1971 FBI Burglary

Interesting story:

...burglars took a lock pick and a crowbar and broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation office in a suburb of Philadelphia, making off with nearly every document inside.

They were never caught, and the stolen documents that they mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters were the first trickle of what would become a flood of revelations about extensive spying and dirty-tricks operations by the F.B.I. against dissident groups.

Video article. And the book.

Interesting precursor to Edward Snowden.

Posted on January 10, 2014 at 6:45 AM • 51 Comments

Comments

renkeJanuary 10, 2014 8:24 AM

The story is fascinating but it doesn't feel like a Snowden precursor; the most important difference is outside vs inside job.

SkepticalJanuary 10, 2014 8:25 AM

Very interesting story. There are parallels to Snowden, though also some profound differences. This isn't 1971, there are checks and oversight that exist now which did not exist then, and there actually isn't any evidence of dirty tricks, blackmail, etc. And in this case, the sheer lack of evidence for those things is very telling.

Latest news on Snowden: according to the Chair and the ranking Democrat of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency has assessed that Snowden took 1.7 million documents, most of which relate to military assets and operations by the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. Associated Press

No word in any articles I've seen as to the level of confidence expressed by DIA in its assessment.

It does fit with an exclamation by Greenwald that Snowden could do more damage to the US military in a single minute than has ever before inflicted on it in history, but Greenwald might have only been referring to sensitive documents on NSA operations.

I've seen some arguments in the press that the US Government should consider offering Snowden a negotiated plea of guilty which would include a reduced sentence, in exchange for Snowden's full cooperation in describing what exactly he took and what he did with what he took.

If that's the strategy being pursued by Snowden, in my opinion it has very little chance of success. The cost of such a precedent is too high.

Snowden has said "mission accomplished." Okay. In that case, it's time to tell the US what was taken, and what was done with it, so that what Snowden no doubt views as collateral damage can be minimized. That type of act also buys back some of the legitimacy he lost as a whistleblower by taking so many documents and fleeing to China and Russia.

Most importantly for Snowden, such an act allows the US Government to negotiate while not under the threat of harm to its military. Snowden needs the temperature on this to be dialed down; he needs the US Government to feel domestic political pressure, but not the threat of harm (which will, in the debate about him, always trump arguments for any clemency).

Let me put it another way. If you want the US Government to do something, the very last thing you should do is point a gun at it. At that point you render the US Government deaf to all other arguments for leniency. Snowden has political supporters, some influential, exerting pressure. If he puts the gun down, some of that pressure may be able to have an effect. If he doesn't... he plays into the hands of those who do not want any compromise.

Snowden needs to be able to regain his whistleblower bona fides with the government, in other words. However much we want to debate that here, he lost them from the government's view when took huge numbers of documents simply for the damage they could do to the US. Acts which reduce the threat of harm to the government help establish that Snowden's true motive is public discussion; and by establishing that, Snowden gives himself some shot at leniency.

Frankly, I'm puzzled as to why Snowden hasn't tried to take this step already. Although establishing secure communications with the US would be extremely difficult, given his current location.

William BeemJanuary 10, 2014 8:27 AM

I just saw them a few nights ago on NBC Nightly News' story about this incident. All seem healthy, happy, older and still just beaming with pride about what they did at the office.

It proves that some things never change. When people in government lack public oversight, they do things that the public will dislike once it comes out.

AlanSJanuary 10, 2014 8:32 AM

In the video they talk about changes in the law but the reforms that were made during the 1970s in response to these revelations (as well as Watergate, early attempts to link computer databases, the findings of the Church Committee, etc.) were watered down and were mostly later undone by the Patriot Act.

Someone somewhere made the analogy, forget who/where, that data to governments is like alcohol to an alcoholic. There have been interventions but the history of privacy has mostly been a long, losing battle since Warren and Brandeis.

Saul TannenbaumJanuary 10, 2014 8:46 AM

The most profound impact of this burglary was that it exposed the code word COINTELPRO to the public. This was a thread at which individuals, groups, and reporters kept pulling and led, five years later, to the Church Committee.

The analogy to Snowden isn't about the techniques (inside job vs. outside job). It's about the impact of disclosure on the public and government, and our expectations about how this will play out.

The lesson, I believe, is to be mindful that we're only at the very beginning of the NSA scandal. "Reform" efforts are premature. It won't be until we have something like the Church Committee - an official body with the authority to compel testimony and the product of documents and motivated to get to the bottom of these events - that we'll really have enough information to understand what's been done in our name.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsJanuary 10, 2014 9:29 AM

@ skeptical
This isn't 1971, there are checks and oversight that exist now which did not exist then, and there actually isn't any evidence of dirty tricks, blackmail, etc. And in this case, the sheer lack of evidence for those things is very telling.

You've obviously not read the FISC April 2011 Opinion, it is repleate with failures by the NSA to either observe the letter or the spirit of the law--that includes the fourth amendment. I notice that also the fact that llocation (cell-phone) data is collected despite the re-assurances from NSA legal counsel, Alexander, and Clapper.

