Why the Washington spy scandal isn’t a scandal

As most of you know by now, I’m a card carrying journalist.  It’s my trade, my calling and if I have a strong bias in any direction it is toward the freedom of the press and the openness of American society.

don't talkSo I found myself feeling a little torn a couple of weeks ago when my son Nicholas and I were reading the newspaper over breakfast.

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise had an article under a headline suggesting that there was a scandal in Washington over the Obama administration’s prosecution of “whistleblowers”.

But in the actual article, the employees being investigated — in some cases actively prosecuted — weren’t whistleblowers, they were leakers.

After reading the kinds of secrets that each person had revealed to a journalist, Nicholas said, “This makes sense to me.  Some of these leaks could be pretty dangerous.”

And to my surprise, in many of the instances, I had to agree.

And in the weeks that followed, as news organizations unveiled scandal after scandal — from government surveillance of Associated Press reporters to the massive spy-agency phone database — I found myself similarly conflicted.

The real problem, it seems to me, is not that these prosecutions are underway, or that specific government programs are in place that gather data on American citizens.

The problem is that we’ve stumbled into this post-9/11 war-on-terror era without having a full and reasoned debate over what we’re comfortable doing (and not doing) in the name of national security.

In the panicked months and years after the twin towers fell, Congress authorized all kinds of big changes, from the Patriot Act to the organization of the Homeland Security department to the “hardening” of the US-Canada border.

We all began allowing ourselves to be poked and prodded and scanned and photographed with far more regularity and intrusiveness than ever before in modern American history.

I think a lot of people — liberal Democrats, in particular — expected the Obama administration to roll back or disavow many of those programs.

His campaign rhetoric did appear to distance him significantly from the Bush-era anti-terror stance and he nodded in that direction again during his recent speech rejecting a “boundless global war on terror.”

I think it’s fair to say that the disconnect between Obama’s words and deeds — talking softly and carrying a big Predator drone — may cost him politically.

But this isn’t really about Obama.  It’s about the rest of us.  There’s clearly a need for a much wider debate over the costs and benefits of the “take no chances leave no stone unturned” approach to national security.

Right now, government officials say they want to keep all of our phone records, pretty much forever, in case they ever need to go back and review our past activity.

Are we cool with that?  Are we cool with Homeland Security checkpoints on our rural roads?  And what else would we be cool with if it meant a marginally better chance of safety?

And what should we do about those government employees who leak sensitive information to the press, often motivated by the best intentions?

We need a debate over a journalism “shield” law that would set ground rules for when journalists and their sources are protected and limit prosecutions.

The bottom line is that the post-9/11 war on terror is well into its second decade.  Its time for Congress to assess what that has meant.  Now that the first fears have faded, we need clear-eyed choices about the kind of society we want going forward.

It’s not a scandal.  It’s the essential work of a democracy.

79 Comments on “Why the Washington spy scandal isn’t a scandal”

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  1. erb says:

    Obama, Feinstein say that they welcome a debate on national security. Big of them, no? They send Clapper to lie to Congress, make it impossible for the ACLU to bring a case because every part of it is secret*, strap internet companies with gag orders so that they can not reveal whether your communications are being given to the government (hint: they are), harass journalists who cover these stories at the border…

    Two ironies. One, the questioning that our leaders “welcome” would not even begin without the publication of the documents leaked by Snowden, none of which seem to contain information that compromises our national security.

    Second, the concept of personal liberty has been eroded so thoroughly over the past decade that few seem to have any interest in such a debate. Which is good, in a way, because my cynical instincts tell me that this dust-up will not slow things down in any way whatsoever.

    *There are rumors that the ACLU will try to open a new case against the NSA.

  2. PNElba says:

    You get the government you deserve.

  3. The scandal to me is that 64% of Democrats OPPOSED the unconstitutional warrantless spying program in 2006 but 61% SUPPORT it now… the only difference being the fact that the current occupant of the White House is wearing their team’s jersey. It shows how tribalistic and principle-free American voters are, even those who pat themselves on the back for being more rational than their main rivals.

