Monday, June 24, 2013

Why the NSA Snooping?

There has been quite a bit of backlash against the NSA's unprecedented data collection on American citizens. Unfortunately, there is little hope that Congress will reign in the NSA because its activities have the full support of the political and corporate elite--the ruling class. In fact, we have seen a rare "circling the wagons" from both sides of the aisle in Congress, as well as major figures in the media.

Angelo M. Codevilla writes about the ruling class consensus on domestic spying. After summarizing and debunking the arguments in favor of the domestic surveillance program, including its inability to actually obtain useful information from communications between sophisticated users, he writes:

The fundamental reason [the government engages in such spying] however is the US government’s reluctance to make and stand behind judgments about who, specifically, may be legitimate targets of investigation. If collection is universal, the collectors don’t have to explain to others (or even to themselves) why they are targeting this person or group and not another. Possessing the data in secret, they can then decide in secret who they are really interested in. That flight from responsibility is also why, in 1978, the intelligence agencies pressed Congress to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), under which the agencies submit their requests for detailed targeting, in secret, to a court that decides ex parte and in secret.
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It is not speculation to expect that these powers will be used for what they are indeed useful. To recapitulate: “Constant Informant” can find patterns of communication between people who are not trying to mask them, while PRISM makes everyone’s cyber activity accessible. This allows the US government to pick and choose and build cases for any reason against any person on whom it has such data. From Obama to Rove, our ruling class denies any intention of doing that. They cite the fact that focusing all that data onto on individuals is subject to approval by the FISA court.

But that court acts not just in secret, but ex parte – hearing only one side. FISA was intended to be a rubber stamp, and has been one. To anyone’s knowledge, it has never turned down any of the government’s thousands of applications. It will continue to be a rubber stamp because there are no judicial criteria for what is and is not a legitimate national security concern.

The relevant question about the uses of the NSA programs, then, is simply “against whom, in the broad American public, is the US government likely to turn its animus? Alas, the ruling class has shown itself all too able to treat domestic opponents as public enemies. But that is another story.
 Yes. That, currently, is the story of the IRS and EPA targeting conservatives and other non-politically correct groups.

However, there are entrenched bureaucratic and commercial  interests supporting internet surveillance and cyberwarfare, as explained in great detail in this article from Wired Magazine entitled "The Secret War." It is a lengthy article (in fact, I have not had the opportunity to read the whole thing) but provides insights into the domain controlled by General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency; chief of the Central Security Service; and commander of the US Cyber Command.

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