The NSA – Hiding a Shadow Government Behind a Haystack, “To Keep Us Safe”
The enormous service that a certain whistleblower has provided to Americans and the world at large, is becoming clear even in the face of shrill cries of “traitor” and histrionic accusations of “aiding the enemy.”
That certain whistleblower (who will not be named, in hopes of avoiding comments about personalities rather than revelations) has shone a light on a shadow government, a set of parallel institutions that operate without democratic controls. It is a government-corporate warren of institutions that uses secrecy and the application of large amounts of cash to avoid democratic control by the people and has allied with corporate chieftains and hijacked large corporations, defying the “discipline of the market” and the democratic controls of shareholders and chartering states.
Some portion of these institutions have been described before; Dana Priest and William Arkin did ground-breaking work scouring the public record and describing the size and shape of the leviathan entity:
These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
The investigation’s other findings include:
* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.
* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.
James Bamford did remarkable work describing the capabilities of some of these institutions and previous whistleblowers like William Binney and Thomas Drake have described what some of these institutions do. Binney and Drake, however, did not have documentary proof, the gold standard of credibility, which changes discussions marred with accusations of “conspiracy theories” to discussions about conspiracy reality:
One of the arguments about [redacted] that I’ve occasionally gotten caught up in is: What difference has he made? Has he really told us very much we didn’t know before?
In a broad sense, you can argue that he hasn’t. We knew (or certainly suspected) that NSA was collecting enormous streams of telephone metadata. We knew they were issuing subpoenas for data from companies like Google and Microsoft. We knew that Section 702 warrants were very broad. We knew that domestic data sometimes got inadvertently collected. We knew that massive amounts of foreign phone and email traffic were monitored.
As it happens, we’ve learned more than just this from the documents on [redacted’s] four laptops. Still, even if you accept this argument in general terms—and I’ve made it myself—[redacted] still matters. It’s one thing to know about this stuff in broad strokes. It’s quite another to have specific, documented details. That’s what [redacted] has given us, and it makes a big difference in public debate. …
This is how change happens. The public gets hit over the head with something, lawmakers are forced to take notice, and maybe, just maybe, Congress holds oversight hearings and decides to change the law. There’s no guarantee that will happen this time, but it might. And regardless of how “new” [redacted’s] revelations have been, we have him to thank for this.
A certain whistleblower has documentation. That documentation has already outed high government officials as (unindicted) perjurers and liars and impugned the veracity of information presented to the public on the NSA website and caused the NSA to hastily remove the misleading documents.
These high government officials have made a mockery of the President’s asssertion that his administration is being transparent and that we should have a national debate about these matters. One cannot seriously debate an issue when one side controls access to the facts and is economical with the truth, while at the same time introducing blatant falsehoods into the discussion. If the administration wanted to have a debate, and its behaviors indicate otherwise, it must stop acting in bad faith toward the American people.
The collective work of many whistleblowers and journalists has revealed a set of shadow institutions that operate under the color of law. They are extensions of the government, which have inadequate internal controls as Priest and Arkins’ work notes, and due to excessive secrecy have little in the way of control by the public that they allegedly serve.
Corporations are hijacked by the covert agencies, through secret deals with management insiders. These deals create giant corporations whose governance is a sham, a front whose functions are usurped by a set of parallel corporate controls:
Some U.S. telecommunications companies willingly provide intelligence agencies with access to facilities and data offshore that would require a judge’s order if it were done in the U.S., one of the four people said.
In these cases, no oversight is necessary under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and companies are providing the information voluntarily.
The extensive cooperation between commercial companies and intelligence agencies is legal and reaches deeply into many aspects of everyday life, though little of it is scrutinized by more than a small number of lawyers, company leaders and spies. Company executives are motivated by a desire to help the national defense as well as to help their own companies, said the people, who are familiar with the agreements.
Most of the arrangements are so sensitive that only a handful of people in a company know of them, and they are sometimes brokered directly between chief executive officers and the heads of the U.S.’s major spy agencies, the people familiar with those programs said.
