Senate Why do we complain about the NSA

Discussion in 'Community' started by beezel26, Jan 29, 2014.

  1. Espaldapalabras Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 25, 2005
    star 5
    I'm fully aware that currently I pose no threat to the international security state and thus have no need to monitor my activities. But if by chance I was an outspoken critic of their system and threatened to gain high office with the power to provide an effective check, then the institution will protect its interest. The problem with 20th century paradigms assumes that there is a meaningful difference between what we do outside our nation, and the acceptable evil we tolerate on that level to preserve domestic peace and prosperity. We face a world of diverse threats, but terrorist violence is simply a cost of a free society. Those tasked with fighting it become myopic in their view of the necessity and end up offering cures that are far worse threats to the system than the evils it is meant to confront. This is why it is so important to have real public power over our spy services.

    We are entering a brave new world, and long gone are the days of backroom spies. They now have the all seeing eye, and the barbarians at the gates of civilization are nowhere near as dangerous as these new internal threats. The military industrial security complex is creating threats to continue to justify its current role in society. I'm not a naive dreamer worried the state is peering into my soul at the moment. But that as a citizen there is no reasonable check on their actions. The idea of civilian controlled military is a farce. Yes the current security services help international business conglomerates and financial elites. The United States would be much poorer without the global domination it now enjoys, but since little of those gains are trickled down to the general population, we no longer have the incentives capital gave to labor to be complicit in the 20th century.

    It is a fragil system we live in, and we all know it. Tightening the grip by increased spying on domestic populations will work as poorly in America as it did under the Shah. The security services have proved too competent at negating effective secret controls, the only thing to be done is to throw up the doors. Will more people die of terrorism? Sure, but that is the cost of freedom and they will be the true martyrs for the cause of liberty.

    We have never before faced the capabilities that government now has, and in the past spies were inherently limited in their actions by the simple fact that for the power they have today would have taken the efforts of every man, woman, and child in the past. Technology has reached the point where not only does the state have total military supremacy, they have total information supremacy. The lack of day to day participation in this system allows a different perspective, just as every soldier sees a solution with a gun, so do spies see more surveillance as the solution the problems of a modern world.

    Drone policy is a great example of this problem. In the short term tactical perspective it is a brilliant solution to a difficult problem. But from a strategic perspective it is a complete failure because it will never address the root causes of terrorism, in fact makes those problems worse, but makes us feel as if we are making progress.
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  2. Violent Violet Menace Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 11, 2004
    star 4
    You fairy! You company man!

    Sorry, had to get that out.
  3. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8
    OK, so what you have done is given what amounts to the kind of critique a second year university student would give. It's heavy on rhetoric and high minded ideas but utterly lacking in depth, original thought, analysis, substance, or experience. It tries to overcome these deficiencies with an air of confidence but doesn't quite manage to pull it off.

    I mean, the notion of "back room spies" - what does that even mean? Who uses that terminology? Are you talking about intelligence officers ("Case officers", in Americanspeak)? Do you mean deskbound analysts? It's not a term I'm familiar with, mostly because I suspect it's an attempt at intelligence jargon.

    In simple terms, the internet has provided a fairly easy platform for unaffiliated but like minded groups to share information and ideas, as well as communicate in ways that were never possible in the old days. Social media, message boards, email, cloud storage - these are all places through which ideas are transmitted quickly and freely. We don't even need to rely on suspicion to state that substate actors use this media to recruit and facilitate action; again, the Boston bombers were prominent on Russian-language social media.

    Previously, HUMINT and SIGINT were gathered by intercepting small scale communications network, such as via landline telephony or through recruiting an asset with access to the inner circle. As a model, though, it's not scalable proportionate to the upscale of communications tools. Domestic security agencies, such as MI5, adapted their model. So did the NSA, in a gesture which was highly prudent. The problem is, American people have not lost their naive idealism and in that sense they're still not quite grown ups.

    You can spout high minded rhetoric all you want, but it changes nothing when you start talking in cold, practical terms. You cannot conceive of a more practical model of tracking this intelligence and you cannot offer more than vague, culturally ingrained reasons as to why you don't trust the model - that is, you're indoctrinated with these beliefs from birth and can't get rid of them. Sticking to what's practicable for the moment, how do you propose agencies protect US domestic security?
  4. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6

    I've modified my stance over the last several months on this issue. I'm as guilty of wanting this great effective spy agency while at the same time wanting it as transparent as ever as many americans. It reminds me how people in life prefer the out of sight out of mind comfort of things while railing against them publicly. It's easy to do.

