Stuff and nonsense: The NSA data mining

Trading liberty for “security.”

It wouldn’t be an American political scandal if there weren’t an element of farce in it.  There is a whole periodic table of farce in this one, so it’s hard to choose, but I guess I pick, as Farce Number One, the inability of U.S. national intelligence to find Edward Snowden after he fled overseas and checked into a Hong Kong hotel.  I’ll let you know if that changes.

I imagine readers have a clear picture of what’s going on with this NSA collection scandal, but let’s clarify one aspect of it.  The phone data collection involves metadata only, at least as far as we have been told; it’s not about collecting the content of phone calls.  The collection of data on emails and other web-brokered information is about content, as well as about metadata.  NSA is collecting content from our online correspondence.

So it is inaccurate to say that NSA isn’t collecting content created by presumed-innocent citizens with First and Fourth Amendment rights.  NSA is doing exactly that.  This form of collection doesn’t – at least intentionally – target our content.  But it gathers and preserves it.  The reason for the difference between phone calls and online exchanges is, precisely, the difference between phone calls and online exchanges: the former involve audio signals that aren’t normally recorded and preserved, whereas the latter involve digitally-generated and always-recorded data.  The nature of the medium makes it unnecessary to do anything extra – anything that would entail getting a warrant in a criminal procedure – to collect data that’s conveniently preserved online already.

Next, let’s clarify something the pundits have been broadly confused about.  Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old high-school-dropout/IT contractor who revealed the NSA collection program to the public, did not disclose anything damaging to national security about “sources and methods.”  He did commit a felony by making an unauthorized disclosure of classified information, and the federal government has a basis for prosecuting him.  But it is hilarious to suggest that he provided information that terrorists and foreign governments were lacking, in their effort to really understand how the U.S. government is trying to track them.

Does anyone today not understand the methods by which a national government could track and analyze information on phone calls and emails?  Regarding the latter, the average, moderately tech-savvy person is well aware that commercial data mining programs go after emails.  They go after our web clicks.  They are used to target us with tailored advertising.  All the government has to do is pick a mining objective, buy a program, and acquire a “source.”

Acquiring a “source” is even easier to do, if you’re a government.  The U.S. federal government asked Google, Microsoft, etc., for their internet subscribers’ data, and the ISP giants said “Yes.”  That was it.  Nothing intricate or technologically sensitive.  Terrorists and foreign governments – not to mention readers of USA Today – know that China and Russia have been doing this for years.  The foreign governments that aren’t doing it are holding the option in reserve for the day they might want to.

Regarding “source” acquisition, the same goes for the telecomm giants.  The feds asked; the giants said “Yes.”  What part of this process is secret-squirrel intel-trade magic?  If you’ve had a phone bill in the last 60 years, you know the metadata on your phone calls is there for the taking; if it’s not in your statement every month, it’s available from the service provider.  (A whole generation learned about the existence of this data from the TV series Law & Order, with its 1990s-era stock dialogue on “getting the LUDS” on a suspect’s phone.)

Terrorists have known this for years.  It’s why they like to have lots of prepaid cell phones, bought with cash in different places, which they use only once and then discard. 

Dianne Feinstein assures us that these data-mining efforts can be credited with preventing terror attacks, and I don’t think she would lie to us about that.  A conclusion from this point is that there are – or at least, in recent years, have been – people with media-subscriber accounts in the United States who are involved in terrorism, or whose family members are.  This would include people who aren’t subscribers, per se, but who reuse prepaid cell phones and internet aliases.  Such people tend to be relatively stable, with jobs (or at least a relationship with SSI and TANF) and street addresses.

These people aren’t likely to be the “big fish.”  The plotters of major terrorist attacks try to cover their trails better now.  But the big fish’s networks of associates include relatively stable, normal-appearing people in America who keep subscriber accounts with wireless and internet providers.

This is worth remembering, and under different political conditions, it would be as clear to us that the terror-connected American-media subscribers have Arabic, or Central or South Asian names, as it is that Mafiosi have Italian names, or that the members of gangs wear special tattoos and flash gang signs at each other.  The people in a particular ethnic, racial, or religious group are by no means all tarred with the same brush; of course, we must and do make distinctions between the radical or criminal and the great majority who are neither.  But in no case, when looking for terrorism patterns, will it be fruitful to pore over the telecommunications of a black evangelical Christian from Hattiesburg, a Navajo business proprietor from Shiprock, a Hispanic dentist from San Jose, or an aging atheist professor from Happy Valley.

