For the Fourth of July: The Once and Future Republic?
Ahem….”I told you so“.
“Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”
– Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin)
A primary author of The Patriot Act
“We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. Gen. Alexander’s testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program helped thwart ‘dozens’ of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods. The public deserves a clear explanation”
– Senators Ron Wyden (D- Oregon) and Mark Udall (D- Colorado)
“What I learned from our journalists should alarm everyone in this room and should alarm everyone in this country….The actions of the DoJ against AP are already having an impact beyond the specifics of this particular case. Some of our longtime trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us, even on stories that aren’t about national security. And in some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone, and some are reluctant to meet in person. This chilling effect is not just at AP, it’s happening at other news organizations as well”
– Gary Pruitt, President of the Associated Press
“The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry….But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”
– Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City
“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.”
-Thomas Friedman, NYT Columnist
“Toll records, phone records like this, that don’t include any content, are not covered by the fourth amendment because people don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in who they called and when they called, that’s something you show to the phone company. That’s something you show to many, many people within the phone company on a regular basis.”
– James Cole, Deputy Attorney-General
“In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.”
-Barack Obama, President of the United States
While we need intelligence services, including the formidable collection capacity of the NSA, we don’t need a mammoth repository of information being continually compiled on every American, held in perpetuity by the US government.
First, the mere existence of so massive a database on the data of all Americans is itself a critical strategic vulnerability and a potential risk to the national security of the United States because it centralizes for any would be spy or hacker not just anything, but virtually *everything* they would want to know about *everyone*. The greatest testament against the strategic wisdom of this scheme from a counterintelligence perspective is the erstwhile Mr. Edward Snowden – breach just one security regime and you walk away with the whole store or as much of the store as you have time and brains to snatch.
How many Snowdens have we *not* heard about because they were quietly fired by a contractor? How many other Snowdens working for foreign intelligence services eluded government detection and got away with who knows what? Or are still doing it now?
Not exactly a resilient system from a cybersecurity perspective, is it?
What the USG has done here is not dumb. It is fucking dumb with a capital F. Sometimes we get so caught up from a technical viewpoint in what we might be able to do that no one stops and seriously considers if we should do it. From such unasked questions come the unwanted second and third order effects we live to rue.
Unless, of course, building a draconian comprehensive digital dragnet for a “leaky system” is what was desired in the first place. If so, bravo gentlemen.
Which brings us to the second point: the surveillance state as currently configured in law with the legal equivalent of string and chewing gum is inimical to the long term survival of the United States as a constitutional Republic. This is not an attack on any particular person or politician or three letter agency. It’s a hard world filled with extremely bad men who would do us lasting harm, so we need our spooks, but the spooks need proper constitutional boundaries set by our elected representatives in which to operate and somewhere in the past decade we have crossed that Rubicon.
The United States of America has had a historically remarkable run of 237 years of good government and in all that time the system failed us only once. That one time cost the lives of approximately 630,000 Americans.
On a level of moral and political legitimacy, we have created a bureaucratic-technological machine, a sleepless cyber J. Edgar Hoover on steroids that contradicts our deeply held political values that define what America is and aspires to be. There is no way to reconcile cradle-to-grave digital dossiers on the 24/7 life of every American with the provisions of the US. Constitution. Really, an ever-watching state was not in the cards at our Constitutional Convention, even with the delegates like Alexander Hamilton who privately thought George Washington might make a fine King.
On a more pragmatic level, in creating the SIGINT-cyber surveillance state we have made not an idiot-proof system, but an idiot-enabling one that represents an enormous potential reserve of power that will be an unbearable temptation for misuse and abuse. The long, bloody and sordid record of human nature indicates that someone, eventually, will not be able to resist that temptation but will be smart enough to get away with it. If we are greatly fortunate, it will be a lazy person of limited vision looking merely to enrich themselves and their friends. Or a malevolent minor bureaucrat like Lois Lerner looking to punish “the little people” who raised her ire. If we are unlucky, it will be a gifted figure of ill intent and outsized ambitions, an American Caesar.
Or an American Stalin.
In the long term, our Democracy will not be healthy when the government – that is, the Executive – monitors everyone and stores everything we do forever. While most of us are not that interesting, reporters, public figures, newspaper publishers, members of Congress, aspiring politicians, their campaign donors, judges, dissenters, writers and so on are very interesting to people in power. The Congress, for example, cannot do it’s job properly when it’s cloakroom is bugged and their email is read anymore than can the editorial office of the Associated Press. What we have built, if it existed in a foreign country, would be frankly described as a “Deep State“. Nations with deep states are not pleasant places to live and they usually do not work well. At best, they look like Russia and Turkey, at worst they look like Pakistan and Iran.
