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The Skeptic Inside Me: MH370 Probably Wasn’t Terrorism

Posted by V the K at 1:16 pm - March 19, 2014.
Filed under: War On Terror

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No link, because we all know the story, and I’m just spit-ballin’.

The disappearance of flight 370 seems to have brought out a lot of people’s inner… terrorist spy novel author guy. The MFM and their allies in Government are releasing information that seems to contradict itself day-to-day. (“The transponder was turned off before the last radio contact.” “Oh, wait, no it wasn’t.”) And people have been weaving these bits of misinformation together to form theories that the aircraft has been flown to a secret Taliban/Al Qaeda/Uighur base for some nefarious purpose. And it may be so, but the Inner Skeptic has his doubts.

The thing that has bothered the Inner Skeptic from the beginning is, if you planned to use the plane in a terrorist attack, why acquire it in such a high-profile way? Every Government is on alert for it, now. If you wanted to load a plane with explosives or a nuke or a dirty bomb, why not just acquire one on the international used aircraft market? That would be much lower profile

Mr Occam is offering the Inner Skeptic a very sharp and shiny piece of metal, and says that the plane probably had a systems malfunction, possibly an on-board electrical fire, that incapacitated the plane’s transponder and communication systems, as well as the crew. It then flew on autopilot out over the Indian Ocean before running out of fuel and crashing into the sea.

Not very exciting, but it seems more reasonable than an elaborate terrorist aircraft-theft scheme.

And another reason it can’t be terrorism is because President Obama personally killed Osama bin Laden; thus ending terrorism forever so we can reduce our military to Great Depression levels. (If I understand the talking point correctly.)

Obama in Fantasyland, summed up

Posted by Jeff (ILoveCapitalism) at 10:37 pm - March 8, 2014.
Filed under: National Security,Obama Incompetence,War On Terror

From Stephen F. Hayes:

For five years, the Obama administration has chosen to see the world as they wish it to be, not as it is. In this fantasy world, the attack in Fort Hood is “workplace violence.” The Christmas Day bomber is an “isolated extremist.” The attempted bombing in Times Square is a “one-off” attack. The attacks in Benghazi are a “spontaneous” reaction to a YouTube video. Al Qaeda is on the run. Bashar al-Assad is a “reformer.” The Iranian regime can be sweet-talked out of its nuclear weapons program. And Vladimir Putin is a new, post-Cold War Russian leader.

In the real world, it was a pen pal of the late jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki who opened fire on soldiers at Fort Hood. The Christmas bomber was dispatched from Yemen, where he was instructed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The Times Square bomber was trained and financed by the Pakistani Taliban. Benghazi was a deliberate attack launched by well-known terrorist groups. Al Qaeda is amassing territory and increasing its profile. Assad is a brutal dictator, responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 Syrians. The Iranian regime is firmly entrenched as the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror and remains determined to lead a nuclear state. And in Russia we face a Cold War throwback willing to use force to expand Russian influence.

And Vladimir Putin, it turns out, is who we thought he was. Unfortunately, so is Barack Obama.

SYrial appeals to emotion

Last night, President Obama made an emotional appeal for…America to NOT act in Syria. Transcript here.

If you only caught his conclusion, you’d never know that Obama has spent the last few weeks loudly war-mongering on Syria, seeking unilaterally to plunge America into a new war that over 60% of Americans oppose.

Obama started out his speech with a lot of “Oh! Won’t somebody please think of the children!” But he offered only a series of assertions (no evidence) on a crucial point: whether Syria’s President Assad is responsible for the chemical weapons attacks. (The intelligence is still weak; since the rebels are some nasty people, it’s still worth considering whether they did the attacks as a ‘false flag’ operation to draw the U.S. in, or if it was perhaps a rogue Syrian general.)

Obama then offered a thin connection to U.S. security interests: (more…)

Obama administration in diSYRray

I don’t even have to comment; HotAir’s headlines alone make all the points. OK, I’ll throw in a few little ones.

Sorry if my title pun was too painful.

UPDATE: Gaffe-tastic: Hillary pretty excited about Kerry’s accidental proposal for international control of Syria’s WMD arsenal. With the way this Obama-Syria mess writes itself, blogging has never been easier. I promise I’ll try harder, next time.

