Understanding the National-Secrecy-Complex

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

us capitol surveillance cameras security (from satanoid on flickr/flickr)

Edward Snowden was a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton when he accessed NSA intelligence information and leaked it to The Guardian and The Washington PostMarc Ambinder, editor-at-large at The Week and author of the book Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, discusses the state of national security infrastructure -- and how "secret" something can be if a contractor has access to it.

Comments [46]

Mr. Bad from NYC

Hey Ambinder, lie much?

You're a disgrace, Ambinder, a true loser.

Jun. 16 2013 12:00 PM
Arne from Queens

We may have wished for this.
After 9/11 our concern has been about "connecting the dots".
Arguably the "prism" program collects the dots and Booze Allan Hamilton is connecting it.
And, it may be legal.
I believe that the Supreme court have already ruled that the 4th amendment protects only personal papers, but not its content if we elect to put in electronic form.
Also, the judge that ruled on the previous administration's attempt to bypass the FISA court, did rule that the wiretapping of phone calls was illegal without FISA permission, but that collecting who called whom was OK.
Thus Ed Snowdon may have been able to wiretap anyone’s e-mails, provided that they were the personal e-mails or text messages, but not any telephone calls, unless there was a FISA court authorization.
To handle millions and millions of such dots, the government will require a lot of people, including junior people, to sift through these millions of dots and connect them.
Ed Snowdon may have dropped out of high school, gotten a GED, and not have finished community college, but he is clearly smart, articulate and is principled, although he elects to breach on oath in favor of an ideal that he considers more important.
Finally, Booze Allen & Hamilton may have employed he at a base salary of 120,000, but paid him more, if he worked 12 hours a day reviewing our e-mails and was eligible for overtime.
If connecting the dots have prevented 23 attempts since 9/11, this approach of reading other peoples mail may work, but at a cost of loosing our trust in the government’s ability to uphold principles as we hold them dear, and at a significant added tax burden or added borrowing.
As the economist Parkinson said over 50 years ago: War wastes.

Jun. 12 2013 02:45 PM

If this kid had still been in the military, would his punishment and treatment have been different (than his treatment as a "contractor?"

If so, how, and isn't this, by itself, reason enough to question which jobs ought to be performed by contractors and which by US civil servants and soldiers?

Jun. 11 2013 10:05 PM
Eddie Brown from New York, NY

Odd, liberals seem to be in clam up mode. Wonder what the tone would be if o'l Dubya was the current sitting President? (Ohhhh, of course this is actually a policy started by Dubya and Barry simply didn't know about it. I forgot.)

Jun. 11 2013 09:17 PM

Yes, technically the NSA cannot listen to telephone conversations. However there is a little technology called voice-to-text, you may have heard of and easily circumvents the legal restrictions, because with a wave of the magic wand your telephone conversation becomes a text message. Since government technologies are usually 5-10 years in advance of what is available to the consumer, and we now all have voice-to-text capabilities on our phones, one can only imagine how sophisticated the NSA capability is. Your guest's bewildering optimism about the good intentions of our security services and private corporations gets him my Ostrich of the Week award.

And please tell me who is paranoid - people who ask reasonable questions about the abuse of technology, or governments who feel the need to record every single email and phone record of every citizen in the land and store them ad infinitum? How many people have died due to terrorist attacks in the US compared to those harmed or killed from abuses of workplace health and safety, food safety, drug safety, gun ownership, failing infrastructure etc etc? If only the government would scrutinize the corporations responsible for these abuses of the citizenry with as much gusto.

Jun. 11 2013 05:24 PM
Donald J. Sepanek from Bayonne, NJ

Come on Brian, I know this topic makes for good radio and everybody's talking about, but you don't really believe it's that serious of an issue - do you?

Jun. 11 2013 01:43 PM


"But in a war with an ideology, whether it be Communism or Jihadism"

A very telling choice of "ideologies", jazzbug.

Surely you won't object if we also spy on right-wing militas, tea-party insurrectionists, global warming deniers, NRA proponents and political figures who have openly called for secession?

Or is the government only allowed to spy on figures hated by the right?

Jun. 11 2013 11:04 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

The "right to privacy" is not an unlimited right. If I accidentally had communicated with a terrorist or someone conspiring to commit terrorism, over the internet or whatever, I would expect the FBI to come knocking on my door to question what I was talking about with him (or her) about. I would even expect to submit to lie detector. Yes, such power can be abused, and has been in the past. But in a war with an ideology, whether it be Communism or Jihadism, the government has to have some way of quickly tracking down conspirators before the tragedy happens.