I don't know what you consider to be checks and oversight--almost a year to remedy just one of the technical, and illegal component, of the upstream collection is a glaring piece of evidence--not by me or the public but by the FISC. Three years to rectify the e-mail content capture--THAT's CONTENT, NOT METADATA. WITHOUT WARRANT, WITHOUT CAUSE, IN BULK. At least if my postal mail is being opened it is possible for me to determine if I need to encrypt my mail.

If you still wonder about the legal issues, the Federation of American Scientist's has a great blog covering some of these legalities...is Clapper to face congress for perjury?

I would also invite you to visit the FAS web site, there is an excellent argument to the case in question:

http://blogs.fas.org/secrecy/2014/01/clapper-ssci/

AdamJanuary 10, 2014 9:51 AM

I think the security / trust side of the story is interesting. It was the knowledge that the left was penetrated by FBI infiltrators and agents provocateur that caused them to take this action, and two of the participants (Bob and Keith) were later caught in the act of raiding a draft board office (the "Camden 28") because that group contained an FBI Informant.

They were also nearly thwarted when the lock on the main door was changed after the office was cased but before the break-in. The crowbar and jack were required because they instead had to break in through a back door that had a deadbolt and a filing cabinet behind it that had to be slid along a carpet to allow entry.

The Fraiser / Ali fight was also used as cover -- the building superintendent lived right below the FBI office, but he was listening to the fight and so didn't hear / pay attention to the sounds above.

YeahSureJanuary 10, 2014 9:51 AM

@ name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons

Thanks for that. Some consistent posters seem to have a limited ability to absorb new information or acknowledge anything that doesn't match their mental map or the needs of their employers.

I guess the idea is to confuse those that haven't been paying full attention. And to cause cognitive dissonance in those that have and force them to keep rechecking what they know rather than moving on to new information. It's pretty powerful and deeply cynical.

For those that need some refreshing here is a great article by someone who "thought" like skeptical until they actually read the Snowden material:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/03/edward-snowden-files-john-lanchester

He makes the important observation that saying the surveillance is legal shouldn't be reassuring since laws and interpretations have come to pass that rubber stamp absolutely anything thing done by our security state. (Including extrajudicial execution of our own citizens, especially if we we use a drone - my point)

Furthermore: he describes how the 5 Eyes program renders any limitation on surveillance on our own citizens meaningless, since the surveillance is simply tasked to a partner country.

On the failure of oversight:

http://www.salon.com/2013/08/22/nsa_reveals_more_secrets_after_court_order_ap/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/19/fisa-court-oversight-process-secrecy

EvanJanuary 10, 2014 10:35 AM

@Skeptical:
"... it's time to tell the US what was taken, and what was done with it, so that what Snowden no doubt views as collateral damage can be minimized. That type of act also buys back some of the legitimacy he lost as a whistleblower by taking so many documents and fleeing to China and Russia."
What? No. If the suveillance establishment knew what Snowden had, they could more easily cover their tracks. They've shown no shyness about lying, but telling lies is even easier when those lies are technically true: "No such project as RUBBERDUCKIE exists." Or better still: "RUBBERDUCKIE was a program of this agency, but I personally to action to end it." (And subsequently restarted it under another name.) Microsoft did the same thing with Windows Longhorn, changing the name at the last minute so as to be able to say that Windows Vista was never delayed.

Besides, Snowden went to China and Russia because those were the only places he could have gone without being ratted out and handed over to the US. I also find it somewhat far-fetched that the NSA has over a million documents pertaining to US military assets, if we construe that term narrowly. Storing such information seems beyond their official remit, so it's possibly that "military assets" here just means stuff the NSA owns or controls.

NobodySpecialJanuary 10, 2014 10:49 AM

>I also find it somewhat far-fetched that the NSA has over a million documents pertaining to US military assets,

It depends: If the NSA is the ultimate guarantee of US security then it needs to spy on the military to prevent a coup.

If however the NSA is the ultimate guarantee of US security then it owns the military anyway and so of course will have all its documents

anonymousJanuary 10, 2014 10:55 AM

Skeptical: " If you want the US Government to do something, the very last thing you should do is point a gun at it. At that point you render the US Government deaf to all other arguments for leniency."

So how do you feel about the U.S. Government (and state and local governments) pointing guns -- both liberal and figurative -- at U.S. citizens? Should we be lenient with the government(s)?

Saul TannenbaumJanuary 10, 2014 11:10 AM

@skeptical:

Let me put it another way. If you want the US Government to do something, the very last thing you should do is point a gun at it. At that point you render the US Government deaf to all other arguments for leniency. Snowden has political supporters, some influential, exerting pressure. If he puts the gun down, some of that pressure may be able to have an effect. If he doesn't... he plays into the hands of those who do not want any compromise.

Snowden has already handed over all the documents to the press (Gellman, Greenwald, Poitras). See, for example, this: http://www.theverge.com/2013/10/18/4852836/snowden-says-russia-china-dont-have-leaked-nsa-documents

This is an admission against interest - he loses a lot of leverage by acknowledging he no longer controls these documents - so is likely to be true. So, he's already disarmed.