    By the way, the intel agencies do meet frequently behind closed doors with senate intel committees. That already happens. I think congressional oversight behind closed doors might be enough.
    Last edited by ShaneP, Feb 3, 2014
  5. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8
    No I know they do, but inevitably you end up with a raft of Church-Pike style hearings, which is the result of idealist constitutionalism, classic American liberalism, and the transparency wrongly expected of US agencies. My proposal is that intelligence gathering be kept completely secret from the American people and subject to regulated oversight.

    i.e. either ditch your secrecy laws altogether or actually enforce them.
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  6. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    From an editorial, but with a relevant point or two:
    There's this false dichotomy being created between freedom and security. We could simply, have the freedom and basically the same amount of security. Terrorism is a trumped up threat that's being perpetuated by people that use fear to maintain their support, be it politicians claiming they're the only thing standing between us and the Muslim hordes, or the agencies in the government getting all the funding to do something about that. This is the equivalent of an episode from the Simpsons
    I don't see why there should be huge support for something that is not seeming to provide any measurable benefits just because a group of people enjoy the thrill of power they get repeatedly telling us we should all be afraid.
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  7. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8
    Realistically though, you never get a clear picture of that metric and I'm unsure the extent to which the full picture would be made publicly available. I'm certainly not going to cite my own examples, but it's hard to agree that metadata analysis is useless given what I've seen it do in my time.

    As a counter point, I'd suggest this article http://www.smh.com.au/world/edward-...mency-exspy-whistleblower-20140204-hvb49.html

    Citing Article 4 concerns misses so much of the big picture here.

    Again, with waffling on about how glorious your constitution is, in the absence of a dedicated security agency, what is your proposed method for screening emails, social media, cloud storage and message boards for red flag messages?
  8. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    I don't have a proposed method, because I disagree with the contention that the wide scope is necessary or worth it. If there's a particular suspect that they're going through and getting a warrant to monitor, then they can monitor that person's email as well, but beyond that, I don't think they SHOULD be screening the private communications. So asking how I think they should be doing that is a non-starter, I don't think they should, I don't think there's a need, I don't think terrorism is this terrifying thing lurking around every corner, and those are resources that could be far better used. It's rather similar to the war on drugs in that sense.
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  9. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Part of the reason for modifying my stance was my run in with a armed forces veteran I sold just before Christmas. He had served in Vietnam and after in other capacities for other agencies. I asked him point blank if he was in US intelligence and and he said yes, he was.
    I asked him about Snowden and he said "you know all these people running around calling him a hero have no idea". I said "but why do they need all that info, etc?". He looked me squarely in the eye. "You.have.no.idea."

    We joked afterwards about various things but that stuck with me. He was clearly implying "the world is more dangerous than collecting some emails and phone calls".

    So while I may not like it, that old man was serious as *** that the dangers in the world outweigh the collection of our emails about youtube cat videos.
    Last edited by ShaneP, Feb 3, 2014
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  10. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8

    Yes, but...

    That supposes I guess a level of stupidity on behalf of enemies; or that taking a nobler ground is somehow a viable defence.

    In that, either there's no intel in private data, so it's a waste; or if there is, protecting privacy is paramount above all else.

    I'm not as protective about this as some, mostly because I held a positively vetted Top Secret clearance. I had no secrets at that point, the Commonwealth had them all. It doesn't appear to have affected me when I left.

    So that's my disclosure, in case it's mistaken.

    I've mentioned them before by the Tsarnaev brothers are worth examining. Both used Twitter and VKontatke, the Russian "Facebook", extensively. They were known in the latter case (VK) to have exhibited interest in radical Islam. Dzhokhar's especially. At what point do you think Dzhokar may have joined Chechans on VKontatke to discuss shared worldviews or find like minded people ask questions of? To get insight from?

    At that point, if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not on your radar, how do you know he is a red flag and may be fraternising with other red flags? How do you tease that out?
  11. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    Conversely, if this system you tout is needed specifically to stop instances like this, then the fact that that happened runs counter to it. You're arguing here that the policy we have is right so it can stop.... a case in point of a thing that it did NOT stop. beyond that, their accounts were public, according to the articles I read, so monitoring of private communications isn't even needed to do that.
  12. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8
    Well, I don't have access to what monitoring was done and what assessments were made, but I recall the FBI had flagged them and for some reason not investigated. But I guess the point would be this - you have an FB account right?

    You can message someone or multiple people there in private message format, like you can here.

    That's not public, but it's a pretty effective and popular means of communicating.

