Be Paranoid

We’re only beginning to learn what the executive branch can do to us.

“What are you afraid of Matt?”

That was the subject line of an email I received in April 2003, shortly after I wrote a column for the progressive website AlterNet warning about the federal government’s post–PATRIOT Act plans to increase warrantless surveillance on unsuspecting U.S. citizens.

“I wonder about you lefties who fear these upgraded measures of security,” a person identifying herself as Lynn McLaughlin wrote to me. “You must have something to hide, and since my husband works for the DIA, I’ll make sure he looks into what it may be.”

The DIA stands for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the central collector and interpreter of foreign military intelligence for the United States Armed Forces. According to the agency’s website FAQ at the time (though not now), the DIA was “prohibited by law and in no circumstance does it collect information on U.S. citizens or on information not related to military intelligence.”

Though exact figures for budget and payroll are classified “due to security considerations,” the DIA has an estimated 16,500 employees—just a bit more than the number of agents working for the FBI. One of those employees at the time, I was told by someone in the public relations department, was a computer systems analyst named Wayne McLaughlin.

They say the past is a different planet, but spring 2003 was a different universe. The Iraq War had begun. The congressional 9/11 Commission, after being slowed every step of the way by a defiant Bush administration, was only beginning to hold hearings 19 months after the attacks. And my main concern in alerting the feds about my correspondent was to make sure America’s defense wasn’t being needlessly jeopardized by a loose-cannon spouse. Surely my own government wouldn’t snoop petulantly—and illegally—into its citizens’ affairs?

Boy, was I stupid.

We now know that 2003 was the year the National Security Agency (NSA) opened up Room 641A at an AT&T building in San Francisco to tap into and analyze data flowing through the Internet backbone, even as then–Attorney General John Ashcroft was dismissing privacy objections to the PATRIOT Act as “baseless hysteria.”

And thanks to an avalanche of revelations this spring and summer triggered by leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, we know that the federal government has collected email and telephone data on “hundreds of millions of Americans” (according to McClatchy News Service), is “systematically searching—without warrants—through the contents of Americans’ communications” (New York Times), and is sharing that data with a “secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit” that targets Americans then covers its investigatory tracks with prosecutors and judges (Reuters).

As the fog of post-9/11 executive-branch activity slowly begins to lift, one thing has already become clear: We are losing the bedrock American notion that citizens should be able to go about their daily affairs without being monitored by their government. The Fourth Amendment stipulations that people “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,” and that “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,” have been shredded beyond recognition.

Walk around in lower Manhattan? The New York Police Department is watching you, on camera. Soon those cameras will be supplemented by a fleet of unmanned surveillance aircraft (see “Drones Away,” page 32). Turn on your cellphone? Government-run “Stingray” towers collect and transmit your geolocation data within an accuracy of six feet. Where those don’t yet exist the feds can always compel phone carriers to cough up all your relevant information. 

Bank accounts. Medical information. Any sensitive data you willingly divulge to a third party. What Washington isn’t demanding overtly, it is rifling through covertly, without notification of those being targeted. Probable cause in 2013 America is a folk tradition, not a binding constitutional limitation on power.

Nobody wants to go through life paranoid, muttering about elaborate conspiracies while shaking a fist at the sun. (For a history of this tendency in U.S. politics, including the ways dissenters have been marginalized as being unhinged, see Jesse Walker’s “America the Paranoid,” page 52.) But the rude fact is that the executive branch is conducting all this contra-constitutional surveillance while constantly lying about it. 

“There is no spying on Americans,” President Barack Obama lied to Jay Leno in August. “We don’t have a domestic spying program.” (For an examination of the president’s mendacity, see “Obama’s Flip-Flop on Spying,” page 10.) In March, when asked by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also lied: “No, sir.”

These bald-faced deceptions suggest a national security culture accustomed to doing and saying anything without fear of adverse consequences. A president who gained office by mobilizing the anti-war, anti-torture, pro–civil liberties vote is now operating secret prisons in Somalia, authorizing lethal drone strikes against Americans, and intervening personally to keep a Yemeni journalist in jail for doing his job—all without losing much support from his political base. Obama has locked in the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney policies he so skillfully campaigned against. (For more on these and other outrages, see our interview with Dirty Wars author Jeremy Scahill on page 42.)

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  • SIV||

    Night doctors gon' getcha!

