A Template for Reporting Government Surveillance News Stories

This is from 2006—I blogged it here—but it’s even more true today.

Under a top secret program initiated by the Bush Administration after the Sept. 11 attacks, the [name of agency (FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.)] have been gathering a vast database of [type of records] involving United States citizens.

“This program is a vital tool in the fight against terrorism,” [Bush Administration official] said. “Without it, we would be dangerously unsafe, and the terrorists would have probably killed you and every other American citizen.” The Bush Administration stated that the revelation of this program has severely compromised national security.

We’ve changed administrations—we’ve changed political parties—but nothing has changed.

Posted on November 1, 2013 at 2:26 PM29 Comments


Bob Robertson November 1, 2013 3:04 PM

“We’ve changed administrations — we’ve changed political parties — but nothing has changed.”

The unelected bureaucracy remains, the real policy makers remain, various industries and their captive regulatory bodies cycle in and out (Regulatory Capture, Revolving Door), I’m always surprised that people think anything actually changes when the figurehead-in-chief gets swapped out.

“The Democrats planned to fiddle while Rome burned. The Republicans were going to burn Rome, then fiddle.” ~ P.J.O’Rourke

Some_Guy_In_A_Diner November 1, 2013 3:20 PM

“Without it, we would be dangerously unsafe, and the terrorists would have probably killed you and every other American citizen.”

Wow, that’s the big lie. We now see how ridiculous this statement is. At the time we were still in a state of fear. We are going to get hit again some day. That’s life. We must prepare with every fiber in our being to resist ever falling for this lie again. We must reprogram the DNA of this nation to resist this virus.

Zippy November 1, 2013 3:28 PM

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H. L. Mencken

Bauke Jan Douma November 1, 2013 3:47 PM

quote: “Without it, we would be dangerously unsafe, and the terrorists would have probably killed you and every other American citizen”

Oh, the magnitude of nitwittery! — in the utterance, and in the believe of same.

Bryan November 1, 2013 4:55 PM

History has taught us that we don’t learn from the past.

Do they even learn that lesson? ;}

NobodySpecial November 1, 2013 5:32 PM

If terrorists are 100% efficient – shouldn’t we recruit them to run the government?

anonymous student November 1, 2013 5:57 PM

History has taught us that we don’t learn from the past.

Those who fail History are condemned to repeat it next semester.

fnord November 1, 2013 6:15 PM

Russian proverb: Under Capitalism it’s dog eat dog; under Communism it’s the other way around.

fnord November 1, 2013 6:25 PM

Russian proverb: Those with one eye on the past are blind in one eye; those with no eyes on the past are blind in both.

65535 November 1, 2013 6:43 PM

“We’ve changed administrations — we’ve changed political parties — but nothing has changed.” – Bruce S.

Yes, that is the truth. I would go one step further and say the situation has gotten worse.

Andrew Wallace November 1, 2013 6:44 PM

“Nothing has changed.”

Things have changed Bruce. Some might say for the better.

Muddy Road November 1, 2013 7:20 PM

I am very concerned about corporate-government mass, intensive, omnipresent surveillance, targeted attacks and behavior control.

However, I must admit comments by people close to me range from “yeah, it’s bad, cluck, cluck, I guess we have to live with it”, to “I don’t care because I can’t see, hear, smell, taste or touch it.”

It’s apparent vast via secrecy, propaganda and social engineering the population has become exceptionally dumb sheep.

I predicted quite awhile ago the Snowden Revelations would result in new legislation making everything they do quite legal, grant amnesty for past crimes and declare their actions to be legal in perpetuity.

Feinstein’s bill fits those ends perfectly.

I don’t know specifically how this will end, except it well be bad.

Regardless, I’m not ready to Bah yet.

Slow Learner November 1, 2013 7:45 PM

@Scott “History has taught us that we don’t learn from the past.”

No one expected the American Inquisition.

Kyle Rose November 1, 2013 9:27 PM

Changed political parties? I think it’s more accurate to say that we have one party—the State Party—with two wings that agree on most issues including total surveillance but use a few outlying wedge issues to divide the public and set it against itself.

Aspie November 2, 2013 6:08 AM

Thus an imperialist government policy template that gives rise to it.

I think the rest of the world would love to do a bit of TI with regard to America.

It might happen too … Eastern Europe and Asia are building the infrastructure to give them more independence. If China wanted to squeeze the US she could restrict exports of rare-earth elements needed by US chip fab plants. (I read that the battle for Tantalum fuels much conflict in Africa).

As for not learning from history – we seem to have an abiding attachment to problems of the past, so much so that we seem to like to replay them in the hope that one day it might come out differently.