AlanSJanuary 10, 2014 11:24 AM

@EH

"The Tuskeegee Experiment was lawful."

In the same vein, in 1761 the Massachusetts courts decided Writs of Assistance (otherwise known as general search warrants) were lawful. And we all know what happened next...

Coincidentally, the Camden 28 case referenced by Adam above, took place in a town named after the judge in a famous English case, Entick v Carrington, 1765, in which the court's decision was very different. The latter is a precursor to the 4th Amendment and often cited in 4th Amendment cases.


Rolf WeberJanuary 10, 2014 2:33 PM

@name.withheld, YeahSure
I also think the difference to the scandals in the 70s is obvious.
Back then, they spied on political opponents and actually abused the data against them.

Today, we see that however thousands (or even millions) of classified documents were stolen, there is not even a single evidence where the NSA actually abused the data against innocent people.
So maybe they gather much more data than they should, but by now they obviously don't abuse it.

YeahSureJanuary 10, 2014 2:49 PM

@ Rolf Weber

Can you give us the details of where the NSA's surveillance capability was used in a non-abusive way? It's secret right? Why aren't you arguing that the surveillance must be totally useless because we have no evidence of its success in any particular legitimate situation?

We do know that Clapper et al are perfectly comfortable about lying to us about the programs. We know the long history of abuses by the intelligence community. We know that people are jailed for divulging any information about the programs.

In this purposeful absence of evidence, what is more plausible? That this secret program was created and it is being run with an integrity that we have never seen before? I don't think so.

Rolf WeberJanuary 10, 2014 3:06 PM

@YeahSure
I never argued that we need (legitimate) surveillance. I'm unsure. But I realize the fact that obviously all democratic nations want secret services.

And yes, frankly, I read a lot of the leaked documents, and my impression is that the oversight works pretty good.

Tim LJanuary 10, 2014 3:40 PM

@Rolf Weber "...there is not even a single evidence where the NSA actually abused the data against innocent people."

Invading private property and stealing information on a world wide scale is criminal behavior regardless of what is done with the data that is stolen.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Jenny JunoJanuary 10, 2014 3:51 PM

Regarding the absence of evidence of misuse. Snowden seems to have grabbed technical documents. My understanding is that none of the docs he released have talked about specific uses of the data. For example, we know they spied on Petrobras, but we don't know what they did with the info. Similarly, it is my understanding that the LOVEINT info did not come through Snowden but rather an official NSA statement and the "parallel construction" revelations came from the DEA side rather than the NSA.

So I think it is unrealistic to say that we have no evidence of abuse because we have no evidence of use either. Disclosure of substantial abuse doesn't seem like the kind of thing the NSA would have had lying around the way it did with powerpoint files describing tools, processes and procedures. Real evidence of wrong doing would be in the hands of the agencies that acted on the information that the NSA collected.

Rolf WeberJanuary 10, 2014 4:12 PM

@Jenny Juno
I guess you missed a lot. There were a lot of revelations about actual spyings. Brasilian president, German chancelor, Belgian telco, pornographic activities of islamic extremists just came to mind.

BryanJanuary 10, 2014 4:40 PM

“”This is an admission against interest - he loses a lot of leverage by acknowledging he no longer controls these documents - so is likely to be true. So, he's already disarmed.””

I seam to remember him mentioning he kept some back for his own security. Setup to be exposed if he was harmed.


“”It is worth noting that the FBI's involvement with the crackdown on the Occupy movement looks really bad. I'm not sure why this hasn't received more coverage over the last year.””

And who owns the media? Yeah, as a general group they want the occupy movement crushed. Yes, there are some rich people on our side, and many who don't care. Unfortunately enough of them want money, power and control and are willing to spend to keep it.

Remember, 90% of the US media outlets are owned by only 6 corporations.

Tim LJanuary 10, 2014 4:52 PM

@Rolf Weber 'The "what is done with the data" is the difference to the 70s scandals.'

The COINTELPRO scandal revealed for the first time the use of subtle dirty tricks against political targets by the FBI.

It took the actual theft of FBI documents to produce this information because the tactics the FBI was using were deniable as symptomatic of mental illness in the target. That shaped the rules of engagement.

The Stasi perfected this technique, which they called Zersetzung, and the U.S. is today actively using this tactic against political targets and thought leaders to suppress dissent in a leveraged way.

If there is any difference between the 70s and today it is only that the methods and technology have improved.

bitmonkiJanuary 10, 2014 5:31 PM

Former U.S. military here.

NSA is a collections and distribution agency of DoD: deployed military units feed and draw on NSA data, so of course there is a huge amount of military information that can be at the very least inferred from it.

Unlike the CIA, the NSA isn't considered to be an 'action' agency, so I at least wouldn't expect to find a lot of information concerning how intel was used in the disclosures: why would the FBI send a document to the NSA saying 'Thanks for the Twitter social graph of all those Occupy folks! We're using it to ruin their lives and our bankster taskmasters are grinning like crazy! You guys rock!'.