    Now, you have the spectacle of the president’s spokesman whining that the president “welcomes” this debate but not the fact that it was sparked by leaks. Well whose fault is that? The president had the power to spark a debate without leaks but he chose not to. Therefore he forfeits his right to whine about the method and can’t expect anyone with an ounce of intellectual integrity to believe he “welcomes” this debate.

    Brian M, I’m afraid you underplay the most salient part of your own piece. We can’t have a serious debate about the pros and cons, about limits, about methods, if we’re kept completely in the dark on everything. Even less so when those who try to enlighten the public about what’s being done in their name with their money are prosecuted and thrown in jail. How can you have a debate without anything remotely close to sufficient information?

  4. Dale Hobson says:


    Do you see a difference between the actions of Daniel Ellsberg in the release of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War and the case of Bradley Manning’s release of action reports and other Iraq and Afghan War documents in the Wikileaks case? Or between the actions of the New York Times in the former case, and Julian Assange in the latter? Ellsberg has long been lionized for his actions as a Pentagon analyst. Manning has been held for three years in brig awaiting his trial as an active service member. Are either of those responses appropriate? Tough needle to thread, especially in making policy and legislation.

    Dale, NCPR

  5. JDM says:

    “And what should we do about those government employees who leak sensitive information to the press, often motivated by the best intentions?”

    I guess we treat them the same way as Sergeant Samuel Provance, computer technician with a top-secret clearance, who outed Abu Ghraib, or be labeled a hypocrite.

  6. George Nagle says:

    How can we begin to discuss the government’s surveillance when the government won’t tell us how it interprets the law under which it operates?

    As Senators Wyden and Udall wrote to the Attorney General “As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”

  7. Brian Mann says:

    Here’s what I think about Manning and Ellsberg. I think they clearly both played an important role in maintaining American democracy.

    There’s a big difference between someone leaking information to foreign intelligence services and someone leaking information to, say, the Washington Post or Wikileaks. Intent matters.

    It is, however, a very tough wrinkle indeed that Daniel Manning, unlike Ellsberg, was a member of the US Armed forces at the time of his contact with Wikileaks.

    I think it’s fair to say that it would pose serious problems if members of our military felt sanguine about leaking classified data to anyone — reporters or foreign spies.

    Even smart military personnel can’t possibly know all the ramifications that might follow from these leaks.

    I also think there’s an important role here for mature, thoughtful, professional journalism. Some things that get leaked shouldn’t be published.

    The Guardian and the Washington Post each withheld some of the information provided to them by Edward Snowden.

    I’m less comfortable with Wikileaks’ “data dump” approach.

    Finally, I think the bigger issue here is that we need a national debate on secrecy. Clearly too much information is being withheld from the public, with no good reason.

    The Pentagon Papers should never have been classified. Our laws should have required the government to place most of the Wikileaks documents on the internet.

    The bottom line? As long as Congress and the courts tolerate this level of secrecy, figures like Snowden, Ellsberg and Manning will be necessary.

    And we’ll be left trying to clumsily sort out which of their leaks served the public interest, and which constituted a betrayal of the national trust.

    –Brian, NCPR

  8. Two Cents says:

    sadly the homeland security act has not been booted out of existence.
    obama’s presidency’s single biggest missed opportunity.

  9. Pete Klein says:

    At a time when so many “let it all hang out” on Facebook and Twitter, I find it difficult to understand those who worry about their privacy when what the government is doing is creating a massive haystack of pins and needles.
    Maybe I am not so concerned about all of the data being collected because one of my favorite TV programs is Person of Interest that starts every episode with “The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered ‘irrelevant.'”
    We knew or should have known this was going on even before it became news.
    Unless you are doing something illegal or are planning something illegal, I see no reason to worry.

  10. Paul says:

    “His campaign rhetoric did appear to distance him significantly from the Bush-era anti-terror stance and he nodded in that direction again during his recent speech rejecting a “boundless global war on terror.””

