Category Archives: Intelligence

On the ‘dumbing down of America,’ starting with SC

It is perhaps appropriate that on the day we learn a reality-TV star (which is actually one of the more flattering things one can say about T-Rav) is vying to become a U.S. senator from South Carolina, Burl Burlingame brings my attention to this piece, headlined “America dumbs down,” which begins with an anecdote from the Palmetto State:

South Carolina’s state beverage is milk. Its insect is the praying mantis. There’s a designated dance—the shag—as well a sanctioned tartan, game bird, dog, flower, gem and snack food (boiled peanuts). But what Olivia McConnell noticed was missing from among her home’s 50 official symbols was a fossil. So last year, the eight-year-old science enthusiast wrote to the governor and her representatives to nominate the Columbian mammoth. Teeth from the woolly proboscidean, dug up by slaves on a local plantation in 1725, were among the first remains of an ancient species ever discovered in North America. Forty-three other states had already laid claim to various dinosaurs, trilobites, primitive whales and even petrified wood. It seemed like a no-brainer. “Fossils tell us about our past,” the Grade 2 student wrote.

And, as it turns out, the present, too. The bill that Olivia inspired has become the subject of considerable angst at the legislature in the state capital of Columbia. First, an objecting state senator attached three verses from Genesis to the act, outlining God’s creation of all living creatures. Then, after other lawmakers spiked the amendment as out of order for its introduction of the divinity, he took another crack, specifying that the Columbian mammoth “was created on the sixth day with the other beasts of the field.” That version passed in the senate in early April. But now the bill is back in committee as the lower house squabbles over the new language, and it’s seemingly destined for the same fate as its honouree—extinction.

What has doomed Olivia’s dream is a raging battle in South Carolina over the teaching of evolution in schools. Last week, the state’s education oversight committee approved a new set of science standards that, if adopted, would see students learn both the case for, and against, natural selection….

If you’re getting the impression that the author of this piece holds that people who hold conservative positions are stupid, you’re getting the right impression. Which, I admit, I find off-putting. I mean, I have trouble understanding why some fundamentalist Christians find it necessary to deny evolution (as a Catholic, I see no conflict between faith and science on this point) — trouble that grows out of my failure to understand why anyone would think such obvious allegories as the Creation story are factual, accurate history — I don’t believe in mocking or sneering at people who believe such things.

Predictably, the piece goes on to describe conservative positions on gun control, global warming and health care reform as evidence of idiocy.

Perhaps the most offensive (intellectually offensive, that is) assertions in the piece is this:

… many Americans seem less concerned with the massive violations of their privacy in the name of the War on Terror, than imposing Taliban-like standards on the lives of others. Last month, the school board in Meridian, Idaho voted to remove The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie from its Grade 10 supplemental reading list following parental complaints about its uncouth language and depictions of sex and drug use. When 17-year-old student Brady Kissel teamed up with staff from a local store to give away copies at a park as a protest, a concerned citizen called police. It was the evening of April 23, which was also World Book Night, an event dedicated to “spreading the love of reading.”

Apparently, this author who thinks other people are so stupid is incapable of seeing the difference between parents being concerned about their children’s exposure to depictions of sexuality and drug use and… the Taliban. Let’s see… on the one hand, you have parents who doubt that a particular book is appropriate for their kids (not whether the book should be burned or anything, but whether it’s appropriate for their kids). On the other hand, you have people who shoot girls in the face for the crime of going to school. Yeahhhh, that’s just exactly the same. Riiiight

All of that said… the overall phenomenon under discussion here is a real one. American history is rife with anti-intellectualism, and there is a downward trend over time, as our politics becomes more democratic, in a bad way. We do, indeed, live in a time and place in which you can win elections by appealing to foolishness over wisdom.

I was referring to an example of this earlier today, cited by Michael Kinsley back in the mid-90s — the polling that indicated that solid majorities of Americans believe we spend too much on foreign aid, that they think, on average, that we spend about 18 percent of our budget, and that they think a better amount would be 3 percent (actually, that that should be the minimum) — when actually, we spend about 1 percent.

It’s OK for the people to be confused on something like that — unless that confusion becomes the basis of actual policy going forward. Which, unfortunately, does happen sometimes.

Anyway, it’s a deeply flawed piece that nevertheless touches upon a real problem…

Snowden wasn’t a spy before. But NOW he is (sort of)

The double-naught spy, in the popular imagination...

