The NSA Goes Kosher

Thanks to Edward Snowden, the entire world now knows that it is being watched, or at least listened to, by the US National Security Agency, which along with some of our allies, such as the United Kingdom, is monitoring an ever increasing amount of electronic communications.  This includes collecting information on Americans, which activity constitutes the most blatant and extensive violation of the Fourth Amendment ever witnessed in this country.  The “oversight” of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is a clear sham, since virtually every aspect of this mechanism is classified and there is no provision for advocates arguing against the NSA.  That the court is simply a rubber stamp is strongly suggested by the statistics: over the entire 33-year period of its existence the FISA court has granted 33,942 warrants and denied 11.  One would have to believe that America is filled with terrorists, spies and wreckers, like the USSR under Stalin.

"Crush the spies  and counterrevolutionaries."

“Crush the spies and counterrevolutionaries.”

whistleblower

whistleblower

In addition to compelling communications companies by secret warrants to turn over their data and say nothing about it, the NSA has also been bugging foreign embassies and offices of the European Union, acts which can hardly be justified by the eternal war on terrorism.  Unfortunately, many foreign governments, such as Germany, whose privacy laws are certainly being violated, are loathe to offend the United States.  Governments inevitably like other governments, especially when it comes to angry citizens in the streets.

Snowden is quite clearly a whistleblower, but as an embarrassment to the government, even a government touted, ironically, to be the most transparent ever, he must be punished, for which President Obama has been using with great enthusiasm the Espionage Act of 1917.  Odd, I thought that espionage involved an enemy, a foreign government to whom the secrets are given, though I imagine every government considers the press to be an enemy.  Even more odd, all this raw data being collected by the NSA is in fact being turned over to a foreign government – by the NSA itself.  Would that not make the NSA more open to a charge of espionage than Snowden, who leaked no information to any foreign government, made no money and is now seriously in danger of losing his freedom and perhaps his life?

The foreign country so privileged to receive all this information, including masses of data about American citizens?  Why, Israel of course.  Our “special relationship” with Israel has cost the American taxpayer billions, has injured our national interests and embarrassed us before the world for decades, and now we discover that Israeli intelligence agencies are in possession of huge amounts of information about everyday Americans who have committed no crimes.  But let’s be fair.  We do get something in return: an Israeli company, Narus, has been supplying the NSA with new technology that helps facilitate the collection all this vital data.  Further, part of the agreement to share all this intelligence is a request that Israel “destroy upon recognition” any communications involving American government officials.  Apparently ordinary Americans do not matter.

And if you actually believe Israel will honor this request, you put yourself right in the company of the thoughtful people who deny the Holocaust, think there is no global warming and consider the American health care system to be the best in the world.  Why would the Light unto the Nations ignore any of this information when they are already recognized by our own government to be running one of the most aggressive espionage campaigns against the US, putting them in the same league as Russia and China?   Remember Jonathon Pollard, whose paid espionage was so extensive that even the normally compliant US government has resisted Israeli pressure for his release?  The FBI and counterintelligence agents have publically stated that the Israeli network in the US is one of the most extensive and damaging.  “But everyone does it.”  No, not to this extent they don’t.  Corporations may be spying on one another around the world, but our other important allies are satisfied with the mutual sharing of intelligence.  Simply put, Israel spies on us.  But then, we are spying on everyone on the planet, including ourselves, so perhaps we have something in common with our special friend in the Near East?

Israeli spy

Israeli spy

Finally, spying can be juicy.  In 1997 the Washington Post and others reported that the NSA had caught a phone conversation between a Mossad (Israel’s CIA) agent at the Israeli embassy in Washington and the Mossad chief in Tel Aviv.  The agent spoke of a mole high in the Clinton administration, which triggered an FBI probe, which in turn brought on a reaction from Mossad when they discovered they had been overheard.  A bugging team was sent to Washington, and among the targets was Monica Lewinsky, who subsequently provided some 30 steamy chats with our nation’s horniest President.  Israel threatened to leak the tapes if the FBI search for the mole continued.  No more is heard of the affair, and no mole was ever revealed.  We mortals will probably never know for certain if all this actually happened, but the known history of Mossad is filled with such spy thriller operations, and Israel knows exactly how much it can get away with fin the US, which is a lot.

Mossad agent?

Mossad agent?

This is yet another example of what happens when domestic politics are allowed to determine foreign policy.

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What a Choice!

Why is there no Democratic Policy Guide to match the Republican version?  Well, most simply, while Democrats are as self-serving and dependent on big money as their Republican friends, their party is not nearly so blatantly anti-science, pro-Christian, heartlessly pro-wealth and abusive of females as the GOP.  The Democrats may not do as they say, but what they say – with some glaring exceptions – generally makes sense for an industrialized society in the 21st century.  Their geopolitical thinking of course appears firmly rooted in the 20th century, but even that is attractive contrasted with the Republicans, all of whose policies seem appropriate for the Gilded Age (excepting of course that the Robber Barons of that time actually produced goods and services for the country).  The economic ignorance – or dissimulation – of the GOP is breath-taking, especially considering that even a superficial knowledge of the last hundred years of American history reveals that laissez-faire capitalism can only damage a modern society and generate massive economic inequality.  They are classic extremists, who have set the bar very high.  What positions would Democrats need to take to be as radically to the left as the Republicans are to the right?  Stalinism?  Maoism?