Nevertheless, it is these latter Americans who are finding their telecommunications pored over.  For some perspective, consider that in the 1970s, Congressional discoveries about CIA excesses in collecting data on Americans led to severe restrictions being placed on the CIA, and the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA – the father of today’s network of FISA provisions for managing intelligence collection.  The purpose of Congress’s actions in the late 1970s was to fence off the American public from the forms of collection our national government uses against foreign targets.  Foreign targets have no expectation of rights under the U.S. Constitution.  American citizens do.

Today, the National Security Agency, which was chartered to collect on foreign targets, is collecting data on American citizens as if we were all foreign targets, with no expectation of constitutional protection.  The concern that this would be too likely to happen was one of my chief beefs with the Patriot Act.

For some additional perspective, we can consider the early 1990s, when the Bush 41-era “war on drugs” encountered the issue of collecting communications that might involve U.S. citizens (or “U.S. persons,” which includes business and other corporate entities).  The protocols for handling “war on drugs” communications in which U.S. persons were involved were much, much stricter than the “war on terror” collection protocols appear to be.  The slippery slope seems now to be covered with mud and fallen rock behind us.

It is a legitimate question how we should handle collection methods as our technology evolves.  I never defended – in fact, I opposed – the so-called practice of “warrantless wiretapping,” which we learned about during the Bush 43 administration (and which has continued under Obama).  Although it wasn’t actually “warrantless,” the informal convention adopted by the Bush administration was too easy to abuse, and I was often a lonely voice among conservatives arguing against it.

But I did acknowledge, and indeed explained clearly, why our technology had changed to the point that observing the letter of FISA too often meant falling behind the pace of terrorist communications.  My suggestion was to revise the law – rather than accepting an on-the-fly circumvention of it – so that respecting our Fourth Amendment rights would keep up, procedurally, with technology.

I suggest that what we require today is a full airing of technological capabilities versus national security needs and the people’s rights.  There need not be a slide show on literal “sources and methods,” but we definitely require a reckoning on what is being or can be collected, and how such collection ought to relate to our protections under the Constitution.  There has been too much of simply assuming this question away, and not enough of a basic, principled discussion about it.

I see two major hinges for the issues involved.  One is whether government can be trusted with a mass of data on the people, for which it has no legitimate purpose.  The other is whether there are alternatives to the data-mining program that would meet our national security needs.

As to the former, it seems farcical to suggest that government can be trusted with all this information about us.  Government holds over us whatever it can find out about us.  There was a time, as little as 100 years ago, when the U.S. federal government didn’t know what people’s individual incomes were.  Through a constitutional process, Congress and the president decided that government needed to know our incomes in order to tax us.  Just to tax us; nothing else.

But almost immediately, government began to have opinions about our incomes: to assert that some had too much income, and some too little, and then to calculate that each of us had enough to pay for an ever-growing list of schemes – Social Security, “employer-provided” health insurance, Medicare – to remake our economy and social lives.  In the 1960s, Congress instituted a welfare state, effectively for the purpose of raising some incomes by lowering others.

In the last few years, Democrats in Congress have floated the idea of “nationalizing” citizens’ tax-advantaged retirement-savings accounts; that is, taking them away from the people who accumulated them, and replacing them with fixed-return accounts managed by the federal government.  Today, Obamacare proposes to commit an alarmingly huge portion of a middle-class income — $20,000 a year for a family – to a “health insurance” mandate.  These proposals would be unthinkable if the U.S. federal government did not perceive itself to be in charge of the levels of the people’s incomes.  We got to this day from the starting line at which all government needed was a dollar figure so it could tax us.

Given the federal and state governments’ activism in every aspect of our lives, it is fully guaranteed that the U.S. government will be as active with our phone and online data as it has been with everything else about us.  This one is simply a given:  of course the federal government will seek to control, incentivize, and punish us using the data it collects on us.