Jun. 11 2013 10:54 AM
Janna from nyc

I think this controversy of the last week is simply the Guardian newspaper looking for publicity among US readers. While I do acknowledge that Snowdon's statements are remarkable, I think a legitimate question in this issue is how we've allowed a foreign newspaper to meddle in US politics or at least direct our public discourse. Can you please discuss this?

Jun. 11 2013 10:52 AM

The danger of this program is less to us as individuals and more to our political and judicial systems. What happened to Elliot Spitzer should be a cautionary tale. Here was the only attorney general going after Wall Street and information gathered through a secret wiretap forces him to resign from office. We should be wary when corporate interest can wield such power over our elected officals and judges.

Jun. 11 2013 10:52 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I think this whole damn thing is SHAMEFUL. Everyone is entitled to privacy. Notwithstanding those who try to get their 15 minutes of fame via social media sites (which I do NOT), I think anyone who puts information about a person on line without that person's express permission should be sued and have their internet privileges permanently suspended!

Jun. 11 2013 10:42 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Snowden said it himself. "It's up to the public to decide" basically what is legal or illegal, right or wrong. But we are democracy. We ELECT our representatives, and THEY decide what is legal or not. Yes, we have a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" but the people elect representatives who in reality decide. We do not live in a dictatorship. Should the gov't swoop up all communications and store them, so that they can analyze them to try to find "needles" in the haystack? That's the big question. My personal feelings are that your communications, once they leave your lips, are no longer "private" unless given to a lawyer, doctor, or some individual protected from legal liability. Otherwise, if you talk on a phone, write a letter, or use a computer to communicate, or even use smoke signals, you lost "privacy rights." Only your thoughts are private, but even those, who knows for how much longer?

Jun. 11 2013 10:41 AM
Nyork from New York City

It's not about the information they might collect-- it's about the information they will have -- think about the former East germans stasi-- all the minutia that was collected and used against people--
we can't rely on a " benevolent government" always thinking about out best interests-- keeping us safe from terror. It's about the powers of gov

Jun. 11 2013 10:40 AM

Two things to be said of those who claim that those with nothing to hide, have nothing to fear. This amounts to saying that

1) you are so disengaged from public life in the U.S. that nothing you say is remotely controversial, in which case, you're so removed from the issues of your time, who cares what you think about government spying?; or

2) you believe so deeply in the probity and righteousness of government and the private sector, that you're convinced nothing you say privately will ever be held against you -- in which case, you're a fool.

Jun. 11 2013 10:36 AM
l sand


Jun. 11 2013 10:36 AM


You are the one making it a partisan issue. I am merely saying that I voted for a person's character, but that character was pure fiction.

A person of principal does NOT use all tools at their disposal if they know them to be immoral.

Jun. 11 2013 10:35 AM
L Sand

What a way for the caller to be complacent. Fool doesn't release the complications that can arise from unchecked government power.

Jun. 11 2013 10:34 AM
fuva from harlemworld

PLEASE respond appropriately to people who say
(1) you have nothing to worry about if you're doing nothing wrong,
(2) privacy is passe in this gadgetocracy and
(3) people who object to government snooping are endangering our lives
with the following
(1) understand the history of COINTELPRO and other instances of government/power corruptly using info against innocent, justice-seeking people
(2) because privacy seems passe in the practices of no-nothing digital natives and dopamine addicts does not mean it SHOULD be. This trend does NOT reflect INFORMED decision.
(3) The objection is not just to government snooping per se, but to the implementation of such initiatives WITHOUT adequate citizen debate.

Jun. 11 2013 10:33 AM


Pointing out how a candidates pre-election statements differ from how he governs is useless.

Any executive who does not use the complete arsenal of tools legally AUTHORIZED for him to use would be impeached after the first successful attack - if he survived.

This isn't a partisan issue - "Oooo...Look how much Obummer has abused us!" or "Awww that danged Bush/Cheney mediocrity let us get attacked and then used it to grab power for themselves." Those who try to use it to bash one side or the other are small thinkers.

If you believe that the PATRIOT Act and secret FISA courts are against the Constitution get to work writing your congressmen. If you wait for SCOTUS to declare it unconstitutional, the recent SCOTUS decision on DNA testing shows me that you'll get four votes for repeal...Five votes for let 'em stay.

While you are at it, write the mayor about the abusive use of 'Stop and Frisk'.

