Posted by Brad @ 5:46 pm on November 1st 2013

The NSA and the Clear Picture We Have of Motives and Intent

Im gonna talk, from the heart, so that you know what were talking about here, from an NSA perspective, is what the nation needs to know and hear, he said. How did we end up here? 9/11. Two-thousand nine-hundred and ninety-six people were killed on 9/11. We all distinctly remember that. What I remember most is those firemen running up the stairs to save people, and then lose their lives.

Keith Alexander testifying

He suggested the outrage and surprise expressed by representatives of allies in recent days was naive or disingenuous and reminded him of a line from the movie “Casablanca.”

“‘My God, there’s gambling going on here?’ It’s the same kind of thing,” he said.

Jack Clapper testifying

A lot of stuff has been leaking or being straight up said out loud about the NSA’s surveillance enterprise in the last two weeks. From the straight up admission that we feel no compunction about tapping Angela Merkel’s cell phone to back-and-forths about whether Obama even knows about that kind of stuff or whether the NSA even feels an obligation to tell him, to reports hotly denied that we as a matter of course surveil any foreign communication we feel like at any time for any cause (hotly denied but with an added “but you know even if we did F you”) to continued leaks about the sheer scope and scale of domestic surveillance which is, apparently, total, as the latest leak today notes that the NSA has essentially hacked Google and Yahoo and directed all their data straight to For Meade, and even, finally, continued assertions from guys like Keith Alexander to David Cameron that the only real problem here is journalism, which really probably ought to be outlawed as it relates to the NSA or the international surveillance state.

One can quibble with any number of discrete issues raised about the NSA since Snowden – one can make waving hand gestures about diplomatic espionage being par for the course (although what the hell you’d hope to learn from Angela Merkel’s texts, I have no idea), about the bigger debate about security vs. privacy, about the efficacy of data collection in the digital age, whatever. But here is the thing that strikes me.

Keith Alexander, in one breath, says that we need all these efforts because 911 – and in general, proponents of them argue about their necessity in the fight against terrorism.

And in the other breath, when it comes to using those same powers and that same agency to tap the German chancellor’s cell phone, or to divert entire email accounts to a data collection agency, the answer is “whatever man – why the fuck not?” or “smiley face“.

The truth of the matter, I think, is that the NSA doesn’t particularly know or care why it’s doing any of this stuff – or at least insofar as it does it does so in some Alexander-esque unspecific abstract way (“Because, 911”) rather than any – ANY – specific evaluation of threat, resources, legality, and efficacy. The truth of the matter is that our surveillance state is, at this point, self-justifying. It does these things simply because it can, and grandfathers in justification (when it even cares or bothers to) only to shut up external parties. And its overseers, in so far as there are any – from the President to Congress – are merely dogs to throw bones to, or guys to write blank checks for. They are not in meaningful control, even if they wanted to be – which they don’t, particularly.

The goal is total information awareness. And it’s not just that they don’t take privacy seriously – I believe they don’t even consider privacy at all. It’s a moot point, if it was a point at all. This is not a legal or values debate to the people setting or executing against goals. This is an engineering problem to be solved. I honestly believe that the question of “should” we do this or that probably doesn’t even come up, except as a question of resources (and even then, is more a question of “how”). It’s all “can”. And frankly I’m not even sure if terrorism is really anything more than a side benefit at this point.

In other words, it is starting to seem for all the world like our surveillance state has nearly ceased being driven by specific motives or even cost-benefit analysis at all, and has simply become. It exists for its own inertia. And grows…and grows…

1 Comment »

  1. Republicans would never trust the man who said, “If you like your health plan, you can keep it” with the sensitive data of hundreds of millions of presumptively innocent citizens. Right?

    Comment by Rojas — 11/2/2013 @ 6:13 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.