As an aside, it just occured to me that since NSA is a military organization, mightn't there be 'posse comitatus' implications here as well?

Jenny JunoJanuary 10, 2014 6:01 PM

@Rolf Weber
"I guess you missed a lot. There were a lot of revelations about actual spyings. Brasilian president, German chancelor, Belgian telco, pornographic activities of islamic extremists just came to mind."

To the best of my understanding, none of "what was done with the data" in those cases has been revealed. Only that something was intercepted.

YeahSureJanuary 10, 2014 6:06 PM

@Rolf Weber "my impression is that the oversight works pretty good."

You are trolling us, aren't you? Check out the links I posted above. Nobody with any investigative authority has oversight. The FISA court relies on the NSA confessing its own crimes. How is that oversight? How would we know if it didn't work? Beyond whistleblowers like Snowden, that is.

bitmonkiJanuary 10, 2014 6:06 PM

Responding to myself re: 'posse comitatus'.

Nope, apparently not. According to Wikipedia, it applies only to Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines: they cannot be used 'to enforce law', Coast Guard can.

Interestingly, some good news here: according to the same source, the 2006 Bush administration's egregious expansion of 'posse comitatus' was repealed in its entirety in 2008! Yay!


Tim van BeekJanuary 10, 2014 6:52 PM


Rolf Weber:
I guess you missed a lot. There were a lot of revelations about actual spyings. Brasilian president, German chancelor, Belgian telco, pornographic activities of islamic extremists just came to mind.

I'm surprised that "pornographic activities of islamic extremists" counts as "actual spying".

When looking for abuse, do you expect to find something like "we recorded pornographic activities of senate candidates in order to blackmail them"?

Propaganda does not work this way. First you label your opponets "extremists" or "terrorists". Then you tell everyone that monitoring them is of course "regular police work" or "actual spying".

Rolf, if you woke up in a Nazi Germany like police state tomorrow, you would not even recognize any strange activity there, only "regular police work to defend the population from terrorists". This of course includes the collection of private incriminating material if that is the only way to supress harmful activities by the enemies of the state.

BTW, telling me that we know that no one at the NSA is spying on their spouses because no one has written a report on this that ended up in Snowden's collection is just hilarious.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsJanuary 10, 2014 7:41 PM

@ YeahSure
Thanks for that. Some consistent posters seem to have a limited ability to absorb new information or acknowledge anything that doesn't match their mental map or the needs of their employers.

Yeah I figure they're either trolls or pansy ass yes [wo]men. That doesn't mean that one stops countering the misinformation and ignorance that can be found most anywhere. With as serious an issue as this, the need for the community to speak truth to power has never been greater. This is the road taken in the 1930's in Europe, just replace metadata with notepads and brown shirts.

BlackAngelJanuary 10, 2014 8:12 PM

This is one of my favorite cases. It started the whole snowball rolling on bringing down bad surveillance and cops and spies. This was the crack in the dam that all the following cracks followed.

Before this Hoover had been going crazy with breaking the law. This caused him to clam up. He saw his day was done. So when Nixon turned to him for a team and some dirty work, Hoover turned him down. Nixon had to create his own team, the Plumbers.

It went from bad to worse. (Though this is just one strain, one crack in the dam.)

When the Plumbers messed up at Watergate, the FBI did not have the power structure they used to have. Not only did they fail to help Nixon in a cover-up as the old FBI would have been capable of doing, their own people aided in the exposure.

And so the snowball kept getting bigger...

Eventually, of course, the family jewels of the fbi, cia, nsa, and other organizations came out in a massive sweep.

I think Hoover was shrewd enough to see that red storm cloud rising on the horizon.


BlackAngelJanuary 10, 2014 8:32 PM

@Skeptical
"Skeptical • January 10, 2014 8:25 AM
Very interesting story. There are parallels to Snowden, though also some profound differences. This isn't 1971, there are checks and oversight that exist now which did not exist then, and there actually isn't any evidence of dirty tricks, blackmail, etc. And in this case, the sheer lack of evidence for those things is very telling."

You do not know what you do not know.

Nobody detected COINTELPRO, though in the disclosure it would have seemed obvious. No one detected really anything the FBI had been doing, though it was an open secret in DC and Hoover had to make it known in many of his plots and schemes. Of extortion. And power mangling Democracy.

Hoover had been doing this for decades.

Problem is secret surveillance of this magnitude has no checks and balances. You can not guarantee lack of compromise when the judges, juries, witnesses, and any and all authorities are under the fear of surveillance. Look at the exposed affairs which have destroyed politicians over the past ten years. Politicians are highly susceptible to extortion and surveillance.

Democracies can be completely undermined by this technology.

Do you care if your coworker had an affair? Would it ruin their career? No, of course not.

The same is true with the economic power base within a democracy. Corporate leaders are highly susceptible to bribery available via secret surveillance. Give one company the secrets of an adversary, and there you go. They are complicit and will do whatever you ask.