    This is what really fascinates me about this whole thing. It seems that the previous administration was at the very least being far more honest with the American people. I think it was Cheney who told us things were going to go on and some of it was going to “go on in the shadows”. This administration has done the opposite. Told us some of it was unnecessary, told us that this was going to change.

    All I can figure is that when you get in there you realize that you have to do everything to protect the people and you just hope that the other branches of government keep you in check?? Form a political perspective for this president he know that his base does not support this type of thing so he has to try and keep it as secret as possible.

    It was like Howard Dean said on Morning Joe this morning it is not that the government has spied in this way (most people don’t have a problem with it) it is that they didn’t tell us what they are doing. They will have to make the case that disclosure sacrificed the results.

  11. Paul says:

    “The Guardian and the Washington Post each withheld some of the information provided to them by Edward Snowden.”

    Don’t worry they said this morning (The Guardian) that they have material for at least two dozen more stories.

    Once they know that any material they plan to withhold is “leaked” from them and about to be published by someone else they will publish it.

    You look at the facilities and bureaucracy being built to house all these pins and needles and it seems like a huge waste of money to me. No more complaining about the sequester Mr. President!

  12. Dave says:

    I’m one of those people who freaked at the thought of this happening immediately post 911 under Dick Cheney… and now, I could really care less that it still goes on under Obama.

    In regards to his change in campaign rhetoric compared to presidential action, I have to imagine that on some level once you get in office and begin getting the intel briefs and begin feeling the weight of the obligation to protect people, that it isn’t too hard to change your thinking on these issues.

    As for the change in my feelings… the difference is not the jersey of the team in the Whitehouse.

    The difference is that all of the doom and gloom and horrible freedom trampling that I thought would happen when the Patriot Act was passed… and that everyone on the left was saying would happen… didn’t really happen. Sure, I’m not happy about the way they have used some of these laws to pester social activists… but by and large, the doomsday crowd was wrong.

    I’m no longer a knee jerk about this kind of stuff, and personally, I just don’t care if Google or the NSA know what I post online. If having access to this data helps us track down the bad guys and find and prevent foreign or domestic terrorists who are trying to harm us, I’m happy to show them my facebook profile. Just like I’m happy to empty my backpack when I go through a security line at the airport.

    All that said, one big concern I do have is why people like these two leakers are getting their hands on this type of information in the first place. Doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in our ability to conduct national security initiatives if a private first class and a 20 something drop out are the kinds of people with access to this knowledge.

  13. myown says:

    “Unless you are doing something illegal or are planning something illegal, I see no reason to worry.”

    That is one reason how police states become established. No one thinks it will affect them. The problem is the definition of illegal can anything the authorities deem it so. Even political thoughts. And the definition of terrorist can be anyone who criticizes the government or corporations or religion. Just consider Russia, Iran, East Germany, Nazi Germany, China, etc. Or the laws in some US states that make it a crime to disclose animal abuses occurring at industrial farms. Or that many environmental groups are investigated by the FBI as terrorist organizations.

    With constant surveillance and unlimited personal data collection the slope to an authoritarian police state is way too slippery. It is most discouraging that so many Democrats have given Obama a pass on this issue. If it were a Republican President there would be much more outrage from Democrats. This level of secrecy and government spying on citizens should be a cause that unites Tea Partiers, Libertarians, Liberals and Progressives.

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The thing I find difficult to understand is that people didn’t seem to know that the NSA was collecting this sort of information. They’ve been doing it for a long time and it is not a new story.

    The difference between now and what happened immediately after 9/11 was that the security agencies were spying without warrants and without oversight. And that nobody went to jail for violating the Constitution when it became public. I believe I was being wire-tapped at the time. I called the FBI about it and they said that if I was being wiretapped it was because there was a warrant issued (turns out he was wrong about that) and I asked if I could see the warrant and he told me that if a warrant had been issued it would have been secret and I wouldn’t be allowed to know. But that was a case of actual wiretapping not simple collection of what seems difficult for me to believe is tremendously private information. Anybody who uses a phone or computer without encryption is basically putting everything they say or do out in the public domain, like it or not.