    Now, I know you cited a source earlier which suggested the NSA had found no value in monitoring, but I'm not sure how accurate that is. In my experience, email intercepts and ESCHELON pickups did yield actual results, so I'm leaning towards the belief that some value has to be gleaned. You don't waste resources on a resource intensive sweep like this if it's junk. I'm not saying the judge is a liar but I would be surprised that, if it was successful, the NSA would want to advertise this to terrorists etc.
  13. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    Both the judge and the White house task force Obama commissioned to examine the NSA have reached that conclusion. That said, there has been information coming out that the information is being given to the DEA and IRS for use on American citizens not associated with terrorism. So, it does appear to have a use, it's just not for national security to deal with terrorism.
  14. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8
    Well the latter part suggests there's something broken in the oversight framework, but I haven't read the judgement in depth so I don't know the scope of the review. However in my own experience I would doubt no useful information was gleaned; if there was a compelling case against disclosing it to potential adversaries would easily be made, discouraging release.
  15. beezel26 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 11, 2003
    star 7
    Like I said before Patriots are dangerous to America especially in Covert ops. They decide what is right without realizing the consequences of their actions.
  16. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8
    You'll forgive me if I don't take your word for it beezel. You know precisely 0 people who have ever worked in what the public calls "covert ops", so you are idly speculating.
  17. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    You're aware he's generally agreeing with what you said on comments like "Whistleblower laws should be examined, because Snowden abused them. He's highlighted systemic issues but for the benefit of his own image and ego; not for the benefit of the US."?

    As it stands, there is no evidence that the NSA is doing anything that is actually successfully preventing terrorism, and that case has to be made, not just on the grounds of if NSA itself is justified as a concept, but also if that's the best usage of resources, because it skips over things like if Americans would, on the whole, be safer if the money that is currently going to the NSA was going to increase education in poor areas or help the homeless or provide drug rehab. NSA has to prove not just that it's useful and necessary (which has not been established), but further than it is more useful, and more necessary, than other actions the government could be taking. The reviews of the NSA thus far, the only evidence to go with, is showing that the NSA isn't effective at all in what it's supposed to do.
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  18. Mr44 VIP

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2002
    star 6
    But the reality is that the NSA would never acknowledge a successful operation in open court, especially during a regular district court proceeding.

    Imagine if a single judge such as from the link wanted "proof" that an operation was successful, and the NSA supervisor who happened to be testifying actually answered back "well, there was Operation Night Bug, which compromised the entire communications capability of an al Qaeda cell in Denmark to one in New Jersey, and it prevented an attack on the Superbowl." Well, some reporter reads the transcript and releases the details on Operation Night Bug. Which then leads to a parallel operation. Which then leads to an imbedded operative....and so on. Now, intelligence operations all over the place are compromised, just so a federal judge, not on the intelligence committee, wanted proof of something... This would never happen, so there will never be proof provided.

    Secondly, it's also a common practice to delegitimize operations that are no longer needed or are outdated. As an example, does anyone remember a couple of years ago when a bunch of CIA operatives were revealed to have used credit cards all over Italy for things like steak dinners and the like? And the government of Italy issued warrants for their arrest? For a while, the press was laughing at how amateurish the CIA has become to make such mistakes. The after-story that wasn't as widely reported on was that they did it on purpose, and the names were all specifically planted to be released. I'm sure what happened is that that operation was over, and the CIA had them "dump" those names, probably to cover a new operation that was being started. That's the nature of intelligence.

    I bring this up because while I'm not suggesting that Snowden acted officially, but I'd wager that some other agency has already taken up the slack for the capabilities that Snowden compromised. Sure, keep the NSA in the headlines. I'm sure the National Reconnaissance Office has new technology that reads data by collecting electrons through the cables themselves instead of simply intercepting emails like the NSA did. Whatever the program is, it too won't get revealed until another program is ready to take its place.
    Last edited by Mr44, Feb 4, 2014
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  19. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8
    Yeah this is my point. Think about it this way, and it's touched upon in the article I posted earlier: the CIA actually lets its officers write memoirs when they leave. Duane Clarridge did it, Bob Baer, Milt Bearden... they can do it. The CIA has right of review and redacts any information that is classified, no matter how old or innocent it seems. Baer left the redacted stuff in his See No Evil memoir, so you could see how it works.

    So, even though I think you're too liberal in the approach to secrecy - former MI6 officers go to jail for breaching the Official Secrets Act if they write memoirs - but that's irrelevant. The point is that as open as you are, you actually won't compromise ongoing activity. So without proof, but on experience, we are suggesting that the NSA would likely not have allowed an investigation to confirm the usefulness of its monitoring program for fear it would compromise its effectiveness.
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  20. Espaldapalabras Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 25, 2005
    star 5
    And risk being completely neutered as an institution? I am actually struck by how inept they have been in pushing their institutionally narrative in the press. Public opinion has turned against them and all the 60 Minute pieces won't put it back in the bottle.

