Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Only Thing You Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

Things are cooking up on the political side again. There is quite a buzz that Karl Rove is to be indicted tomorrow. And then there's the ongoing power struggle between the administration and almost everybody else as to the level of secrecy and invasion of citizen's lives that should be allowed in this nation that has been for some time two buttons from annihilation but is now forever changed by 19 Arabs with box cutters.

This week we've had a double whammy on this front. First, this:

WASHINGTON, May 10 — An investigation by the Justice Department ethics office into the conduct of department lawyers who approved the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program has been closed because investigators were denied security clearances, according to a letter sent to Congress on Wednesday.

Justice was thusly trumped in America yesterday. "With Liberty and Justice for all" goes the line. One down.

And then one to go:

"We're not mining or trolling though the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans," Bush said before departing Washington to give a commencement address in Mississippi. Collection of data about communications inside the U.S. is a part of efforts to prevent another terrorist attack.

Bush's made the unscheduled remarks after USA Today reported that said AT&T Inc., BellSouth Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. secretly provided the phone records of millions of Americans to the National Security Agency. The agency, which collects and interprets electronic intelligence, has compiled a massive database with the information, the newspaper reported.

A massive database. It is sensible to many that we begin to take these steps. A small price to pay for our security, goes the mantra.

That eternal optimist, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, sums up the defense with, "... is not a warrantless wiretapping of the American people. I don't think this action is nearly as troublesome as being made out here, because they are not tapping our phones." So, what are they doing?

According to Fox News, it's just a little Social Network Analysis. Algorithms search for patterns of interactivity to pick up signs of a cell structure. Okay, but then the same Fox article goes on to say:

Then there are more creative ways of getting off the grid. The Madrid train bombings case has revealed that the plotters communicated by sharing one e-mail account and saving messages to each other as drafts that, since they were never sent, didn't traverse the Internet as regular e-mail messages would.

Hard to believe they would be caught up with by phone records, isn't it? Yet blowhards will go on about how this "revelation" by the USA Today has jeopardized national security.

This has little to do with terrorists. What the administration is up to, by executive order, is continuing the building of the infamous Total Information Awareness program, which Congress, led by my own Senator Russ Feingold, halted in 2003. This program would track your phone, internet, purchasing, toll booth activity, banking ... well, you get the picture. Congress said stop. Bush has said, "Make me."

There was a made-for-TV movie I saw a long time ago, I'm guessing in the late 70s. The plot is set in a not-to-distant future world where having a second child had been forbidden, but a couple had decided to keep theirs. The immediate problem was that the record of the pregnancy, along with all medical records, was already in the national security database. They decided to run. The problem was that this was a cashless society. The government/bank pulled their account.

Many will defend database gathering by the NSA with the assumption that since they have nothing to hide, they don't have to fear such activity. It's remarkable, this degree of trust in a government they otherwise scorn day in and day out. It's not a stretch to imagine the merger of Total Information Awareness with a cashless society, we rush headlong toward both. And if the NSA goofs? Someone's dead in the water. Your ATT/phone use/internet access/national ID/cash station/toll booth/passport/subway/air terminal/bus terminal/train station access card is going to get you nowhere

And if one sends a lawyer to straighten things out? Sorry, not without a security clearance.


At 1:31 PM, Blogger Bullock said...

This NSA data gathering is another part of Bush the Lessir's paranoid act. Dubya's getting to be more like Nixon all the time. Must run in the GOP party genes.
But seriously, this crap has gone on long enough. I always felt a certain amount of state secrets and information gathering were justified, always subject to congressional or other high-up scutiny, in a series of checks and balances, just like any other government agency. When that transparency--the new catch-all buzzword--is eliminated or compromised, then we should begin to ask what is going on.
Spy agencies make mistakes, for sure. What good was made of the dossier created on John Lennon's civil disobience in the 70's? And now, a national database? I looked up your reference to that social networking system. One of the applications of that system was to track a network of farm animals to analyze how disease is spread from cow to cow, from Bessie to Nessie.Sort of like that TV show 'Numbers', with the backwards B.This stuff is good for solving crimes and statistical anomolies. Not whether I spoke at a transportation board meeting opposing a tollroad extension through a sensitive riparian area or wrote to my congressman about a salmon restoration bill, both of which would potentially show up as recent activity on my " database/dossier".

Maybe Orwell had it right. From Animal Farm to 1984, we need to confront Big Brother right now, before it is too late.

At 12:22 AM, Blogger sequoit said...

I think A Clockwork Orange was closer


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