Is the NSA Blackmailing Officials Into Supporting Snooping?

Restricted dataAlex WellersteinWhy are the likes of Sen. Dianne Feinstein so supportive of wide-reaching National Security Agency surveillance even as polls show a majority of Americans horrified by such intrusions? At the risk of venturing into paranoid territory, could it be that the NSA has gone all J. Edgar and compiled compromising information about officials who might otherwise be a bit less enthusiastic about snooping? That's what Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union wonders, and he has some evidence to support his theory.

Writes Stanley:

Sometimes when I hear public officials speaking out in defense of NSA spying, I can’t help thinking, even if just for a moment, “what if the NSA has something on that person and that’s why he or she is saying this?”

Of course it’s natural, when people disagree with you, to at least briefly think, “they couldn’t possibly really believe that, there must be some outside power forcing them to take that position.” Mostly I do not believe that anything like that is now going on.

But I cannot be 100% sure, and therein lies the problem. The breadth of the NSA’s newly revealed capabilities makes the emergence of such suspicions in our society inevitable. Especially given that we are far, far away from having the kinds of oversight mechanisms in place that would provide ironclad assurance that these vast powers won’t be abused. And that highlights the highly corrosive nature of allowing the NSA such powers. Everyone has dark suspicions about their political opponents from time to time, and Americans are highly distrustful of government in general. When there is any opening at all for members of the public to suspect that officials from the legislative and judicial branches could be vulnerable to leverage from secretive agencies within the executive branch—and when those officials can even suspect they might be subject to leverage—that is a serious problem for our democracy.

Stanley has more than speculation to go on. He points to an interview with former NSA analyst and whistleblower Russ Tice, who claims the Bush administration unleashed the NSA on Barack Obama back in 2004. He also told an interviewer just this summer that surveillance of high-ranking officials was a common procedure for his former employers.

From Washington's Blog:

Tice: Okay. They went after–and I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things–they went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial. But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of–heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials. They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House–their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after U.S. international–U.S. companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that–like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work.

Tice explicitly says such scrutiny made subjects susceptible to blackmail. And while his experience is some years old, other whistleblowers suggest the practice continues.

William Binney, another former NSA officer, told frequent spy-documenter James Bamford that he and J. Kirk Wiebe approached the Obama administration about putting safeguards on data collection and were brushed off. “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” Binney told Bamford.

That's a soothing thought on the day that the Washington Post reveals that the NSA harvests personal contact lists from around the world, building roadmaps of our connections and relationships that can be very revealing about our lives. Our contacts and connections are just the sort of information that can become part of an awkward dossier. The sort of awkward dossier that elicits cooperative behavior from officials who'd rather their lives be kept under wraps.

It's not like blackmail has never been used by government officials before. The FBI's J. Edgar Hoover was said to be quite the master of turning inconvenient secrets into cooperative behavior.

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  • WTF||

    "They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand."

    Well, that might help to explain Johnnyrob's 'penaltax' opinion.

  • fish||

    One possible scenario:

    "Dennis’s knack for finding the hidden scandals almost seemed occult-like. After the big national health care decision, he showed me compromising “men’s health club” photos of the younger chief justice and his pals. Dennis just couldn’t resist the irony and had to share it with me, but that was a rare case of candor about his methods."

    http://westernrifleshooters.wo.....-the-coup/

  • Bardas Phocas||

    "men's health club"? In my day we called them 'bath houses' and they were damn fine places a young man to spend an afternoon.

  • fish||

    Have to get with topdaus lingo Bardas....Bath Haus...really so pejorative.

  • fish||

    topdaus

    Squirrels?

  • General Butt Naked||

    Dude, that story is awesome. When snowden said that the feds, through their various law enforcement/spying capabilities, have a turn key tyranny at their disposal, that is what he meant.

    Also, I've always said that if there are outright hostilities a hunting rifle with long range capability and those that can use them will be what turns the tide.

  • prolefeed||

    Also, I've always said that if there are outright hostilities a hunting rifle with long range capability and those that can use them will be what turns the tide.

    Unfortunately, that is precisely the description of a federal soldier armed with an actual assault rifle. And there's a lot of them.

  • General Butt Naked||

    There aren't a whole lot of military members that can covertly take out targets at 300+ yds. Not that that would be the tactic used by military/police.