  15. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    To me the real issue that isn’t being addressed widely, yet, is the culture of secrecy. Brian mentions it but I don’t think most people really have a grasp of how much information is made secret. There is information that has been published in newspapers that was made secret retroactively — people I know made a point not to access those stories on the internet because they were getting security clearances and they were worried it might become an issue that they had read information that anyone with a NY Times subscription could read and that they didn’t have clearance to read it!

    Even Congress can’t know what is going on – only the oversight committees because they are the only ones who have the clearances for it and if they disagree with something that is going on they can’t do anything about it because if they say something publicly they can have their clearance stripped.

    Meanwhile we are contracting out much of our truly secret work to private contractors outside of government. In fact I am at my computer this very moment because I had to send some background information to assist in someone getting a security clearance for a private government contractor.

    We need to keep secrets. People’s lives depend on some stuff being secret. And we need to have security agencies collecting information to keep the public safe. But we also need to re-think how much safety and how much secrecy we need and who will be keeping an eye on the spooks.

  16. Paul says:

    “In regards to his change in campaign rhetoric compared to presidential action, I have to imagine that on some level once you get in office and begin getting the intel briefs and begin feeling the weight of the obligation to protect people, that it isn’t too hard to change your thinking on these issues.”

    Dave, I agree and basically made the same comment. It just seems dishonest to me to be out there dissing all this (and slamming those that supported it) and then get in there and basically continue to diss it while you are apparently beefing up the whole thing. Just seems weird. Why not just switch sides in the foreground as well as the background?

  17. Paul says:

    I would imagine that the government is not as inept at keeping secrets as we all might expect.

  18. “Unless you are doing something illegal or are planning something illegal, I see no reason to worry.”

    This is precisely the argument I’d use to defend the so-called leaking. If the government weren’t doing anything illegal or planning to, then there’s no reason to worry that this became public.

  19. Mr. Wakiki says:

    I am a little perplex. At what point do we say our freedoms need not exist. I would guess what clearly shows we have lost hold of what freedom is the story today when they explored what the Chinese thought of our new loss of privacy. They, who have little if any privacy and sense of freedom, were happy to see our country governs just like theirs.

    Yes, we call Obama a socialist or communist, and one side pounds their fist and the other laughs as if it is absurd, but no one can grasps that all levels of government has approved removal of the one item of a democracy that I once thought set us apart from China — our privacy and ability to be independent.

    Not it is clear why so few laws are in place to stop Google, Facebook, etc from invading our privacy. It is private industry doing for government, what they could never do half as well.

    Say what you want…

    just be aware our government is listening

  20. erb says:

    Having followed this topic for years, especially the Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald’s blog, I am certainly not surprised. But I am still outraged. We built this enormous security state, and now its main function seems to be keeping itself secret from the people whom it is watching. Which is all of us.

    For those who say it’s no big deal, I’m interested to know some specific reasons why you think it is a good idea. Not just I don’t care, but I really want the government to collect all my data because… ?

    Does it make you feel safer? It didn’t prevent the Boston bombing, nor did it help in identifying the bombers. They were IDed after friend saw their pictures from a lowly security cam. It somehow didn’t help Booze-Allen figure out that Snowden had plans to release documents. As we wait for Greenwald to drop another shoe, I get the feeling that the spooks don’t even know what’s coming from an uppity journalist.

  21. Jim Bullard says:

    For starters I really don’t under stand the kerfuffle at this point. We already had the uproar over data mining back when “W” was in office. He stood up on TV and defended it as necessary and everyone (a majority at least) went along. Nobody ever said it stopped. Déjà vu all over again. I really don’t understand congress getting upset. They wrote the laws that provide for this or at least voted for it. Maybe they should spend less time getting bribes (opps! I mean campaign contributions) from lobbyists and read what they are voting on.

