3 thoughts on “Can You Hear Me Now? The NSA Can

  1. Mike, I disagree with your assessment that the collection of the phone metadata for all Americans is no big deal. While I, too, feel that it doesn’t matter if the data resides in just Verizon servers or if the NSA has a copy, the Obama administration has amply demonstrated that it is more than willing to break the law as long as it’s for their version of the common good. If I felt that the data would safely remain untouched on the NSA servers until a warrant was issued for specific portions of it for criminal or true national security reasons, just as the Verizon data requires a warrant to be copied, I fear that the current administration’s amoral belief that anything is permitted as long as it serves the correct political end would mean that copies of the records would find their way to unauthorized members of the government and politically correct groups for the furtherance of the administration’s goals. Besides the obvious intimidation of the press by knowing who calls them as evidenced by the recent AP & FoxNews scandals, there is also the campaign value of knowing who calls various partisan political groups for both positive and negative targeting giving the ruling party a significant political advantage.
    You expressed greater worry about Prism. I see no problem with Prism. The data in Prism is only on foreigners, except where specific exception have been made by the issuance of a specific warrant that justifies the collection of such data on an American person (citizen, resident, company, etc.). Even the recording of voice phones calls of foreigners for Prism is due to specific tasking and not a worldwide vacuuming of calls. So, I do not find Prism worrisome. It is indeed the sort of data the President should be advised on. But where in the corridors of the White House is there a need to know who called your grandmother on Mothers’ Day? If a Moslem terrorist (yes, I said it: “Moslem terrorist”) calls his grandmother, then OK, get a warrant to monitor their calls on a case by case basis.
    The Obama administration has demonstrated a willingness to ignore any law or regulation for its political goals. From monitoring journalists (FBI), violating the rights’ of organizations perceived to be right-wing (IRS) or strong arming companies they regulate (HHS), there seems to be no morality or respect for the rights of the American public in those partisan members of the government. For them to have access to all our phone bills is more serious than the trashman seeing one or two.
    I share Dana D. Nelson’s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dana_D._Nelson) view of what the office of the President has become. In a long downward slide from democracy in America, Obama has reached the nadir. In the recent past, it began with Reagan. Although, on whole, I think he was a decent president, he started the climb of the President as ruler. The first Bush was a disappointment after that as he continued the role of President as commander rather than servant. Clinton, I perceived as a joke who was only concerned with being liked, which gave the inaccurate view as being fair and willing to compromise. The second Bush accelerated the growth of presidential power away from the Congress and away from the Constitutional Rights of the American people. All in all, pretty dismal leaders.
    Obama has taken the baton and run the farthest with it, from the number of Executive Orders, arrests under the Espionage Act of 1917, and mostly the toleration, if not encouragement, of partisan politics in the U.S. bureaucracy. Under previous administrations, the bureaucracy has, at least, appeared impartial and nonpartisan. But under the Obama administration, it has taken up the causes of “The Party”. It is this mentality that makes the NSA scandal so ominous. That coupled with vast majority of the press being also highly partisan has deprived us of one more of our checks and balances. Had this warrant surfaced under previous administrations, there would have been a huge uproar.
    The American people appear to have abandoned their decision making to demagogs chosen every eight years. Down with the Republic, long live the American Empire.

    In case you need to keep track: http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/tygrrrr-express/2013/jun/10/updated-obama-scandals-user-handbook/

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    • William, I appreciate that you took the time to prepare a rather well thought out response. Just to hit on some of your key points:

      First of all, I wasn’t trying to indicate that I thought that Prism was a bigger civil liberties threat. I just didn’t want to really write or make any judgment on Prism because I hadn’t had the time to educate myself on the program from news accounts as I had on the phone program. I wanted to make sure I kept Prism totally separate from discussion of the phone program. I’ve spent the last week reading and watching talking heads on TV conflate the two programs as if they are one and the same, and I think the legal issues are totally different, and I wanted to be clear that my opinions were about the phone program.

      One thing at a time you know…

      It seems we agree on the basic legality of the phone metadata program. Where we part is that you seem to feel that the program data is ripe for abuse by the current administration. The abuse of this data seems much more plausible coming right after the disclosure of the abuses by the IRS, which took what is supposedly protected data of donors to Tea Party-like groups and leaked it to their political opponents (and allies of the administration) like Pro Publica; and of course the deliberate stonewalling on the applications of groups that had Tea Party, Liberty, or 9/12 in the names. One can’t help but sigh at the idea that “Liberty” would find itself as a word of suspicion. But such is 21st Century America.

      Although this administration has shown an ability and willingness to abuse both the resources of the State and dedicate itself primarily to political, rather than policy goals, I still doubt their competence to do it effectively. I’m not sure at the White House level they fully understand the various programs and their capabilities within the national security establishment. They are consumers of these intelligence products, but I question if they are really intelligent consumers. Assuming they wanted to use the phone metadata database for nefarious ends, I question if they would even know how.

      Another point is that I think it would be unlikely political requests to the NSA for data on US persons for political purposes would get such a free ride. The IRS and most federal agencies are of course staffed by people who believe in the power, and employment, of the government, so they are natural allies for the Democrats generally and Obama specifically, but political tasking from the White House would throw up all kinds of red flags to the analysts and collectors who would the ones supplying the information. I imagine a request for all phone numbers called by Mitt Romney from his cell phone would generate a line out the door of the NSA IG office.

      Of course, I could be badly misreading the situation and who knows, maybe such a request was made and the answers duly provided.

      The issue of the media being so in the pocket of one political problem is a big issue as you mentioned. A successful representative limited government requires an adversarial press to keep it honest. Right now, we have a press that has taken sides in the political arena. I don’t have an answer to this unfortunately. But the effects of having one political party being the favored of the press corps are that we pretty clearly no longer have a successful representative government, It’s flopping along with two flat tires.

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