  • The Last American Hero||

    +1 Simo Hayha

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Why are the likes of Sen. Dianne Feinstein so supportive of wide-reaching National Security Agency surveillance even as polls show a majority of Americans horrified by such intrusions?

    BECAUSE SHE'S A STATIST. It's nothing more sinister than that. And contrary to popular opinion, the left is not good on civil liberties. Privacy and free speech get in the way of the state doing what it wants to do.

  • Bam!||

    ^ This.

  • A nation of boiled frogs||

    Feinstein is a statist if ever there was one, but she is also filthy-rich and has had questions raised about some of her business interests.

    It is entirely plausible that someone from the intelligence/law enforcement community has subtly made it known to her that it might be in her interest - as chairwoman of the intelligence committee - to rubber-stamp everything they want if she wishes to avoid any unwanted scrutiny.

    Many of the people who seek careers in groups like the FBI, CIA, NSA, - and the private intelligence contractor firms, are exactly the kind of people who would do the sort of things that sound implausibly sinister to the average person.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Everyone already knows she funneled lucrative MILCON contracts to her husband's company and no one did anything about it. I think she's safe.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I don't think it's that complicated. Pelosi is in a safe district. From the looks of her she died ten years ago, but that didn't hurt her reelection. Why would the voters turn on her now?

  • oncogenesis||

    She's a senator. The state of California is her district.

  • Almanian!||

    No. She's a congresstard in the House. the People's Republic of San Fran And Environs is her district.

  • M N G||

    Oh please, reasonoids will find a conspiracy anywhere. Not that I'm a huge fan of the NSA, but this is over the top.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Yes, because the Federal government would never engage in the same practices that even the littlest podunk police department uses against drug users turned informants.

  • M N G||

    OK, but just because J. Edgar Hoover blackmailed people 50 years ago doesn't mean that's happening here.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Who said 50 years ago? If you don't think coercion is part of the toolbox of intelligence agencies worldwide today, i have several bridges you might be interested in.

  • GILMORE||

    M N G|10.15.13 @ 2:16PM|#

    OK, but just because J. Edgar Hoover blackmailed people 50 years ago doesn't mean that's happening here.

    oh, who's saying that? Jeez, way to *jump to conclusions* and shit.

    We're just pointing out that its 10,000X easier for them to do it now. What's so upsetting about that? Only the guilty would have reason to fear...

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Sorry, have to kind of agree with MNG here. Blackmail is a risky affair. You never really know when your target might get a bout of integrity and not cooperate. Accordingly, you'd probably want to refrain from blackmailing someone unless you knew it was necessary. In this case, where's the necessity? There's no shortage of people in our government who are already all too eager to subvert individual liberty for the latest cause du jour. You'd just be risking your own embarassment unnecessarily.

  • Calidissident||

    Is the real MNG?

  • tarran||

    It's hard to tell anymore.

    Hit and Run occasionally has the dynamic of the vice squad in a Scanner Darkly.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I think he just changed his name back from "bo" or "tulpa".

  • GILMORE||

    "Calidissident|10.15.13 @ 2:36PM|#

    Is the real MNG?

    I vote MEMOREX

  • ||

    Needz moar TRACTOR PULLZ and FLANNEL!!!

  • R C Dean||

    reasonoids will find a conspiracy anywhere.

    Perhaps. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't conspiracies everywhere.

  • fish||

    Oh please, reasonoids will find a conspiracy anywhere.

    How much more traction would this be getting from say, "Democracy Now" or the DailyStupid...err...DailyKos?

    Oh....welcome back.

  • M N G||

    I would guess those sites would want more then just a hunch that Dianne Feinstein is being blackmailed into supporting a bill.

    You all know that your ideas are unpopular, so is it a stretch that someone would support a program you don't like without being blackmailed?

  • Applederry||

    It sounds to me like you didn't actually read the article at all. No one is actually saying that this is happening, just pointing out there are several reasons, including historical precedent, to be concerned about its possibility.

    That is something all Americans should be concerned about, whether they support the NSA or not, because if someone can be silenced on this subject, they can be silenced on any other subject as well.

    Again, no one is saying that this is what IS happening, but that we need more transparency and insight into a very shadowy organization to try and prevent it happening.

  • Sevo||

    "You all know that your ideas are unpopular, so is it a stretch that someone would support a program you don't like without being blackmailed?"