The double-naught spy, in the popular imagination…

There’s a little confusion over terms going on in the news the last day or so.

First, Edward Snowden says he wasn’t some “low-level analyst,” but a sure-enough, double-naught spy.

Susan Rice denies it, saying he was no such thing.

Not that she’s necessarily a reliable witness on such things, but she must be in the right of it.

That’s because, even if Snowden actually was, as he claims, an American sent abroad under a cover to collect intelligence, he wasn’t a spy, and certainly not an agent.

“Spies” and “agents” are the people recruited by CIA intelligence officers to collect intelligence, usually regarding their own country. A spy, generally speaking, isn’t someone like James Bond or George Smiley. A spy tends to be someone who is working for someone other than who he claims to be working for.

Kim Philby was a spy — not because he worked for Britain’s MI6, but because while pretending to work for MI6, he was actually working for the Soviets. Burgess and McLean, Jonathan Pollard, Aldrich Ames and Whittaker Chambers were spies.

Yes, it’s a malleable term. When Snowden says, “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word,” I think what he means is “in the popular sense of the word,” as opposed to the technical one.

Of course, my impression of what the word means is based mostly on spy fiction, so I could be wrong, too. (And occasionally, even in le Carre, the word is used loosely to mean “someone engaged in the intelligence world”). But I don’t think I am.

I’m also a bit puzzled that he believes being a field officer is automatically higher-ranking than an analyst. True, there’s more cachet to being a field man than a desk man; it’s way cooler. (As Jethro Bodine knows, or thinks he knows, they get to do all that “fightin’ and lovin’.”) And Len Deighton’s Bernard Samson held desk men in contempt. And sure, there are certainly analysts who are lower in the organization than senior field people, particularly when they are contractors rather than career officers. But who is higher-ranking, Jim Prideaux, a.k.a. Jim Ellis, out in the cold in Czechoslovakia or George Smiley back at the office in London? Obviously, Smiley. (Not that George didn’t still have some great tradecraft if forced into the field himself, as in Smiley’s People.) It’s sort of like with newspapers. Reporters may have the fun, but editors decide what goes into the paper. Field officers may be posted to romantic, exotic places, but the analysts more directly affect the policies that result from intel-gathering.

Anyway, if Snowden had ambitions of being a spy, he should rejoice, because that’s what he is now. He took American secrets with which he was entrusted and revealed them to the nation’s enemies. Of course, he revealed them to everybody else as well, which kind of blows the whole secrecy thing that we associate with spies. But he should comfort himself that he’s now as close to being a spy as he’ll ever be.

Aw. Maybe you should have added “Mom,” “Apple Pie,” and “George Washington” to the bill’s name

Why not throw in George Washington?

Why not throw in George Washington?

This happened in Washington this morning:

The House passed a bill Thursday aimed at reforming the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, a policy that came to light due to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, would shift responsibility for retaining telephonic metadata from the government to telephone companies. Providers like AT&T and Verizon would be required to maintain the records for 18 months and let the NSA search them in terrorism investigations when the agency obtains a judicial order or in certain emergency situations. The bill passed on an 303 to 121 vote.

But privacy advocates, technology companies and lawmakers warned that the version of the bill passed by the House was watered down to the point where they could no longer support it.

“This is not the bill that was reported out of the judiciary bill unanimously,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee who was a co-sponsor of the initial version of the bill. “The result is a bill that will actually not end bulk collection, regrettably.”…

Aw. Gee. Too bad. Although not really, since there was never anything wrong with bulk collection to begin with.

Maybe the problem is with the way you framed the bill, starting with the name. Maybe “USA” and “Freedom” didn’t give it enough oomph. Maybe you should have added “Mom” or “Apple Pie.” Or “George Washington,” or “Fourth of July.”

Do people have no shame whatsoever in naming these things? In what way is “USA” or “Freedom” descriptive of this bill? Yeah, I know the privacy worrywarts consider mining metadata to be a threat to their liberties, yadda-yadda. But a bill designed to do the opposite could make just as good a case that they are the ones defending liberty.

Of course, their “just as good a case” would still be lame and wrong. When we talk about national security or defense, we often say it’s in the service of “freedom,” as a sort of catchall term for “something in the service of the country.” But often, these things that we justify in the name of “freedom” are perfectly justifiable in the names of other completely legitimate, and actually descriptive, aims. Such as, you know, security. And defense.