The other hinge is the question whether we have alternatives to this data mining for national security purposes.  This is a cost-benefit issue; it is not a ones-and-zeroes issue of national security on one side and a complete lack of it on the other.  Of course we have alternative methods, such as profiling and regime-changing.  No single method is foolproof by itself, as is obvious with the Boston Marathon bombing.  The only method in this list that we were using prior to the bombing was the comprehensive data mining, and that, even combined with whatever else we were doing, didn’t prevent the attack.  Profiling would actually have had a better chance of preventing it, considering Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s background and connections with Islamist radicals.

There was, of course, no one to regime-change, to discourage this attack.  The cost of regime-changing foreign despots is very high; we don’t want to take it on lightly.  But the cost of allowing virtually unfettered data mining on the mass of American citizens is at least as high, if not higher.  The very character of our nation depends on government being in a correct relationship to the people, and with the data mining programs used by NSA, government is not in that relationship today.  It sees us as an abstract data set, to be mined and sifted for potential intelligence – rather than as 314 million individual citizens with rights.

In other realms, like consumption, health, jobs, income, productivity, retirement, childbearing, and household formation, government already has an irresistible tendency to see us in the same light.  We are not individuals with dignity and rights, but data sets to be analyzed and manipulated.

It’s one thing for businesses to study us in order to better target their products and advertising.  Businesses can’t force us to do anything.  The choice to engage in commerce with them remains with us.  But government holds the armed power of the state over us.  It cannot be trusted to have a general, warrantless, “intelligence” interest in our phone call patterns or our online correspondence.

If we terminated these NSA collection programs, might the consequence be a terror attack that isn’t prevented?  Possibly.  But we are already paying that price with our rejection of profiling, which could have prevented more than one of the terror attacks in our growing list.  Major Nidal Hassan, like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, would have been an excellent subject for profiling.  Not all would-be bombers or successful attackers exhibit such strong symptoms beforehand.  But careful profiling is at all times likely to have a higher payoff in protecting the public than vacuuming in piles of irrelevant data on the phone calls of a Jewish IT executive in Denver or the emails of a Cuban-American restaurateur in Miami.

Whether or not you feel competent to judge the efficacy of different intelligence and law-enforcement methods, your opinion matters on whether the federal government should gather reams of data on your communications.  (To clarify, it matters even if you disagree with me.)  It was always going to be the case that each time Americans were asked to accept a loss of freedom, the reason for the mandate would be compelling, and the very definition of liberty would be at stake.  There will never be easy-answer questions about how much liberty to give up for a promise of security.

But there is the lesson of history on this matter.  No government has ever failed to use the power it had over its citizens.  No government has ever collected information about the people and then failed to use it against the people.  Those who have ceded liberty for security have in fact lost both.  The horrors perpetrated by humans – e.g., terrorism – are not “patterns,” they are accountable moral decisions, and preventing them is not an abstract mechanical activity but a moral and spiritual one, with the blood and sweat of human will coursing through it.

It is a false implication, that we will be more secure if we allow the government of the United States to keep us under surveillance in the way the governments of Iran, Cuba, and China keep their people under surveillance.  The truth is closer to the reverse.  If we seek security, our priority should be to prevent any entity on earth from having too much power over us.  History, if it tells us anything, tells us that.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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38 thoughts on “Stuff and nonsense: The NSA data mining”

      1. Now, Mighty. That’s fuster’s way of saying, “This essay was exceptionally well reasoned and informative. Two thumbs up!”

        1. that indeed was my way of saying that this essay had flaws but was better than usual.

          I was also expressing gratification at seeing you return to the blog after an unusually long absence. jgets was worried about you and had me a bit worried as well.

          1. Yes. I admit to having some images flash through my mind of our hostess being escorted down into the sub-levels of the NSA, or worse the IRS, by sun-glassed dark suited men with spiral thingys coming out of their ears.

            Not for the reason of offering her expertise of course 🙂

            I do hope the boys in Maryland are getting all this. Or in my case that might be Cyprus

  1. Well done!!! And exactly how I felt about Patriot Act (PA), TSA, and the overall concept of DHS. Goes against everything that our Founding Fathers (FF) stood for.

    PA was tolerable, barely tolerable, only in the sense that Bush was in charge, but really a Trojan horse for the next corrupt guy to come along, Obama notwithstanding. But like you I was against it to the core, with nary a constitutional basis. Just because all 3 branches deem something to be legal or illegal, does not mean it is constitutional.