Consider that these top intel leaders are not even hiding the fact they are taking considerable sums and roles at defense contractors.

None of this means the US is really dirty as they were back then. They could be. They could be very far worse.

A low level individual like Snowden would simply not have access to such information.

That he did have access to so much information is a bad indicator of organizations which are very cocky and corrupted.

Like with this 1971 case, you have to wait and see until the smoke clears. It took some years before that whole dam burst.


Erica MJanuary 10, 2014 10:37 PM

The US government has not made a strong case about what they have lost as a result of the Snowden revelations.

Snowden's revelations are mainly metadata - ie information about spying programs rather than the intelligence collected by the programs.

The US government has been at pains to point out the relative harmlessness of their collecting metadata about citizens, so metadata about government institutions should be declared to be equallly benign

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsJanuary 11, 2014 2:39 AM

Noam Chomsky: 1971 Burglary of FBI Office Proved Agency Had Become a "National Political Police"

http://m.democracynow.org/web_exclusives/2012

Great observation by Noam, and he indicates that the United States is a de facto plutocracy. That, I believe was mentioned in a different interview.

Not Skeptical AgencyJanuary 11, 2014 6:06 AM

Why do you keep replying to Skeptical?

Here's his / her MO;

- almost instantly comment on any Snowden related post, usually within first few comments (fairly obvious they are paid to monitor; other people can't consistently respond that quick unless it's their job)
- some vacuous shill like argument that ignores any reason or facts
- generates a TON of responses
- almost NEVER replies (understandable because there's no rationality behind the initial argument)

This is painfully obvious fire-and-forget shilling

moodforadayJanuary 11, 2014 10:05 AM

Curious that at least some of what FBI was doing (illegally) under COINTELPRO is now being done apparently legally and in the light of day. I am referring to frequent instances of entrapment by the FBI, usually against Muslims, typically non-violent and not particularly bent on destruction.

Greenwald wrote about it back in 2010:
http://www.salon.com/2010/11/28/fbi_8/

...and since then pretty much everyone else has, but the policy remains. In fact, it has been shown that most (if not all) cases of the FBI foiling terrorist plots in recent years were cases of entrapment, where the would-be perpetrator had no intention and little or no means of carrying out a violent attack before the FBI began egging them on them on and providing material support.

A book on this issue was published in 2013: "The Terror Factory" by Trevor Aaronson. IANAL and not an American, so certain distinctions may escape me, but from a bird's eye view the current (legal?) tactics seem to have a lot in common with COINTELPRO, except that they're not even secret, and apparently less than controversial these days.

YeahSureJanuary 11, 2014 11:09 AM

@Not Skeptical Agency "Why do you keep replying to Skeptical?"

I respond simply to counter Skeptical's purpose.

Skeptical's comments seem plausible to someone who hasn't been following the revelations. And, subconsciously, the cognitive dissonance of these "posts from another reality" even wears down the confidence of those who DO know the facts.

The way to counter this is to immediately respond with evidence. Beyond the counter propaganda benefits, I think we do continue to educate each other. I have learned a lot from the posts of people replying to shills.

Obviously there is no need to reply to trolls since the inane form of their posts is self-refuting.

I think it would be interesting to discuss systematic or programmatic efforts to influence social media. I'd love to learn more about it.

Neil in ChicagoJanuary 11, 2014 12:37 PM

  • Does anyone really believe Snowdon could trust the government to negotiate in good faith? I mean, come on!
  • COINTELPRO was in different circumstances. If there were major civil unrest, I have no doubt the agencies would be as brutal. If Occupy had survived, despite the nationally coordinated attacks, we would have had more straightforward counter-attacks. c.f., Fred Hampton

SkepticalJanuary 11, 2014 12:53 PM

Perhaps some of us could moderate our tones a little? We're all simply here to read, learn, and comment. I doubt very much that anyone here is a shill. These are complex issues, and it's to be expected that there will be different viewpoints held by reasonable people. So let's just focus on the subjects, and not make personal attacks or aim disparaging remarks at each other.

Not Skeptical Agency, I reply often and sometimes at length. See, e.g. https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2014/01/matt_blaze_on_t_1.html#c3425210

Sometimes I don't reply because I think my initial comment makes the point on its own; sometimes I frankly would rather not take up too much space in a comment thread.

name.withheld You've obviously not read the FISC April 2011 Opinion, it is repleate with failures by the NSA to either observe the letter or the spirit of the law--that includes the fourth amendment. I notice that also the fact that llocation (cell-phone) data is collected despite the re-assurances from NSA legal counsel, Alexander, and Clapper.

I've been following all this closely, as you have as well no doubt. By the April 2011 FISC Opinion, I believe you mean the FISC Memorandum Opinion and Order of October 2011, which considered requests from the government dated April 2011. It was in that opinion where Judge Bates found serious problems with the NSA's collection practices. If you go to this page and scroll down to the August 21st entry, you'll find a handy collection of those opinions and orders in one place.