Take the “Patriot Act.” It was a counterterrorism bill. You could have called it a lot of things, including an anti-compartmentalization bill, as it scrapped some traditional security measures limiting the flow of information in the name of avoiding another 9/11. But that wouldn’t have been very catchy.

But why not come up with something catchy that actually has something to do with the bill? Like the “Remember 9/11 Act.” And if you’re one of the privacy advocates who favors this more recent legislation, why not call it the “Big Brother Act?” Or, I suppose, “Anti-Big Brother Act.” Since you hold to the ridiculous, hyperbolic notion that this program goes beyond 1984 levels of intrusion. Or name it the “Snowden Act,” since that’s whose wishes and worldview you’re kowtowing to.

Or simply, the “Privacy Act.” That should be a big seller.

As for “USA” — every act that comes out of the Congress is a “USA” act, sort of by definition. How generic can you get?

Anyway, I’d have more respect for some of these bills if they showed more respect for the language…

‘Mental Palaces’ are cool, but wouldn’t ‘Mnemonic Mansions’ be more memorable?

This guy only came in third, but he had the best pose...

This guy only came in third, but he had the best pose…

Saw an interesting piece in the NYT about this international Extreme Memory Tournament. I was particularly impressed with the explanation of the method used by the best “mental athletes” — a method that, despite efforts by upstarts to come up with alternative strategies, can’t be beat — to file memories so that they are available during the competition:

The technique the competitors use is no mystery.

People have been performing feats of memory for ages, scrolling out pi to hundreds of digits, or phenomenally long verses, or word pairs. Most store the studied material in a so-called memory palace, associating the numbers, words or cards with specific images they have already memorized; then they mentally place the associated pairs in a familiar location, like the rooms of a childhood home or the stops on a subway line.

The Greek poet Simonides of Ceos is credited with first describing the method, in the fifth century B.C., and it has been vividly described in popular books, most recently “Moonwalking With Einstein,” by Joshua Foer.

Each competitor has his or her own variation. “When I see the eight of diamonds and the queen of spades, I picture a toilet, and my friend Guy Plowman,” said Ben Pridmore, 37, an accountant in Derby, England, and a former champion. “Then I put those pictures on High Street in Cambridge, which is a street I know very well.”

As these images accumulate during memorization, they tell an increasingly bizarre but memorable story. “I often use movie scenes as locations,” said James Paterson, 32, a high school psychology teacher in Ascot, near London, who competes in world events. “In the movie ‘Gladiator,’ which I use, there’s a scene where Russell Crowe is in a field, passing soldiers, inspecting weapons.”

Mr. Paterson uses superheroes to represent combinations of letters or numbers: “I might have Batman — one of my images — playing Russell Crowe, and something else playing the horse, and so on.”…

One of the traits that makes these competitors so good is, paradoxically, their ability to forget — basically, they clean out their mental palaces between rounds, to make room for new memories.

However, they’re not as good at forgetting as they think they are. They will report that they forget everything, right away. But tests have shown that the following day, even after restocking their palaces with new memories, they can still regurgitate three-fourths of the old material.

I suppose this indicates the existence of a mental attic — a far less-organized place where memories collect dust and cobwebs, and you forget that you have them.

The fascinating thing about this method, I think, is that something so seemingly abstract as memory is so dependent on the concrete — objects and images in identifiable spaces. It’s almost like being dependent on your fingers and toes in order to count.

If I were one of these competitors, I’d call my palaces “mnemonic mansions.” That’s more memorable…

Of course, the interior of my palace or mansion would probably look like this.

Why compartmentalization didn’t work with Snowden

OK, now I’m back to being serious about Edward Snowden…

Way back last year when we first heard of him, there was a lot of frantic head-scratching in the intelligence community because espiocrats didn’t see how this low-level employee of a contractor had access to so many different subject areas. Given the way information is normally compartmentalized in intelligence organizations to prevent such broad leaks, he just shouldn’t have known most of that stuff.

The authors of an article in Vanity Fair tell NPR’s Terry Gross of “Fresh Air” how it happened:

The NSA now tells us they’re able to explain why Snowden was able to roam so free through the computers — including many niches he should not have otherwise been able to access. And it turns out, the NSA tells us, it was because they had given Snowden a different assignment, a unique assignment if you will, just because he was in Hawaii.

