Nel's New Day

June 17, 2013

U.S. People Need to Examine NSA Spying

As people in the U.S. were still reeling from Edward Snowden’s first revelation that the National Security Agency has collected massive data on U.S. people and trying to justify these actions for safety sake, they discovered that things are much worse than they thought. Initially, the NSA said they didn’t examine the content of communications with warrants, we found out they had lied.

The heavy-duty spying began just after 9/11 when Microsoft cheerfully and competently supplied the feds with whatever they wanted. Company insiders called it “Hoovering” after J. Edgar Hoover, the first FBI director who collected mountains of dirt on countless Americans.

Early in his first term, George W. Bush authorized the NSA to monitor the fiber optic cables that enter and leave the U.S. Shut down in 2007, the program was immediately replaced by the Protect America Act which allowed unlimited warrantless wiretapping if the NSA explained what it was doing to a secret court in Washington. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) voted against this act. That act started PRISM.

Bush’s new program collects Internet information with names, addresses, conversation histories, and entire archives of email inboxes as well as video chats and bank transactions—all at the speed of light. Another program collects all information about telephone communications by demanding records from Verizon Business Services and other large U.S. phone companies, including Bell South and AT&T, since May 24, 2006. The government isn’t required to identify any targets or places if a federal judge secretly approves. This information can be permanently retained as long as it belongs to someone in the U.S.

Google and Facebook deny that they provide very much information. Yahoo went to court and lost in a classified ruling in 2008. Despite their denials, they are making deliveries to the government. How much they do is secret.

Originally, the NSA said that they just examined records of numbers, senders, recipients, and addresses. But Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) discovered in a classified briefing to the House Judiciary Committee that “an analysist,” presumably a low-ranking employee, can decide whether they access the contents of a telephone call, making the surveillance much broader than previously thought. With its estimated annual budget of $10, the agency doesn’t even need the blessing of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court; the attorney general and director of national intelligence can give approval as long as NASA follows the court’s requirements and procedures.

Those who oppose any kind of gun control are incensed at any possible abridgement of their privacy in that area, yet most of the U.S. public seem unconcerned about government employees reading their emails and listening into their telephone calls. Instead, many of them have become outraged that someone warned them about the surveillance program.

The media, no matter its political leanings, joined in the attacks on Edward Snowden when he announced what the NSA is doing. Rather than debating the appropriateness of his release of this information, the media trashed his personal character, starting out with a focus on his being “a high school dropout” and having a girlfriend who is a “pole dancer.”

CBS’s Bob Schieffer may have used the kindest description, saying that Snowden is “no hero” like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. because he ran off and hid in China. He did say that Snowden is “a narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us.” (If Snowden knows about NSA’s actions, then he’s certainly smarter than I am!)

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin called him a “grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison” and a “naïve nincompoop.”  Tom Brokaw dismissed him as a “military washout.” The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen dubbed Snowden a “cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.” Fox went farther overboard when Ralph Peters advocated assassinating Snowden. As he supports the PATRIOT Act and blames the president for an intrusive government, Bill O’Reilly wants Snowden arrested. Somewhat agreeing with O’Reilly, Sean Hannity thought seven years ago that surveillance was just peachy but now believes the president is acting as Big Brother.

While these elitists spend air time and paper sliming the person who revealed NSA’s unconstitutional actions, the media has largely ignored the private contractor who the government hired to spy on the U.S. people. As James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence, calls Edward Snowden a traitor to the public interest and the country, Clapper’s former employer, Booze Allen Hamilton needs closer scrutiny.

In February 2012, the U.S. Air Force suspended Booz Allen from seeking government contracts because Joselito Meneses, a former deputy chief of information technology for the Air Force, gave Booz Allen a hard drive with confidential information about a competitor’s contracting on the first day that he went to work for the company. Two months later, Booz Allen fired Meneses and paid the Air Force $65,000. He wasn’t the only former Air Force officer to be hired as an executive for the company.

Booz Allen admitted to overbilling the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by inflating monthly hours of employees and submitting excessive billings. Four years ago, the company repaid the government $325,000 to settle the charges. A company whistleblower revealed this information to the government. Three years earlier, Booz Allen was also caught overbilling. Its share of a $15 million settlement under the False Claims Act was $3.3 million.

Ralph Shrader, Booze Allen’s chair, CEO, and president, came to the company in 1974 after working at two telecommunications companies: Western Union, where he was national director of advanced systems planning; and RCA, where he served in the company’s government communications system division. In the 1970s, those two companies participated in a secret surveillance program, Minaret, agreeing to give NSA all U.S. telephone calls and telegrams. This and other spying programs led to Congressional hearings to study government intelligence activities.

Over a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive government matters. Frequently, they even perform the country’s national security clearances. Almost half the 25,000 Booze Allen employees have top secret security clearances, and 98 percent of the company’s income came from the government last year.

When the news first broke about the massive collections of date on people in the United States, conservative pundit Bill Kristol said that the GOP should not consider this a scandal like other ones such as the IRS.

Kristol said:

“They’re not allowed to go into that data until they have a warrant signed off on by a judge. That is totally different from the IRS abuses, which I think are very serious, and I think it’s very important for conservatives and Republicans to make that distinction.”

I wonder what he and the other conservatives think now that that they’ve discovered that the NSA is looking at anyone’s technological communications with no need for warrants. I also wonder if the left and right mix of senators—including Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—still think that mining every technological piece of information about the people in the United States is just fine.  If they do, their constituents may disagree.

prism 1

prism 2One humorous aside to the PRISM program: NSA failed to get permission for use of a copyrighted photograph by Adam Hart-Davis for its logo. That may be part of their philosophy that they are above the law.




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