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Hope and Change, NSA Edition

Merely the illusion of change, the jingling keys

Hey lookit here, jiggling, shiny keys. Oh wait, I just forgot what I was going to write, but at least I’ve stopped kicking the seat in front of me.

Distracting people from real issues with shiny objects is called “hope and change” nowadays. Here’s the latest (and this is not satire.)

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed administration “officials close to the matter,” tells us that four suggestions for “NSA reform” will be forwarded to the president for a decision.

A Quick Recap

Prior to June of last year and Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA, most people had only a limited idea at best of the depth and expanse of NSA spying on Americans here in Das Homeland. It was not widely known that nearly every/every bit of electronic effluence we produce was being monitored, stored and analyzed for our safety and security. We had no idea that our very lives were just one NSA-missed email away from ending.

Now we know a little bit more, keeping firmly in mind that only a tiny portion of Snowden’s information has been published, and that Snowden is only one whistleblower from only one of the universe of U.S. and international intelligence agencies that actively spy on all of us. In addition, Snowden’s revelations are mostly about what information the NSA and others collect, and a bit about how they collect it. We know almost nothing about what is done with that information.

The NSA Reform Recommendations

Still, even this tiny peep-hole view of Big Brother set off enough noise among Americans that the president was moved to create the appearance of action and reform. Hence the four recommendations the Wall Street Journal tells us will be offered to the president so that he can make a decision. Let’s have a look at those recommendations (Reminder: this is not satire.)

Recommendation One: The NSA would continue to vacuum up our lives. Only under this recommendation telecommunications companies like Verizon and AT&T would store the data, not the NSA. The NSA would “ask” for data as needed.

Recommendation Two: The NSA would continue to vacuum up our lives. Only under this recommendation some other part of the government would store the data, not the NSA. The NSA would “ask” for data as needed.

Recommendation Three: The NSA would continue to vacuum up our lives. Only under this recommendation some non-telecom, non-government entity would store the data, not the NSA. The NSA would “ask” for data as needed.

Recommendation Four: The entire spying program would be ended.

Those Jingling Keys

Leaving aside the obvious proof that the government still has a sense of humor proposing Recommendation Four, it is equally obvious that One, Two and Three are no reform, change or hope whatsoever. They are merely the illusion of change, the jingling keys.

Such false “reforms” are the new normal in our post-Constitutional America. Once implemented, these reforms will then be endlessly cited by the president, the press and both parties as proof that they are listening, evidence that Something Has Been Done and that it is time to move on. As a bonus, the reforms will be available to further disrespect Snowden, asserting that his stated goal– to provoke debate and reform– has been satisfied. His work done, Snowden thus should return to America immediately for imprisonment.

Thank you for reading this but do not be further distracted by its content. Please disperse and go about your daily lives, Citizens.

BONUS CONTENT: Only on February 26 did we learn that the Justice Department asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to allow it to hold the already-collected bulk telephone records beyond the currently-allowed five years.

Why the sudden need? Because the ACLU and others are suing Justice over the collection program, and Justice says destroying the records would be inconsistent with legal obligations to retain evidence. Naughty ACLU, see what you did! Now you made it so the government has to hold our phone records longer!


Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well, and writes about current events at his blog. Van Buren’s next book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent is available now for preorder from Amazon.

Photo by Linus Bohman, used under Creative Commons license

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Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 23 years. He received a Meritorious Honor Award for assistance to Americans following the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, a Superior Honor Award for helping an American rape victim in Japan, and another award for work in the tsunami relief efforts in Thailand. Previous assignments include Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong. He volunteered for Iraq service and was assigned to ePRT duty 2009-10. His tour extended past the withdrawal of the last combat troops.

Van Buren worked extensively with the military while overseeing evacuation planning in Japan and Korea. This experience included multiple field exercises, plus civil-military work in Seoul, Tokyo, Hawaii, and Sydney with allies from the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. The Marine Corps selected Van Buren to travel to Camp Lejeune in 2006 to participate in a field exercise that included simulated Iraqi conditions. Van Buren spent a year on the Hill in the Department of State’s Congressional Liaison Office.

Van Buren speaks Japanese, Chinese Mandarin, and some Korean (the book’s all in English, don’t worry). Born in New York City, he lives in Virginia with his spouse, two daughters, and a docile Rottweiler.

Though this is his first book, Peter’s commentary has been featured on TomDispatch, Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation, American Conservative Magazine, Mother Jones, Michael, Le Monde, Daily Kos, Middle East Online, Guernica and others.