyer says "we know you have that thing in your vault" and Ned says "there is no vault." It's obvious there is, but since nobody can get into the vault, it doesn't matter.

- In 2008 Ned motions that since there is no vault, your suit has no merit. The judge agrees as legally, whatever Ned says is true thanks to legislation passed to make Ned's job easier.

- In 2011 you present new evidence as to Ned's malfeasance without any mention of the vault. The judge agrees that since your argument is now vaultless, Ned has to answer - but Ned can still argue that you're asking to see inside the vault.

- In 2013 Ned's student Ed bails to russia with a bunch of photographs of the inside of the vault. Ned argues that Ed is a threat to the world and the world generally feels that Ned is shady...

- but you're still in a position of proving that Ned had a machine in his non-existent bank vault that he used to lift your credit cards in 2003. Everything that has happened since then isn't a part of your lawsuit except to demonstrate Ned's nasty tendencies to lift credit card numbers...

...and Ned has had eleven years to rearrange the vault, clear out the vault, build the vault, expand the vault, put a beer fridge in the vault, air-condition the vault and otherwise do whatever the fuck he wants to do inside the vault because "the vault" is an object that you aren't allowed to ask about by law.

Here's the thing: We don't even know how much money the NSA has. The "black budget" is opaque to anyone who isn't on the Security Council. We're talking about an organization that is fundamentally immune to congressional oversight - they don't give a flying fuck as to what the Judicial Branch says.

In order to get the NSA to toe the line, they need to be accountable to congress, and congress needs to be accountable to the voters. They aren't. At all. So a civil action involving warrantless wiretapping from before the Invasion of Iraq is theater of the highest order - the NSA pretends to fight it but regardless of the legal precedent set, there is absolutely no enforcement mechanism whatsoever to compel them to abide by any ruling.

I give money to the EFF. I'd love to see the NSA held to the same standards as the FBI. But I live in a world where it's common knowledge the CIA shapes elections in AUSTRALIA, I don't conflate desires for probabilities.

crafty  ·  3634 days ago  ·  link  ·  

You're great at bringing out the internal pessimist in myself, and reading your response, I see that. I agree, fighting the NSA and the deep government it's attached to is certainly a David versus Goliath battle, comically one sided to be sure. You call the litigation "theater of the highest order", and I suppose I agree with that to a degree but my question in response would be, what part of the government isn't theater? Or atleast, what aspects of "US democracy" are the least covered in theater curtains, giving an opening to motivated individuals to advocate for change? Is the entire federal government "lost," so-to-speak, in your view? Are the best avenues of opposition at the local level, or perhaps through independent activism/media? I don't really like the idea that the Stasi is already here and there is absolutely nothing that can or should be done about it, even if it is true. It seems like that idea just plays right into their hands.

You say Congress needs to be accountable to the voters, and the NSA needs to be accountable to Congress, which seems like a good prescription, although I take it you don't think that will or could happen? I'm somewhat cognizant of American history, and I know struggles like these have played out in American politics before, between empowered groups and the disenfranchised. I'm curious, given your knowledge, where do you think we're headed? Do you really think the current trajectory of American democracy is tenable over the coming century or can outside forces cause fundamental shifts in the existing power structures?

kleinbl00  ·  3634 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I would say it's more of a windshield vs. bug battle. That's the real problem: in thinking that there's a possibility for something resembling a "battle" (as opposed to more or less roadkill) we overvalue frontal confrontation while simultaneously missing any opportunity for lateral action.

The government is far from worthless. It took two years between the Bush administration relaxing pollution controls and the AMA recommending pregnant women stop eating tuna. Four years after Obamacare and our uninsured have dropped by a factor of two. Two years after the Halloween Massacre and we completely miss the fall of the Shah. I recognize that most of these examples are negative, but perhaps that's better: if a Stansfield Turner were appointed to the NSA, the NSA would be crippled within weeks.

And that's the take-away: when you're dealing with an organization that operates by appointment, you need appointments that do what you want, rather than what they want. Henry Stimson shut the Black Chamber down with one signature. The NSA doesn't need to be shut down - that would be ridiculous. But it certainly needs to be brought to heel. The problem is that the NSA doesn't do what they do because they're evil, they do it because it's easier than doing it right. And without a compulsion to do it right, they'll do it easy every time.

Is the Stasi here? Please. There are flagrant examples of things going horribly wrong for liberty but there are flagrant examples of people getting really upset about that. Remember: the NSA has been spying flagrantly since the inception of the NSA. What's changed is that people are (A) aware (B) pissed off.

Really, we're better off than we were.

crafty  ·  3634 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I think you're right, the appointments really are key. That's what I find so interesting, or perhaps frustrating, in all the hand wringing and finger pointing over Obama's culpability. On one hand he is just one person, hoisted on top of the vast executive bureaucracy, how can he be responsible for all of their varied and long-running machinations, but on the other hand, he is ultimately responsible for those appointments (with congressional approval) which could drastically change things. In 2008 I really thought Obama could clean house, but it doesn't seem like he did. If that's the solution you're waiting around for, I'll join you in your pessimism. Then again, the one thing about the future is that it's unpredictable, so who knows.

I don't seriously think the Stasi is here either. What we have is certainly different, but I've seen people make comparisons.