Now, candidate Obama.  Granted, he actually knows (or has people who know) some basic economics (e.g., austerity and deficit pay-off are the worst thing to engage in during a recession) and granted, he inherited a mammoth mess and has lately faced a hostile Congress (including his own party).  But his actions bespeak a man who cannot be bothered to exert himself to fight for his promises and who is just as enamored with the apparatus of national security and the power of the government, especially the Presidency, as any red-blooded conservative.  In fact, this may be the one area where the Democrats outdo the Republicans: hypocrisy.

Being a “progressive” politician apparently does not mean any more commitment to the truth than being a conservative does.  His campaign lies are not as staggering as those of Paul Ryan, but the lies are there (Obama: 1 of 50 statements false; Romney, et al.: 1 of 10), and he avoids the serious media as diligently as Mitt.  After all, they check facts.  Better to talk to People magazine and friendly local radio stations than the White House Press Corps with their annoying regard for facts.  Better the social networks, where disregard for truth is pretty much part of the system.

Obama promised the most transparent White House ever.  That used to be emblazoned on the official White House web site, but I can no longer find it.  Wow!  Are they being honest about their need to be opaque?  All governments want to control their image and avoid letting the public know anything embarrassing, but the present administration might be considered the most opaque ever had it not been preceded by the Bush administration.  Actually, in one area of image control Obama is outdoing his predecessor.   In 1917 Congress passed the Espionage Act, which, as the name suggests, was designed to provide the government with the tools to prosecute those supplying American secrets to a foreign power, i.e., spies. In the 95 years since then the Act has been used on nine occasions to prosecute Americans responsible for leaking classified information not to a potential enemy state but rather to the American media, and thus the American public.  Of those nine instances of the Espionage Act being thusly misused six fall under the Obama administration.  And now he is apparently putting incredible pressure on London to get Julian Assange in a position where he can be extradited to the United States.

Only one aspect of the Bush security apparatus has been eliminated, torture in interrogations, which probably still goes on in the back rooms and undisclosed locations of our countless intelligence agencies. Otherwise, Guantanamo remains open, detainees will receive military trials, we still have detention without trial and none of the provisions of the Constitutionally questionable Patriot Act have been rescinded.  On other fronts, the “too-big-to-fail” banks are now even bigger, and the financial industry appears to be no more regulated now than it was when the economy collapsed.  We are still in Afghanistan, and despite the fact that both the American and Afghani peoples do not want us there, despite the increasingly obvious evidence that the war is a failure, we will be keeping – and losing – our troops there for another year.  Is he afraid of “looking weak” or perhaps the huge collection of war contractors have been on the horn to their purchased congressmen?  To be fair, however, were the Republicans in control, we would be sending more troops to Afghanistan and would still be in Iraq.

Oh, the drones.  Clearly, Bush was a piker when it came to blowing up people around the world, and if anything, Obama is even more oblivious to international law than Bush was.  He has no concern for national sovereignty beyond our own, and while his rhetoric on the Middle East was promising, he has done absolutely nothing in that area except to get more entangled in Israel’s plans to wage a war of aggression.  Perhaps I am unfair here, because who knows what is going on behind the closed doors of diplomacy?  On the other hand, his Attorney General has publically assured us that all of his boss’ activities around the globe are perfectly legal according to international law, a staggering expression of self-serving nonsense.

There seems to be something wrong with Barack Obama, something that goes beyond just being another politician, but for all his faults he and his party are so much better than the increasingly screwball Republicans that were the economy in slightly better shape he would not have to campaign at all.  Nevertheless, I am sick of voting for the lesser of two evils and will drop out of the system.  I am tempted to think in Baader-Meinhof terms and hope that Romney and friends have their chance to ruin the country and demonstrate how utterly wrong they are about most everything, but it is after all my country, and all they are likely to produce is extremism from the other end of the political spectrum.  The nation is in serious trouble.

President Obama and His Stone Cold Killers

Barack Obama’s fall from grace has been startling.  The laurel of the Nobel Peace Prize rests uneasy on the brow of a man who possesses and uses the power to kill anyone virtually anywhere on the planet, seemingly free from any oversight whatsoever.  Apart from a better command of the English language it is becoming difficult to discern any difference between Obama and his predecessor, as he carries on the post-9/11 crusade of increased domestic surveillance, violation of international law and the endless war against terrorism that supposedly justifies this behavior.

Of all his promises to dismantle the immoral, legally questionable and frequently counterproductive practices of the Bush security apparatus he has kept only one: to ban the use of torture in interrogations (and one wonders how thoroughly this is observed in the back rooms and undisclosed locations of our countless intelligence agencies).  Otherwise, Guantanamo remains open, detainees will receive military trials, more troops were sent to Afghanistan, none of the provisions of the Patriot Act have been rescinded, Israel continues to determine our policy in the Middle East, the “too-big-to-fail” banks are now even bigger and the military budget continues to grow.

