Monday, June 10, 2013

Musings from the total surveillance society

Since the government won't tell us what they are doing with the records of all the phone numbers we call (from where, at what time, etc.) or the trail of all our internet doings (blogs, YouTube, gmail, Facebook, etc.), I don't feel bound by the usual standards I apply here -- by an obligation to try to ground my speculations in some evidence. That's what they get for refusing to level with the people who involuntarily pay the bills for this stuff.

What follows is blowing smoke out my ass, though I suspect it captures some truths.

The government considers all of cyberspace a theatre of war, a war in which we are actively engaged. Actually, we know that's how they view it. They apparently combined with the Israelis to unleash a damaging computer worm to attack Iran's nuclear efforts. Who knows what else they are cooking up?

What if collecting everything we do in the ether really has little or nothing to do "preventing terrorism"? Any successes they've had are "classified" -- sorry, unless you put up some evidence, that's a synonym for "not credible."

What if the data collection activities are only an excuse for the development of cyber war capacity? Maybe we're all part of some grand war games exercise. Could be. In World War II, my mother was part of a civil aviation "warning system" that recruited housewives to stand in fields and log any planes they saw. It was pretty unlikely that Germans or Japanese would be flying over the shores of Lake Erie, but they "did their bit" for the war. She came to suspect they were training army recruits in using a newfangled technology called "radar" -- the apprentice soldiers' observations were compared with those of the human observers.

I retain the old fashioned idea that the citizens of a democracy ought to have some say in whether they are fighting a war; if this is really what is going on here, we need to demand a more active role than being guinea pigs for security nerds.

Maybe the government works so diligently to keep us scared shitless of terrorism, not only because it makes us pliable, but because they personally are scared shitless. Hear me out. Unless some America-hating crackpots get ahold of nuclear weapons, nothing some terrorists can do here presents an existential threat to the nation. Seriously. The 9/11 attacks were an atrocious crime -- 3000 dead amid televised images of destruction made for a terrible toll. But the damage to people and buildings in New York and Washington barely caused a hiccup in the national economy or the fabric of life. The damage from 9/11 we did to ourselves through proliferating security theater and stupid, destructive, expensive wars on people who had nothing to do with the crimes.

Terrorism, however dramatic and frightening, cannot overthrow this country.

Preventing terrorist attacks is worthy work. But incidents on the Boston Marathon scale -- 3 dead, hundreds badly injured -- are far more likely than another 9/11. And we're just beginning to realize that. This country is no stranger to violence, even violence involving multiple victims. Why, as the President defended NSA snooping on Saturday, a few miles down the road a gun man was killing five victims, probably "innocent" victims. That sort of thing is part of who we are. In 2010, 11,000 people in this country were murdered with guns -- but individual gun ownership is held by many to be an inviolable Constitutional right.

Politicians in office remain terrified that some minor terrorist event will destroy their tenure. The White House certainly acted that way after the Fort Hood shootings, a trauma that has passed out of national memory (except perhaps among immediate survivors and relatives of victims.) Ditto their scurrying around with quart-size clear ziplock bags after the Undiebomber.

In addition to enjoying the enhanced authority that terror of terrorism gives them, I wonder if our pols know something that is obvious if one bothers to think about it: they really are targets for terrorism. That is, if most of us got blown up by some hating nutcase, we'd just be unlucky collateral damage -- terrorists don't much care who they kill so long as the deed gets attention. But politicians (and their loved ones) are actual targets. That's not nice to have to live with.

Dianne Feinstein has always been an authoritarian. This item is not just me blowing smoke. When Dianne defends secrecy and lack of accountability in government (like this), she's in her natural element. Take it from this San Franciscan who remembers her as mayor, she's always governed from the stance that she knew best and we should all just shut up and let her make the decisions. I do not trust her for a minute on matters of civil liberties or democracy. She hates all those impediments to doing as she thinks would be good for the proles.

It's a sad pass we've come to. I'll give the last word for now to the whistleblower, Mr. Snowdon, who leaked the bad news: he says he acted because NSA data collection is

an existential threat to democracy.


Michael Strickland said...

The always authoritarian Senator Feinstein has two n's in her first name, so let's give the villain her properly spelled due. Heard her once at some "student leaders of the future" event at the St. Francis Hotel where she fondly recalled her early days working with parole boards and getting to go on ride-alongs with the police. She's ALWAYS worshiped law enforcement, even when the SF Police Department was beating the crap out of her mayoral gay aide during one of their fag-bashing periods.

janinsanfran said...

Thanks Mike for the correction. Fixed. Always found her repulsive, even when I hoped not to.

Rain Trueax said...

What if their real fear is a dirty bomb in the middle of Manhattan or SF? What if they don't want to tell us what keeps them up nights? I think most people know that a suitcase nuke can only take out a few blocks and make them uninhabitable but if that's the center of a major city, it changes its damage quotient. Pretty well they know it could be brought across the border with Mexico if someone is so inclined. I don't know that looking at our phone records or Internet would catch that since it could be done verbally for the planning or through code. If anyone plotting such an attack was planning to use the Internet, they probably won't be now...

What still gets me about this is who among us didn't already think such was monitored whenever the gov't wanted to do so? Or a corporation...

Frankly what concerns me the most is that someone with three months for this contractor, someone without a high school diploma, who had dropped out of military training with two broken legs, that that person could rise so high that they could access any info they wanted. Who the heck are the CIA and these guys hiring?

Ken Hoop said...

Let's be frank without oversimplifying. If the United States stayed out of the Middle East and adopted a policy of strict neutrality, not only would oil be sold to us at market prices, but the animus toward us and revenge attacks would decline dramatically.