  • Almanian!||

    Someone should write a book about the US of Paranoia

  • SIV||

    That's just what a former member of the High Council of 13 Druids of the Illuminati would say!

  • Almanian!||

    So says the member of the Rothchild clan as he enters the Masonic lodge while under strict orders from Opus Dei after being dropped off by a black helicopter from attending the latest Council on Foreign Relations meeting with his Skull and Bones bretheren.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    Why you leave out the tri-lateral commission?

  • SIV||

    Because he's a Bilderberger.

  • CE||

    I've seen the black helicopters. There was a practice op in Dallas in 2002.

  • CE||

    You really think there are only 13 of us?

  • Live Free or Diet||

    Never happen. Ain't gonna. Ever. Nope.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Why would I worry about institutionalized criminality?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Nobody wants to go through life paranoid, muttering about elaborate conspiracies while shaking a fist at the sun.

    Speak for yourself, I think it's fun.

  • Live Free or Diet||

    True, until your voices stop talking to you and just start cutting their eyes toward you and muttering among themselves about the crazy guy.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    “I wonder about you lefties who fear these upgraded measures of security,” a person identifying herself as Lynn McLaughlin wrote to me. “You must have something to hide, and since my husband works for the DIA, I’ll make sure he looks into what it may be.”

    If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.

    ps- We're watching you.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Translation - Don't threaten my meal ticket or else.

    Which is exactly how the entire bureaucratic apparatus responds to any perceived threat to its existence and also why the government will never willingly scale itself back.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    “I wonder about you lefties who fear these upgraded measures of security,” a person identifying herself as Lynn McLaughlin wrote to me.

    You probably had the long hair back then, too. Goddamn hippies.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The progressives over at Daily Kos are openly suggesting a Prog/Tea Party civil liberties alliance to overturn the 10 year old surveillance state. Bernie Sanders would be a good compromise independent POTUS choice they suggest.

  • SIV||

    lol

    Let 'em vote for Ted Cruz.

  • WTF||

    The surveillance state has been around a lot longer than 10 years, you fucking idiot.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    It has become legal in the last ten years, you asshat.

    Yes, it is legal - thanks to the PATRIOT Act and two other laws passed in 2007/08.

  • John||

    The IC collecting information with no foreign nexus or nexus to terrorism is not legal even under the Patriot Act. Stop posting lies you fuckwad.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Bullshit. It is perfectly legal. They have to later obtain a warrant if they intend to use it though.

  • John||

    No it is not. Read 12333 you fucking retard. You can't use the IC for domestic purposes. It has to have a nexus to a foreign power or terrorism.

    That is page 1 of intel oversight law you fucking retard. Go away and stop fucking up the threads.

  • Almanian!||

    Shut up, John! It's all legal*!

    *Shriek said it'd stop posting if everyone agreed with it

  • ||

    Shriek also said he'd stop posting is someone proved that Berkshire owed a billion dollars in taxes. That didn't stop him then, this won't stop him now.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    A special federal appeals court yesterday released a rare declassified opinion that backed the government's authority to intercept international phone conversations and e-mails from U.S. soil without a judicial warrant, even those involving Americans, if a significant purpose is to collect foreign intelligence.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....id=topnews

    All data potentially travels internationally according to TCP/IP.

  • John||

    intercept international phone conversations

    Which part of international do you not understand? Yes, that would be called a foreign nexus.

    Jesus, fucking Christ you are stupid. It is one t hing to lie. But you don't just do that. You honestly don't seem to understand the meaning of words.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    The international recipient might be a Hotmail account in Fremont, CA.

  • John||

    The international recipient might be a Hotmail account in Fremont, CA.

    But the person using it is overseas and thus is. Just stop it and run away.

  • Jordan||

    All data potentially travels internationally according to TCP/IP.

    While that is technically true, would that bullshit reasoning fly even in the rubber stamp FISA court? I could see Judge Tulpa or Judge Bo Cara accepting it, but otherwise...

  • JWatts||

    "All data potentially travels internationally according to TCP/IP."

    Potentially,it could yes, but it only very rarely does, practically never, for most US citizens. So, this post is a red herring.

  • everyone||

    Right again. In fact, all electromagnetic data travels universally.


    Palin's Buttplug| 9.2.13 @ 5:57PM |#

    If everyone agreed with me I would quit posting.
  • WTF||

    Yes, it is legal - thanks to the PATRIOT Act and two other laws passed in 2007/08.