That series of opinions show an agency disclosing its mistakes, an angry court ordering a series of reviews to find out why and to ensure that they do not happen again, and an agency scrambling to comply with the court's orders to that end.

The NSA's original mistakes aren't good, but the process here is. This is how compliance, and how judicial review, ought to work.

As to how the information collected by the NSA is being used, I'll say this in response to several comments which make similar points:

Snowden collected information over the course of years. Estimates of the number of documents taken range from tens of thousands to 1.7 million. He had access to information systems that would include operational information. He purposefully sought out, over that period of years, using his credentials and those of others, documents showing wrongdoing.

And yet at the end of that collection, we have no evidence of information being collected for blackmail or extortion, or for commercial espionage for that matter. Orders to penetrate leading Congressional members' email? Nope. Requirements to collect information on sexual foibles of various dissident leaders in the United States? Nope. Would these things exist if the NSA were being used to do those things? Yes.

Does that conclusively show that the US Government is not doing those things? No. It's always possible. But I would expect to see evidence of it in Snowden's collection if it were occurring. The fact that I don't weakens the hypothesis that it is. And the NSA hasn't exactly been impressive to date from a data-security vantage.

I also have to add that if the US Government wanted to collect blackmail/extortion material, there are much better ways than massive collection programs run under the oversight of multiple congressional committees, federal judges, and different agencies within the executive branch. People who want blackmail/extortion material engage in highly targeted collection, which is obviously NOT what the more controversial programs here are about.

BlackAngelJanuary 11, 2014 1:39 PM

@Skeptical
Does that conclusively show that the US Government is not doing those things? No. It's always possible. But I would expect to see evidence of it in Snowden's collection if it were occurring. The fact that I don't weakens the hypothesis that it is. And the NSA hasn't exactly been impressive to date from a data-security vantage.

This is a premature assessment, if you are going alone by revealed facts so far leaked. If there is dirty work being done, you should sit back and wait. It will come out. Such systems are very good at staying hidden, but sooner or later they implode. Especially when they have a powerful adversarial force that is at work.

I also have to add that if the US Government wanted to collect blackmail/extortion material, there are much better ways than massive collection programs run under the oversight of multiple congressional committees, federal judges, and different agencies within the executive branch. People who want blackmail/extortion material engage in highly targeted collection, which is obviously NOT what the more controversial programs here are about.

I have to disagree with this assessment, but your direction is not incorrect. Simply look to the history of these black bag jobs: Hoover, like his totalitarian counterparts always had legitimate work going on. On the side would be the black bag jobs.

The two work hand in hand. The legitimate - "legitimate" - work (Hoover literally broke the law multiple times to get courts to give him legitimacy) gives plausible deniability to the black bag jobs. It is essential cover.

It is natural, and this course of action is found, historically, in all corrupt services.

Further, one should consider carefully and deeply exactly what secret surveillance can provide: it provides power, it provides money. If it can be abused, and it sure can, it will be abused. There is no way to have proper checks and balances on these systems.

People rarely - if ever - turn against these black bag jobs when they are personally involved because they see what their organization can do and live under the fear of constant surveillance. They are further complicit in the crimes. And adding to all that is the utter bullshit lines of doing it "for" "patriotism", eg, against adversaries. It is a political-religious line.

Further, such groups are far more secrecy conscious then your average gov worker. Where and when possible they keep no records. They do not tell others what they have done. They are ashamed of it, even if they justify it to their own selves. It is a severe taboo.

It is trivial to turn people via secret surveillance, even if the target is not consciously aware of it. (eg, if they are not susceptible to blackmail, their private information can be used to gain rapport with them and influence them as one wishes in a very wide variety of ways.) So would be turn coats know they would not have any friends out there.

But, invariably, these systems do implode. Leaks do happen. Just because someone can be blackmailed does not mean they will always be silent. Eventually, people break.

BlackAngelJanuary 11, 2014 1:52 PM

@Neil in Chicago
COINTELPRO was in different circumstances. If there were major civil unrest, I have no doubt the agencies would be as brutal. If Occupy had survived, despite the nationally coordinated attacks, we would have had more straightforward counter-attacks. c.f., Fred Hampton

COINTELPRO was just one program among a vast number of programs Hoover enacted. He was consistently doing severe and illegal programs through his entire tenure -- that is until the end when he saw the leaks starting to finally come out.

Unfortunately, this information is not well researched by people and people remain very trusting and naive of their government, and human nature in general.

No movie has truly exposed Hoover, either, so this is not easy to get at information. Many of the online resources focus on the more popular to condemn programs. Sadly, the recent movie on Hoover apparently did not have much research performed on his actions, though I do believe it captured some of his major character flaws.

The NY Times Bestseller Enemies does cover a lot of the history of Hoover. It did not begin in the sixties.

Most people are aware of the tips of the iceberg before then, such as Hoover blackmailing Kennedy or Roosevelt. But these were tips of the iceberg.

Hoover did consider himself, supposedly, at war all along. His career started with a left wing terrorist action. With great difficulty he shifted gears for the Axis powers. And then after the war was Communism. He was behind the McCarthy era being the man who gave McCarthy the lists.