    The second point I’d like to make is that a lot of the furor seems to based based in confusing/conflating ‘privacy’ with ‘secrecy’. They are two different things. If you go into your house, your room, your closet and shut the door you have privacy. If you start shouting loudly enough to be heard outside that space you compromise that privacy. You did it to yourself. Whenever you enter the public arena, whether as simple as walking out your front door, or using any public means of communication, privacy is an illusion. As long as someone else is aware of your actions or words there is a chance that what you say or do can be shared beyond where you might choose. If it is secrecy you want you have to take steps to keep it secret, encrypt your email, disguise yourself, whatever. You cannot rationally expect it to be automatic.

    My last thought is, so what? The government is going to keep copies of old phone bills for a long time to see who (actually what number) called who at some point in the future when they are investigating a terrorist incident. Tracking phone data BTW is how they caught the Boston bombers. When the bombers hijacked a car and the driver got away he left his cell phone on the dash. Cell phones send intermittent signals to towers whenever they are turned on to show that they are open to calls. After the car owner called the police they tracked the phone from those signals, triangulating its position from multiple towers and found the bombers in Watertown, Mass. If they were prohibited from using that information the bombers could have proceeded with their plan to go to NYC and conduct more bombings.

  22. erb says:

    Jim, no one is objecting to the government tracking a cell phone in a car hijacked by a suspected terrorist.
    And if the FBI had suspicions of the Tsarnaevs and got a warrant to track them, say, 4 months ago, a tragedy might have been avoided.

    So far, not one official has been able (or willing?) to point to one plot that was decoded through the use of metadata. In 10 years.

  23. newt says:

    I tend to agree with Jim Bullard, above, just not getting why we need to be freaked out about govt. getting my old phone records, at least unless and until it leaks into area not covering real national security (e.g., if I am a Tea Partier, environmentalist, gay porno viewer, etc.).

    I am much more disgusted and frightened and concerned by Obama’s persecution of genuine whistleblowers like John Kirakou, a former CIA official who is now serving 30 months for by revealing facts about illegal detentions and interrogations person suspected of terrorism .

    While there is a lot hypocrisy over the Democrats tolerance of these activities from a Democrat, it is fair tonote that Obama did not erroneously and deceptively take the country into a disastrous war (two wars, if you count the mismanagement the initial Afghanistan war), and such action by Bush served undermine trust for future ethically iffy activities he pursued.

  24. Jim Bullard says:

    So Erb, What’s the difference between current phone data and old phone data? It’s okay to search through data the phone carriers have now but not okay to archive (that’s what they are doing) that data for potential future investigations? I don’t see the distinction.

  25. Paul says:

    Jim has a good point. We need to figure out how to get into those closets!

    But seriously I am no libertarian. But isn’t our freedom, even well beyond the closet, something that we cherish as Americans? If you are constantly being watched by the government are you really free? Maybe not, maybe you are! I expect some reasonable level of protection from the government but I don’t expect to be protected under any and all circumstances.

    We have already seen recently what the government can do to perfectly legal groups that they disagree with (even if the government officials are only low level staffers in Ohio).

  26. Paul says:

    “It’s okay to search through data the phone carriers have now but not okay to archive (that’s what they are doing) that data for potential future investigations?”

    Sounds like a colossal waste of money to me. But I trust the administration I am sure they know what they are doing, they say this is essential.

    Agencies like NSF and NIH and others will just have to wait for funding?

  27. erb says:

    What, exactly, does it mean to archive the data? Those huge buildings in MD and UT are not online backup servers. The whole point of the NSA gathering this data is to mine it for…who knows what. This is very different from following up on a lead and getting a warrant.

    Again, my question is not why are you not freaked out (well, maybe that, too), but why is this a good thing? What real good has come from these programs?

  28. Mr. Wakiki says:

    If I understand the use of cellphones for the Boston Bombing — I believe after the bomb, once they had locations of suspects, they THEN got the phone records.

    To me the way government should work (It’s a crazy thought, but I am an innocent until proven guilty leaning guy.)

    I think we could stop LOTS of crime by stopping every car that goes down the Northway for the next 59 hours. No warrant, or reason — just stop and search.

    That is what they are doing with the phones and people think it is a good idea, so they must like stop and search… or maybe just start singling out neighborhoods and go door to do to analyse what people have… you know for some ‘potential’ future infraction..