I suspect this comes down to deliberately slow evolutionary thinking. If we change large patterns in small ways (1) it causes less upheaval and (2) it’s fractionally easier to “debug” what difference the changes made – if any. The trouble with (2) is that the feedback loop is so massively complex.

We live in interesting times.

Wm November 2, 2013 6:44 AM

“Without it, we would be dangerously unsafe, and the terrorists would have probably killed you and every other American citizen.”

I guess they meant ‘building by building’.

Wesley Parish November 3, 2013 12:19 AM


“This program is a vital tool in the fight against pterorism,” [Bush Administration official] said. “Without it, we would be dangerously unsafe, and the pterorists would have probably killed you and every other American citizen.”

We have to use the correct terminology, otherwise the (state) terrorists will have won.

For what it’s worth, the problem appears to be that the state envies the pterorists and would love to kill off its population.

Frank Wilhoit November 3, 2013 3:23 PM

We haven’t “changed political parties”. The Republican Party propaganda machine has been running the country without a day’s break since 1979 and there is no prospect of change.

Muddy Road November 3, 2013 7:16 PM

I highly doubt the majority of Americans will get behind restoring our Civil, Constitutional and human rights.

They simply don’t care, are too afraid, too lazy or too stupid to see what’s going on.

In this case the NSA was out of business in 1989 with the fall of communism in the USSR.

But, 9-11 was the best thing that ever happened to them.

From mostly keeping an eye on the Russians, they now claim the internet in their world wide battlefield and apparently everyone who uses it is their new cyber enemy which includes every American.

Bold to say the least. But, they are getting away with it.

The agency and many federal agencies have literally run amok grabbing power, going rogue, and spending billions, trammeling what’s left of our rights in the name of 9-11.

Lately we have been burdened with two weak kneed presidents, a totally dysfunctional and ineffective Congress and a rabidly partisan and erratic Supreme Court. Thus, there is no control or oversight over the agencies…none.

Not even now, after the Revelations. The several laws being considered seem to moving towards giving them more freedom to ransack our electronic and real lives.

During the American Revolution only about one third of the Colonists fully supported the Revolution, only about five percent actually took up arms, and a sizable number of people, about 20%, remained loyal to the King, fought with the Brits or fled to Canada.

Thus, those who choose the cause of Cyber Freedom should not expect a ticker tape parade or ever lasting fame and fortune.

It’s going to be thankless cyber conflict for the foreseeable future.

Bob T November 4, 2013 12:36 PM

Why is it that on almost every board, forum, comment section under news articles etc. everybody is disgusted, no body trusts our government, and yet the same a-holes with different masks keep getting elected?

And people tell me I’m throwing away my vote when I vote for a third party or non establishment black sheep candidate of a particular party. Oh yeah, it really would have made a difference voting for one of the other two elitist, rights trampling clowns that the two major parties gave me a choice of. Well gee, I don’t know… Should I vote for the conservative Breznev or the liberal Krusechev? The conservative Himmler or the liberal Goering? Republicans and Democrats are just two wings of one big government elitist party.

Thomas Sewell November 4, 2013 8:20 PM

“We’ve changed administrations — we’ve changed political parties — but nothing has changed.”

Things have changed… now we have all the same bad civil liberties issues, PLUS incompetence at the top running it all! Not to mention a bonus dosage of Chicago-style corruption!

Can you imagine a GWB Administration with this many scandals and outright failures already? We’re still only 5/8s of the way through this Administration…

vas pup November 5, 2013 10:39 AM

“Independent candidate: how to register to participate in local, state and Federal elections – step-by-step manual”.
That manual (if developed by Harward Law school and posted for free usage on the web) could change election paradigm altogether and refresh situation.

albatross November 5, 2013 12:32 PM

Two very important things changed:

First, most of the high profile Republican politicians and media personalities really committed themselves to supporting anything, no matter how scary or awful or crazy, in the war on terror. As a result, even under Obama, they’ve mostly kept supportive for doing scary awful crazy stuff in the name of fighting terrorism, but now attack Obama for being “weak on terror.”

Second, most of the high profile Democratic politicians and media personalities who used to oppose the excesses of the war on terror have changed their position, now that their guy is in charge.

So instead of having one wing of the US ruling class broadly in favor of crazy evil awful war on terror stuff, and one opposed to it, we now have both wings of the ruling class in favor of basically anything we do to fight terrorism.

Watching people who were screaming bloody murder at Bush’s war on terror somehow find Obama’s almost identical war on terror acceptable is just depressing.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.