I disagree with the author of Enemies, that Hoover was not gay -- clearly he was. I also disagree that Hoover was at heart patriotic in his actions. Clearly he was in love with power and extremely corrupted.

He simply justified his actions using these excuses.

Same thing Osama Bin Laden did. Same thing your average criminal does. ('Oh I had a bad life and people always ripped me off, so I will rip them off'.)

BlackAngelJanuary 11, 2014 2:07 PM

@Not Skeptical Agency, YeahSure
Why do you keep replying to Skeptical?

Besides what YeahSure said, personally I am glad to see a diversity of opinion here. No fun preaching to the choir, and I expect posts here may even be read by adversities.

This is also a staple of free speech, that a diversity of opinions are allowed. Where I view people as incorrect, I do not view them with a "hate your enemy" mindset, but as simply being naive or incorrect, and at worst, having an effective injury. Something treatable, not something to be horrified and hated.

It is true, and Skeptical does bring this up, the real goods have not yet been found. I almost hate to say. I have confidence the real goods will be found. It was not long ago when we in these fields had confidence the US was hacking all over the place, against skeptics saying this is wrong. Now, we have been proven correct in our assessments.

I believe time will show we will prove correct in our assessments truly dark work is being done by the US (and other governments).

The allied governments are surely using illegal means and methodology for corporate espionage. They are illegal surveilling politicians and political leaders. They are using subversive measures against them. They are profited from these works substantially and expect to profit even more.

They are using tragedies of terrorism to perform their work, and they are using their auspices of public service to give themselves a lie of goodness.

The public has evidence of this: the shady downfalls of politicians is extremely skeptical. But not yet conclusive, damning evidence.

I believe this evidence will come out, and then supporters will be horrified they were so naive and trusting. Especially considering how many reasons they have to have not been so.

Not ScepticalJanuary 11, 2014 10:35 PM

Well, how about this one, from the guys who invented "total information awareness" which was voted against, name changed, voted down again, and now we have what we have with NSA.

http://phys.org/news/2011-10-darpa-master-propaganda-narrative-networks.html

Google search: darpa narrative physorg

You'll get a few hits...interesting how the "narrative" has developed. Sceptical is probably already aware, since it seems quite obvious he's on the programme himself. They've taken it quite far, just like TIA, only other under other names and agencies.

For fun, I quote:

Truism

Anyone who's ever told a whopper of a lie, has kids, or remembers their childhood, knows you never dish out more than a single helping of bullshit per seating. You've got to keep it simple.

Not only is crossing the streams of your bullshit the worst way to lie, it's also the best indicator of when you're being lied to. Telling the truth is always a straightforward thing and doesn't need 'proofs'. Speak the truth and if people don't believe you then that's their problem. It's easier that way and ethically sound as if they can't handle the truth, there's fuck all you can do about it.

Truths are delivered in nice, neat little packages, that are attractive and easy to open. Bullshit on the other hand is delivered in big, bulky crates that you've got to disassemble with a hammer then wade through 350lbs of packing peanuts the get at the useful contents and you're still on the hook for disposing of the crate and the waste from opening the package.

BlackAngelJanuary 12, 2014 11:39 AM

@NotSkeptical

Truths are delivered in nice, neat little packages, that are attractive and easy to open. Bullshit on the other hand is delivered in big, bulky crates that you've got to disassemble with a hammer then wade through 350lbs of packing peanuts the get at the useful contents and you're still on the hook for disposing of the crate and the waste from opening the package.

Hah, love the analogy, but unfortunately, I pry at truths constantly and who does not? How did they move those blocks at Stonehenge? Why?

What will it be like in a thousand years? Fifty years? How off is modern science fiction?

What are the secrets of black matter?

What is the unconscious mind, really, and hypnosis?

How can we fix the drug problem?

Why does it seem like real work on alternative energy or longevity of life is not being done?

Who did you really love in your life, and is love really a thing, or merely a consortium of chemicals?

What is the most vast and sinister form of conspiracy man is capable of? Prove it by history? Why do serial killers kill?

How does man know to search for what is better when he does not know what better is?

If death makes meaningless everything people do, why do people try so hard?


name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsJanuary 12, 2014 1:49 PM

@ Skeptical
I've been following all this closely, as you have as well no doubt. By the April 2011 FISC Opinion, I believe you mean the FISC Memorandum Opinion and Order of October 2011, which considered requests from the government dated April 2011. It was in that opinion where Judge Bates found serious problems with the NSA's collection practices. If you go to this page and scroll down to the August 21st entry, you'll find a handy collection of those opinions and orders in one place.

Skeptical. I am impressed that you are not sticking your head in the sand and your comments on the subject bely a more covert treatise. This is not an accusation but both an acknowledgement and an observation. I cannot square your statements about the "legality" and justification of NSA activities. A friend of mine, an old school former/retired CIA operative said something to me recently that pleasantly surprised me--he called Snowden a hero.

