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Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Matter of Trust

I don't trust the Bush Administration to do the right thing. Period.

That's the bottom line for me with the illegal NSA domestic spying mess and every other problem that has come down the pike: I don't trust this Preznit to make a decision based on what is right for the American public -- but, rather, I believe this Administration will do whatever it takes, no matter how illegal or immoral, to prop themselves up and maintain power. Perhaps it's my own personal bias -- I haven't felt this way about any other Republican Administration, to be honest, so it's not a liberal versus conservative thing, but something that I find inherently wrong about this particular group of malignant cronies.

Sell out liberty? Check. Manipulate religion, and thus true believers, into doing whatever is necessary to maintain a hold on power? Check. Cynical Orwellian "truthiness?" Oh yeah...check. Ruin someone's life if they get in your way, including not giving a rat's ass about the consequences of using wedge issues to divide and conquer? Check. Ends justifies whatever means necessary? Check and double check.

The WaPo has another fantastic article on the illegal NSA domestic spying, written in part by Barton Gellman -- a first rate journalist who has been hitting this story particularly hard. The article reveals that the wholesale sifting of information by the NSA has led to a single digit number of citizens who might even have any connection whatsoever to any threat to our nation's security. Single digit -- as in less than ten people per year, out of the thousands of people who are being illegally surveilled -- and even then, there is no hard evidence that any of these single digit folks have posed any threat whatsoever.

That's a program that could be dubbed abject failure by any national security measurement. And how many resources and manhours have been devoted to this program that has yielded nothing whatsoever? Who the hell knows -- because this Administration doesn't do oversight or cooperation very well.
Surveillance takes place in several stages, officials said, the earliest by machine. Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States before selecting the ones for scrutiny by human eyes and ears.

Successive stages of filtering grow more intrusive as artificial intelligence systems rank voice and data traffic in order of likeliest interest to human analysts. But intelligence officers, who test the computer judgments by listening initially to brief fragments of conversation, "wash out" most of the leads within days or weeks.

The scale of warrantless surveillance, and the high proportion of bystanders swept in, sheds new light on Bush's circumvention of the courts. National security lawyers, in and out of government, said the washout rate raised fresh doubts about the program's lawfulness under the Fourth Amendment, because a search cannot be judged "reasonable" if it is based on evidence that experience shows to be unreliable. Other officials said the disclosures might shift the terms of public debate, altering perceptions about the balance between privacy lost and security gained.
So, let me get this straight: we have limited resources, budget and manpower. We are devoting a large portion of those to a program with little to no success, and which relies on some ability of tracing "patterns" via constantly changing watch-words and throwaway cell phones and little else. And which has serious questions of legality -- simply because this President will not, under any circumstances, admit that an error in judgment has been made and that we need to change course.

We keep doing the same failed action, over and over, netting nothing but a lot of false leads and dead ends, and in doing so what are we missing that we could have devoted manpower to that would have been more effective? Five years of this incompetence, and nothing to show for it. Bloody brilliant. (Allow me to pause for a moment to bang my head on the keyboard.) Never mind that the most successful method of gathering information continues to be human intelligence -- but with our heavy-handed approach to everything in the Middle East (read: Iraq), recruiting potential allies for humint gets more and more difficult every day. (More head banging.) Let alone the damage done by our government outing our own CIA NOC and her entire network of CIA associates and all of their assets in the field. (Arrrrrgh!)

You think there hasn't been lasting damage to our ability to recruit CIA and other intelligence agents and assets? That's not what I am hearing in all of my e-mails from current and former folks involved in intelligence matters. Just ask Larry Johnson what he's hearing these days. Who wants to work for an Administration that holds the lives of its agents so cheaply that it is willing to sell them and their families out for petty political payback?

How often have we seen this disregard for the facts and the truth: Katrina? "Mission accomplished?" WMDs, anyone? Medicare, part D? Plenty of troops to get the job done? "Last throes?" Not spying without a warrant? What have I missed -- there's so much...