In contrast to that of Bush his was to be the most transparent administration in history, when in fact it may be even more opaque.  At this very moment he is using the ever popular “executive privilege” to withhold information potentially damaging to his Attorney General, Eric Holder.  But much more telling are his efforts to plug leaks to the media.  In 1917 Congress passed the Espionage Act, which, as the name suggests, was designed to provide the government with the tools to prosecute those supplying American secrets to a foreign power, i.e., spies.  In the 95 years since then the Act has been used on nine occasions to prosecute Americans responsible for leaking classified information not to a potential enemy state but rather to the American media, and thus the American public.  The legality of this use of the law has been questioned and the issue is still not settled, but this is of course a quibble for any government interested in employing this very useful political weapon.  Of those nine instances of the Espionage Act being misused six fall under the Obama administration.

On the foreign front Obama is as oblivious to traditional international standards of behavior as was Bush.  Regard for national sovereignty (except our own) continues to erode, as we carry on drone strikes in Pakistan against their wishes and violate the air space of Iran and other countries.  Despite the objections of the Afghan government our military continues launching the night raids universally hated by the Afghanis.  We are threatening a sovereign nation, Iran, with military action because they might be enriching uranium which might be used for a bomb which might be used against Israel, if the Iranian government could possibly be that stupid and suicidal.  We have implemented economic and financial sanctions against them that would be considered tantamount to an act of war if done to us.  We have fully adopted the Israeli notion that if you think a state might be a threat at some time in the future, you are justified in attacking them, an understanding of international relations that Hitler would have delighted in.  And our chief legal authority, Attorney General Holder, has assured us that all this is completely in accordance with international law.

Then there is the drone, in the use of which Obama has made Bush seem a piker.  Of course, it is cheap, it is an effective killer and it puts no Americans in harm’s way.  More than 2300 individuals, including three American citizens, have been executed by drone launched missiles, requiring us to believe that over two thousand people were so threatening to our security that we had to kill them all.  Well, not all of them were that threatening, since the figure includes hundreds of men, women and children who just happened to be too near someone the US decided was a top terrorist.  How many dead innocents?  Who knows?  The government is reluctant to release that sort of information, and in any case we have only their word that the actual target was himself worth killing.

Now we know the President keeps a “to kill” list, but exactly how one manages to get on this list is of course classified.  Given the great job the military did in rounding up innocent Afghan farmers for a stay at Club Gitmo, one might justifiably wonder about some of these deaths by Hellfire.  Naturally, the Attorney General assures us that these “enemy combatants” must be “senior operational leaders,” who are planning an attack, cannot be captured easily and live in a country that has given us permission to assassinate its people.  This apparently does not apply to operations in Pakistan, which constantly objects to our strikes.  Or in Yemen, where lack of intelligence has lead the military/CIA to conclude from “patterns of behavior” – routines, places visited, associates, etc. – whether an individual is a terrorist who deserves to be exploded.  Could this be getting out of hand?

It is wonderful to think of murdering barbarian scum being vaporized by American technology, but the problem is that many, if not most of those having their body parts scattered across the countryside are not in fact murdering scum but rather the inevitable innocent bystanders, or “splats” as the military more honestly calls them in private.  This is hardly endearing us to the populations we ostensibly want to help and only contributes to the creation of martyrs.  Another problem, more disturbing, is that in three instances the murdering scum were American citizens, meaning that the President, in consultation with his generals and spooks, has acted as judge and executioner in the deaths of Americans.  The slopes do not get more slippery than this.

I fear for the Republic.  Domestic surveillance, both legal and questionable, has increased dramatically in the wake of the destruction of the Reichstag..I mean, Twin Towers.  American citizens can now be detained without charge for some indefinite period, and the constant cries of “secret” and “national security” make all terrorism trials problematic with regard to evidence.  Somehow the CIA, an intelligence agency once prohibited from assassinating people, has now acquired heavy weaponry and the authority to blow up individuals around the world.  The President, on very dubious grounds, seemingly now has the right to send American military forces virtually anywhere, never mind Congressional authorization.  Like the dictators we frequently work with he may now order the execution of anyone he, the military and the intelligence agencies decide upon.  And like the Japanese seventy years ago and the Israelis more recently we have adopted the concept of the “protective reaction strike,” which allows us to attack anyone we deem potentially threatening.  This used to be called a “war of aggression” and we prosecuted Germans for it not so long ago.

The Obama administration is demonstrating something more cynical historians have long believed: the prime directive of any government, be it a democracy, military dictatorship, absolute monarchy or whatever, is to defend and increase its power.  No government, even one momentarily controlled by a liberal speaking President, will ever willingly surrender power.  And unfortunately the American people are demonstrating no inclination to change this situation, if it is even possible, given the utter stranglehold the Democratic and Republican parties hold over our system.