Hoover on steroids

Hoover on steroids

by digby

I wrote a bit about this on Friday but I think it's worth mentioning again. I'll quote Kevin Drum:
On Thursday, after reading that the NSA violated its surveillance rules 865 times in the first quarter of 2013, I wondered how big a percentage that was. On Friday, they provided an answer:
The official, John DeLong, the N.S.A. director of compliance, said that the number of mistakes by the agency was extremely low compared with its overall activities. The report showed about 100 errors by analysts in making queries of databases of already-collected communications data; by comparison, he said, the agency performs about 20 million such queries each month.
Holy crap. They perform 20 million surveillance queries per month? On the bright side, if you assume that their internal auditing really does catch every "incident," it means they have a violation rate of about 0.001 percent. On the less bright side, they perform 20 million surveillance queries per month.
First, assuming that internal auditing catches every incident is quite a stretch. But the other point really is worth thinking about. Are we really dealing with a threat that justifies this massive level of inquiry? It's very hard for me to understand how that could be unless we really are dealing with an impending invasion by Martians. This is absurd.

Of course, one of the natural consequence of a government agency collecting large amounts of information is ... paranoia, particularly on the part of those who know something about the surveillance but not everything. Such as government officials.

I happened to be doing some research the other day and found this article from December 2012 featuring earlier NSA whistleblower William Binney commenting on the Petraeus scandal. I don't know if what he said is true, but with what we know now it is certainly possible:
Following the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus, which was reportedly prompted by an extramarital affair he had with his biographer, a formerly high-ranking member of the National Security Agency (NSA) claims the FBI’s probe into Petraeus indicates that digital privacy has become a freedom of the past.

“What I’ve been basically saying for quite some time, is that the FBI has access to the data collected, which is basically the emails of virtually everybody in the country,” NSA whistleblower William Binney affirmed in a recent interview with the Kremlin-funded news outlet Russia Today (RT). “And the FBI has access to it.”
Binney testified that all congressional lawmakers are being monitored as well.

“They are all included,” he said, “So, yes, this can happen to anyone. If they become a target for whatever reason — they are targeted by the government, the government can go in, or the FBI, or other agencies of the government, they can go into their database, pull all that data collected on them over the years, and we analyze it all. So, we have to actively analyze everything they’ve done for the last 10 years at least.”
Again, I have no idea if this is true. But then neither does anyone who might be targeted, including members of the government. Maybe especially members of the government. After all, as I've written repeatedly, it's not as if we don't have a little history with this sort of thing:
Hoover amassed significant power by collecting files containing large amounts of compromising and potentially embarrassing information on scores of powerful people, especially politicians, which were kept separate from official FBI records. On his orders, the files were destroyed immediately after Hoover's death. In the 1950s, evidence of Hoover's apparently cozy relations with the Mafia became grist for the media and his many detractors, after famed muckraker Jack Anderson exposed the immense scope of the Mafia's organized crime network, a threat Hoover had long downplayed. Hoover's retaliation and continual harassment of Anderson lasted into the 1970s. Hoover has also been accused of trying to undermine the reputations of members of the civil rights movement and the Black Panther Party.

Presidents Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson each considered firing Hoover, but concluded that the political cost of doing so would be too great.
I'm not saying the NSA (or some discrete piece of the NSA/FBI/CIA spook nexus) has become Hoover on steroids. But you have to be concerned about the possibility that someone could use this capacity in this way for their own purposes. And it's certainly something that someone could tell a government employee or contractor they have and it would be impossible to prove otherwise. As you can see from the Hoover example, you don't have to know what they have on you to be afraid of it.

There are many dangers associated with these data collection programs. But perhaps the worst is the idea that we are all going to have to think twice about what we say and do from now on. That's not because we are afraid of offending someone, but because we have to wonder whether we are drawing the government's attention in some way that will give them the excuse to trawl through our lives. That is particularly problematic for people in public life who have something to lose. And it presents an opportunity for certain members of the surveillance/military industrial complex to leverage lawmakers in new and different ways. They don't even have to have anything --- all they have to do is imply it.

Secrecy breeds paranoia. And paranoia is the enemy of freedom.