Rolling the surveillance state back to targeting foreign enemies, it’s proper and constitutional role, instead of every American citizen – yes, we are all, every man, woman and child of every race, creed, color and political persuasion being treated as potential enemies by the Federal government – is up to us and only us. Tell your Congressman, your Senator and the President what you think in a respectful and thoughtful way – and then make this an issue that decides your vote.
If we do nothing, we have no one to blame but ourselves for what comes next. We can at least console ourselves with pride in the fact that the US had a good go at making freedom work unequaled in world history, but that democracy may had had it’s time. Others in the distant future, may profit from our example the way we learned from Athens, Rome and Britain. Or we can leave while the door still remains open.
Enjoy your Fourth.
“Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”
– Mrs. Powell
” A Republic, if you can keep it”
– Benjamin Franklin
Signer of the Declaration of Independence
Delegate, Constitutional Convention
July 4th, 2013 at 7:44 am
Thank you, Zen.
In 2007, according to Privacy International, the US was said to be the second worst country in the democratic world for overall privacy protection; though the UK grabbed the top spot, the two Western countries — along with Malaysia, Russia and China — were said to have “endemic” surveillance with few safeguards.
And a related piece, in the Global Post, written a month ago as parody: “the first installment of an ongoing series that examines the language journalists use to cover foreign countries. What if we wrote that way about the United States?
“BOSTON, Mass. — Human rights activists say revelations that the US regime has expanded its domestic surveillance program to private phone carriers is more evidence of the North American country’s pivot toward authoritarianism. … Several American villagers interviewed for this story said the ubiquitous government marketing campaign called, “If you see something, say something,” does little to make them feel safer and, in fact, only contributes to a growing mistrust among the general population.
“I’ve deleted my Facebook account, stopped using email, or visiting websites that might be considered anti-regime,” a resident of the northern city of Boston, a tough-as-nails town synonymous with rebellion, told GlobalPost. It was in Boston that an American militia first rose up against the British empire. “But my phone? How can I stop using my phone? This has gone too far…. Meanwhile, whispering in the streets about what the regime might do next has reached a dull roar. But after a national uprising in 2011 by the leftist Occupy movement ended in evictions, arrests and tear gas, Americans appear hesitant to take their anger into the streets. Most major media outlets, which in the United States are largely controlled by politically-connected corporations — many of them, in fact, financially supported Obama’s election — have been relatively quiet on such issues. …
One foreign businessman who works closely with the US government on issues of security said he thought Obama was too well-established and had too strong a security force for any challenge to its authority to take hold.
“This isn’t Tunisia,” he said. “This is more like China, where a massive security presence could easily put down any organized opposition movement.”
The businessman added that Obama was democratically elected twice, which he believes gives the leader enough credibility to weather any serious opposition to his rule.
In a small, unassuming house near Boston’s bustling seaport, though, supporters of the opposition disagreed, saying the leader had lost “all credibility.” The group said the opposition continued to organize and grow, and that it was just a matter of time before the rest of the American population joined them. …”
July 4th, 2013 at 5:13 pm
Enjoy the Fourth?
A nice double meaning. The Fourth of July? Or the Fourth Amendment? Methinks the latter, or perhaps both.
Very compelling post, Mark. This is exactly what I looked for when I emailed you a while back.
I find it very interesting that information “needs” to be collected on virtually all Americans, boring and otherwise, because the federal government failed to properly enforce the law on 20 expired green card holders in the months leading to September 11, 2001. Naturally the failure leading to September 11 leads to even greater government empowerment. These are the wrong lessons to draw from that tragedy, and yet we continue to draw them, with ever-increasing governmental intrusion into private affairs.
I also think it interesting that literally the only thing that functioned properly on September 11 was the Unorganized Militia–individual citizens and first responders, often acting without orders, to foil terrorist actions and mitigate terrorist effects. Greater citizen involvement, not acquiescence, is the only thing that worked on September 11, and it’s the only thing that will work today.
July 4th, 2013 at 7:58 pm
Bravo, Zen! I’m thumping my cane on the floor like the Founding Fathers after this speech:
Appeal to Heaven (and as the last line of defense, the States) for justice, and as for the three letter agency idolaters, they can adopt this as their official anthem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftXCYxB5fgc
July 4th, 2013 at 8:12 pm
F——g A! +1000
July 4th, 2013 at 8:59 pm
“…because the federal government failed to properly enforce the law on 20 expired green card holders in the months leading to September 11, 2001.”
To me it wasn’t that the government failed to properly enforce the law on 20 expired green card holder in the months leading up to 9/11/2001, that would have stopped the Twin Towers from falling. The problem was that the government didn’t Act differently than it had for years before and enforced the law on 20 expired green card holders.