    We’re seeing all the abuses coming to light under Oboobi. Remains to be seen if he is the King George of our time, but that would require about 30% of the frogs to bestir themselves and jump out of the slow heating pot. I’m guessing only about 10% are even alert.

    And it’s not even a partisan issue, but a liberty vs security issue. As one of the FFs noted, it’s not so much govt itself but the moral character of the leaders, to include managers, a la Lois Lerner etc.

    Imagine McVain as POTUS and determined to go after ‘wacko-birds’, ‘Hobbit-ses’ etc. And he’d do it with relish against any of his ‘enemies’. Maverick that he is, he would delight and torment folks on both sides of the aisle.

    Imagine a right-winger, but unappreciative of our Constitution, POTUS going after ACORN, SDS and any other progressive-front?

    While seeing the moonbats taken down might elicit a bit of schadenfreude from the right as a bit of karma for the abuses already endured; it would and should alarm any constitutionalist, because this is nothing less than a general warrant to stockpile the degrees of separation on any and everyone. Then when something happens to provoke probable cause, they can dive into their private dumpster, rather than dig up proof/evidence from scratch.

    Speaking of dumpster-diving, imagine the Framers’ take if NSA had suggested that all garbage burning be banned and instead, all the garbage be secured in a federal land fil, indexed by date & source and stored indefinitely. That way, when Benedict Arnold, or John Wilkes Boothe did their dastardly deed, we could dive in and uncover their plot. Far-fetched, but essentially the same thing, the difference being data type and economies of scale.

    Here’s a meme people need to digest, when one has enough general information about someone that may or never be used to prosecute, is enough to persecute. The allure of Big Data (now there’s a new subsidiary for Breitbart) is that you no longer need to do due process when you can simply persecute your enemy.

  2. Data is like the ocean. On the surface there seems to be a lot going on, but if you go below the surface that “lot” becomes an entire world from the microscopic to the largest creature to breathe on this planet… and everything in between. So much so, to us it looks like “stuff”.

    But take some knowledge, ask the right questions, and bring the correct instrumentality to bear, and that blurry riot of “stuff” turns into thousands of ecosystems teaming with very specific very consequential life.

    There in lies the problem with all databases, whether it is the famous third normal format SQL training database for Oracle called Scott… or the most sophisticated data warehouses housed in virtual memory of computer systems undreamed of when Codd and Date defined the 3rd normal format database. The problem is that one must have three things to make sense of any massive assembly of data.

    1) There must be high quality explicit referential keys between elements, tuples, and tables. These explicit keys connect various two dimensional tables into more informative intersections of three dimensional representations. There must also be well understood potential implicit candidate keys for joining. The more numeric and randomized the data the more efficient it is.

    2) There must be a defined structure for the database with high quality well understood reference data. This data “illuminates” normally idiosyncratic numeric data. The example at hand is the metadata extracted from the phone companies.

    Taken at face value, it is at least four fields, a source NIC (phone number), a destination NIC, a start timestamp, and a termination timestamp. This is not thunderous data. It strikes most folks as sort of odd to know, but its not abnormal or alarming (everyone gets a bill every month based on it…) Now add some good implicit and explicit key tables, Every phone book with name and address information of the NIC (unlisted or not). Perhaps a digitized Yellow Book to connect a number with a business. A few business directories, and directories of people in those businesses… You get the picture…

    Which then leads to the 3rd thing that you need to have to make sense of the STUFF. The thing that is the key to everything.

    Knowing what question to ask of the data. The data won’t just squirt out interesting stuff if you dump it all into a computer and grind it around. In fact the average Cartesian Product in a database that size will fill up every available byte of temporary storage building a bigger pile of trash.

    Which all leads to who is asking what questions of all of that data (most of which is not being announced, and none of it has much to do with content at all.) ?

    So, the DNC knows that fuster spends an inordinate amount of time on the phone to the corner store.. must be ordering tons of that bologna he’s so full of. Fuster… at least get Atlantic and have it sliced real thin…


    1. I fear the concern about fuster will instead be DHS’s concern that he frequents conservative websites.

      But you’re right: how the data are being crunched is a very important question. I didn’t want to make this post any longer than it was, but one of my issues is the poor vector it represents for intelligence, when piling up data is pursued as a method essentially for its own sake. Data crunching does occasionally yield interesting patterns, but it is in fact very rare for it to LEAD us toward actionable prospects we didn’t already have reason to suspect. Intelligence is ultimately about smoking out what other people are doing, and experience, history, insight, old-fashioned analysis, and even intuition remain our best guides in that pursuit.