In government, this secrecy creates an executive branch that acts with virtually no accountability through a set of parallel executive branch controls:
The generals aren’t marching into the presidential palace; the president doesn’t have an airplane waiting to fly him to exile in the south of France. No, this coup d’etat has been accomplished by an accretion of power unchecked by any institutions that are empowered by the Constitution. It is not just a coup d’etat (a “blow to the state”), but a blow to the tradition and authority of constitutional government, the sine qua non of the American political experience. …
When, years ago, I was researching a book on Turkey, then under the sway of its military, observers would often speak darkly of “the deep state” — those hidden, powerful, extralegal agencies and cadres that would act on their own authority. Other countries would have them too, usually enabled by police ministries or intelligence agencies. Dissidents, out-of-line newspaper editors, priests and nuns speaking truth to power, union organizers — these types would come under the scrutiny and often the harsh reprisals of the deep state.
Now we know: the United States of America is partially governed by a deep state, undemocratic, secret, aligned with intelligence agencies, spying on friend and foe, lawless in almost every respect.
If this doesn’t constitute a coup d’etat, it’s hard to imagine what would. People we barely know of — the director of NSA, the eleven judges on FISC, who knows who else — are running the deep state. The actual president seems just fine with everything it’s doing, or is so weak-kneed he can’t see fit to put an end to it. I’m not sure which is worse.
The unaccountable executive is supported by an unaccountable court system, where everything is done in secret. It meets in a special courtroom which is soundproof, bugproof and is only attended by the government’s lawyers. There is no adversarial process, those whose rights are abridged have no knowledge and no legal recourse because there are no public records or transcripts of procedings. The court’s decisions cannot be disclosed or discussed in public session of congress, much less publicly reviewed by the legislative branch, which has no advise and consent function in the appointments to the court. This creates a parallel court structure:
So, we were just discussing the insanity of the FISA court (FISC) basically acting as a shadow Supreme Court, making broad rulings in total secrecy that have created a secret body of law that the public is not allowed to know about. Given increasing revelations about these shadow laws, the ACLU and other public interest groups are trying, yet again, to get access to some of these key rulings. All along, they’ve been extremely careful to note that they’re not asking FISC to reveal specific foreign intelligence issues, operations or targets: merely the parts of the rulings that identify what the law is — i.e., how it’s being interpreted by the courts. Because that seems rather fundamental to a functioning democracy.
However, as you might expect, the Justice Department has now hit back with a new filing that says, flat out, the public has no right to know what the secret court is ruling on and how it’s codifying secret laws. The argument is, basically, that because FISC rulings have almost always been secret, then it’s perfectly reasonable that they’re secret. In other words, it’s perfectly legal for secret laws to remain secret, because they’re secret. Later it also argues that actually revealing the law would be (oooooooh, scary!) dangerous.
The American national press is mysteriously fixated on the personalities of the whistleblower and reporters exposing revelations of policies and actions that seem incompatible with the Constitution, rather than the revelations themselves:
A puzzling phenomenon has also emerged: That of the journalist or commentator who gets up on his or her high horse to condemn redacted for “stealing the story”—despite their own failure to do any substantive reporting on the NSA.
Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor and MSNBC commentator, is outspoken on a number of issues, from slut-shaming to the force-feeding of Guantanamo detainees, but hasn’t managed to muster up any outrage against the government’s mass surveillance programs…which is why this, in her open letter to redacted this week, came as a surprise:
We could be talking about whether accessing and monitoring citizen information and communications is constitutional, or whether we should continue to allow a secret court to authorize secret warrants using secret legal opinions.
But we’re not. We’re talking about you! And flight paths between Moscow and Venezuela, and how much of a jerk redacted is. We could at least be talking about whether the Obama administration is right that your leak jeopardized national security. But we’re not talking about that, redacted.
Harris-Perry’s commentary denies the autonomy of journalists and pundits and implies that they are somehow hypnotized by redacted’s escapades, rendered incapable of thinking for themselves.
One is left to consider whose bidding these “journalists” are doing and why.
