Posted by Brad @ 6:21 pm on May 22nd 2011

This is What You Need to Know About The American Surveillance State

I’ve been trying for the last few days to write a post outlining Jane Mayer’s article on the extent of the NSA’s domestic surveillance, what a monumental change it really has been (for those, like James, that just assume we’ve always surveilled everything in America so really things like warrantless wiretapping are nothing new – read it), and the normalization and even expectation of total government secrecy and total retaliation against whistleblowing that happened under Bush and accelerated under Obama. But there’s just nothing I can add, and no summation does it justice. There are just so many elements to it I want to pull out and highlight, but I realized that to do that would practically requiring reposting the whole thing. So really, just read it.

Few people have a precise knowledge of the size or scope of the N.S.A.’s domestic-surveillance powers. An agency spokesman declined to comment on how the agency “performs its mission,” but said that its activities are constitutional and subject to “comprehensive and rigorous” oversight. But Susan Landau, a former engineer at Sun Microsystems, and the author of a new book, “Surveillance or Security?,” notes that, in 2003, the government placed equipment capable of copying electronic communications at locations across America. These installations were made, she says, at “switching offices” that not only connect foreign and domestic communications but also handle purely domestic traffic. As a result, she surmises, the U.S. now has the capability to monitor domestic traffic on a huge scale. “Why was it done this way?” she asks. “One can come up with all sorts of nefarious reasons, but one doesn’t want to think that way about our government.”

Binney, for his part, believes that the agency now stores copies of all e-mails transmitted in America, in case the government wants to retrieve the details later. In the past few years, the N.S.A. has built enormous electronic-storage facilities in Texas and Utah. Binney says that an N.S.A. e-mail database can be searched with “dictionary selection,” in the manner of Google. After 9/11, he says, “General Hayden reassured everyone that the N.S.A. didn’t put out dragnets, and that was true. It had no need—it was getting every fish in the sea.”

If you read the article, you will understand who Binney is, and why that’s not just speculation. .

The fact is, we are living in a fundamentally different American than existed in 2000, or any time in our history.


  1. Who is employed in this sector and why aren’t they dragged into the street and taught a lesson?

    Comment by fred — 5/24/2011 @ 5:46 am

  2. It’s actually not really related that much to NSA leadership, frankly. If you read the article, the NSA ran itself – fairly vigilantly too – according to prevailing opinions of legality that had existed since its inception. It was only after getting not just a green light but a mandate from the Bush administration that all that was jettisoned – and, of course, now with Obama handing out both retroactive and preemptive immunities, effectively, concerning all domestic surveillance lawbreaking, this new formulation is here to stay – it has become embedded, probably irrevocably.

    In a lot of intelligence-military complex stuff, it really does come down to institutional culture, bureaucratic leadership, etc. in this case, however, the buck really does both stop at, and emanate from, the executive branch.

    So, in short, the guy you need to drag out into the street (in a purely metaphorical way!) is Obama.

    Comment by Brad — 5/24/2011 @ 1:47 pm

  3. I’m cool with that.

    Comment by fred — 6/2/2011 @ 5:37 pm

  4. I’m not sure how I missed this the first time around but thanks for the comment to bring it to my attention.

    I must do some mulling.

    Comment by Cameron — 6/3/2011 @ 1:46 am

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