Jun. 11 2013 10:32 AM
Rich P from Long Island

A caller says that he has nothing to hide so he's not worried about the government listening in.:
Whether or not one has something to hide is NOT germane to the 4th Amendment. I do NOT want my rights subject to somebody's hunch. Can you say slippery slope?

Jun. 11 2013 10:31 AM
Rich P from Long Island

A caller says that he has nothing to hide so he's not worried about the government listening in.:
Whether or not one has something to hide is NOT germane to the 4th Amendment. I do NOT want my rights subject to somebody's hunch. Can you say slippery slope?

Jun. 11 2013 10:31 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

So the NSA has become what communist East Germany had, The Ministry for State Security or the STASI. And contrary to a caller any one can be declared a criminal by the state and hence a target.
This includes the caller. The fools in congress were more then happy to pass the Patriot Act of 2001.

Jun. 11 2013 10:31 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Ambinder is so full of it and a NAT SEC suck up. The NSA does not have the ability to monitor phone calls in real time? Are you kidding? This whole segment is complete nonsense. The NSA (and these leaks prove it) can monitor in real time not only phone calls but search terms entered into search engines. The reason the NSA is allowed to do this is because they are supposedly only monitoring "foreigners" but that is a distinction without a difference when an American is on the other end of the line.

The WHOLE POINT is that once this information is captured it will never, ever be destroyed. It is of forensic value to LE and political value to the government in suppressing dissent. Americans have the memory of a fruit fly - remember COINTELPRO? No, no the government would NEVER do anything illegal, just go to sleep, forget about all this...

Jun. 11 2013 10:31 AM

Missing from the discussion on the involvement of private actors in government surveillance programs is an acknowledgment that the fruits of such surveillance are actually being exploited in the service of corporations with agendas having nothing to do with national security. On point is this recent article about surveillance and suppression of moderate environmental activist groups: People who argue that if you're doing nothing wrong you have nothing to fear need to wake up to the extensive overreaching that's already going on. And no one can claim this kind of corporate-directed sabotage of democratic participation is making any of us safer.

Jun. 11 2013 10:30 AM
Lenore from Manhattan

Nice that people think that this is much ado...

Or even that advocating for one's right to privacy is itself a threat!!

Bill of Rights, RIP?

Jun. 11 2013 10:30 AM
Nat from NYC

To those who say, "I don't care if the government keeps metadata about my calls and internet use, because I'm not doing anything bad", recall that if a terrorist from abroad calls your number by mistake, you're suddenly in the government's crosshairs and you have no 4th Amendment (search) rights.

Jun. 11 2013 10:30 AM
Dennis Maher from Lake Luzerne

"If you haven't done anything wrong you have nothing to worry about." Here's the worry: I fought for conscientious objection to the draft '67-'71. My phone was wire-tapped during that time. Who decides which political dissidents is doing something wrong?

Jun. 11 2013 10:29 AM

A brave new world is our reality...who would have thought?

Jun. 11 2013 10:29 AM
Ruth from Queens

NSA spying makes ALL contacts between journalists and their sources easily available to those (the government?) who wish to keep all information FROM citizens -- the secrecy goes in more than one direction, folks! Unless, of course, one wishes to be kept in the dark about what is being done in our name!

Jun. 11 2013 10:29 AM
DK in BK

That last caller comments were completely chilling. "We have no right to privacy". Really!?
While we are doing away with the 4th Amendment let's suspend the entire Bill of Rights.

Jun. 11 2013 10:29 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

JG, with all due respect, that is not the case:

The government uses private contractors because:

(1)The upfront costs are supposedly cheaper (less in pensions)

(2) It's easier for Politicians to reward their cronies who run (for profit) private companies, with fat contracts.

Jun. 11 2013 10:29 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

First of all, I prefer our present system to one where the government has total control. The use of people out of "the system" does create a checks and balance, rather than having a system like the USSR where everyone belongs to "the system." As for using contractors in general, while they are very highly paid compared to people inside the system, they don't get veterans benefits or any other benefits or military or government employees. So overall, the use of contractors where needed is ultimately cheaper for the taxpayer. But using private people from outside the system also poses obvious risks of those who take it upon itself to "leak." This is both a blessing and a curse. It's on the one hand good to have civilian workers peering into the system, but it also can cause serious security leaks as well.

Jun. 11 2013 10:28 AM
Guy from nyc

Caller: "people that insist on the right to privacy are endangering me and my family"

WOW, just WOW. The call to arms of the new idiocracy.

