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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Is the NSA using blackmail against American politicians?

California U.S. Sen Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, recently penned an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal defending the National Security Administration's habit of collecting telephone calls records for everyone in America. Her statement that "The NSA call-records program is working and contributing to our safety. It is legal and it is subject to strict oversight and thorough judicial review" struck me as an obvious lie that hardly needs refuting in the light of the all of the news coverage that's been published in the last few months, but if you want to read a rebuttal, check out Hamilton Nolan at Gawker and Julian Sanchez at Cato. (Sanchez is less strident than Nolan but in my mind is more persuasive.)

A more interesting question is why Feinstein would bother to publish a piece that contains what many of us would regard as obvious untruths. Here is an interesting conspiracy theory: the NSA is using blackmail to force officials to justify NSA programs. As Reason's J.D. Tuccille points out, the suggestion is not as ridiculous and "out there" as it might seem.


Tristan said...

Its known that MI5 had left wing politicians under surveillance in the 70s (and probably before). To the extent that some agents believed Prime Minister Harold Wilson was a Soviet spy...

The very nature of such organisations makes them likely to monitor anyone who might seek to reduce their power as well (obviously their job is to protect the state, and any harm to them could be harm to the state etc).

The other mechanism for ensuring support is secret briefings. Security and intelligence services routinely seek to bolster their standing with briefings of those in power which probably exaggerate their effectiveness and potential threats. This also plays into our natural desire to be seen as special - now they get these secret briefings telling them how the world really is...

We see this in the UK when civil libertarians get into government - they often switch to supporting abuses as they are told they are required to keep us safe etc.

michael said...

Cogent, well-informed points by Tristan.

I also think it's not much of a stretch to think J.D. Tuccille has a valid point.

But with regard to Feinstein, she was ALWAYS a goodie-good jewish girl, raised in catholic schools and laffed at as unbelievably square and authoritarian during her days in San Francisco politics. Dan White considered her a friend. It's not hard for me to think her personality makeup predisposed her to believe every scare story the NSA/Pentagon/All-Spook, Inc would float out to her.

Guys like Obama may fit this model of "blackmail" better than Feinstein. But by now, Obama (probably) really believes all their shit.

tony smyth said...

RAW prefigured most of this decades ago - spies spying on spies, total lack of trust etc. Hence the need for even more surveillance. I think the Chinese Gov have one million policing their internet, and the States I seem to remember about 230,000. We the people .... yeh RIGHT.

michael said...

I'm waiting for the first story to break of one group of spies spying on another group. Here's RAW in the 1970s, seemingly predicting where we're headed:

"As the national security paradigm approaches (or attempts to approach) the idea infinite regress of spies-spying-on-spies-spying-on-spies, etc, the resultant trepidation causes all persons to hide anything they know (if it differs from the official reality), not only from their superiors, but from peers and inferiors as well. _Anybody_, after all, might be part of the nth-degree secret police. 'One can't be too careful these days.' The burden of nescience becomes omnipresent. More and more of reality becomes unspeakable."
-"Celine's Laws"

gacord said...

Ah, Eris bless good ole Hagbard.