    You argue that being close to the ground on these issues gives you special insight into the need for them. Those of us who have been paying attention from the outside see a series of tactics that are completely short sighted towards the long term strategic objectives of the civilian populations these states are supposedly meant to serve.

    When comparing an issue like terrorism to gun violence, all sense of scale and proportion as far as resources used vs deaths prevented is blown so far out of proportion that it is stunning. Deaths by terrorism could be increased 10 fold and these programs still not be a cost effective means of preservation of civilian life. So unless there are Bong villain super terrorists with teams of expert virus makers and nuke builders that this beast is stopping on a regular basis (hard to believe considering they let the Boston Bombers slip through), then it would be better to scrap the whole endeavor.

    When you take into account that this has nothing to do with the general civilian population, and instead is protecting the security/military/industrial elites interests by hyping minute threats to justify the massive reallocation of resources from taxpayers to their institutional interests in dominating information systems, it start all to makes sense why they worry about "terrorists" and not crazy people with guns who drive down to the local school.
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  21. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8
    Yes, but the issue with those on the outside is that they don't know the extent to which their picture is incomplete. By which I mean, you are making a judgement on the size of an iceberg purely on the visible tip.

    Firstly, you have to understand what kind of person goes into intelligence work full time, for a long time. Bob Baer recounts an interesting example of what got him hooked, and it was really just a highly critical video of the CIA. These people like the work and don't give a damn about the image it has.

    Secondly, these people - strange, though they are - aren't prone to hyperbole. You meet one of them you'll get the same experience that ShaneP had. From my limited experience, there's stuff out there you just can't conceive of in terms of criminal activities. Ruling out any usefulness of the NSA's survelliance program is understandable given your context, but hampered by the limited information you have.
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  22. Espaldapalabras Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Aug 25, 2005
    star 5
    I think I have a good idea of who goes into these services, it is hard to be raised Mormon and not be surrounded by the types. At one point I was interested enough in doing it myself that I attended a CIA recruitment meeting at my Mormon college. They had an east coast recruiter come out with an LDS field agent, and in hindsight the recruiter had a brilliant if cynical ploy to put up the Mormon agent on stage who gave a religious testimony as to the truthfulness of full throated American Exceptionalism based on his personal interpretation of Mormon doctrine, which at the time seemed pretty extreme even for most Mormons. At the end the recruiter turns to us and tells us it is stuff like that to put in your application. And yes there are also good people I've known who work in the field.

    One of my professors had worked for the NSA during the cold war and apart from being still focused on the evils of communism 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union. and I agree that he thought what he was doing was right, and his argument was that even the Dutch spied on us, so why wouldn't we?

    Even Snowden's comments have basically made the same point you are, and that is the people doing the work are diligent public servants who believe they are doing the right thing in a dangerous world. What I think that ignores is what is going on at the top levels and the way the institution takes on a life of its own independent of those who work for it. Just as it is a well known problem that much institutional malfeasance in finance has been allowed by mid level managers who were just following policies, I see the problems in our intelligence sector much the same way.

    Maybe I've just been reading too much Chomsky and Greenwald, but at this point I'm ready to let us fall on our sword because the "us" the institutions now serve is not directed by civilians responsible to the general public. By solving one problem, say for example that of drug cartels using encryption, you decide it is in the public good to break that encryption to unravel that network. The institution fails to realize that the cost of breaking the encryption results in systemic threats to the security of our financial institution, and the harm of the most powerful drug cartel pales in comparison to financial collapse. It simply isn't enough to sit there and tell us that there are mysterious bad guys out there and they know what is best for us. I personally have not much of a private life myself as a financial professional. I've already reported my activities to the government. But even those detailed disclosures are nowhere near as powerful as the prospect of knowing where I am, what I am doing, and who I am speaking to at every moment of the day. The fact that it is a computer algorithm and saved far into the future rather than a rather bored government employee doesn't change the fact that becomes a systemic risk to democratic governance, these security services have a proven track record of mistakes, not least of which is failing to keep their programs secret.
    Last edited by Espaldapalabras, Feb 4, 2014
  23. Lowbacca_1977 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 28, 2006
    star 6
    I don't buy the "criminal activities" bit, simply because the SELL for things like the NSA was terrorism. Not other forms of crime. If they can not justify WHY they should exist, and WHY their costs are justified, then I don't think they should get this free pass because they secretly know what's best for everyone else just because they don't want to justify themselves.

    Espaldapalabras, were you going for Borg there, or did that turn into drug war commentary with "Bong villain super terrorists"?
  24. Ender Sai Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Feb 18, 2001
    star 8
    Bond villain, I assumed.
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  25. beezel26 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 11, 2003
    star 7
    This is an argument between idealists and realists.