      Human behavior isn’t a phenomenon that is best understood or predicted through data crunching. Our own instincts and principles for analytical thought are far superior to anything a computer can do in that endeavor. Ideally, we decide what set of patterns we want the computer to notify us of, because we know that such patterns — e.g., multiple calls between phones in Detroit and Sanaa Yemen — are highly characteristic of terrorists and their associates. If we were to tell the computer to present to us ALL instances of multiple calls between phones, as if there might be one needle in that haystack but we’re not going to prejudice the outcome by narrowing the search down, we’d be as ridiculous as a doctor ordering tests on every system in the patient’s body, when his own experience and expertise ought to tell him the patient’s complaint means the diagnosis should start with the circulatory system.

      Amassing data and passing it through analytical filters is no substitute for basic police work, such as pounding the pavement to identify the associates of known individuals. I very much doubt that the NSA programs, all by themselves, have identified to us any terrorist networks or plots that we didn’t have prior inklings of from other sources. It’s unlikely that they will. In any case, the GIGO principle applies to massive data wrangling as much as it does to basic programming.

      1. Oh, now, come on…Human behavior, at least in its more general terms, is probably the least of the NSA’s concerns. If it were they’d be targeting abortion clinics instead of Tea Party groups. This whole thing is about having whatever tools they might need now or later to exercise control over the dumbed down, sleepy and mostly unaware and uncaring populi.

        My guess is that “Personal Preferences” and “Personal Activities” are looked at with much more care. I believe that those issues worry them much more than “human behavior”. I say that because it is very human, for instance, to distrust those that seek absolute power over us and that distrust will lead some to act out a certain way or to voice preference for certain alternatives that might be helpful in offsetting the total control objectives of governments in general.

        Actually, if you really think about it, some of us can look at the government’s recent behavior, its preferences and its activities and draw our own conclusions without the need for a multimillion dollar operation in Utah (which proves that some average citizens have a much better mind than any burro-crat).

        Lastly, and like most everybody else here, I’m glad to see you back in the saddle and I do appreciate the effort you put forth in keeping this interesting site alive.

      1. Frogs’ legs… Don’t visit people’s houses and poop on the carpet, and then complain that it smells like a latrine…

        The essay was excellent, the observations are cogent and tightly reasoned. If you wish to refute them or have slight quibbles with them, then be an adult and say that you agree on this but disagree on that…

        Snide, low rent comments from you detract from something useful that you might actually have to say. How about you actually have a touch of grace. JE is gracious enough to refuse to pull the flush handle on you… You might consider her tolerance and return it with some class above the Archie Bunker cartoon level.

        1. sorry, mouse, but there are problems with the reasoning in the essay and while it doesn’t ruin it, but rather is reflective of the problems inherent from erecting a huge national government charged with preventing attacks and also charged with respecting individual’s privacy except upon demonstrated cause.

          i doubt that I’ve pooped the carpet, but feel free to help yourself.

          I’m an admirer of the opticon despite substantial disagreement with much of what she has to say and while it’s certainly her prerogative to “pull the plug” I ceased giving much of a care for that after the opticon published her very own graceless and low-rent and dishonest comments about my son.

          1. Stop making grotesquely false allegations, fuster. It is psychotic of you to claim that I made “comments about your son.” You know perfectly well that I don’t know who your son is, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.

            I believe in giving commenters as much latitude as possible. But you’re on your second strike here. The first occurred when you posted a lie about me at another site where one of my articles was published.

            This is your last warning. Differences of opinion will always be tolerated at TOC, but not lies about me or my readers, or abuse of my readers.

            1. there’s nothing psychotic about my claim, Kid and I sent you an e-mail containing my son’s response to your cruddy article.

              look it up and cease complaining about lies.

              1. I have received no such email, fuster. Not in my regular email or span queue. The address on the “About” page is correct, however.

                1. I’m rather surprised to hear that.

                  Have you yet, using my surname from my e-mail address, figured out which person with the same name about whom you’ve written ?