    Yes, a dislike of NSA A4 violations is limited to the H&R commenters.
    No one else would ever thing bad thoughts about it.

  • Randian filtered me, I WIN!||

    "You all know that your ideas are unpopular"

    And yet, you're the one who couldn't support his assertions and ran away until your shame dissipated.

  • prolefeed||

    You all know that your ideas are unpopular, so is it a stretch that someone would support a program you don't like without being blackmailed?

    The article specifically cited a whistleblower who handled the actual paperwork detailing massive gathering of blackmail material. And that's just what ONE person knows about, so you know there's a lot more going on.

    Shorter: RTFA.

  • GILMORE||

    ""M N G|10.15.13 @ 2:11PM|#

    I would guess those sites would want more then just a hunch that Dianne Feinstein is being blackmailed into supporting a bill.""

    RIGHT CAUSE THEY ARE TOO BUSY CONNECTIN THE DOTS TWEEN THE OPPOSITION TO ALL THE GOOD WONDERFUL THINGS IN TEH BAMACARE TO TEH KOCHS AND CORPORASHUNS AND BIG OILS AND TEH EBIL CHRISYANS HOO HATES TEH GAYS AND THE BROWNS

  • fish||

    I would guess those sites would want more then just a hunch that Dianne Feinstein is being blackmailed into supporting a bill.

    I wouldn't.

    You all know that your ideas are unpopular, so is it a stretch that someone would support a program you don't like without being blackmailed?

    Yes, yes we're libertarians and therefore our ideas are unworthy of mention. Climb back in your casket you statist suckup.

  • ||

    I can't keep up with the narrative. Are we unpopular and relegated to the edges or are we terrorist taking over the parties to institute anarchy?

  • GILMORE||

    YES

  • M N G||

    I also have trouble with the NSA, but saying anyone who supports it is being blackmailed doesn't exactly help with your crusade against the bill.

    Is John Stossel being blackmailed?

  • fish||

    Not nearly enough influence I imagine.

    Alternately, why roll the dice with someone who might call your bluff and not mind having something embarrassing revealed if it would really make a splash in the news cycle.

  • prolefeed||

    ^^ THIS. You can't blackmail someone who isn't afraid of you, especially when your target revealing your blackmailing is itself a form of blackmail against you.

  • fish||

    Is John Stossel being blackmailed?

    Then again......

    http://world.time.com/2013/10/.....t-to-come/

  • Christophe||

    I hope he's lying. Because then we are in deep shit.

  • Randian filtered me, I WIN!||

    "but saying anyone who supports it is being blackmailed "

    isn't something that's in the article.

    So, you're lying about this discussion already.

  • Marshall Gill||

    So, you're lying about this discussion already.

    SOP

  • Number 7||

    I thought that EVERYONE knew that she was doing a threesome with George Moscone and Harvey Milk.

  • fish||

    There's not much that disgusts me Number 7 but you managed to find it with that assertion.

  • GILMORE||

    she only put her finger in him

  • Fatty Bolger||

    One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand.

    There's been some speculation that dirt on Chief Justice Roberts was used to coerce him into reversing his original Obamacare position.

    Just saying.

  • Bam!||

    Supreme Court Justice is a life position, right? How exactly can you blackmail them?

  • WTF||

    With personal information they would find highly embarassing to have released to the public.

  • Bam!||

    But so what? Their job is secure. It's not like a whole lot could happen. It's not like they could be voted off the court or something (unless there's something I don't understand about the court).

  • Marshall Gill||

    You could be impeached, even from SCOTUS.

  • wareagle||

    by revealing something highly embarrassing? Come on. Not everyone wants every aspect of their past made public.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Threatening somebody's job is hardly the only form of blackmail.

  • Bo Cara Esq.||

    No conspiracy need be offered to explain her behavior, Feinstein has always acted as if she knows what is best for others regardless of how those others feel about it.

  • widget||

    This ironic (am I using that word correctly?):

    Prior to that, back in 1995, Feinstein -- as the then-Mayor of San Francisco -- stood before live TV cameras and completely disclosed intentionally withheld information about the famed Night Stalker serial killer case. Her release of that information may have actually delayed the eventual arrest of Richard Ramirez, by forcing him to move back to Los Angeles where he was able to kill again.

    http://cuttingthroughthefog.bl.....-with.html

  • widget||

    ^is

  • Michael Price||

    Are there ANY standards for US politicians? I mean would one lose their job if they were caught selling guns to Mexican drug lords? Oh wait that happened didn't it?