Hawaii is at the end of a long, long tagline with Washington and it’s not necessarily always up to date on the latest procedures and things that should be gotten from Washington. Further, if there’s ever any type of disconnect between Fort Meade and Hawaii — technically or communications-wise — Fort Meade, the headquarters of the NSA, was very concerned that somehow they would not be able to reach Hawaii: literally [would be unable to] communicate with them in the event of, I don’t know, a nuclear problem or an earthquake or something.

What Snowden was doing was downloading and copying and backing up hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of pages of documents to make sure Hawaii had it all in case something went wrong. … What no one realized at the time, of course, is that he was also making copies for his own reasons…

When I was a student at Memphis State and had a part-time job at the library, I was assigned at one point to haul older periodicals down to the basement and stack them on a vast number of metal shelves down there. The library subscribed to what must have been hundreds of fascinating, esoteric publications. I remember in particular a journal called Conradiana, devoted completely to the study of Joseph Conrad. It sticks out in my mind because I read in it an article from an English teacher I’d had during my one-semester sojourn at USC.

Not until the Worldwide Web came along would I have the opportunity to surf such a wealth of little worlds of arcane knowledge. I would head down with a load of old magazines, and not re-emerge for hours. I didn’t mean to slack off; I would give those publications a glance while filing them, and I would just get lost in them. For me, it was like being Scrooge McDuck, diving into his vault full of money.

Anyway… the moral of the story is, you need to keep an eye on the kid down in the basement with access to all the info…

What, were all Obama’s drones broken that day?

Slate brings this to my attention:

A new video apparently released by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism analysts scrambling. The video, which had been circulating on jihadist websites and was brought to light by terrorist watchdog group Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC), shows what appears to be the largest gathering of al-Qaida militants in years, and is one of the more brazen al-Qaeda propaganda pieces to be released in some time.

Appearing front and center in the video is AQAP leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi. Known as al-Qaida’s crown prince, al-Wuhayshi is second within the group’s global power structure….

His appearance in the video is especially notable given that the meeting seems to be out in the open, running counter to speculation that AQAP leaders had gone underground and were communicating solely by courier. …

Huh. That’s not good. Al Qaeda feeling free to have company picnics.

Of course, I was being facetious about the drones. Something people miss is that, amazing as modern surveillance is, it doesn’t see everything.

But this does represent an intelligence failure, apparently.

I blame Edward Snowden. Not that I have any reason to do so; I just choose to blame him. The way Democrats blamed Bush for everything, and Republicans blame Obama for everything. I blame Snowden. Call it Snowden Derangement Syndrome… Some of y’all have already accused me of something like that, so I might as well roll with it…

Art imitating life imitating art imitating life imitating…

USS Nimitz

USS Nimitz

Hollywood makes a movie, a year or so ago, about the Iran hostage crisis. It tells the true story of how the CIA pretended to be making a movie in Iran in order to sneak a handful of the American hostages out of the country.

The real movie about the fake movie that hoaxed the Iranians wins the Best Picture Oscar, which Iran could not have failed to notice.

So… now we see that Iran is building a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier — or rather, a vessel that looks like a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. They do it in plain sight, so we can’t fail to notice. Our intel guys watch it being built ever since last summer, and we finally get to the point that we can’t stand it anymore, and have to say something.

Then, when the United States raises questions as to what in the world Iran is up to, they respond, Uhhh… it’s for a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket… we’re making a movie… ya know, like ‘Argo.’

Which makes us wonder what they’re really up to. What could be the actual purpose for which making a movie is the transparent cover?

Whatever it is, when they spring it on us, I half expect the Iranians to say, “Argo ___ yourself!”

"I'm, uhhh... making a movie! Yeah, that's the ticket..."

“I’m, uhhh… making a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket…”

Latest reported NSA capability is pretty awesome

As y’all know, I’ve had critical things to say about Edward Snowden. But I have to say, sometimes we learn about some pretty cool stuff as a result of his revelations.

For instance, if we really have this capability, that’s pretty awesome:

The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.

A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.

The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.

In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.

The call buffer opens a door “into the past,” the summary says, enabling users to “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.”…

If you told Keanu Reeves about this, you know what he would say

Krauthammer: ‘Ya gotta love’ Graham for adding fuel to Democrats’ fire

Charles Krauthammer is getting a kick out of Lindsey Graham’s reaction to Dianne Feinstein’s accusation that the CIA has been spying on the Senate.

On FoxNews last night, the columnist said the following:

What I like the best about this is that Lindsey Graham, a Republican, comes upon the brawl, and he says that if true, the Congress should declare war on the CIA.

