Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Here is a good comment on NSA spying from Making light:

#4 ::: Brad Hicks (@jbradhicks) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2013, 07:13 PM:

One of the best things I've read in the last couple of years was Tim Weiner's history of the FBI counter-espionage and counter-terrorism division, Enemies. A lot, and I mean a lot, of it deals with black-bagging and warrant-less wiretapping.

The counter-espionage and counter-terrorism division was founded to determine if the "propaganda by deed" anarchist bombings and assassinations of a century ago were coordinated or just copy-cats, and if they had any foreign support, and the agent in charge, a young J. Edgar Hoover, found that he simply could not get the job done without the ability to break into suspects' homes and offices to read and photograph all their documents (black-bagging) and without listening to their phone calls without a warrant (warrantless wiretapping). They also lost two consecutive Supreme Court cases on the legality of the above. So they found ways to use the information they got, when they did find a terrorist group or a foreign spy ring, that didn't involve the court system, like tricking them into being afraid of each other or into turning on each other or into fleeing the country.

But Hoover understood something that none of his successors have understood: this was (arguably) important work, but it was also flat-out illegal. The FBI was getting away with something and it would be taken away from them, making the country less safe, if they abused it even once. Information obtained illegally could only be used inside the counter-terrorism and counter-espionage division, could not be shared with anyone outside the division, and could not be used for any purpose, no matter how important, other than to disrupt spy rings and active terrorist groups.

As an aside, Weiner explains that part of why Watergate happened was that Nixon tried to convince the FBI to black-bag and wire-tap everybody involved in the Pentagon Papers, everybody involved in the peace movement, and everybody involved in the McGovern campaign, to find out if they were infiltrated by or, worse, controlled by Moscow, and Hoover told him to (blank) off. What Hoover didn't tell Nixon was that yes, they had black-bagged and wire-tapped the main Russian spy network in the US and found out that the Russians did, in fact, have people in all three of those groups trying to influence them -- and failing. But because of internal safeguards, Hoover couldn't share that information even with the President. So Nixon set up his own wire-tap and black-bag squad, The Plumbers, and their incompetence was the Watergate scandal.

I tell this story because I want to make this point, which is very important to me:

From the Wilson administration to the Clinton administration, spies and counter-spies for the US did a lot of illegal things, from constitutional violations all the way up to murder and torture and support for rape gangs. But it's not our imagination that things have gotten worse since then. One of our important safeguards got dismantled when George W. Bush's legal team got away with the argument that Nixon tried and failed: "If the President does it, that means that it is not illegal." Bush, and now Obama, aren't ashamed of doing these things, and are only barely afraid of getting caught at them. Unsurprisingly, that turns out to matter, a lot, because if they have no fear of doing these things, and very little fear of getting caught at them, then suddenly it becomes a lot easier to imagine using them, even in situations that are far short of being matters of national survival.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?