    Holy fuck you really are retarded, aren't you?

  • Spiny Norman||

    Instead of calling each other fuckwads and asshats, I'd like to suggest using punctuation marks, like this: @*!!&*!

    It would be a lot funnier.

  • DenverJay||

    Gotta disagree: I think "asshat" is way funnier than "@$#!"

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Turns out the NSA is claiming that it needs to snoop to help prevent economic crises as well.

    It is not a secret that the Intelligence Community collects information about economic and financial matters, and terrorist financing.
    We collect this information for many important reasons: for one, it could provide the United States and our allies early warning of international financial crises which could negatively impact the global economy. It also could provide insight into other countries' economic policy or behavior which could affect global markets.

    So are NSA employees forbidden from trading on the markets as well?

  • CatoTheElder||

    No surprise. The CIA has been pitching economic espionage since the end of the Cold War.

    In a prescient Foreign Affairs article, Carter DCI Stansfield Turner presented the case for the post-Cold-War CIA.

    Intelligence for a New World Order

    - "Any reduction in effort against the Soviet Union will be resisted strongly in the CIA"
    - "organizational changes will be needed as well, including a new position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI)"
    - " If economic strength should now be recognized as a vital component of national security, parallel with military power, the U.S. should be concerned about stealing and employing economic secrets. But if the government provides economic intelligence to specific U.S. corporations, there is a need for the U.S. government to decide which ones should benefit."

  • CatoTheElder||

    Should have noted that was back in 1991.

  • Cliché Bandit||

    holy shit. I just realized this thanks to your comment. They would have an edge on the market that in un-fucking-believeable. Steve Jobs retirement phone call to Tim Cook? Google's phone call to buy, well, anyone? RIMs emails about their sad decline? Hell just pick a company and pull it's earnings report before it hits the street. You could make billions quietly and untraceably.

  • db||

    I remember back in '04 or so when the reason "satellite picture of your house" cover came out. The argument at the time was you don't have anything to fear; it's just data, and you give it up freely to private companies anyway. This is why you don't trust private companies with your data if you don't have to: not because they are going to do something bad with it, but because they may be forced to give it up.

  • Tim||

    “Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know what no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. "

  • CatoTheElder||

    When I read 1984 back in the 60s, it never occurred to me that the US was to become Oceania and its president was to become Big Brother. Sure looks that way now, though.

  • John||

    I don't understand why the story about the DEA manual explaining to their agents how to lie and reconstruct cases to hide the fact that the initial information came from the NSA is not a bigger deal. That is proof that not only are the feds using intel assets to prosecute American crimes (something they are not supposed to do) but also the government is lying to courts to cover it up. Maybe I am missing something, but it seems to me that should be a huge scandal. We had the entire Church Commission over using the intel community to spy on Americans. And now not only are they spying, they are using the information to prosecute people and lying to courts to prevent anyone from knowing it is happening.

  • CatoTheElder||

    This is really old news, though. Or at least it is not surprising at all ...

    Ashcroft used intelligence gained from PATRIOT Act provisions to prosecute the owner of Las Vegas strip clubs. He did the same thing to bust up a prostitution business in New Orleans.

    Of course government is going to expand and abuse authority. That's what it is intended to do.

  • John||

    I thought Ashcroft used sections of the Patriot Act to prosecute strip clubs. He wasn't using the intel community to collect data. He was using a section of criminal law intended to be used against terrorists to go after ordinary criminals.

    That is not good and showed what a fraud the Patriot Act was. But that is not what is happening here. Here, they are using Intel assets to investigate ordinary crimes and then lying to the court about where they got the information. That is totally different and much worse than what you are talking about.

  • CatoTheElder||

    You're right in that he wasn't using NSA intercepts. However, he was using intelligence gained from warrantless searches that were ostensibly authorized under the PATRIOT Act to combat terrorism.

  • sarcasmic||

    I don't understand why the story about the DEA manual explaining to their agents how to lie and reconstruct cases

    Why do you want to protect criminals? And drug dealers especially? They're not even human!

  • OldMexican||

    Bank accounts. Medical information. Any sensitive data you willingly divulge to a third party. What Washington isn't demanding overtly, it is rifling through covertly, without notification of those being targeted.


    Isn't it now the time to go back to a cash-only economy???