Interestingly, we haven’t declared war on anybody since Pearl Harbor.

Lindsey comes across a fight and he hands out Molotov cocktails to all the participants.

Ya gotta love that guy.

You can see the video above. Graham has said “This is dangerous to a democracy. Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it’s true,” and that “this is Richard Nixon stuff…”

That is a twist. You’ve got Democrats in the Senate flinging accusations at a Democratic administration, and a Republican eggs them on by saying it’s as bad as Nixon. One gathers that Republicans like watching a fight between Democrats the way schoolboys like seeing a couple of girls come to blows on the playground. (I can see Lindsey yelling down the hall, “Democrat fight!”)

Oh… and apparently Graham is enjoying the fact that Krauthammer is enjoying it. The Krauthammer clip was brought to my attention by Graham’s office.

Graham Shocker! Senator seeking answers on… you guessed it… Benghazi. Still.

This just in from our senior U.S. senator:

Graham on Benghazi

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on Benghazi.

“I’m pleased to hear that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers is going to follow up on what appears to be major inconsistencies in former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell’s testimony.  However, before calling him to testify, I strongly encourage the House and Senate leadership to establish a joint select committee to investigate this matter.

“For too long we have had various House and Senate committees, along with the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB), investigating the small pieces of Benghazi within their jurisdictions.  These are sometimes disjointed and do not always allow for a full and thorough investigation.

“A joint select committee is the best means to ensure Benghazi is fully investigated and all questions are answered once and for all.  The American people, and most importantly, the families of the four Americans who died in the attack, deserve nothing less. 

“As for Mr. Morell, he has publicly stated he welcomes the opportunity to testify in an open hearing.  To ensure proper accountability, I believe we need to declassify his previous testimony and release all communications – written, recorded, audio, and video — involving Mr. Morell’s discussions about the talking points and the role he played in this entire episode.

“Mr. Morell, in a written statement, as well as Susan Rice in her appearance last week on television, both indicated the Administration provided the best evidence available to the public on September 16, 2012.  It’s now time to declassify all the communications regarding the attack on our compounds in Benghazi so we can properly account for these statements.

“Finally, I strongly believe it will be impossible to close the books on what happened in Benghazi unless Susan Rice is called to testify before Congress about the role she played.  Although she has appeared on television shows, she has never been required to appear before Congress to answer questions about Benghazi.

“The President has said on numerous occasions that as more information is made available he would share it with the public. This statement has not borne fruit. 

“It’s past time we clear the air on Benghazi by declassifying all relevant information and having all witnesses testify. We have learned much over the past 17 months about Benghazi that justifies recalling Mr. Morell, General Petraeus, former Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador Susan Rice and others before a joint select committee of Congress.”

####

It seems safe to say that Sen. Graham has reached the Ahab stage in his quest for… something… on this topic.

That said, sure, make the hearings joint, so senators can participate. I’m a little concerned about his blanket demand for declassification — maybe there are some aspects of this that need to remain classified, and I would think Graham of all people would appreciate that.

But, you know, put Susan Rice in the hot seat. Let’s have the hearings. And let chips fall where they may. Take whatever lessons are learned and apply them to prevent future security disasters such as this. And then let’s talk about other stuff.

More good news for al Qaeda!

This just in from the WashPost:

The National Security Agency is collecting less than 30 percent of all Americans’ call records because of an inability to keep pace with the explosion in cellphone use, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The disclosure contradicts popular perceptions that the government is sweeping up virtually all domestic phone data. It is also likely to raise questions about the efficacy of a program that is premised on its breadth and depth, on collecting as close to a complete universe of data as possible in order to make sure that clues aren’t missed in counterterrorism investigations….

So… if you’re plotting a terror attack, you now know that in a pinch, it may be safe to use that cell phone you’ve been avoiding. Oh, it would be prudent to avoid it as a regular thing — why take unnecessary chances? — but in an emergency, the odds are in your favor.

You know, that ol’ Edward Snowden is just the gift that keeps on giving — if you’re al Qaeda.

No, this is not a direct disclosure by that individual, but it’s something we’re learning as a result of a train of events triggered by his disclosures.

And like so much that he did disclose, it’s something that’s useful to know. If you’re a terrorist.

