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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Peeling back the skin of the onion.

And, as each layer is revealed, things in Dubya's US will be worse than we imagined.

That's some of what intelligence historian Matthew Aid had to say in a very interesting interview with Salon's Kim Zetter. Here's an excerpt:

Having studied the NSA and its history extensively, were you surprised and concerned to discover that, since 2001, the agency has been amassing a database of phone records, and possibly other information, on U.S. citizens?

The fact that the federal government has my phone records scares the living daylights out of me. They won't learn much from them other than I like ordering pizza on Friday night and I don't call my mother as often as I should. But it should scare the living daylights out of everybody, even if you're willing to permit the government certain leeways to conduct the war on terrorism.

We should be terrified that Congress has not been doing its job and because all of the checks and balances put in place to prevent this have been deliberately obviated. In order to get this done, the NSA and White House went around all of the checks and balances. I'm convinced that 20 years from now we, as historians, will be looking back at this as one of the darkest eras in American history. And we're just beginning to sort of peel back the first layers of the onion. We're hoping against hope that it's not as bad as I suspect it will be, but reality sets in every time a new article is published and the first thing the Bush administration tries to do is quash the story. It's like the lawsuit brought by EFF [Electronic Frontier Foundation] against AT&T -- the government's first reaction was to try to quash the lawsuit. That ought to be a warning sign that they're on to something.

I'll tell you where this story probably will go next. Notice the USA Today article doesn't mention whether the Internet service providers or cellphone providers or companies operating transatlantic cables like Global Crossing cooperated with the NSA. That's the next round of revelations. The real vulnerabilities for the NSA are the companies. Sooner or later one of these companies, fearing the inevitable lawsuit from the ACLU, is going to admit what it did, and the whole thing is going to come tumbling down....

Judging by the USA Today article last week [the NSA] found a way to get around those FISA restrictions and the Justice Department.

The USA Today article doesn't cover how the NSA convinced all of the phone companies to cooperate. Did General Hayden [former NSA director and current nominee to run the CIA] pick up the phone and call the CEOs? Or were they presented with National Security letters saying you will turn over all your records to us and keep it quiet within your organization? But it does seem clear that the Justice Department was excluded from all of this, or at least the parts of the Justice Department that would normally have some oversight over this.... I think they feared that if they passed it down to other departments that might have some purview over the program they might have encountered a stream of objections.

It's all coming out now in dribs and drabs, but when it all becomes clear, we'll find out that the key oversight functions -- those functions that were put in place to protect the rights of Americans -- were deliberately circumvented. Key components of the Justice Department that would have rightly objected to this were never consulted or told about the program. Alberto Gonzales when he was the White House counsel knew about it, as did Attorney General Ashcroft and his deputy, but outside of that I don't think there were many others who knew all the details.

The more that comes out about how Dubya's administration is really doing things, the more I'm reminded about the revelations that came out during and after the Watergate investigation. Back then, we on the left knew that Nixon's goons were spying on activists, but we didn't realize how much spying was going on, and how much that surveillance crossed the line into harassment and entrapment. We knew that Nixon and Kissinger were carrying out a secret foreign policy, but we didn't really know about the magnitude of the bombing of Laos and Cambodia, and we didn't know for a fact that the US had largely organized the bloody coup against Chilean president Salvador Allende. We knew that the government was listening to phone calls, but we had no idea that the NSA had been monitoring all international commmunications for decades.

It took years to unpeel the onion of Nixon's administration, and that onion turned out to have far more layers than even the most paranoid leftist conspiracy monger would have believed in, say, 1970. Like Aid suggests, we're undoubtedly just peeling back the outermost layer of Dubya's onion. The real horrors are still ahead.

The full interview is here.

[Paid sub or ad view req'd]

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:11 AM | Get permalink




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