                  1. No, nor am I going to play games here. If you have something to say, please say it.

                    1. I get it.

                      You guys are cleverly tasking vast NSA resources to a fruitless search of past internet e-mails and archives. This way the rest of us won’t be so closely scrutinized. Thanks 🙂

          2. fuster is a dungbeetle, opticon. Be not surprised by any of his “odorific emanations” and let not your heart be troubled by the likes of him… 🙂

            Loved your post. I’m a bit sorry that its intelligent thought and hard work was marred, even so slightly, by the pathetic scratchings of this persistent “seminar caller”.

  3. “The allure of Big Data (now there’s a new subsidiary for Breitbart) is that you no longer need to do due process when you can simply persecute your enemy.”

    An astute point, AH_C. (O/T: presumably you get adept at typing that sequence. It frustrates me every time.) “Big Data” is one strain in the trend of modern political warfare, in which political opponents are worn down with ham-sandwich indictments (which are thrown out by sensible judges after the media have lost interest), and other unsubstantiated allegations.

    Tea Party groups had to at least initiate contact with the IRS to request tax-exempt status. In effect, they got “processed” because they poked their heads up, be it for ever so legitimate a purpose.

    But under a Big Data regime, citizens won’t even have to petition the government for anything, to get noticed and put on a list for national-security processing. NSA already has a record of your penchant for conservative websites. You could reasonably be suspected of having a pro-life bumper sticker, and therefore of representing a homeland-security vulnerability. If your cars are in the garage when the drone flies overhead to check you out, you’re probably hiding something.

    The record of government is that it does nothing BUT form prejudicial opinions about the people whenever it gains new pieces of information about them. What government knows about, it will try to control or reorganize. The whole purpose of the Bill of Rights was to severely restrict the US federal government’s scope for doing that. The mushroom cloud of government intrusions erupting around us in 2013 is a live vindication of the Framers’ wisdom about the nature of government and the necessity of restraining it. We have reached the point at which, through regulation and the executive agencies, citizens can be improverished and robbed of their goods and their livelihoods without a “due process” judicial proceeding involving a judge, jury, and narrowly-interpreted law written by the legislature. “Big Data” now creates an opportunity for the government to go out looking for citizens to “process” — quietly, unannounced, and without up-front clarification of motive and intent.

    1. True. Unfortunately, I posit that at best only 10% of us are alert to the water set on slow boil, the rest will wind up as frog legs. It’s going to take at least 30% rising to anger to pull the plug

      As for my handle, at least I spared you “AH·C” 😉

      Mighty Fahvaag is correct about the ocean of data and what would make it relevant as opposed to a big heap of garbage.

      I laughed at the two examples presented by the Govt of the system working to take down would-be terrorists. The Boston Marathon bombing would have been a perfect demonstration of NSA’s fanciful deathstar prism; either they dropped the ball or it is all smoke and mirrors.

      But don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t lose any sleep if umpteen associates of the brothers either got renditioned to Russia or got droned and we’ll never know about it, but for some reason, I doubt it. I think they were more concerned with pulling up Petraeus’ emails. Given his enthusiasm, why on earth did he use a gmail account? Arrogance? Set up, a la that football player and his imaginary gf? Who knows?

      Or what to make of crazy Maxine Waters’ claim that Obama built a machine that will keep the progs in power forever? A bit of cross-fertilization between OFA and NSA geeks or outright acquisition of govt assets for partisan use to the tune of $80 billion in-kind contribution?

      Over at HotGas’ QOTD today, I posited that we should use the NSA telephonic scoop to establish the public/private phone #s of all of the villains (just the presumption of doing wrong is good enough here) at the center each of these scandals (IRS, EPA, FnF, Benghazi etc) to establish degrees of separation. For simplicity’s sake, drill down to the 2nd degree (if it takes 2 people to conspire, 3 would make it organized).

      Now with the list of names, use PRISM to run them down by name and relevant keywords on both work and private email addresses and serve up the contents. For example, Lois Lerner, “Tea Party”, “Patriot”,”abortion” etc. Even if some of the stuff we come up with is non-prosecutable, we can give these venal creatures the Alinsky and persecute them.

      Once we’ve reset everyone’s thinking on the supremacy of our constitution, pull the plug on anything that doesn’t conform. But given the number of RINOs and CINOs in our ‘leadership’, it’s not gonna happen. They’d rather wait their turn to get into the control room and aim the prism at their own enemies.