    [shaking head]

  29. Paul says:

    Mr. Wakiki please stop giving them ideas!!

  30. Peter Hahn says:

    Its probably best to have the Republicans investigate this “scandal”. They dont like Obama and want to cause trouble, but this kind of police state Patriot Act stuff is in their DNA. They might end up doing a good job.

  31. To an earlier comment, I doubt it will harm the president’s approval. Overwhelmingly, liberals have made it clear they will mindlessly support him because he’s part of their tribe. The few that abandon him over this will be counterbalanced by the militarists who’ve always supported this kind of thing.

  32. myown says:

    I hesitate to sound like Rand Paul, but at least the Libertarian is right on this one issue – as are Senators Udall, Wyden, Sanders and a few others. Obama and Brian M. say they want an open and public debate about the government’s now exposed spying programs. Obama is simply disingenuous. He went from a Senator who strongly opposed giving retroactive immunity to telecom companies for illegally providing wholesale phone records to the government to a President who prosecutes whistleblowers for exposing government wrong-doing.

    Brian Mann, on the other hand, just seems naive. How can we have a public discussion when the Director of National Intelligence, General James Clapper, openly lies in testimony to Congress about whether the NSA collects data of any kind on American citizens? Clapper is either a liar, or incompetent that he doesn’t know what is going on at NSA. Either scenario is grounds for immediate dismissal.


    How can we have a public debate when the government claims national security and state’s secrets whenever someone goes to court to find out if they are being targeted? There is even a secret court that is inaccessible to the press or public. How can even Congress provide oversight when Senators and Congressmen are forbidden from publicly discussing what little they know about massive spying on US citizens? Who are we kidding, we have wrapped ourselves in a cocoon of secrecy that has made discussion or disclosure illegal. It is hard to believe US Senators go along with this, let alone the American people. Who is running the government? The NSA?

  33. Jim Bullard says:

    Mr Wakiki, To correct your mis-impression, They did NOT know who the bombers were. They had fuzzy photos of two guys they thought were the bombers but didn’t know who they were. The bombers decided to go to NYC to do more bombings and hijacked a car. The driver escaped them at a service station and called the police. The driver said that the hijackers had told him (her?) that they were the bombers. The driver’s cell phone was still in the car and turned on. The police used cell tower data to triangulate where the phone was and went there. That’s when they had the gun battle that killed the older brother.

    As for the other bit about data mining. There is nothing in those records that would lead to finding anything by simply looking at them. It’s a list of what phone # called what other phone # and when. The conversations are not recorded, it’s billing data. They can’t even tell from them who was using the phone. What it is good for is that if you get wind of a plot and know at least one of the players you can search the records of phones the suspect had access to and quickly narrow down from everyone in the world to just those people the suspect was talking to as potential conspirators. The phone companies trash those records after a time. The government is archiving them for possible future use. I don’t recall the particular instance but there has been at least one case of thwarting a plot due to those records being kept.

    There is way too much paranoia mixing with too much misinformation about this and that why we have all the hysteria. As the WWII posters in Britain said “Keep calm and carry on”. Get the facts (the real facts not media and Internet speculation) before going off half cocked. CNN has gotten very bad about this. They “analyze” everything to death. Before a recent press conference in the White House they spent more than twice the time beforehand speculating about what the president was going to say or should say than the president did speaking. We have way too many people talking and not enough listening.

  34. PNElba says:

    “It is hard to believe US Senators go along with this …….”.

    Yes it is. Those that do should not be re-elected, no matter which party. We’ve mostly been brainwashed into being too afraid. It’s bad enough what they put us through in airports. I didn’t like the Patriot Act when it was passed with almost no one reading it, l didn’t think the law should have been renewed, and I sure don’t like it now. I am a bit surprised that there isn’t a bit more of an uproar from the anti-big government crowd. Although they probably like that this program has been outsourced to big business.

  35. Hoosier3 says:

    All this dribble and not one comment about the fourth amendment that is under assault. Here it is in case you’re unfamiliar.

    Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: 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.