  • CatoTheElder||

    If one isn't paranoid, he is not paying attention.

    Paranoid used to involve delusional fear or anxiety. Now it's delusional not to be paranoid.

  • John||

    Once you connect the intel community to the LEO community, it was going to be inevitable that the LEO community would start making use of the intel assets for ordinary crimes.

    Everyone should be paranoid, especially when you have a President who openly jokes about auditing his political enemies.

  • Almanian!||

    Oh, he's not EVEN joking.

    The IRS would like a word with you, John...

  • John||

    Speaking of stories that should be getting more coverage, Ed Asner saying anti-war celebs are not saying anything about Syria for fear of being seen as anti-black. So, we now know that liberals won't criticize Obama over a war because he is black. Isn't it not fair to ask what other issues they have been lying about or denying because he is black? Maybe some of their defenses against these "phony scandals" have more to do with liberals being afraid to be seen as racist than the truth?

  • Invisible Finger||

    Ed Asner basically admits that leftists only look at issues via the lens of racism.

    Which makes them racists.

    Let this be a lesson to anyone still thinking otherwise: Ed Asner, George Clooney, et al have the same brains as Tony and shrike.

  • CatoTheElder||

    So, you're saying that they actually believe their own bullshit.

    And that bullshit makes them racists.

  • DenverJay||

    "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they are not out to get you"

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Bernie Sanders would be a good compromise independent POTUS choice they suggest.

    "We're gonna hafta keep part of this system up and running, to make sure everybody is paying their Fair Share. You understand."

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "That 'posse comitatus' business was all well and good when it took six weeks for a letter to arrive, but this is the twentyfirst century, and law enforcement has to be able to act decisively at a moment's notice."

  • John||

    And that part about reasonable search and seizure was all well and good back before there was such a thing as international terrorism!! See, just like the 14th Amendment has to change with the times to create a right to gay marriage, the 4th has to change to deal with terrorism.

    It is a living document Brooks. What the people who wrote it thought at the time doesn't mean anything now.

  • CatoTheElder||

    The "living constitution" killed the written Constitution, and rendered it a dead letter.

  • John||

    Yes it did. And that is why I am very sad to see Libertarians who should know better happy to see it give them gay marriage. If you can torture the document to make it guarantee gay marriage, you can torture it to allow NSA wiretaps or whatever the hell else our overlords want.

  • CatoTheElder||

    I, too, am disappointed in libertarians who see any state role in the institution of marriage. It's a religious sacrament, or at least a religious institution, that the state has no legitimate purchase.

    Divorce, child custody, and so forth can be adjudicated based upon the particulars of the specific contract between spouses. Adoption eligibility is a tricky matter best left to private adoption agencies and, perhaps, state governments.

  • DenverJay||

    And, as I have been arguing (for the last, what is it, 13 years now?), international terrorism WAS around when the Constitution was written, and bombs going off in our cities did not start happening in the 20th century.
    The Marine Corps Hymn first line mentions "... to the shores of Tripoli", a reference to the first foreign deployment of U.S. troops, the Battle of Derne, which was a part of the First Barbary War. This war was fought against the States of Tripoli and Algiers, which sponsored the Barbary Pirates, who were responsible for world-wide disruptions of shipping, conscription of foreign sailors and civilians, and other acts of terrorism.
    As for bombings, our very own homegrown anarchists, Prohibitionists, Abolitionists, and both sides of the Civil War, had adherents who engaged in terrorism, including setting off bombs and lynching black people. Somehow, we managed to survive all of that with the Bill of Rights (somewhat) intact, yet now, a bunch of primitive Islamists are so dangerous that we must abandon all that made America great.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    What the people who wrote it thought at the time doesn't mean anything now.

    Those guys were crazy; they said stuff like, "I regret I have but one life to give for my country."

    What kind of a sucker thinks government workers should be subject to the law, or be held responsible for their actions?

  • John||

    And they owned slaves Brooks. They owned slaves. So anything they said must be ignored.

  • Homple||

    Cursive! They wrote it in CURSIVE! How are we supposed to even understand their funny old timey words when they were written with goose feathers in CURSIVE.

  • sarcasmic||

    How could people too stupid to use a keyboard design a government?

  • Mainer2||

    And those guys talked like fags.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Tthere was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn't just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!

  • DenverJay||

    Whats a "book"?

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