Spying: The Big Picture

If you’ve been too busy to keep up with the spying scandal, here’s an overview:

Category: Think Tank, War/Defense

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

21 Responses to “Everything You Wanted to Know about Spying, But Were Afraid to Ask”

  1. brianinla says:

    Don’t forget Obama’s 2007 campaign speech stating we don’t need to spy on citizens not suspected of a crime


  2. Willy2 says:

    You forgot: NSA spying didn’t prevent the Boston bomb attack.

    • Willy2 says:

      - The NSA collects everything. And that means that the NSA is drowning in data. But they simply don’t have the manpower to evaluate all that data.
      - East Germany & the Soviet Union spent billions & billions on the military and “security”. Did that prevent them from going bankrupt ?

      • honeybadger says:

        @Willy2 “the NSA is drowning in data. But they simply don’t have the manpower to evaluate all that data.”

        Possibly true. But they do have the computer power.

      • cjb says:

        and the companies they have collecting for them likely get the benefit of taking the data useful for marketing and selling it.

      • WallaWalla says:

        Thanks to their brand new $1.7 billion facility, the NSA is trying their best to keep up with the flow of data.

        Many people have the impression that it would be difficult or expensive to store every phone call made in the United States. Back of the envelope calculations estimate the cost at a paltry $27 million per year.

        Even before the most recent leak, I suspected that the US was storing this data. Days after the Boston bombing, the government had actual transcripts of phone calls related to the bombings before they occurred. From the layman’s perspective it would seem that all this spying doesn’t prevent attacks but does give investigators strong leads once they know what to look for.

  3. Louis Rossouw says:

    Great summary!

  4. honeybadger says:

    The biggest problem is that surveillance is used to crush dissent (this is no surprise, nor unique to the NSA– it is standard). Dissent is critical to democracy. To quote Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism,

    “A society without the means of change is without the means of its own self- preservation”

    The great advantage of a democracy is that the vote provides a non-violent mechanism for such change (compare to i.e. the Arab countries for a recent example of suppressed dissent exploding as a revolution).

    Democracy is founded on the idea that the people are sovereign and the government is their servant. Given the great power now held by large corporations, the same principle should apply to them as well.

    So how are we the people to maintain our sovereignty if the people are not able to effectively dissent against government or corporate actions?

    • BTD says:

      Great points. The counter is that change based on popular consent may be based on irrational exuberance, i.e. populism. Which is a big factor in why the founders chose a republic form of gov’t. There must be participation by the people, but it must be responsible participation (‘if you can keep it’).

      I think term limits is a great start. I believe it fits with many of the founders’ precedence and it begins to counter the gov’t class structure and the power wielded by large corporations (too much new blood over time to woo and backroom deal with).

  5. Greg0658 says:

    thanks for the list .. I believe without clicking the links

    I just wish to remind us all what the government is > it’s us (me you us)
    and corporations make all that stuff happen > not us
    > submit comment
    just wrote this on my blog:
    “can we move on – we need to be watched – have you been looking yourself .. NOW lets play some chess and think a couple moves forward .. PLEASE pretty please with brown sugar on top”

  6. ami_in_deutschland says:

    Although I am also dismayed by the extent of our government’s surveillance programs and vigorously welcome a public debate in regards to the proper limits of the government’s intrusive powers, I can’t help but roll my eyes at such hyperbolic statements as “most secretive administration ever” — particularly from a blog writer such as yourself who is typically known for abhorrence of loose, emotive talk. (An adjective + ever always tends to put my bullshit detector on red alert.)

    To the claim itself: Nowhere in the referenced article about the Obama administration’s record on approval/denial of FOIA requests is there a comparison with the record of previous administrations, but rather only contains data comparing last year with prior years of his own administration. The comment by the ACLU attorney Alexander Abdo, “In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration,” is hardly sufficient to support the severity of your accusation. In fact, as can be seen in this PDF, the approval rate since 1998 reached a low point of 55% during Bush’s administration in 2008 and has been significantly higher since.

    Considering that the FOIA has only existed since 1966, I really question how well we can even assess how secretive earlier administrations were.

    I find it also troubling — and again, contrary to your characteristic balance and objectivity — that you base almost this entire tirade upon a single source. It only takes a cursory review to put into question the veracity of its claims. For example, after only 10 seconds of researching the post linked to “worse than Nixon” I discovered that one of the author’s examples of Nixonesque activity by Obama is the CIA’s destruction of self-incriminating tapes. That is quite an “interesting” bit of reasoning since the very article the blog links to in support of this claim is dated March 2, 2009 and concerns CIA interrogations which took place during the Bush administration. How exactly is the Obama administration’s acknowledgement of improper CIA activity during the Bush administration Nixonesque?