There is no censorship of the media in the US – because it isn’t necessary. The media censors itself quite willingly. More than that: as the redacted affair has shown, the “mainstream” media is even more fanatical than US government officials about shutting down dissent. It was David Gregory, you’ll note, and not the Attorney General, who demanded redacted give a reason why he shouldn’t be arrested along with redacted. None other than longtime respected reported Walter Pincus, of the Washington Post, echoed Gregory’s remarks. And of course there’s the minor league pundits, like MSNBC’s Joy Reid – on the “left” side of the spectrum – alongside neocons like Bill Kristol and some of the more unhinged among the Fox News crowd, who have been calling for redacted’s head from Day One.
This is not to say there aren’t voices of dissent in America – there are. But there are similar voices in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and I don’t hear anybody hailing that country as a bastion of liberal democracy. Russia, too, has an uncensored media, and for precisely the same reason we do – because official censorship is redundant. The media self-censors without even being asked.
Where Senators Fear To Tread
President Obama claims that Congress is fully informed, but that’s a bunch of disingenuous garbage:
President Obama defended the National Security Agency’s collection of all our phone calls on Friday by saying at a press briefing that if the agency was acting like “Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok,” then Congress would be free to air those concerns. This is not true.
“When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program,” Obama said. “With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.” He noted that the secret FISA court and Congress provide a check on the executive branch’s use of this power. “I think, on balance, we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about,” Obama said. “These programs are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate. And if there are members of Congress who feel differently, then they should speak up.” He later added, “And if in fact there was — there were abuses taking place, presumably, those members of Congress could raise those issues very aggressively. They’re empowered to do so.”
But they couldn’t speak up! Or at least they certainly couldn’t “raise those issues very aggressively” anywhere outside of a classified hearing of, say, the Senate Intelligence Committee, because, legally, they’re not empowered to air their complaints in public. The NSA’s phone call metadata collection program was classified until Director of National Intelligence James Clapper declassified parts of it in order to keep defending it from a Guardian exposé. That means it’s not just that members of Congress couldn’t air complaints about the program — they couldn’t acknowledge it’s existence.
Then there’s some question about the quality of these briefings and the competence of those that receive them to understand and integrate the material in a way that would allow oversight. The full set of information about these programs is very closely held and very few “insiders” are allowed to be briefed.
Here, some DoD insiders discuss the briefing that they received:
In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials – called Super Users – have the ability to even know about all the department’s activities. But as two of the Super Users indicated in interviews, there is simply no way they can keep up with the nation’s most sensitive work.
“I’m not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything” was how one Super User put it. The other recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn’t take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled ”Stop!” in frustration.
“I wasn’t remembering any of it,” he said.
While a tiny number of insiders get to drink from the firehose and wind up with useless information, apparently those “fully briefed” Congresspeople may have the opposite problem that similarly results in little useful information received in a form which can be put to use:
Congressman Spencer Bachus said he “was not aware at all” of the extent of the surveillance, since the NSA programs were primarily briefed to the intelligence committees of the House and Senate.
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren revealed that an annual report provided to Congress by the government about the phone-records collection, something cited by intelligence officials as an example of their disclosures to Congress, is “less than a single page and not more than eight sentences.”
It has been pointed out that few legislators or their staffs (when material is allowed to be shared with staff) have the technical expertise to really comprehend what they have been briefed on:
Lawmakers who oversee U.S. intelligence agencies may not understand the significance of some of the metadata being collected, said Jacob Olcott, a former cybersecurity assistant for Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
“That’s what makes this issue of oversight so challenging,” said Olcott, now a principal at Good Harbor Security Risk Management in Washington. “You have a situation where the technology and technical policy is far outpacing the background and expertise of most elected members of Congress or their staffs.”
So what we have are a lot of under informed legislators who probably don’t fully understand the ramifications of the programs that they are consenting to and funding in behalf of the American people. Some of them know things and try to warn us about them:
“The National Security Agency’s ability to gather phone data on millions of Americans hinges on the secret redefinition of the word ‘relevant'”.
In classified orders starting in the mid-2000s, the court accepted that “relevant” could be broadened to permit an entire database of records on millions of people, in contrast to a more conservative interpretation widely applied in criminal cases, in which only some of those records would likely be allowed, according to people familiar with the ruling.