  • Dave Krueger||

    Well, I guess if you suddenly stop writing articles about NSA blackmail schemes, we'll know why.

    But seriously, we need to keep in mind that the U.S. is run by the good guys and that we are immune from the bad stuff that goes on in other countries. Remember what they taught you in school: The founding fathers set up a magical maintenance-free government with checks and balances that guaranty we will always be free. And we know we're free because there are no extermination camps in the U.S.

  • Almanian!||

    I read your handle as "Diane Krueger".

    No offense, but I liked her a lot more...

  • Leigh||

    Conspiracy or not, whatever the truth is wouldn't surprise me. Hell, I don't think anything could surprise me anymore. The older I get, the more cynical I get. Now with J Robert's flip - that would explain a lot - whereas not much else can.

    OTOH, DiFi certainly has been in politics for a long time - this alone should tell you she and her husband aren't exactly clean and we don't need the NSA to know that. To me, she's is just a F'ing statist for team blue.

  • wareagle||

    ditto on Roberts. He was the last Justice expected to vote as he did, and there was no small amount of wondering why he made that decision.

  • Winston||

    The problem with these sorts of stories is that it implies that there aren't statist fucks out there who really do believe in this sort of surveillance as long as it done by the "right people." I mean there were plenty of Americans who supported the KGB and the Gulags for heaven's sake!

  • Paul.||

    He points to an interview with former NSA analyst and whistleblower Russ Tice, who claims the Bush administration unleashed the NSA on Barack Obama back in 2004

    This is why if Big Government isn't a problem now for progressives, it never will be.

  • ||

    Good thing Rand Paul's allegiance to Aqua Buddha is already common knowledge.

  • Hyperion||

    Yeah, but the thing most people don't know about Rand, is that the curls are not natural.

    That's right. Rand walks around every morning, at home, with pink curlers in his hair.

    If that gets out, he'll never be Prez.

  • prolefeed||

    Especially given that we are far, far away from having the kinds of oversight mechanisms in place that would provide ironclad assurance that these vast powers won’t be abused.

    Wow, is that ever naive, thinking the largest organized criminal gang in the country will not use their monopoly of force against their serfs.

  • widget||

    The DOHS wants to buy 4 bullets for every American. You're just paranoid, prolefeed. It's stimulus.

    http://www.foxnews.com/politic.....y-bullets/

  • widget||

    In the "What could possibly go wrong?" department, a bit of the plot summary of the German film,The Lives of Others via Wikipedia.

    In 1984 East Germany, Stasi officer Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler is assigned to spy on playwright Georg Dreyman. Wiesler and his team bug the apartment, set up surveillance equipment in an attic and begin reporting Dreyman's activities. Dreyman had escaped state scrutiny due to his pro-Communist views and international recognition. Wiesler learns the real reason behind the surveillance: Minister of Culture Bruno Hempf covets Dreyman's girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria Sieland, and is trying to eliminate his rival.
  • Loki||

    Is the NSA Blackmailing Officials Into Supporting Snooping?

    Probably.

  • Hyperion||

    The type of argument MNG puts forward here is one of the things that is wrong with our society today. A seemingly total naivete about history.

    But it could never happen today! Just because progressives killed 10s of millions in the 19th century striving to build their perfect progressive utopia, doesn't mean that it could ever happen again!

    Just read the comments at HuffPo, DU, DailyKos, Salon, etc., etc., and listen the the progs screaming for the government to round up and arrest anyone who doesn't agree with them. Right, it could NEVER happen here.

  • widget||

    A seemingly total naivete about history.

    True, but this naivete first shows up in a Prog's reaction to human nature. The Prog doesn't accept that a person will act in his own best interest. This is selfish and primitive, they say. The Prog believes that a person should and would act in the best interest of the group if only that person has enough training and incentives to do so.

    I'm channeling some Ayn Rand here. She's right about this. Look at what the Progs who staff government do when you move their cheese. They act in their own self-interest.

  • M N G||

    "Just read the comments at HuffPo, DU, DailyKos, Salon, etc., etc., and listen the the progs screaming for the government to round up and arrest anyone who doesn't agree with them. "

    Do you have a link to any of these articles?