If it had been the government’s policy or ability (against corporate power I am supposing) to enforce the law on green card holders, then I doubt the attacker’s green cards would have been in expired mode, or, in other words, they have taken arrest for green-card violation into consideration and the attack would have continued, because it was a military operation, and the green-card expiration was figured into the operations (process).
July 5th, 2013 at 1:19 am
Q&A between an outspoken college student and two NSA recruiters for the language analyst division (the same group that hired Farsi translator Sybil Edmonds later who turned into a whistleblower post 9/11)
July 5th, 2013 at 3:30 am
Plus NSA et al routinely swaps data with companies. Once companies have it, it can go anywhere.
“U.S. Agencies Said to Swap Data With Thousands of Firms”
July 5th, 2013 at 3:01 pm
[…] Zenpundit nails it. NSA surveillance is so Orwellian and omnipresent that it poses a huge security risk to whoever can compromise the data. If Snowden could, then many others can and probably have too. Plus, we already know that NSA swaps data with private corporations. All this data the NSA promises will only be accessed by warrant is instead flying all over cyberspace with apparently no controls. The mere existence of so massive a database on the data of all Americans is itself a critical strategic vulnerability and a potential risk to the national security of the United States because it centralizes for any would be spy or hacker not just anything, but virtually *everything* they would want to know about *everyone*. The greatest testament against the strategic wisdom of this scheme from a counterintelligence perspective is the erstwhile Mr. Edward Snowden – breach just one security regime and you walk away with the whole store or as much of the store as you have time and brains to snatch. […]
July 5th, 2013 at 3:53 pm
Much thanks for the link at Not the Singularity Bob!
Nate – ah, you caught that 🙂 I wondered who would – nate I think this really will only get addressed and corrected by something that would entail mass engagement by citizens, like an effort (for example) to add a Privacy Amendment to the US Constitution ( recall the energy in the 70’s around the ERA. While it failed, it revved up both feminist and social conservative groups to a higher level of effectiveness to change all kinds of policies)
Mr X and Michael – thank you gents and thank you for the links – helpful!
Larry a significant part of the government response is the paradigm that they must target everyone so they cannot be accused of targeting only young, angry, alienated, often unmarried Muslim males who frequent radical Islamist mosques, preachers, groups and websites. PC ideology may not completely trump security but it imposes weird procedural work-arounds that defy common sense, cost-benefit analysis, efficiency and other important variables in order to keep up elite pretenses
July 5th, 2013 at 5:19 pm
[…] private companies of “enemies” like the Occupy movement or New York Muslims? Historian Mark Safranski writes: On a level of moral and political legitimacy, we have created a bureaucratic-technological […]
July 5th, 2013 at 7:50 pm
One more link in this vein:
If you must leak patriots inside the .mil/IC illegal or unconstitutional activity, don’t end up like Snowden — at the mercies of foreign governments! Leave your cellphone at home, find an Internet cafe that takes cash, and use the above AdLeaks system plus PGP or Tor and get it out there. Remember “Russia has no allies but her army and navy” for a reason!
Pulled the link from the Edward Snowden spoof account on Twitter…though it’s slightly conspiratorial humor there’s some real stuff on there.
July 5th, 2013 at 7:53 pm
The above line simply means, Putin has no incentive to burn down the 4th Amendment destroying Panopticon. In fact, as he admitted at his press conference, quite the opposite.
If we want to take back our country we should expect millions of sympathizers around the world but scant support from any other quarter. And perhaps that is as it should be. All governments never willingly, easily cede power once accumulated, and they all spy and swap spying on each other’s citizens for plausible deniability. However stating that the EU leaders are pulling a hypocritical Claude Rains act doesn’t change the facts.
July 5th, 2013 at 7:58 pm
” PC ideology may not completely trump security but it imposes weird procedural work-arounds that defy common sense, cost-benefit analysis, efficiency and other important variables in order to keep up elite pretenses”
PC is a judgement call, but, it appears to be, just not something you want to judge.
With the emphasis on “correct”, it would be interesting to know if there is something you are willing to judge politically, or do you just not care for politics?
Just saying, it is hard for me to believe that there isn’t a labor leader who doesn’t care about politics.
July 5th, 2013 at 8:13 pm
Last comment on this thread for me:
“…] Zenpundit nails it. NSA surveillance is so Orwellian and omnipresent that it poses a huge security risk to whoever can compromise the data.” There is also, as I was discussing with a lawyer friend the other day, a massive potential LEGAL LIABILITY for Booz Allen Hamilton and other contractors should they produce more Snowdens, and this time exposing the dirt gathering side of the house. How would they defend themselves from massive class action lawsuits should the ‘privatized Stasi’ get exposed? Congress could try to ramrod or sneak through some federal contractor version of the Monsanto protection act, but I’m not sure even that would handle Constitutional muster if the plaintiffs can find a federal judge somewhere out West worth his salt.