“Relevant” has long been a broad standard, but the way the court is interpreting it, to mean, in effect, “everything,” is new, says Mark Eckenwiler, a senior counsel at Perkins Coie LLP who, until December, was the Justice Department’s primary authority on federal criminal surveillance law.
Two senators on the Intelligence Committee, Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Mark Udall (D., Colo.), have argued repeatedly that there was a “secret interpretation” of the Patriot Act. The senators’ offices tell the Journal that this new interpretation of the word “relevant” is what they meant.
So, those Legislators that understand things and disagree with the way that the shadow government is doing things are left with the option to furtively wave their hands at any teevee camera that gets pointed in their direction and utter dire mumblings about how shocked and dismayed the American public will be when and if they ever find out what’s going on.
We’re left with this:
You see, democracy here at home must be balanced against the requirements of security, and it is simply too dangerous to leave the question of this balance to the democratic public. Open deliberation over the appropriate balance would require saying something concrete about threats to public safety, and also about the means by which those threats might be checked. But revealing such information would only empower America’s enemies and endanger American lives. Therefore, this is a discussion Americans can’t afford to have. Therefore, the power to determine that this is a discussion the public cannot afford to have cannot reside in the democratic public. That power must reside elsewhere, with the best and brightest, with those who have surveyed the perils of the world and know what it takes to meet them. Those deep within the security apparatus, within the charmed circle, must therefore make the decision, on America’s behalf, about how much democracy—about how much discussion about the limits of democracy, even—it is safe for Americans to have.
This decision will not be effective, however, if it is openly questioned. The point is that is not up for debate. It is crucial, then, that any attempt by those on the inside to reveal the real, secret rules governing American life be met with overwhelming, intimidating retaliation. In order to maintain a legitimising democratic imprimatur, it is of course important that a handful of elected officials be brought into the anteroom of the inner council, but it’s important that they know barely more than that there is a significant risk that we will all perish if they, or the rest of us, know too much, and they must be made to feel that they dare not publicly speak what little they have been allowed know. Even senators. Even senators must fear to describe America’s laws to America’s citizens. This is, yes, democracy-suppression, but it is a vitally necessary arrangement. It keeps you and your adorable kids and even your cute pet dog alive.
Praise the Flying Spaghetti Monster for creating whistleblowers!
Who’s the Enemy?
Why “Terrorists,” of course, and free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as “low level terrorism.”
Our corporate government has redefined “terrorism” considerably:
One of the assurances I keep hearing about the U.S. government’s spying on American citizens is that it’s only used in cases of terrorism. Terrorism is, of course, an extraordinary crime, and its horrific nature is supposed to justify permitting all sorts of excesses to prevent it. But there’s a problem with this line of reasoning: mission creep. The definitions of “terrorism” and “weapon of mass destruction” are broadening, and these extraordinary powers are being used, and will continue to be used, for crimes other than terrorism.
Back in 2002, the Patriot Act greatly broadened the definition of terrorism to include all sorts of “normal” violent acts as well as non-violent protests. The term “terrorist” is surprisingly broad; since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it has been applied to people you wouldn’t normally consider terrorists.
You know, terrorists like the folks at PETA, Greenpeace, the Thomas Merton Center, the Catholic Worker. Also, midwestern-socialist-baby-clothes-makers, “public non-violent activists with long, distinguished careers in public service, including teachers, union organizers and antiwar and community leaders.” Also, local union organizers who make efforts to , “build ties with trade unionists in other countries.”
Of course, you wouldn’t want to forget about, Quakers, student groups and peace groups. Or, heck, what about those, anti-fracking activists, uppity Marylanders, the Occupy movement and members of certain racial, ethnic and religious groups. Hey, a little bigoted stereotyping can be ever so helpful when you want to know where the “terrorists” are!
All those and more! Read all about it in the ACLU’s Spy Files.