    All of you assume that if someone disagrees with you, they also want to put you in a gas chamber.

  • widget||

    DU and DailyKos comments are inside the beltway. HuffPo and Salon comments are bit more eclectic.

    Do you have a link to any of these articles?

    If you did your own homework you wouldn't be asking such a stupid question.

  • M N G||

    If these articles existed, you could provide a link to one of them.

  • widget||

    Hyperion was referring to the comments, not the articles.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/.....isen-Again

    Commenter lunachick ('nuff said):

    This must be put down based on what it is. It is insurrection. It is sedition.

  • M N G||

    Hyperion said " listen the the progs screaming for the government to round up and arrest anyone who doesn't agree with them."

    A commenter named lunachick does not speak for all progs, unless you think Glenn Beck speaks for all of you.

  • Hyperion||

    Wow, you are incredibly ignorant, or just stupid, there are thousands of comments like that all over leftist sites.

    Hundreds if not thousands of links to them have been posted here.

    And it's not only comments. Even though articles like that are not as common, there are lots of them out there.

  • Randian filtered me, I WIN!||

    "Just read the comments "

    "Do you have a link to any of these articles?"

    So, is fake mng lying or stupid?

  • The Last American Hero||

    I hope they are blackmailing the officials, and I hope some of it comes to light. The Salem Witch Trials didn't end until the girls pointed their fingers at the "important" people.

  • Reverendcaptain||

    If you're going to start shopping rumor and conspiracy theories without any evidence to back it up, then your credibility is pretty soon gone. Really surprised and disappointed to see this here.

  • M N G||

    Uh oh, you're in for it. See how they treated me above.

  • Reverendcaptain||

    I have no faith in the administration or the NSA but once you're willing to toss out logic or truth then you lose me. Doesn't mean I'm going to defend either of them but certainly not going to jump on some ridiculous bandwagon hawking Illuminati type crap.

  • Tamfang||

    “ironclad assurance” would not be enough. I want a pony too.

  • thorax232||

    Are they? Of course they are, that's how politics are done!

  • Beowulf||

    MNG is probably correct, although his case is far from ironclad.

    Government conspiracies assume a level of competence seldom found in government, e.g. the ability to find one's ass without a map. However, this wouldn't require a conspiracy - it's really similar to an analyst checking out his girlfriends' contacts, and its at least equally plausible.

    J Edgar Hoover never blackmailed anybody (in the legal sense of the word). If I have pictures of you with a goat, and I let you know i have them, that is me doing you a favor. However you vote on the the FBI appropriations bill the next day is up to you...heck we would never even discuss the subject. Actual blackmail would be both illegal and unnecessary.

    Nobody would confuse Congress with a Mensa meeting, and perusing the comments section in the New York Times reminds you that the apparent ability to read and write is not an indicator of an IQ in excess of the median head of cabbage...As such, when an outcome could be attributed to either stupidity or a conspiracy, you simply have to choose stupidity absent strong evidence to the contrary, a standard that is not met here

  • Beowulf||

    and suggesting a conspiracy without providing evidence for its existence does tend to consign one to the tinfoil helmet club, with a concomitant impact on one's credibility going forward.

    Now creating a "fictional" book or screenplay based on precisely the same ideas would be a public service...particularly if Diane Krueger starred as the dedicated analyst who uncovered the evil plot

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    Really, how much effort does it take to frame someone when you have the tools that the NSA does?

    And I'm not just talking about important officials. I'm talking about anybody. When you have direct access to someones internet datastream, their email passwords, a full cell phone and email contact list, etc, would it take ANY EFFORT AT ALL to frame or blackmail someone just to shore up the fucking numbers?

    Nobody, and this includes the rich and powerful, is immune to the 3 felonies a day rule either. So just monitoring the daily habits of someone would produce more than enough blackmail worthy material to ensure their co-operation in whatever endeavor you're trying to accompish.

  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    I'm not saying that anybody is actually doing this. But the fact that the infrastructure exists to accomplish this is mind boggling.

    When our government has created enough legislation to turn even the most law abiding citizens into habitual criminals, and the tools to embarass, frame, blackmail and destroy anybody that would say nay to the power structure, we have gone over the goddamn edge.

    It has to be torn down, brick by brick. Leveled, burned, destroyed, and never brought up in polite company ever again.

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