Thursday, June 6, 2013


The National Security Agency campus in Ft. Meade, Maryland




(Thursday June 6, 2013 Ft. Meade, Maryland)  The tinted reflective glass that clads the building of the National Security Agency (NSA) building are the most visible occluding layer of a larger set of protections that keep the ultra-secret work of this agency from the public.  By its defining mission when it was first established and by numerous presidential directives and legislative maneuvers, it has long been the “house of secrets”.  What has been known is that the NSA owns and operates the most advanced computer hardware and software in the world and its capabilities have long been rumored to be “God-like”.  As of yesterday a layer of that highly guarded secrecy was rudely slipped off when a report in The Guardian newspaper revealed that the NSA has been collecting “metadata” from one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, Verizon.  The reaction is Washington DC has been oddly mixed with some Democrats supporting the data sharing efforts while many usually hawkish Republicans see it as a tremendous infringement on the most basic of our Constitutional rights.

As has by now been widely reported by media outlets nationwide, this program has been up and running since 2006 and was approved by Congressional National Security Committee’s and strongly advocated by the Cheney/Bush administration.  This revelation comes at a time when Americans seem to have grown weary of the “war on terror” and President Obama has recently announced his alterations to and recalibrating of this country’s efforts to defend itself against terrorism.  To many citizens the uncovering of this program is proof positive that in the name of the war on terror many of our most basic and valued rights to privacy have been obliterated.  Today, 12 years after the broad sweeping bundle of legislation collectively known as The Patriot Act was quickly enacted in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, profound questions remain unanswered regarding the balance between National Security, anti-terrorism and intelligence gathering initiatives and our rights as America citizens to be free from what appear to be Orwellian tactics restricting our rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and due process under the law.


Almost all Americans alive today can recall vividly the images of September 11, 2001 and how they felt.  In those shaky days immediately following and the subsequent weeks thereafter, most Americans seemed to share the common thought that our government must do whatever it takes to avoid another terrorist attack on our soil.  We wanted revenge, expressed a virulent strain of retribution and supported whatever the Cheney/Bush administration told us they needed to do to protect us.  A catastrophic event of the magnitude of 9-11-01 was for  brief moment in our history provided a  galvanizing, uniting degree of support for whatever means needed to be employed to protect us and kill or capture those who perpetrated the unprecedented attack on our soil.  Little did we realize that such blanket acceptance of the government’s actions was the first in a longer series of deals with the devil we would sign.  Many of the sanctions imposed in various sectors of our lives, announced as temporary have now become permanent if not perpetual.  As former NSA whistle-blower Thomas Drake told Salon Magazine today, ‘…total, blanket surveillance is “a cancer on the body politic” that will be very hard to remove indeed.’ 

Gus Hunt, the Chief Technical Officer for the CIA told a New York audience in a speech earlier this years that, “The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time … Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.”  In essence Hunt admitted that the data collection program which is no doubt not limited to Verizon’s cooperation with the NSA, has been going on for a long time and will likely not, if ever end.  Indeed George Orwell has proven to be eerily prophetic.  But, the question obvious dangles just above the details of the debate, is such metadata collection necessary for our national security?  One might be surprised by the wide range of answers to this questions and where they are coming from.


Supporters of the program such as Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein of California, who claims she has been aware of the programs existence since 2006, has called it a “critical tool” is our efforts to secure the country from terrorism.  She has some bipartisan colleagues sharing her view.  Republican opponents in both the House and Senate have been highly critical of the program as has the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) an atypical ally of Republicans.  There is sufficient controversy to go around with members from both sides of the political divide finding validation of some of their own core beliefs.  Fundamentally, no matter how one perceives it, this program and some of the other covert intelligence gathering methods in use today do present as unambiguous assaults on the 4th Amendment.

Not too long ago it was necessary for a government law enforcement of intelligence agency to make a request from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court to conduct narrowly defined data accumulation from a specific source or sources.   Legal experts and scholars well versed in Constitutional and FISA law have been hard pressed to say that the program does not infringe on our right to privacy or the 14th Amendments assurance of due process.  Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley stated in a news release earlier today, “This bulk data collection is being done under interpretations of the law that have been kept secret from the public. Significant FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court opinions that determine the scope of our laws should be declassified.”  What is obvious by now is that this will now become a major issue in political discourse and will not quickly drift away as so many crises, real, imagined and implied, tend to in Washington DC.


Just to be clear about exactly what Verizon and other telecoms have been turning over to the NSA, we must look at what metadata is.  Metadata, simply put, is the same information that appears itemized on our phone bills.  It lists numbers called, duration of call and not much more than that.  The federal government is still required to make an appeal to the FISA Court if they intend to wiretap – secretly monitor and record – individual’s phone calls.  As the system the NSA is using now, there is no way to record the hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of phone calls originating in and received in the United States.


A leaked NSA training Power Point slide illustrating the basic template of PRISM

In a late breaking development tonight, The Guardian and Washington Post are reporting that the metadata operation is just one among many.  In an operation code named “PRISM”, the NSA has secured the cooperation of the seven largest Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) to tap directly into their main “central” servers.  This is an ominously graver concern than the metadata sharing.  By tapping into the servers of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Apple, and Skype, the NSA has virtually unlimited access to every computer in the Country, if not the world.  The data collected in this fashion consists of everything from search histories, key words, downloads, uploads, e-mails; literally every key stroke of ever user is readily accessible to the federal government via the PRISM operation.  This is of far greater concern for all Americans in that it is essentially a massive cyber-vacuuming effort that arbitrarily collects data about innocent Americans and stores it for later use.  The incomprehensibly huge database the NSA and FBI are amassing represent the single largest collection of digital data ever performed, perhaps even, ever imagined by the average citizen. The Top Secret deals these ISP’s struck with the federal intelligence gathering and law enforcement agencies are so broad and beyond the pale of “reasonability” that there are sure to be some very contentious legal actions taken by citizens, privacy advocacy groups and perhaps even massive class actions.  Even the most ardent supporters of PRISM in the abstract seem outraged by it in reality.  What are Americans to think as these revelations of their government’s massive data collection operations have literally culled information, personal information, about everyone who uses a personal computer, to say nothing of the large-scale business, financial and private networks?  AS one former NSA official put it, “We are all ‘persons of interest’ now.”


William Binney worked for the NSA for 40 years but resigned after 9-11-01 over his disagreement with what he saw to be profound, dangerous incursions into the personal lives of innocent Americans.  Speaking on the Democracy Now radio program today he said, "NSA has been doing all this stuff all along, and it's been all these companies, not just one".  He continued, "They're just continuing the collection of this data on all U.S. citizens." 

For all law abiding citizens who have lived their lives believing our Constitution really meant something and afforded protection from such clandestine invasive, intrusive forays into their personal lives, this is a watershed moment.  We all have been violated, seriously violated and, as the saying goes, once the cat is out of the bag it is not easily put back in.

For all the other attacks on our personal right and privileges that have become known in the last dozen years or so, this is the one that might actually serve as “the tipping point”; this is the one that may initiate some very powerful public protest and resistance.  This is the one that impacts us all on a level that none of the other recent “scandals” have or could.

In a way we have been duped, we have been grossly mislead and lied to.  We have become accustomed to being lied to in the years since Viet Nam, Watergate and all the other “gates”.  But this we cannot allow to go unprotested, this we cannot allow to continue.  This is the cause they may unite a broad coalition of responsible citizens to take action.  If this doesn’t nothing will and, once a people lose the passion for the fight, the fight is already lost.


Copyright The Brooding Cynyx 2013 © All Rights Reserved

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