July 5th, 2013 at 8:37 pm
FOr any interested in more detail, one of the best single sources on Computer security and related issues is Bruce Schneier’s blog; there is also the Electronic Frontier Foundation who, among much else, e.g. filing in 2008, Jewel v. NSA , offer a basic primer on Surveillance Self-Defense and Risk Management.
July 7th, 2013 at 10:36 pm
Bravo. You put into words exactly what has been bothering me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it….
Kings of War blog has a great post on the topic too: “The Ingression Engine.”
One doesn’t have to approve of Snowden to be disconcerted by the habits of mind being created and the precedents set with each “ingression”.
July 8th, 2013 at 12:26 am
Remarkably good job Mr. Zen. Remarkably good.
Two comments by me not so original.
The superzips, as represented by Mr. Friedman and Mr. Bloomberg seem very untroubled by all this, I suspect because they believe they are the beneficiaries. Mr. Friedman’s comment about Red China is a good illustration of a superzip habit of forgetting how a system actually affects people, little people that is, in favor of some outlook from the high perch of superzipistan.
I always figured a good working definition of a police state is when the law is constructed primarily for the convenience of the police. I hope our train doesn’t get to that station.
Finally, new work indicates Civil War casualties were actually about 750,000 rather than 630,000.
July 8th, 2013 at 6:03 am
“it’s a hard world filled with extremely bad men who would do us lasting harm” .. realizing this is the prevailing ideology here, but if i may be allowed to say so (not an American), damnation but the USA seems to have gotten itself slathered up into an awfully paranoid state of mind .. I just want to question, “Why?” Why this core assumption of an envious wicked Them against the righteous by definition Us? Isn’t that kind of insane?
July 8th, 2013 at 3:27 pm
“Isn’t that kind of insane?”
Many people and groups around the world make very clear they hate us and wish us harm.
Pretending facts don’t mean anything is denying reality. That is insane.
July 9th, 2013 at 2:09 am
Doc Madhu and Carl – thank you very much and thank you for the links, both useful. Carl, I share your hope.
derek r. – Well, I think there is a substantial difference between groups that merely harbor an animus and groups that pose a realistic threat. Capacity matters. I would break down the world into the following taxonomy:
1. PEOPLE – Neither hateful nor threatening us nor dangerous. Friends, neutrals, allies, the indifferent. Diplomacy is normal
2. HARD MEN WITH GUNS – Dangerous to others (usually those in group 1) but not hateful or threatening to us. Can be ignored or dealt with diplomatically at need.
3. HATEFUL MEN – ideological enemies without means or motive for violence. Can be ignored, prospects for diplomacy limited or none.
4. HATEFUL, HARD MEN WITH GUNS – Armed enemies with means and motive to use violence or actively doing so. Cannot be safely ignored, diplomacy has limited prospect of success, armed force may be the required response or best response depending on circumstances.
The size of group 4 is mercifully fairly small and the threat level has declined greatly since the end of the Cold War. We should not be roaming the earth a la Samantha Power/Richard Perle looking for new monsters like Joseph Kony to slay or invading Syria but killing off AQ members and their tribal hosts in Waziristan is well merited and should be pursued intelligently and with determination until most of them are dead regardless of whether group 3 or 1 like it or not.
Too many countries must deal with group 2 but that has been the way of the world since time immemorial and is not going to change in our lifetime. We need to practice greater restraint rather than inserting ourselves into every petty dispute and ancient feud
August 1st, 2013 at 10:33 am
[…] The fact is that the nation can survive many lost wars far longer than your career will survive lost elections. Once you view the war solely through the prism of how any action might impact your fortune in domestic politics, you will have a marvelous clarity that the war is the best pretext upon which to expand your power at the expense of the opposition and the people. […]
August 5th, 2013 at 10:28 pm
Interesting use of the word erstwhile. Seems the NSA must be confiscating dictionaries when it’s not reading our emails! He who sacrifices correct definitions for freedom deserves neither!
August 6th, 2013 at 2:20 am
In some cultures, linguistic errors are a form of prophecy. 😉
August 8th, 2013 at 12:55 am
In other cultures, simple linguistic errors mean you shouldn’t be trusted to handle more sophisticated matters 😉
August 8th, 2013 at 4:41 am
Yeah, but generally in those same sophisticated cultures, if all you can do in an argument is play grammar gotcha, it means you have conceded the substantive point and are resisting only out of petulance