    UN-Constitutional are the Patriot Act, FISA Court, and DHS. These entities are part of what “We the People” created by electing those that find or believe our Constitution should be by-passed for the sake of security. “We the People” are to blame as we did not stand to protect our rights at the time of these UN-Constitutional government creations.

    Freedom and Liberty are under attack by our tyrannical oppressive government. Stand and let your voice be heard loud and clear. Tell our government to get back in its place and preserve our Republic, our Freedom, and our Liberty. Please read this carefully and understand the implications of the
    actions by our government. Eliminate at the polls those elected officials that wipe their behind with our Constitution. Elect Constitutional Conservatives that stand with us and our rights. Flush the System!

    Stand with Senator Paul as he stands with us!


    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little
    temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. Benjamin Franklin

  36. myown says:

    When we have these discussions about the government we often forget they are connected to bigger issues. For instance the Big Banks have become so large even the US Attorney General admits he can’t (or doesn’t want to) prosecute them for illegal activity. This doesn’t happen by accident. It is a combination of a revolving door between government and corporation employees, and the buying of political votes to pass legislation favorable to amassing wealth and power. The Big Banks now essentially own the US government.

    The famous saying “follow the money” also applies to the big business of National Security. And Booz Allen Hamilton is a major player with the NSA. Billions of tax dollars go to this company every year with very little oversight or cost control because it is all top secret. And then they in turn lobby Congress to approve more NSA programs, expensive software fiascos and to privatize what little is left of actual government agencies.

    Oh, and that revolving door? Guess who the current Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, worked for after he retired from the US Air Force? Yes Booz Allen, as Executive director of Military Intelligence Programs. And guess who the former Director of National Intelligence and Director of the NSA, John McConnell, works for now? Yes, he is Vice-Chairman of Booz Allen. And there is James Woolsey, director of the CIA during Clinton’s first term – he became a vice-president at Booz Allen.

    While the President is getting recommendations from Agency executives who have or would like to have ties (jobs) with private corporations, those same corporations are paying and pressuring Congress to approve more government spending (corporate welfare) for them. And the result is a massive waste of tax payer dollars for things we don’t need which is nothing more than a gigantic redistribution of wealth from the middle class to big corporations, CEOs and their shareholders. Yet we are told we can’t afford to pay back retirees the money they put into Social Security? Or we can’t provide basic health care for all Americans? Or we can’t provide a public college education without debts that amount to servitude?




  37. erb says:

    Jim, the one case, referenced by Sen. Rogers, is hardly a slam-dunk. It concerns Njibullah Zazi and a plot to bomb the NYC subway. However, it is far from clear that database trawling is what put the snoops on his scent. The FBI got his name from the Brits and only then did they begin to track his email. Again, suspicion, warrant, tracking. The proper order, as far as we know.

    In the Boston bombing case, they were picked out by one of the victims looking at photos. When their photos were put online, people who recognized them called in immediately and gave their names. The police still did not know where they were until the person whose car was hijacked called them. Again, simple cooperation by the public did the job.

    Finally, the younger brother was found only because a civilian found him in his boat and called the police, after a unsuccessful daylong hunt. I would score that 1 for the concerned public, 0 for high tech surveillance.

  38. Paul says:

    “As for the other bit about data mining. There is nothing in those records that would lead to finding anything by simply looking at them. It’s a list of what phone # called what other phone # and when. The conversations are not recorded, it’s billing data. They can’t even tell from them who was using the phone.”

    Jim, the more you describe this the more ridiculous it sounds. Everything I read (your comments included) just convinces me that this is a colossal waste of time and money.

  39. Paul says:

    “Finally, the younger brother was found only because a civilian found him in his boat and called the police, after a unsuccessful daylong hunt. I would score that 1 for the concerned public, 0 for high tech surveillance.”

    I have to agree. The ironic thing there was as soon as they called of the search someone found the kid! Classic.

  40. Two Cents says:

    sure, it’s not a new story, it’s been assumed for a long time there is a shadow government, big brother 1984 and quite frankly, thanks to NSA, it’s not illegal.
    that’s what should bother us the most, the 4th amendment law was not broken when our government spies on us- according to them.