Robert Gates, the quintessential national security professional, judges ex-boss Obama harshly

Coming from the source it comes from, this is pretty devastating:

In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”Gates cropped

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”…

The source is someone for whom I’ve always had the utmost respect, as I’ve written in the past. Other political appointees come and go, but Gates has always seemed to me the real-life version of what the fictional George Smiley was in John le Carre’s world:

Mr. Gates is a Smileyesque professional. He was the only Director of Central Intelligence ever to have come up through the ranks. He had spent two decades in the Agency, from 1969 through 1989, with a several-year hiatus at the National Security Council. He received the National Security Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal (twice) and the Distinguished Intelligence Medal (three times).
I trust professionals, particularly those who have devoted themselves to national service. Not in every case, of course — there are idiots and scoundrels in every walk of life — but if all other things are equal, give me the pro from Dover over someone’s golf buddy every time…

You know the real-life “golf-buddies” and campaign contributors and hangers-on. The fictional counterparts to them, in the le Carre world, would be Saul Enderby and, to a lesser degree, Oliver Lacon.

It’s one thing for Republicans and other professional detractors to attack the president’s national security seriousness. For Robert Gates to do it is quite another thing.

NYT claims Snowden “has done his country a great service.” No, really; they actually said that…

If you hear me retching, it’s not because I overindulged on New Year’s Eve. It’s because of this editorial in The New York Times:

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community…

I’m just not even going to get into it, beyond to assert yet again that this creep has not “revealed” or “exposed” anything of value. We knew such programs existed, and basically what they did. If there are instances in which the NSA has exceeded or strayed from Congress’ intent, address them. (The NYT makes much of “thousands” of violations among the billions of communications about which it collects data. But folks, that’s not what Snowden and his fans are about. They hate the existence of the legal programs; not specific failures to follow the policies they oppose.) All he has done is stirred the emotions of unthoughtful people to the point that useful intelligence-gathering programs are politically endangered.

For more, just enter “Snowden” in the blog search field at right (in fact, I’ll do it for you; here are the search results), to see what I’ve said about him in the past. I particularly call your attention to his “Christmas message,” which as I said then “reveals his immaturity, paranoia, irrationality and utter lack of perspective,” the qualities that underlie the actions that the NYT celebrates.

This editorial is the sort of nonsense I expect from an intern working as a press aide in Rand Paul’s office, not from a once-great newspaper.

So now that another judge says NSA program’s legal, Greenwald will say he and Snowden were wrong — right?

That would be the logical response, in any case — although that’s not what I expect to see, unfortunately.

When one federal judge questioned the legality of NSA collection of metadata, that was sufficient to cause alleged newsman Glenn Greenwald to crow to the skies that it was a “pure vindication” of his creature, Edward Snowden.

By that same logic, now that another federal judge has disagreed

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in New York on Friday ruled that the National Security Agency’s program that is systematically keeping phone records of all Americans is lawful, creating a conflict among lower courts and increasing the likelihood that the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court….

 Judge Pauley said that protections under the Fourth Amendment do not apply to records held by third parties, like phone companies.

“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” Judge Pauley said in the ruling…

… we’ll hear Greenwald saying, “OK, we were totally wrong.”

Right? Right? I’m listening…

Edward Snowden, displaying his utter lack of perspective, declares lack of privacy today is worse than Orwellian

Through an “alternative Christmas message” broadcast on British television (“alternative” as in, a message other than the Queen’s official one) and a Washington Post interview, Edward Snowden reveals his immaturity, paranoia, irrationality and utter lack of perspective.

I can’t find an embed code for the full video, but here’s a link to it.

Here’s a sample of his “reasoning,” as he explains why he thinks we’re worse off than Winston Smith in 1984:

“The types of collection in the book — microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us — are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go,” he said. “Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person.”

So… according to him… a cellphone, a private possession that you are in no way required to own, certainly not by the government, a thing you can throw away the moment you want to drop off the grid, is somehow worse than being watched and listened to 24 hours a day by a malevolent government that does so for the express purpose of controlling your thoughts, a government that has reshaped language itself to prevent you even from being able to form thoughts that are not to its liking.

But wait — there’s more:

Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.

No, we have learned nothing of the kind. I have seen nothing from his “revelations” (although I give him props for not congratulating himself, but using the relatively passive “we learned”) that indicates that either this government or any other is doing anything at all that comes anywhere close to “watching everything” I do.

