Monday, June 17, 2013

NSA, Surveillance, Secrets 3: General Background

Here is some necessary background to understand the context of the NSA brouhaha currently ongoing.

Everything here is based on public sources and everything here is, I think, somewhat necessary to understand what people are talking about. To the best of my knowledge, nothing I am saying is or should be the least bit controversial.

1. The following issues have always been subject to debate and controversy in this country, since the very beginning (1789 and before):
What can be held secret from the people of the United States and under what circumstances? How can the citizens of the country know what their government is doing? When can the government of the United States of America violate the laws of other countries? What controls need to be in place so that American's rights are not violated?
2. The answers to these questions are changing constantly as are the procedures put in place to manage them and to see that there are no abuses. But the system changes, the system is complex, there certainly are abuses, and so forth. Furthermore, while there may be a working concensus in Washington, that does not mean that the American people would necessarily approve of the result if it were in some way brought to a direct vote. But, like everything else in America, there is rarely a direct vote on issues. You vote for representatives, and they vote on issues.

3. We may not know the details and the specific programs but a lot of this is discussed in public and what is generally going on is available to you if you wish to know about it. This is because people are always arguing over who gets what resources, who is in charge of whom, and so forth. But they do not take ads out in the newspaper, there is a certain skill involved in knowing what is happening, and you have to pay attention.   I list various sources here.   (1) 

4. You also have to realize that different parts of the US Government are very different from each other. They are not a "communal" group mind, they do not necessarily cooperate, and they do compete. For example, the FBI, the CIA and the NSA are not interchangable. They are very different, and most of the time, historically speaking, they do not talk or cooperate with each other. There are some notable exceptions to this, when they did work together, but they are notable exceptions and we will mention a few later.

5. One of the essential contradictions of the activities we call "intelligence" is that it often involves breaking someone's law, if not exactly ours. And the question is what is the legal procedure when we do this? When we spy on the military secrets of Russia, we are clearly violating their law. When can we legally violate their law?

6. For all the attention given to the CIA and the NSA, the agency that seems to have violated the rights of American citizens the most egregiously seems to have been the FBI and perhaps the IRS. I am referring in particular to J. Edgar Hoover activities and the various activities associated with COINTELPRO.

7. If you want to understand the NSA and their culture, there are four events/projects that you need to be aware of. They are: Enigma, Midway, Zimmerman, and Venona.   There are certainly many other projects, but these four are public and these four have been acknowledged as being foundations of the NSA and its mission.

Part 4:


1. Here is an example of what I mean by being able to know what is going on in general, without knowing the specifics.  There is ample evidence that our various submarines are regularly used for covert missions of various types, including listening to and measuring signals from up close to various nations, inserting and extracting people from foreign nations, and other highly secret intelligence collection methods including tapping underwater cables and tracking Russian submarines.   I do not know what they are up to today, but I know that the Navy has increased the latest submarine, the Virginia Class, ability to do these things.   Therefore when some underwater project of this type is discussed and announced breathlessly by the sensationalist press in the future, I will not be the least surprised unless it is truly audacious and original.   Otherwise, I will say, what else is new?

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