As a dual loyalist, Feinstein wouldn't like it, as Armageddon-desiring cultists, some "Christian (sic) Zionists" wouldn't like it,
and oiligarchs and war profiteers,
would look askance also.

But the remaining 99% of Americans wouldn't suffer a penny or an attack.
Maybe it's time they put aside right-left petty disagreements and united to replace the corrupt Elite
political class and dismantle the Police State.

Rain Trueax said...

Ken, so we would look the other way if they attacked Israel? Would we continue to arm Israel as we have or stop that? I think it's about more than oil over there. Religion is still a big deal to a lot of people. We might not get personal terrorist attacks (maybe), but could we really look the other way as was done during the Holocaust and that didn't serve to protect the countries that did it long term. I think by now that it's so complex and the idea of conquest so engrained in human nature that I don't know if we can totally stop it by pacifism-- not to mention all that they now blame us for thanks to these two wars.

janinsanfran said...

Ken -- I'm not going to go with calling Feinstein a "dual loyalist." Historically, that sort of thing has lead to bad, lethal, outcomes. I am perfectly willing to say that she, along with almost every single member of Congress, sometimes seems more solicitous of the interests of Israel than of those of most of us in the United States.

On the other hand, sadly, I think the US is fully capable of arrogant, imperial behavior without Israeli inspiration. The interplay of impetuses to national evil acts is complicated ...

Rain: I know terrorists could cause awful misery and death should they have a big success. But they cannot defeat this country; the scale of the threat is simply not great enough to justify a secret enterprise employing 800,000 people with "security clearances" that the people of the country must not be allowed to know about or evaluate.

Rain Trueax said...

Jan, it was overseen by Congress and the courts. There is a lot we as citizens don't get to oversee. We have a representative government and when we don't trust the ones we hire to do the work, when we believe they have failed us, we should look for new candidates.

Rain Trueax said...

and just to be clear, you weren't saying there are 800,000 employees directly working on spying, i am assuming. I think that is just the number in 'sensitive' positions which can be border patrol, a lot of things. Politico had something on it recently. Americans could go totally paranoid on something that likely doesn't impact any of them but it's another surge of conspiracy and us against them talk. Not to say conspiracies never exist... but right now this doesn't strike me as reaching that level. It's not new info (yet) other than that they let someone with so little experience get to the highest levels of security in the contracting firms. Makes me wonder on that one.

janinsanfran said...

Rain -- I looked up the "security" clearances. Apparently there are about 4.5 million -- of whom about 475,000 are "top secret." The halls of the government are swarming with "code clerks" who have access to data that the rest of us are not even allowed to know exists.

This does not make me feel secure.

Programs we are not allowed to know about do not make me feel more secure -- absolute power, even if covered by some kind of fig leaf of legality (that we cannot inspect) still corrupts absolutely.

Rain Trueax said...

But it's not absolute in terms of the federal government as there is oversight. (although this young man said he had absolute power and so by giving that to him, they made a big mistake and not just because he leaked but because he became godlike for how he saw that and his power-- without real strength behind it). Obama did go to Congress with explaining it many times and the Courts had to oversee it. Politico had this court hears sensitive jobs fight on the numbers and what that meant.

I think for people like you who are willing to have a few terrorist hits in return for no surveillance, there just has to be an effort to elect those who see it likewise.

My feeling on this, from talking to friends, reading online is that the far right and far left both hate the whole idea (and Obama currently) and would vote against any kind of surveillance if they can. The middle doesn't agree. That pretty well splits the country into thirds. Be interesting to see how that turns out.

Hattie said...

I really think it's the elites who are scared. Why should we be? Our lives are ruled by all kinds of arbitrary restrictions and dangers anyway, so we might as well relax.
What about the latest shoot 'em up in Santa Monica? But don't take our guns away, right?
Simply, if the NRA or any other spy agency wants to snoop on me or anyone else, they should go to court, show probable cause, and get a warrant. Or do we accept Stasi-style surveillance?
I for one refuse to be intimidated. And whatever freedom I have I will defend.

Hattie said...

Do I mean NRA? Sorry about that!

Rain Trueax said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rain Trueax said...

The latest shooting in Santa Monica involved mental illness once again. Do we value our privacy and want to protect our records in terms of being able to buy guns or are we willing to give up some privacy to be sure mentally ill people, who have been treated and it's a known risk, can not still buy the level of weaponry he did? Now he may have had someone else doing it but as it stands nobody would stop him-- privacydontchaknow. (I had to delete this post because it was missing a not which changed its whole meaning)

Ken Hoop said...


I can see you've bought into the Holocaust as construct that allows Israel to practise worse apartheid than did South Africa--according to Bishop Tutu, and to steal, by now, so much Palestinian land as to make a two state solution impossible. Norman Finklestein instructs on this phenomenon.

As for the events of WW2, read (Jewish) Princeton Univ. Prof Arno Mayer's "Why Did The Heavens Not Darken? " Demands for unconditional surrender caused the bulk of the casualties which were suffered at the end of the war.
Imperialist liberal-interventionism attitudes play into the hands of Obama's two new appointments. It is not for the United States to (failingly try) ensure Afghani women have equal rights by our standards either.

As a matter of fact some oil lobbyists, recognizing the support Israel gets makes continuing oil
profits more difficult for American oppose the one-sided ownership of Congress exhibited by Congress.

You ask if we would continue to arm
Israel if they attacked it. The United States will continue to arm
and fight for Israel until our economy collapses and-or our military overstretch prevents it.
Such is the nature of who dominates our political class.

As for historic "anti-semitism"
read Professor Israel Shahak's books and you and Jan will get a broader perspective.

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