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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Dianne Feinstein is a comedienne

by digby

I can't stop laughing:
Feinstein says Snowden broke the law, when he could have privately reported his revelations to her committee.
Yes her oversight has been stellar. Just ask her colleagues Ron Wyden and Mark Udall who knew many things, disagreed with them, and were put in a metaphorical straight-jacket and ball gag as the NSA went about its business without any impediments whatsoever. Why would anyone think that the Snowden information would have ever gotten out through her committee --- or that even those who wanted to get the information out would have been able to do anything but play charades on Sunday news shows? She's quite the card.

Meanwhile, read this epic piece called "No Morsel Is Too Miniscule For The All-Consuming NSA" by the NY Times' Scott Shane. In a nutshell, the NSA is out of control and only somewhat effective, none of which we would know about it if it weren't for Snowden's revelations. It's pervasively powerful and secretive and yet nobody thought about the ramifications to our position in the world if the massive spying programs were revealed. (And to not anticipate that it was possible for these secrets to be revealed in this new cyber world in which we live is such malfeasance that everyone involved should be fired for that alone.)

And yes, "everybody does it." But as James Clapper says in the article:
“There’s no question that from a capability standpoint we probably dwarf everybody on the planet, just about, with perhaps the exception of Russia and China,” he said.
I'm fairly sure we dwarf them too. And that is why we need to be concerned about this agency that operates completely in secret, with little or no accountability and with what amounts to an unlimited budget. (That 10.8 billion is just the tip of the iceberg.)Unfortunately, depending on Dianne Feinstein to keep tabs on it hasn't worked out very well.

Right now I'm watching former NSA chief Michael Hayden (Fareed Zakaria calls him "Mike") right now on CNN excuse spying on staunch ally Angela Merkel's personal phone calls because Angela Merkel might be a liar and Tim Geithner could need to know that.  I'm not kidding.
HAYDEN: Well, I mean, look, there are a variety of questions. And here, Fareed, I'm just being illustrative. I mean I've not been in the room.

But I mean, when we decided to intervene against Gadhafi in Libya, the Germans were very much opposed. They didn't participate. And I'm sure a very legitimate intelligence question would have been do the Germans oppose us so strongly that they are willing to break consensus in Brussels and therefore deny you a NATO validation for this?

And then finally, again, I'm creative enough to think of Tim Geithner at some meeting in the last two or three years turning to his intelligence guy and saying, you know, I really need to know, in their heart of hearts, how far are the Germans going to go with the Greeks in preserving the Eurozone?

Now, those are all very legitimate questions. We could get an answer by direct dialogue. And I'm sure we did.

But, you know, sometimes there would have been more to the story. And I can imagine circumstances where, what I just described, those are legitimate intelligence issues.
I hope Merkel didn't hear that.

Basically, he's saying that everyone in this world is an enemy of the United States on some level and we have a right to treat them that way.  And I'm sure there are a lot of Americans who think that makes good sense.  But it scares the living daylights out of me. If the US government really believes that everyone in the world is our enemy then it only stands to reason that everyone in the world is going to think the US is their enemy, and not in some vague "they all do it" sort of way. I mean a real enemy. At least half the world already sees us that way and now we have idiots like Michael Hayden saying we don't a believe a word our allies tell us so I'm sure their people now hate us too. Does any of this make us safer?

The fact is that the US has always spied and will always spy. So will all the other countries. But vast technological capability and unlimited resources available to this agency has led to the inevitable: if you build it, they will use it --- and abuse it. And in its insularity this has obviously become a very foolish, myopic, hubristic agency,  filled with bureaucrats obsessed with "metrics" as is evidenced by their nauseating use of corporate jargon to explain their mission. (The "customers" of the NSA may be the CIA or Homeland Security, but the "boss" is supposed to be the American people. I see little evidence that the NSA thinks that's true. They seem to think they're "entrepreneurs.")

Obviously, some of the NSA's work is necessary. Shane's article points to a number of missions I don't think anyone would argue with. There are dangerous people in the world and being able to anticipate their actions is a good thing. But the NSA, with its nearly unlimited surveillance capabilities, has decided that everyone in the world is dangerous, including the American people, so they need to keep tabs on all of us. And considering the scope of their operations they don't really have much to show for their work.

And yes, they are doing economic spying, but it's very difficult to know in this global economy who these "competitors" are or who is supposed to benefit from it. CEOs and Shareholders in multi-national companies probably will. Wall Street can always use information, of course. (And there is one group of people --- future defense and government contractor employees who are currently working for the NSA --- who can definitely use such info.) But I'm going to guess that American workers won't see much benefit from any of this and are probably losing out. In a world economy, the benefits of economic spying are unlikely to accrue to any single nation's benefit.

Read the whole article for a nice overview of the latest document disclosures and the implications of it. America is the most powerful nation on earth and also insists that it lives by a certain set of ideals. It seems to me that it means our government needs to go to extreme lengths to ensure that we aren't abusing that power and inviting more and more people around the world to see us as a threat. It doesn't mean we pull down our defenses. But we can't allow rogue agencies with unlimited budgets to run amok. Forget about it being a violation of our alleged ideals --- clearly only liberal wusses care about such things. It's actually creating greater danger for the American people.