Jun. 11 2013 10:27 AM
Leah from Bronx

This is always the moment I turn off the BL show: when the heavy-breathing moron comes on with his half-baked understanding of the Constitution and specious arguments about complex realities...and then Brian refuses to challenge the idiocy embedded in the remarks. Charles, you really don't get it.

Jun. 11 2013 10:27 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Since full history/"social studies" is utterly neglected in the country, I refer people to the following:
* the Palmer Raids
* the Dies committee
* Roy Cohn
* J. Edgar Hoover (well-known protester by well-known protester, i.e., Martin Luther King Jr.)
* The embarrassing court case that gave rise to the Court's "national security exception"
* Among many others ....

That anyone should be "shocked, shocked" (oh how Casablanca has served) about these spying programs only shows the depth of the failure to teach true US history. They have a long ignominous history.

Jun. 11 2013 10:26 AM
Mara from Brooklyn

Who owns the data collected when a private contractor is gathering information for the government??

Jun. 11 2013 10:26 AM
Falsehoods from NYC

people who aren't criminal have nothing to worry about - such a fallacy!

Jun. 11 2013 10:26 AM
rct from nyc

Forgot to include the title of the leCarre novel -- it's "A Delicate Truth."

Jun. 11 2013 10:26 AM

Ambinder is being deliberately obtuse. The main revelation is that ALL communications and internet browsing is being LOGGED. The fact that Snowden may have tripped over spy terminology in his interview (is a selector the same as authorization?) is not relevant to the debate. This means that NO WARRANT was obtained to wiretap your life.

Jun. 11 2013 10:26 AM
rct from NYC

@Fabio: Check out the new John LeCarre novel; the privitization of espionage is LeCarre's theme.

Jun. 11 2013 10:24 AM
Amy from Manhattan

The 1 restriction on his ability to monitor an individual's phone/Internet activity that Mr. Snowden did mention was that it required "a personal email." Who would such an email come from, at what level, & what would it be based on?

Jun. 11 2013 10:24 AM
Amy from Manhattan

The other thing that came out about gov't. contractors in the Iraq War was that they were paid more than military personnel to do the same job, so why not expect the same for intelligence contractors?

Jun. 11 2013 10:20 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Yes, the US uses contractors everywhere because (a) we no longer have a draft and hence our overall number of people involved in defense in security is much smaller than it was back during the Cold War, and (b) much of the changes in high technology today have come out of the private sector, and not so much out of the military as was the case during WWII and its aftermath. So the US has to contract people from the private sector who have the knowledge.

Jun. 11 2013 10:15 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Secret Courts, secret judges, secret directives. Holding people without charges, indefinitely - who needs miranda rights? All to done to "keep us safe."

Graham, Fienstein et al: From the Jacobins to the Bolsheviks - Just trust us they say.

The "Patriot" Act's chickens are coming home to roost.

Bush, Cheney and a rollover bi-partisan congress made it so. Obama has ramped it up.

We live in dark times.

Jun. 11 2013 10:02 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

FIRST they came for FOX News .... and I said nothing.

The NSA “kerfuffle” ....(the word Lehrer likes to use when he wants to minimize proof of the turpitude of Little Barry)... has lefties wetting their panties, but it didn’t bother them when Eric Holder went judge shopping (it took 3 tries) to get a warrant to criminalize a network that was perceived to be unkind to his hooligan boss.

Jun. 11 2013 09:28 AM

Does anyone remember what we were supposedly voting for in 2007?

I recommend taking a brief walk down memory lane at where Obama lays out his case to the voters. Below are some currently relevant highlights.

Protect Whistleblowers:

"Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance."

End the Practice of Writing Legislation Behind Closed Doors:

"As president, Barack Obama will restore the American people's trust in their government by making government more open and transparent."

Enforce Executive Branch Ethics:

"The Obama-Biden administration will give the Office of Governmental Ethics strong enforcement authority with the ability to make binding regulations, and it will work with inspectors general in all the federal agencies to enforce ethics rules..."

Conduct Regulatory Agency Business in Public:

"Obama will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see these debates in person or watch them on the internet."

Make White House Communications Public:

"Obama will amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public."

Free Career Officials from the Influence of Politics:

"Obama will issue an executive order asking all new hires at the agencies to sign a form affirming that no political appointee offered them the job solely on the basis of political affiliation or contribution."

(Well, this one was a fraud from the beginning since the word 'solely' completely nullifies the pledge)

Hold 21st Century Fireside Chats:

"Obama will bring democracy and policy directly to the people by requiring his Cabinet officials to hold periodic national broadband townhall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies."

Jun. 11 2013 09:21 AM

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