Whan you have an Administration that is lying even to its allies, how can you possibly trust anything they say?
The NSA had assured him, Bamford said, that it was following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law Congress passed in 1978 to end government spying on its people and to require a special court's approval for U.S. wiretaps....

The danger is greater now, Bamford said. "Church said that when there was no e-mail, no cell phones, no Internet."

After 9/11, then-NSA director Michael Hayden probably "came up with a lot of ideas" to seek out terrorists, he said. Yet the NSA still couldn't monitor calls and e-mails here without presenting probable cause to a court, when often it had just suspicion or reasonable belief.
For every American who thinks this doesn't have anything to do with them, or that if they aren't doing anything wrong, then why worry about it -- think again. All that outsourcing of call centers to India that we've all been bitching about? Well, how many Americans do you think have been getting calls from outside the US from those call centers -- triggering all sorts of monitoring -- and then a big pile of data that this Administration is apparently just holding on to forever. You think you aren't in that pile? Please. And for what -- because your cell phone company wants to sell you more services? You think that justifies completely ignoring the Constitution -- and the President claiming to be above the law?

Republican partisans are already trying to turn this into an "us versus them" argument (in today's NYTimes) -- a straw man who doesn't want any actions toward safety versus the Limbaugh-esque presentation of the he-man Republican Alberto Gonzales and a Preznit who is more superhero than politician.

What a joke. The hard choice is to follow the law -- to go to Congress and request modifications of the existing statutes, rather than sneaking around behind everyone's back and seizing power that is against the law because the President is too much of a chicken shit to be honest with the public about what he thinks is necessary. To respect the Constitution and our long history of liberty against short-term expediency and panic and being scared shitless while pretending to read My Pet Goat.

Surveillance is absolutely necessary to fight a war against terrorists who use technology as a part of their strategy. That is a given, and not something that any sane Democrat would argue against. But that doesn't mean you throw out the Constitution and the entire history of our nation because the President and his staffers pee their pants in fear over a few militant nutballs hiding out in a cave somewhere in Pakistan. Are we a nation of laws -- or a bunch of scardey-pants babies who don't deserve the rights our Founders fought so hard to gain us at the inception of our country?

You wonder why I don't trust this President to make the right choices? Look at the ones he's made up until now: reward his cronies; punish his perceived enemies -- not the terrorists, because Osama is still running around making videos, but his "enemies" as defined by anyone who would dare question anything George decides to do; silence any criticism, no matter how justified and fact-based it might be; run anyone out of the Administration who might ask difficult questions about how things are being done; win at all costs.

This isn't a thoughtful President with the entire nation's best interests in mind -- it's a playground bully who wants everyone's lunch money so he and his pals can get more candy after school.

No trust. None.

I've gotten a lot of questions from readers about what they can do to help with the upcoming hearings in the Judiciary Committee on the NSA spying issue. Here's one thing: we constantly expect Democrats in Congress to have our backs, to stand up for our issues. But it is just as important that they know we have their backs on this. Send a note of support -- a "kick some ass" sort of missive, if you will -- and let Democrats on the Committee (and Republicans, if you happen to be represented by one) know that this is an issue you find troubling, and that you support their getting some answers.

It's time the "silent majority" became not so silent. Call in to your local radio talk shows. Write letters to the editor of your local paper. Republicans have been working the local level for years -- it's time we met them on the same ground and started kicking some fact-based, reality ass. Let's take back this country for the good guys -- and we can start by taking the little steps to wean people off the "Republican truthiness" kool-aid. Now, let's kick some ass.

NOTE: I meant to thank Taylor Marsh for getting my thoughts rolling on the local action idea. Then Jane kicked it into higher gear last night. Credit ought to go where it is due, and they started my brain whir on those ideas.

UPDATE: Doug r makes a good point in the comments. All those folks with Blackberries out there have their traffic routed through Canada. You prepared to say "Howdy" to Big Brother on every business e-mail you have bouncing back and forth out there -- with no oversight allowed, because Bushie doesn't need no stinking oversight? You think the boards of directors of Enron and other corporations under siege for violations of law aren't now wondering if they were targeted via wholesale data mining? You think it stops there? Please...