Saturday, January 18, 2014
Obama & Bill Maher: Mental Captives of the NSA - Security State
"Obama’s remarks about the importance of privacy obscured that he has not closed any door on the world’s most powerful surveillance agency." - Spencer Ackerman, UK Guardian, today
Well, the feedback is now in, after Obama's NSA speech yesterday, and as Anthony Romero of the ACLU put it:
Today the president proposed a handful of incremental reforms, but unfortunately he missed this opportunity to stop all forms of bulk collection of innocent Americans’ data.
Obama's incremental reforms include: 1) NSA will no longer hold Americans' phone records - though it will take months or years to accomplish (oh, and the gov't can still access your records if it needs to); 2) there will be "new restrictions" on spying on our allies, although a loophole is allowed (i.e. dependent on the definition of "close ally" and also the electronic spying can be done if a higher authority approves it); 3) there will be a "privacy advocate" or panel to appear before the "special" court in cases where a mass surveillance order are pending. The advocate/s would presumably argue robustly to "lay off" bulk collection in certain cases. It's a bit of an advance considering that previously no public input was permitted as to who would be included in NSA bulk surveillance.
Oh, last but not least, Obama is promising privacy protection for foreign citizens of Europe etc., who can now expect their emails will no longer be logged, or their Twitter messages, Facebook pages. Excuse me, let me back up: There won't be any such spying "unless there is a compelling national security purpose for the United States."
While these give a nod to civil libertarians, the 8 ton "elephant" in the room (concealed by a lot of fulsome privacy rhetoric) remains bulk collection of metadata, which represents the most grievous violation of the 4th amendment. (See my previous post) Thus, Obama punted on what would have been the most significant advance and the real indicator that he respects the 4th. Meanwhile, he has continued his dismissive tone toward Snowden, noting that the whistleblower's (Obama obviously doesn't believe he's one) disclosures have harmed U.S national security. This despite the fact Obama wouldn't have even had to present a nominal appearance of civil liberties defense had Snowden not done what he did.
Indeed, mounting a full-throated defense of the NSA, Obama actually said:
"They're not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls, or read your emails. We cannot unilaterally disarm out intelligence agencies."
Of course, no one is asking him to do that. What we are insisting on is that we revert back to the original surveillance standards under the 1978 FISA law, which required specific warrants issued and out in the open, vetted by open courts, not secret rubber-stampers. From this, it's clear either Obama doesn't get it or he doesn't want to, or he's a mental -psychological captive of the security statists.
To reinforce my point, Obama did not once mention that even judges on the FISA-"Redux" courts (redone after a pitiful congress made legal Bush's original warrantless wiretaps) have found the NSA has consistently and repeatedly overstepped its bounds. Hell, even the original authors of the Patriot Act (Sens. Jim Sensenbrenner and Patrick Leahy) have said so!
However, as I noted in my last blog post, Obama can perhaps be forgiven, certainly if he's an unwilling mental captive. He surely knows how the security state thwarted the administrations of Eisenhower and Kennedy using nefarious tricks. In the case of Ike it was the 1960 Big Four Summit, blown up by the U-2 incident contrived by Richard Bissell and the CIA. In Kennedy's case, it was the S. Vietnam coup and overthrow of the Diems, engineered by the CIA (unknown to JFK) cutting off all funds from the Commodity Import Aid Program. (For much more on this, see James Douglass': JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters.)
In effect, Obama knows he only has three years of his 2nd term left. He wants to leave with some kind of a legacy, especially if the Affordable Care Act meets expectations. What he doesn't need, and certainly fears, is the security state undermining him - possibly by launching a bogus terror attack, along the lines of the 'Operation Northwoods" template. If you don't know what Northwoods is, you need to google it!
So therefore giving them what they want is in his own best interests, to at least have a good chance of his presidency ending on a solid upbeat note.
As for Bill Maher, after his HBO show ('REAL TIME') last night - namely the interview with Glenn Greenwood (who published a series of articles on Edward Snowden's released files in the UK Guardian) I must include him as a mental captive of the security state as well. I refer to his reactions to specific Snowden statements as "bat shit crazy" - even after Greenwald corrected him and noted that HIS reactions to Snowden's statements as "bat shit crazy" were what was bat shit crazy.
But then, what can we expect of a guy who, in his Nov. 22 show, claimed that any conspiracy thinking was in the same category as god belief. Now, THAT is bat shit crazy! (In my Nov. 23rd blog post : 'What Have We Learned This Past Week', I skewered Bill's take, as well as that of his guest, Katty Kay.)
Bill at one point asked Glenn Greenwald:
"Wouldn't you agree that every time Edward Snowden opens his mouth he says something completely bat shit nuts. He reminds me a lot of Ron Paul. I agree with what he says, I nod along, then he says something totally batshit."
When Greenwald pressed for specific examples, Maher replied that Snowden said:
"These programs were never about terrorism they were about social control and diplomatic manipulation."
Maher adding: "That's crazy. They were about stopping terrorists."
He also gave another Snowden quote:
"They can use this material to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you've ever made and find every friend you've ever discussed something with."
Then asked Greenwald, 'This is nuts, right?'
To which Greenwald replied:
"No, Bill, what's nuts is the fact that you think that's nuts. Let me explain why. A lot of the stories we've reported have nothing to do with terrorism. They're about spying on economic summits in Latin America, oil companies in Brazil, democratically elected leaders of our closest allies who have nothing to do with terrorism. His point is that, of course, some of this is directed at terrorism, but this massive system that's been built, the huge bulk of it, has nothing to do with national security. It has to to do with the reasons why the people in political power always want to surveil various populations because it does give them greater power.
As for slowing down the internet, that comes right from documents that we've published, because the NSA collects everything and then stores it for a long enough time so that in their words, it 'slows down the internet' so they can go back at any time and see your entire history. Where you browsed, what kind of search terms you entered, to whom you've been speaking or emailing, I mean look, he's a 29-year old who's not a trained politician. He doesn't have aides whispering in his ear- what he should say, he's not adept at that. That's what makes him so impressive. It was an act of conscience that he just stepped forward as an ordinary person."
Maher still couldn't get the implications into his head, retorting that Snowden's claim that they know every friend you've ever discussed anything with is 'fucking nuts' and "we'll just have to agree to disagree on what's fucking nuts." Yeah, right. Bill, you need to wake up and smell the coffee. That means stepping out of your Denial domain.
The main point missed by Bill is that Snowden's statements are entirely consistent with the NSA bulk collection of data, including one's email address books (which we now know the NSA has, globally) and its long term storage - as well as the long term phone records and their storage. If they have the records of those, then they fucking A- DO know who all your friends are, in terms of which names on their email, phone lists match those with whom you've communicated the most. This isn't relativity or rocket science.
The fact that Maher didn't appreciate or get this, discloses he's either lost a step, or has not done enough homework on exactly how far reaching the NSA programs are.
I still have faith in Bill and am hoping that in some future show he retracts his BS, admits he was talking out of his ass regarding his opinions of Snowden, and rejoins the "good guy" branch of libertarians. In the meantime, along with Obama, I will have to classify him as a mental captive of the security state.