There’s apparently a record of phone calls I have made, and everyone else has made. Not the content, but who we called and when and for how long. A record that doesn’t even begin to be the tiniest, most hesitant intrusion on my privacy unless there is something about the pattern of my calls that draws attention to them. My own privacy is protected by the sheer volume of data of which my calls form an infinitesimal part.

I have no reason to believe that this or any other government has taken the slightest interest even in this tiny corner of my life — whom I have called and when — which is a drop in the ocean of “everything” I do.

This is rich. Let’s listen to some more:

A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought.

Really? Golly, I’d certainly like to see a little bit of evidence to back up those wild assertions. I’m even going to be charitable and ignore the number disagreement between his “a child” and his use of “they” and “themselves.” First, it would help if he had any evidence whatsoever, any reason at all to think that this hypothetical child would never know a “private moment.” I see zero reason to believe that. As for “no conception” — well, that takes us far beyond lacking the experience of even a “moment” of privacy. In fact, only in an Orwellian universe — given its careful paring of unacceptable thoughts from the language — could a child lack such a conception.

As for “an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought” — what reason do we have to believe that this child’s very thoughts would be recorded and analyzed, much less all of them? The only thoughts being shared with government, to my knowledge, are those we choose to make public through social media or other means. Or over the telephone, in which case the only way the goverment hears these thoughts is if its traffic analysis has produced probable cause for a specific subpoena to listen to a specific individual’s calls, which will never happen to far, far more than 99 percent of the population. And I say this on the basis of what Snowden himself has revealed.

Let’s delve further into the thoughts — which he is voluntarily sharing — of Edward Snowden:

And that’s a problem because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.

I’m not going to respond to that, because I don’t even follow what he’s saying. I thought “who we are and who we want to be” were things that were determined by a combination of unavoidable circumstances and choices we make. Perhaps privacy plays a key role in that, but he neglects to explain how. It’s just one of those pronouncements that probably sounds profound to people who are predisposed to agree with him, and puzzles anyone else who actually thinks about it.

His big finish is a call to action:

End mass surveillance, and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

His tone indicates he thinks this is a real zinger.

I find myself marveling. So… that’s what he thinks NSA collection and analysis of metadata is about — finding out how we feel? What has he or anyone else disclosed that even comes within the same galaxy of indicating that? Gee, I kinda thought it was oriented toward finding out whether certain communications are happening between certain individuals, with an eye to catching warning signs not of feelings, but of the likelihood of certain actions.

I mean, seriously — can anyone show me a link to a single report that would make any reasonable person think that any of these government programs are aimed at taking our emotional temperatures, or our opinions?

Wow. The more you learn about this guy, the more you see just how twisted his perception of reality is…

But thanks, Edward, for the Christmas wishes. Although I must say, I think the Queen’s made more sense. But then, she’s a grownup.

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Thoughts on the president’s presser? Share them here…

I’ve sort of been listening along during the president’s pre-holiday press availability while doing other stuff.

I liked the question — I forget who asked it, and pressed it, but he was pretty insistent — that amounted to this: Mr. President, several months ago you said the NSA wasn’t doing anything wrong. Why do you think the procedures need to be changed now?

It was a good question. The president was right — there was nothing wrong with our surveillance programs then, and there isn’t now. What has happened is that the drip, drip, drip of details — which haven’t revealed anything significant regarding policy itself, but have merely attached names and specifics (things we did not need to know), and it has had an erosive effect on public opinion. Exactly as Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald intended.

And while he sort of danced around it, the president essentially said that: There’s nothing wrong with these programs, but political opinion has changed, so we’re reacting to that. And the way we’re reacting is that we’re looking for ways to get the intel job done with some procedural changes that make people feel better.

Which is not terrible in and of itself. But I would much, much rather that the president stand up to this propaganda campaign by two people who are trying to harm this nation, and argue against the public impression that their efforts have created. Because by reacting by making changes — or even reacting by trying to make it appear that we are making changes — tells any other minor players with a God complex that if they betray this country by disclosing classified information with which they have been entrusted, they will achieve their goals.

That creates an extremely dangerous precedent.

Now, as to the Obamacare comments, two things jumped out.

I reacted initially the way Ali Weinberg did: “Has Obama ever said before that he was only meeting with health care team ‘every other week, every three weeks’?”

But about two seconds later, I reflected that hey, having a meeting every two or three weeks with a bunch of underlings to make sure they’re doing their jobs is fairly often, given that a POTUS does have a few other responsibilities. It’s way short of micromanaging, but it’s more than “only.”