  4. Nice to have you back.

    Gee, I hope the NSA is getting all the metadata of these posts. Wouldn’t want to leave’m without any meaningful intelligence to sort out, store and analyze you know….God forbid, they might then have to divert all those brilliant idle minds (and machinery) to focusing on real national security threats. Oh, but first DC bureaucracy will have to make up its mind on what actually constitutes a real national security threat. That’ll take a while.

  5. Welcome back J.E. I was getting a little concerned.

    I’m wondering whether this mining of data was used by the Obama campaign to put together the “Project Narwhal” that so successfully micro-targeted the voters and got the “right” ones out to the polls in November. Obama is a thug and is utterly unscrupulous, which makes me not only believe that he is morally capable of doing such a thing but makes me inclined to think that he actually did. I’m a little surprised that we haven’t heard more about this possibility.

  6. Outstanding commentary, that with but a few caveats I entirely agree, most especially in the conclusions drawn.

    Those caveats would be: “Dianne Feinstein assures us that these data-mining efforts can be credited with preventing terror attacks, and I don’t think she would lie to us about that.”

    No she wouldn’t lie, per se. All politicians learn in PoliSci 101 to never lie, as that will sooner or later come back to haunt them, they instead learn to tell a partial truth, one that emphasizes and minimizes the truth in such a way as to advance their agenda. Which is exactly what she’s done: NSA surveillance played little role in foiling terror plots, experts say

    The article explains that the NSA surveillance was of minor importance, not of primary importance in the case Feinstein cited. So it turns out that Feinstein disingenuously exaggerated. Par for the course.

    Another caveat is in regards to, “I suggest that what we require today is a full airing of technological capabilities versus national security needs and the people’s rights.”

    Certainly, however under this administration, that is not going to happen. The very last thing this administration wants is transparency.

    If fact, the resistance of the administration and its supporters, both in Congress and in the media to criticism of the data mining, despite the unprecedented amount of criticism from liberals and others on the left is quite illuminating of the determination to continue the data mining by this administration. That the massive DOMESTIC data mining is of very limited use in actual counter terrorism operations has to be known by the administration, so their motivation has to be otherwise and therefore that leaves but one explanation; this administration finds it of value to be able to track all movement, establish all associations and communications of those who compose its political opposition.

    The other caveat, perhaps agreed with but left unspoken by the author, is that it is highly probable that the data mining is far more extensive than yet revealed with other programs yet to be revealed. One program that has been revealed but of which there is little discussion as of yet is called Boundless Informant, which obviously collects other data than the PRISM program.

    A fish rots from the head and there is now so much rot within our government as to now be the norm, it has lost all credibility and increasingly demonstrates itself to be an enemy of liberty, while clearly engaged in the gradual entrenchment of those conditions necessary to the establishment of tyranny.

    We can see the chains of our oppression being formed daily before our very eyes. Only the willfully blind refuse to see the proverbial “handwriting on the wall”.

  7. Rohani wins in Iran, complicating the war party’s calculus.

    Anxiously awaiting your take Optcon.

    I’m certain it’ll be more pleasant to read than the soap opera taking place earlier in the comments section 🙂

  8. Rohani’s win will certainly become a theme in the punditry, jgets. Obama isn’t going to attack Iran’s nuclear program under any circumstances, but obviously, the theme that Iran is “moderating” with Rohani will be taken as a counterweight to arguments for a strike by Israel.

    Rohani was, of course, the top nuclear negotiator for Iran for a number of years. He is fully embedded in the current regime. We could even suggest that Khamenei suffered him to be talked up as a reformer in order to pacify the people with his win.

    It would certainly be killing at least two birds with one stone, for the mullahs to cater a bit to the Iranian people and get the Western media to start clucking about “reform,” while not changing Iran’s basic posture in the slightest. Of the latter, we can be most sure. Iran will continue to provide direct, material support to Hezbollah and the Assad regime, as she continues to pursue her nuclear weapons program and works to undermine governments in Yemen and Bahrain, among others. The Qods force will remain active in Eastern Europe and South Asia, seeking Israelis and other Jews to attack and providing support to local radicals.