First, my friend is "the last Boy Scout" and has nearly seen and done "everything". He was in the Eisenhower office, he's no mamby pamby liberal as some nut job conservatives would say. And, he being from the intel community did not rise in defense of said community--he stands on principal. Which is what all this bullshit is about. I don't know if you have affirmed an outh to the constitution, which is where I see Snowden's FIRST obligation, but it is relatively unique in that it is in allegence to an idea. I will never kiss someone's ring, ass, or feet. I bend over for no man--none shall pass.

Second, your positions appear to be a contradiction and suggest "trollish" like behavior. I'm not outright saying that you are, Skeptical--you could just be advocating for the devil. Hope you find that funny--I sure did. But seriously, I can appreciate you grappling with the situation and attempt to resolve whatever it is that motivates you. I will champion your right to do so, but, I will call you on your bullshit.

SkepticalJanuary 12, 2014 5:52 PM

name.withheld, first, I would want to be called on any bullshit. One of the advantages of a discussion involving different viewpoints is that someone may see a point, a perspective, an argument, an unquestioned assumption, that is in one's cognitive blind-spot.

Second, the oath to defend and support the Constitution, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same, comes before any subordinate law, regulation, rule or order. We agree. It is an oath, moreover, not only to the idea of the Constitution, but to its instantiation; by which I mean, an oath to the principles and institutions as described and as actually created, respectively, by the Constitution. In those institutions are included Congress, and the President, and the Courts - and their lawful acts.

Third, while acts of disobedience are sometimes required by one's moral commitments, those acts of disobedience should be done, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. As he goes on to say, an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

So, that is where I stand with respect to a duty to the Constitution, should one have undertaken a commitment of the sort you describe, and with respect to a duty to civil disobedience.

As to Snowden as hero, I must respectfully and firmly disagree with your friend. Even were Snowden revealing the kinds of abuses we saw under Nixon, he would be no hero, and for the following reason:

Snowden has seen fit to hold hostage the national security of the United States to ensure his own safety. He has judged the life and welfare of Edward Snowden to be worth more than that of the security of his country and of his fellow citizens. I have known some who gave their lives in service of their country, the same country whose security Snowden now threatens in order to purchase himself a feeling of greater safety. In neither sacrifice nor courage does Snowden rank among them. He threatens the same house he claims to help, and such a self-serving compromise, though human and understandable, is not heroic.

Anyone can understand Snowden's desire to ensure his own safety, and the reality of heroism is not a happy one, so I can understand the effort to avoid that reality. And in all fairness to him, I think he has himself disclaimed such an appellation.

So far as the analysis of the legalities, and institutional framework, of the programs revealed goes, it's easy for different people to come to different conclusions.

It is difficult to piece together a good picture of institutional and legal reality from documents unless one has the background knowledge to fit them together. It's a bit like reading a novel. As one encounters a sentence describing a scene, or a bit of dialogue, one's mind fills in the meaning based on one's existing beliefs and prior experiences. We do this automatically, for the most part. Where the application of background knowledge to analysis becomes dangerous is where we think we know than we do. The high ranking official reads primary source material, and just knows that it signifies a country has a WMD program; while expert analysts see a different explanation, and are aware of the many assumptions the high ranking official is unconsciously making in coming to his conclusion. The rookie cop sees someone acting nervously while being questioned, and just knows that the subject has something to hide; while a more experienced officer might understand that innocent people become nervous too in the presence of police, and will be aware of the untested assumptions in the rookie's reasoning.

And when it comes to the analysis of programs like these, we're talking about complicated laws that draw upon legal principles which may not be obvious to an untrained reader, and systems of oversight as to which political scientists will have validly different interpretations.

So I suppose what I'm saying is that we all need to approach these matters with both humility and skepticism, with an understanding that our first intuitions may not be correct, that our confidence may rest upon invalid assumptions, and that we nearly always have something to learn from those who see things differently than we do.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsJanuary 12, 2014 7:22 PM

@ Skeptical

Kudos on your reply, definitely removes you from the realm of trolls. My apologies if I offend, your last post brought much clarity and established your position. Also, well said! There is little I can add except to say that there is much that is wrong with the programs and orders carried out by the NSA. My summary statement is:

The NSA, with respect to its relationship to the FISC, ask for forgiveness and not for permission. Not to generalize, but much that is relfected in the April 2011 opinion is a condemenation from the court for what it sees as this attitude. And that to me suggests contempt.

VinzentJanuary 13, 2014 3:40 AM

@Erica M


Snowden's revelations are mainly metadata - ie information about spying programs rather than the intelligence collected by the programs.

So, he didn't reveal anything. He just open-sourced meta-data - in the same way the NSA isn't actually spying when it collects just meta-data of every living person on the planet.

I like that interpretation.

JohnJanuary 16, 2014 8:46 AM

For me, this entire issue comes back to 1 thing, the 4th amendment. It isn't long or complicated.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

If the NSA/FBI are/were gathering data from "persons, houses, papers, and effects" inside the USA without a legal warrant, then they are violating the 4th amendment.

Simple.

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