Someone call Nixon’s plumbers. We need them again.
Summary: Marcus Ranum looks to our past — the government’s history of surveillance — to see the future which the government’s vast surveillance machinery makes possible, and perhaps will help bring into being.
The NSA Doppleganger and Enemies
The Nation currently has an excellent piece on some of the history of surveillance in the US. Combine it with reading Tim Weiner’s latest book Enemies, and you have a picture of a government that has always illegally surveilled its citizens (also see Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power).
Occasionally, as today, we are brought to confront that fact, and it’s always instructive because you can tell from the backlash how badly it stung those who enjoy secret power and status. The rule of law is something that you criticize other countries for not following. This amounts to moving from “US Exceptionalism” to exceptionalism for the US power elites.
In the long-term it’s poor strategy because it amounts to building the weapons that will eventually be used against one faction when there’s a disagreement among elites. It’s laying the framework for an eventual takeover of the republic by centralized power. The more you centralize and aggregate power, the worse it is when your Stalin or Bonaparte comes along. As soon as one faction of the power elites realizes they can use the power of the police state to silence internal dissent among the elites, rather than simply controlling the lumpenproletariat, the republican experiment will be conclusively ended.
What the article at The Nation, and Enemies show us is the constant presence and evolution of a society that does double-entry bookkeeping regarding the rule of law. While the US sports the largest prison population in the world thanks to the endless and unwinnable War On Drugs, the elites casually excuse each other for crimes that would result in long jail sentences for the 99%. Indeed the very notion of criminality becomes inverted and corrupted when it’s a greater crime to disclose a crime than it was to commit it in the first place.
The problem with living under a system that is so immoral, Kant would tell us, is that we can only expect its immorality will eventually be turned upon us and we will suffer in turn.
Irony is not the tool for patching leaks
The irony embedded in today’s “leak” – whistleblower madness is that the Nixon administration invoked “The Plumbers” because they were desperate to identify the source of leaks about the Vietnam war. What brought down the Nixon administration was a senior FBI executive — a “leaker” — who outed the administration’s reliance on CIA resources because, allegedly, Nixon wasn’t getting the answers he wanted from the FBI.
If there’s anyone in the country that’s still naive enough to think that any of the recent leaks impact the war on terror, I think it’s time for them to leave.
What we are seeing is a government that is increasingly acting in secret because it has lost its democratic mandate and is deeply concerned that its actions remain secret because if the people knew about them, they might eventually wake up and question the merits of what is being done in their name. What we are seeing is what amounts to a pincer movement against the government’s critics: on one hand shore up government secrecy while making it harder for whistleblowers to disclose information about what’s going on — while on the other hand demonizing critics of the government’s actions as aiding the enemy.
What enemy? The enemy – you know — (waves hand) — them!
When General Petraeus’ potentially promising political career was ended, one of the things I wondered about (I still do) is how/where all the information about his emails and phone calls came from. Some of that stuff would have been fairly old. That it entered into the picture at all tells me that the FBI has some pretty impressive capabilities to be able to retrieve old/deleted stuff — a capability that the manager of the Reagan Administration’s email server or Rose Marie Woods would have been a bit threatened by. The use of such information in what amounted to a Washington insider “hit” shows its real purpose: to destroy or intimidate or uncover the operations of political opponents or potential political opponents.
None of this stuff is making anyone safer from the terrified and helpless insurgents in Yemen or Pakistan: it’s a weapon for Washington’s insiders to make sure that who and what’s on the inside stays on the inside. None of this makes the power elites any safer, either – the police state is a doomsday device that can be turned against them just as easily; ultimately power gets concentrated in too few hands.
It can only be described as “Orwellian” but we must remember that Orwell was not writing a fiction about the future, he was commenting on trends in human behavior that have been observed over and over in the past.
Some of the latest revelations about NSA cyber-surveillance – and cyber-war
“The Secret War“, Wired, 12 June 2013 – “Infiltration. Sabotage. Mayhem. For years four-star General Keith Alexander has been building a secret army capable of launching devastating cyberattacks. Now it’s ready to unleash Hell.” To future generations the US might be best known as the nation first using (perhaps the only one using) nukes and cyberwar. Perhaps as a mad dog, eventually restrained by coalition of nations.
“Google details how it hands over data to federal officials“, Washington Post, 12 June 2013 — Excerpt:
Immediately after PRISM was publicly reported, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and others denied giving the government “direct access” to their servers.
Since then, The Post has reported that executives at some of the participating Silicon Valley companies, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, have acknowledged the program’s existence. According to a NSA inspector general’s report obtained by The Post, PRISM allowed “collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations” rather than directly to company servers.
For More Information
See yesterday’s post for links to a wide range of information about the surveillance of US citizens.
Posts about these revelations, and what they show about America:
- Attention fellow sheep: let’s open our eyes and see the walls of our pen, 2009 — Five years ago these programs, and their growth, were easily visible. We just didn’t want to see.
- The NSA news might be a birthday for the New America!, 7 June 2013
- The US government spies on us because America is a democracy, 8 June 2013
- Our opinion leaders defend the government’s surveillance programs, 10 June 2013
- The government says “We do not have ‘direct’ access to your info …”, 11 June 2013
Posts about America, today and tomorrow:
- America is the new Rome. Late Republican Rome (not the best of times), 13 October 2011
- What will replace the Constitution in Americans’ hearts? Let’s check for Fascism., 29 March 2012
- A look at the future of the Republic: we will choose leaders that we trust, 14 May 2012 — Part one.
- A look at the future of the Republic: we will choose leaders that we trust, not the ones we need (part 2), 15 May 2012
- More evidence that the military is slowly cutting itself off from civilian control, 15 July 2012
- Gallup’s polls show who we trust, pointing to a dark future for our Republic, 15 August 2012
- We’ve worked through all 5 stages of grief for the Republic. Now, on to The New America!, 9 January 2013
- Voices from the past describe the coming New America, 1 February 2013