    • perpetual_neophyte says:

      Note that most (or all) of those links go to “WashingtonsBlog” and the articles are not written by Barry. Or, if they are, it’s under an anonymous pseuodonym (but the nature of most of the articles don’t strike me as having the same tone of Barry’s normal writing). If anything, you _might_ argue that the guest posts by WashingtonsBlog are a super conservative foil to Barry’s generally slightly left of center political perspective.

      WB uses the sort of near-hyperbolic language on a regular basis.

    • NeutralObserver says:

      Ami-inDeutschland — You appear not to understand the meaning of secrecy. When the Obama administration destroyed those tapes they destroyed evidence necessary for prosecutions and public debate on the subject. BTW, destruction of evidence is also illegal in this country, yet no one was prosecuted. THAT is secrecy and totalitarian behavior. We kicked Nixon out of office for similar behavior, although debatably Nixon’s behavior was less egregious because nobody died over Watergate.

  7. wally says:

    Worse than Nixon?

    Well, when Tricky did this kind of stuff, he knew damn well it was wrong. Now we have a whole government full of people who actually believe it is OK.
    And yet they believe they are Americans living by American ideals.

  8. To the claim itself: Nowhere in the referenced article about the Obama administration’s record on approval/denial of FOIA requests is there a comparison with the record of previous administrations, but rather only contains data comparing last year with prior years of his own administration.

    What we do know is that the scope of surveillance and data gathering in the name of national security is unprecedented, and that there is very little transparency into safeguards in place to protect against abuse other than assurances from the parties doing the gathering. Personally, I’m not in the least assured. We can have academic discussions comparing Obama to Nixon, but this is an apple to oranges debate in my view and the real focus needs to be on the present. IMO raw FOIA data is a crude way to measure transparency without looking at the specifics of the requests.

    Speaking of the present:

    “The group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says it is taking the extraordinary legal step of going directly to the Supreme Court because the sweeping collection of the phone records of American citizens has created “exceptional circumstances” that only the nation’s highest court can address.”

    Privacy Group to Ask Supreme Court to Stop N.S.A.’s Phone Spying Program


    • TomL says:

      EPIC: Good luck with that – wish you well.
      The 11 judges on the FISA court are federal judges, and all were appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts. All but one are Republicans. The Senate does not vote to confirm their appointments.

  9. mrflash818 says:


  10. CitizenWhy says:

    Calm down on the similes. The Stasi in the Democratic Republic of East Germany had every citizen spying on every other citizen and often having to make up something juicy to report. Obama has not done this. There is no need, The internet has enabled us to turn over all privacy to others. And really, very few neighbors are the lest bit interested in their neighbors, so getting them to spy would be difficult. Plus people want to use the internet to show off themselves, not pay attention to others.

  11. CitizenWhy says:

    The Republicans control the spy apparatus. Snowden is an arch-reactionay right winger. When a Republican becomes President, and the spy story is dropped from the media, he will be forgiven, especially if he has agreed to spy for the CIA on the left wing government that takes him in.

    The NSA does have the legal power to suppress any news story, and the threats it can make will ensure cooperation. This NSA brouhaha will probably voluntarily disappear voluntarily from the media, the news sensation taking up all the room. But if not, the NSA can close it down.

    Do not underestimate the triteness of public opinion. First this, then that, then this. What happened to income inequality? Bank fraud? Fracking? All forgtten due to Snowden. Gulf pollution. Reduction or elimination of food stamps, etc. Lack of pensions? Forgotten. A corporate Republican’s dream. Anything to distract from the economic issues, the reduction of the Midwest to a third world country that exists only for extraction and exploitation, the collateral damage to environment and people ho-hum, that’s how you maximize profits.

  12. The North Coast Curmudgeon says:

    Spying started before 9/11…….

    Way before 9/11.

    Between 1921 and 1922, there was a series of conferences concerning the limitation of naval weapons in in Washington. D.C. by the United States, Japan, China, France, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Portugal. The State Department’ Cipher Bureau provided decrypted traffic of many of the cables of the various representatives to the conference with the purpose gaining negotiation leverage by secretly knowing the bargaining positions of the various conference participants.

    Herbert Yardley was the primary individual responsible for operating what was called, The American Black Chamber. In 1929, Secretary of State Stimson famously said, “Gentlemen don’t read other’s mail.” and had Yardley’s operation shut down.

    Yardley, out of a job, and pissed off, wrote a book, called The American Black Chamber, in which he revealed the extent of American spying on our friends and allies. It caused a big flap at the time.

    Yardley, might be the Snowden of the 1930′s.

    In any case, this sort of thing is not really new.