Then, I noticed that CBSNews reported, “Obama takes blame on health care rollout: ‘Since I’m in charge, we screwed it up’.”

Ummm… no, not really. In fact, when I heard him say it, it struck me as a case of verbal contortion, in an effort to fall just short of taking the blame personally.

That’s really a bizarre construction: “Since I’m in charge” sounds like he’s about to take the blame, but “we screwed it up” rather startlingly shares the blame with others.

I haven’t heard an acceptance of responsibility that tortured since “Mistakes were made.”

Any other thoughts on the president’s remarks today?

‘What did the world search for in 2013?’ Google knows…

zeitgeist

Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald are feeling like pretty important guys (just ask ‘em; they’ll tell ya), especially since they finally got one federal judge to agree with their view of NSA surveillance programs.

But as far as Google is concerned, they’re not all that interesting.

At least, they don’t show up in the Google Zeitgeist list of top 10 global trending searches of 2013. Here’s what does:

  1. Nelson Mandela
  2. Paul Walker
  3. iPhone 5s
  4. Cory Monteith
  5. Harlem Shake
  6. Boston Marathon
  7. Royal Baby
  8. Samsung Galaxy s4
  9. PlayStation 4
  10. North Korea

There’s more — much more. From Google’s blog:

Every day, around the world, we search. We want to find out more about our heroes, explore far-away destinations, or settle a dinner table dispute between friends. And sometimes we just search to find out how many calories are in an avocado.

In our annual Year-End Zeitgeist (“spirit of the times”), we reflect on the people, places, and moments that captured the world’s attention throughout the year. This year marks our most global Zeitgeist to date—with 1,000+ top 10 lists across categories like Trending People, Most-Searched Events and Top Trending Searches from 72 countries.

As we get ready to turn the page to 2014, we invite you to take a global journey through the biggest moments from the past 12 months in our Year in Review video

And how did the largest number of users finish the query, “what is…?”

With the word, “twerking,” that’s how. Really. We’re serious. Even if the rest of the world wasn’t. It was “twerking,” not, say, “metadata.”

Somewhere at The Guardian, there’s an editor weeping right about now. Probably the one who keeps leading the paper (or at least, the Web version) with Snowden/NSA stories

Snowden’s new employer kept secret ‘for security reasons.’ No, I am not making this up.

The Slatest brought this to my attention:

Edward Snowden has a new job. His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, tells Russian outletRIA Novosti that Snowden has landed a new gig in technical support. Kucherena isn’t saying who Snowden’s new employer is, but did describe the company as a major Russian website. “He will be part of the support team of one of the largest Russian websites,” Kucherena told the Russian news agency. “I can’t say the name of the website now for security reasons.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

First, what employer on this planet would be so monumentally stupid as to hire Edward Snowden, someone who so famously betrayed every oath, every rule and principle held sacred by his former employers?

For a full reminder of the extent to which Snowden personifies the concept of betrayal, betrayal of everyone and everything around him, I urge you to go back at read David Brooks’ column of June 10. And I quote:

He betrayed honesty and integrity, the foundation of all cooperative activity. He made explicit and implicit oaths to respect the secrecy of the information with which he was entrusted. He betrayed his oaths.

He betrayed his friends. Anybody who worked with him will be suspect. Young people in positions like that will no longer be trusted with responsibility for fear that they will turn into another Snowden.

He betrayed his employers. Booz Allen and the C.I.A. took a high-school dropout and offered him positions with lavish salaries. He is violating the honor codes of all those who enabled him to rise.

He betrayed the cause of open government. Every time there is a leak like this, the powers that be close the circle of trust a little tighter. They limit debate a little more.

He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.

He betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else….

“For security reasons…” Har-de-har-har-har.

Whose security? Edward Snowden’s? Who should feel any obligation to respect or protect confidentiality for his benefit?

Who says NSA surveillance can’t be a source of fun?

Taking off on a report that NSA operatives have on some occasions used their surveillance power to check up on their personal love interests (this kind of intelligence-gathering is informally called “LOVEINT”), a lot of folks have been having fun with #nsapickuplines.

Some diverting examples, courtesy of NPR:

I bet you’re tired of guys who only pretend to listen.

I’d tap that.

Just relax while we unzip your files.

Are you tired? Because you’ve been running through my chat log reviews all day.

I know exactly where you have been all my life

Girl, you must have fallen from heaven because there is no tracking data to indicate how you arrived at this location.