    Nothing important in Iran’s posture will change, But Rohani might be well positioned, as a “reformer,” to get concessions from the West in nuclear negotiations, and to wrangle oopportunities for increased foreign cash with which to bribe constituencies in Iran. Unlike Ahmadinejad, Rohani has normal diplomatic-style relations with a lot of foreign contacts. A lot more “nice” people will be willing to treat and trade with him. Look for a quiet resurgence of economic cooperation with Germany, for example. (With the Germans always looking for alternatives to Russian gas — not that they don’t like the Russian gas, but they want to ensure their political independence — we can expect the door to be hanging open to a German boost for the Iranian gas industry. Iran likes to keep her options open too, and doesn’t want to be as dependent as she has been on Russia and China.)

    Unfortunately, there is no credible prospect of Rohani actually reforming Iran’s current situation. You will no doubt see pundits invoking Mikhail Gorbachev as an analogy for unexpected reform, but the analogy doesn’t work, because the situation of Gorbachev vis-a-vis the Politburo was different from Rohani’s vis-a-vis the clerical council. The clerical council is unified under Khamenei, as opposed to the 1980s-era Politburo in Moscow, which was much more subject to division and a search for unified leadership.

    If Khamenei were to die, however, things could get interesting. That’s obviously not a watershed that can be created by the electoral process. It will also be interesting to see what happens to Ahmadinejad.

    1. Thanks, again.

      I’m gonna need a little(!) time to digest all that Optcon.

      Methinks your point on Iranian gas supplies will put Germany (and EU?) on a direct collision course with the US though. At least in the light of current US policy towards the Iranian regime.

    2. All you need to know can be learned from the reaction of the US media. Rowhani is a “moderate,” which the media have helpfully illustrated and defined by contrasting Rowhani’s moderate views with the extreme conservative views held by — wait for it — the TEA PARTY.

        1. It was CBS News, Elizabeth Palmer. Internet reports of her intensely biased reporting on this are substantially accurate.

          What it shows is the world view of the media who will try to shape public opinion on the Iranian issue, which view matches the view of the current Administration. Coincidentally, I’m sure.

  9. Yes, more German moves toward Iran will put Germany on a collision course with the US. That won’t matter. The US won’t do anything meaningful about it.

    Obama has decided to arm the Syrian rebels with Russia arming Assad. We’re on a collision course with Russia in Syria, with no positive objective and no effort to account for that in our policy. Sooner or later, Americans are going to realize that foreign governments are no longer looking for (or worried about) US leadership. They will be looking out for their own interests and maneuvering around the US as much as they can.

    1. Truth be told, a green light for European access to Iranian natural gas enables both the TAP and Nabucco pipeline projects. From a purely economic perspective its a logical move. Then again, shipping Caucasus/Central Asian crude through an Iranian pipeline to the Gulf was the logical economic move. But we opted for Baku-Ceyhan on geopolitical grounds. The implications in Central Asia/Caucasus for US policy, if gas flows to Europe from an Iran not firmly in the Western orbit, are almost as bad as a Russian monopoly. It’s no going to stop at just the gas flow.

      Going through the various scenarios is gonna give me a lotta headaches.

    2. PS
      I agree with you on Syria.
      Although arming the rebels won’t make any difference. I can’t verify this, but it seems they are facing a manpower shortage. There are plenty of men in the ranks, but not enough fighters.

      This is going out on a limb but, the collision, if it comes, will come because nothing short of an intervention including (that hackneyed phrase) boots on the ground, will stem the tide of Assad’s advance now. And you are right, I don’t believe that will go down very well either in Moscow, or on Main Street. Regardless of what Slick Willy thinks.

  10. And I agree with you, jgets. For the Europeans, Iran is such an obvious alternative to Russian gas that “Nabucco” (or Son of Nabucco) will continue to be carried along by momentum, even in the lean times. The US doesn’t have to instigate a desire in the Europeans to diversify their energy sources, both politically and geographically.

    The truth, in fact, is pretty much the opposite of what the Russians were thinking 5-6 years ago. The Euros are MORE likely, not less, to want a gas and petroleum option with Iran (and Iraq, for that matter) if the US is an inert factor in the regional power calculations. When the US was still acting like the big dog, a near-monopoly held by Russia was more tolerable. We were perceived to be there for back-up if things got too bad.

    Now that perception is all but gone. The Europeans — outside of the bureaucracy in Brussels, which is determined to go down with the ship — are seeing that they will need to make their own security arrangements. And that means they will get their energy where it makes the most sense to them. Nabucco will ride again.

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