  41. Two Cents says:

    has anyone considered what this surveillance and storage of info is costing the American tax payers?
    they were not government employees. they were subcontractors. is this economical? not in my trade.

  42. oa says:

    The good thing is, at least Bradley Manning is being tortured.

  43. Dave says:

    Paul, you really think this sounds like a colossal waste of time and money?

    “What it is good for is that if you get wind of a plot and know at least one of the players you can search the records of phones the suspect had access to and quickly narrow down from everyone in the world to just those people the suspect was talking to as potential conspirators. The phone companies trash those records after a time. The government is archiving them for possible future use.”

  44. Dave says:

    “The ironic thing there was as soon as they called of the search someone found the kid! Classic.”

    The search for Dzhokhar was never called off. They were still very actively searching for him when they relaxed specific neighborhood lock downs. Those who know more about manhunting than I do have suggested this was a calculated, by the playbook, move that was designed, in part, to get more eyes on the street and/or try to flush him out of hiding.

  45. mervel says:

    Of course it is not just phone. The NSA is also collecting and has collected every email sent in the US, all of them.

    The perfect storm of a secretive government system, a homeland industrial complex (booz allen and so forth) technological advances; and our willingness to put all of our lives on the internet, banking, social life, bills, work combined with fear of so called terrorists who might randomly blow somebody up are a prefect pretext for all of this.

    This is not really open to debate in my opinion, you have to have a search warrant to come into my home, you have to have a search warrant to wiretap a phone; now they can claim that they can read ALL of my email and ALL of my phone calls with no warrant at all? Come on. How easily we have capitulated to our own fear, the founders would truly be ashamed. If we so easily gave up these liberties, what else would we give up for a REAL threat?

  46. mervel says:

    What is bizarre is when we had a real threat, the Soviet Union and China we had much better protections for our liberties, I guess the Soviets never actually bombed an American City this is true; however they were far more dangerous than Al-quida or any Islamic terrorist group.

    Also I don’t like the idea that this is mainly about “privacy” I think the term mitigates what this is really about. This is not about privacy as if I don’t want someone to know what socks I wear. This is about giving up our individual constitutional rights; they now can literally come into our homes, they can spy on us without a warrant or cause, that is what they are doing and we just don’t seem to care that this is against our constitution.

    The one area of communications which is secure for now, is the US mail, you can’t track a letter sent general, no one will know what you say, unlike every other form of modern communication which is now being collected.

  47. erb says:

    Seems like this conversation is dying down, but I got one more.
    The reason that some of us might sound like Chicken Little is that change is hard. It’s really, really hard. If we decide as a society that we want to take a look at what’s going on and possibly shift the course we’re on we are going to have to exert every every effort, every muscle, to turn the supertanker (I’m talking LPG size) a degree or two.

    I think we need a change, we need to stop feeding the ultra-security beast. Nothing’s going to happen if everyone just shrugs. Probably nothing’s going to happen if we shout till we’re hoarse, but, maybe…

  48. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Why don’t we just get some prolific spammers or the hacker group Anonymous to write some variable algorithms that generate immense amounts of spurious information but with detectable patterns? Maybe there could be a website that generates lists of phone numbers and people can log on and start calling numbers in the list. There could be different lists for people with various group identities, for instance Moslem groups could get phone numbers of Oklahoma politicians, fertilizer factories, strip joints, and Disney World. Unitarians could get gambling casinos, Mexican restaurants, the Israeli Embassy, and gun dealers, and so on.

  49. mervel says:

    The 4th is not under attack, it is already gone. You are not secure in your home with the government gathering all of your electronic and phone communications with no warrant.

    Given the power has already been stolen, it is already in the hands of the NSA and their contractors, what happens if we end up electing a really really bad president? I know many of you think Bush was that guy and many think Obama was that guy, no they are not; what if we elect by fluke or intentionally someone who really is evil at heart who really will use this new power over all of us in an evil way for the far far right or the far far left or just as a criminal with no political leanings?

    What if Nixon was president right now?

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