The shadow government’s cooperating corporations are allowed to label activists as terrorists, too. Everyone from Wall Street bankers to energy industry polluters are welcomed into partnership with covert government agencies to share intelligence and instruct local authorities in how to handle citizen “terrorists” who engage in peaceful, non-violent protest. Some of these corporations hire heavily-armed paramilitary groups, some have even hired the disgraced Blackwater militia. Some corporations hire former counterintelligence officers to run PSYOPS:
AMY GOODMAN: Josh Fox, talk about how the industry deals with communities. You have an astounding section in Gasland II that has audio of the industry talking to each other, talking about how they’re using military, and talking about how they consider you and the people who are fighting back insurgents.
JOSH FOX: Well, this is audio that was recorded by a blogger named Texas Sharon, working for Earthworks, who was at an oil and gas industry conference where they were discussing all the bad PR that they were getting and how to counter it. And what they go on to do is explain how they’re using former PSYOPs officers, psychological operations officers, who were newly coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, to write local laws, to develop techniques to divide local landowners. That’s Matt Pitzarella from Range Resources talking about that. Chesapeake then goes on to talk about people who are fighting the gas industry, like landowners, like you just saw, Jeremiah Gee, as insurgents. And one of the PR spokespeople for Anadarko, another huge petroleum company, says that what they should actually do is download the counterinsurgency manual, which is a 300-odd-page book about, you know, how to deal with an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are terms of war, and it was very, very shocking to see that.
While some corporations are doin’ it for themselves, these corporations get a lot of help from the government’s covert community:
JOSH FOX: Well, Tom Ridge had a $900,000 contract to be the chief spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. At around the same time, we noticed that the Department of Homeland Security, which—of course, Tom Ridge was the first Department of Homeland Security chair—the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security started circulating bulletins to law enforcement that listed anti-fracking organizations as possible ecoterrorists, which had no basis in reality. There had never been anything at all violent. These were people doing democratic organizing and organization. But then it was discovered that the Department of Homeland Security was actually circulating those bulletins directly to the Marcellus Shale Coalition and to other gas industry lobbyists and stakeholders. This was a scandal in Pennsylvania, which ended up with the DHS head resigning.
So then, the enemy is whistleblowers, journalists and anybody who is unhappy with the corporate state and won’t shut their piehole. The purpose of the NSA surveillance of everyone and everything is not to keep you safe from terrorists, it is to protect the corporate state from an uprising of the people. They are expecting an uprising in response to an economic or environmental catastrophe and want to stay on top. If you are still sketchy on this concept, you could watch this interview with Chris Hedges.
Full Spectrum Dominance
The US government has for years now been developing the technological capacity to monitor and destroy at will anything on the planet – automatically. By the year 2020, the Earth will be surrounded by a triple canopy of drones at various heights to surveil us and deliver sudden death and destruction from above. Heck, they’ve even been working on creating the capbility to form a robot army, perhaps in case the human army, whose ranks come from the 99%, become unreliable in performing the tasks required by the 1%.
Why do they need this capacity? Why do the need to be able to watch and/or kill anything at any time?
This government assures us (citing evidence that they cannot reveal and all of the hints that they have given us turn out to be misleading at best) that their purpose is to keep us safe.
Their purpose is not just to keep you safe. The most reasonable inference based upon the known actions of these shadowy institutions is that their purpose is to intimidate, suppress and keep you under control:
It is simply absurd and dramatically counter-productive to carry out anti-terrorist intelligence by collecting all of the world’s electronic communications. This would be like a detective who was trying to solve a murder case by treating the entire world as suspects rather than focusing his or her efforts on those with a motive and those who were in some way connected to the victim. It would be like trying to treat a small tumor by exposing the entire body to continuous radiation therapy. It is simply ludicrous to toss out probable cause and institute improbable cause as the standard of governmental policy. You cannot reasonably connect the dots to identify the threads of pending terrorist plots if you are systematically collecting all the data there is to collect on everyone and everything: to do so means that you are purposely drowning yourself in oceans of irrelevant data. U.S. intelligence is daily collecting more than four times the data contained in the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. The government isn’t doing these illogical things because they are stupid. They are doing these things because their real purpose is not to detect terrorist incidents. Their real purpose is to control and repress whole populations. That is the only reason why you would collect all there is to know about everyone and everything: because you want to control and manipulate everyone and everything.