Making sense of Syria

Why would President Obama want to commit U.S. forces, basically to help al Qaeda (with the occasional cannibal among them) in a Syrian civil war? What is the compelling U.S. national interest?

I’ve noticed something odd in the administration’s arguments for attacking Syria. They emphasize that chemical weapons were used, but on the crucial dispute over “who did it”, they offer almost nothing beyond mere assertions. (One example here.) It’s almost as if the administration has not wanted people to stop and think about Syria.

I am still keeping an open mind, that the administration’s version of events in Syria could be true. But, for sake of argument, here are some articles giving reason to question it:

It may be worth considering “who benefits” from Obama attacking Syria. Reports say that Saudi Arabia backs the rebels (although I am not sure why they do, unless it’s part of their complicated dance with Russia over the future of OPEC and world energy). Wouldn’t it be ironic, if the Obama administration is acting at the Saudis’ behest?

But I must admit that Obama has finally done something right, in seeking Congress’ authorization to attack Syria.

I think it would be a great mistake for Congress, and especially for the GOP, to authorize in haste – before the many serious, open questions about Syria have been answered to the public’s satisfaction. I do not agree with Speaker Boehner, yet, on supporting a U.S. attack on Syria.

FROM THE COMMENTS: mixitup reminds us that, actually, Obama himself benefits from his attacking Syria. How? “Benghazi, IRS scandal, NSA scandal, gun running scandal [ed: Fast And Furious], unemployment, sad economy…are off the front pages…”

UPDATE: Michael Synder (the Economic Collapse Blog) suggests that the Syrian crisis could really be about which powers get to build pipelines where, to sell whose natural gas to Europe.

I rejected “pipeline thinking” in debates over the wars of a decade ago (Afghanistan, Iraq) – because U.S. security interests were a good-enough explanation for those wars. Again, Syria in 2013 is different. With U.S., NATO, Israeli and even Saudi security *not* obviously at stake in Syria, one may as well start wondering about other explanations for the crisis.

Roundup of some Syria news & opinion

Posted by Jeff (ILoveCapitalism) at 11:35 am - August 29, 2013.
Filed under: National Security,Obama Watch,War On Terror

- President Obama has “concluded that the Syrian government in fact” carried out chemical weapon attacks.

- But the intelligence in favor of Obama’s conclusion is considered to be thin. Some agree that it was the Syrian Army, but not President Assad; perhaps a rogue commander.

- Obama is not waiting for the U.N. to agree on it, much less Congress. Why won’t he? UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon tells him to “give peace a chance”.

- Even if the Syrian government did carry out the attacks, Donald Rumsfeld points out that Obama has yet to justify attacking Syria, in terms of U.S. security interests.

- George Will, Obama is talking America into a war. Among many good points, Will notes a weird Obama quote to justify attacking Libya back in 2011: “It is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions”. Umm…so the U.S. must fight whenever, and only when, mysterious “others” tell us? Also, wouldn’t that argument justify the Iraq war, too? Will proceeds to delve into Obama’s equally-tortured language on Syria; RTWT.

- Bruce McQuain makes an argument that Obama has already doomed his own Syria mission, with his wildly-flailing public build-up to it.

Bonus: Did you know that President Smart Power, per the New York Times, insulted Vladimir Putin as “looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom”? (Via HotAir.) Item #35,221 for the “If Bush Did It, The NYT Would Make An International Crisis Of It” file.

UPDATE: Via ZH and Michael Krieger, here is Candidate Obama’s declaration in 2007:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

UPDATE: The UK pulls out. It looks like Obama must launch his unauthorized, highly questionable attack on Syria by himself.

Syria vs. Iraq

With the 2003 Iraq war, President Bush dealt with a widely-acknowledged threat to world peace, a dictator who had attacked no less than four of his neighbors (at different times, with one such war costing probably over a million lives), and who sheltered and supported various terrorists.

Bush had the participation of 40 other nations in a coalition. The move was authorized by an accumulation of 17 U.N. resolutions, which had effectively voided the dictator’s sovereignty and promised him action over his continued flouting of the U.N.

Most important, Bush’s move was authorized by Congress (as required by the U.S. Constitution) and as well, was supported by clear majorities of the American people at the time.

We can still argue (with hindsight) about the wisdom of the move, if its aftermath was planned right, etc. But the above were and are facts. Do any of them apply to what President Obama has done in Libya, or may be about to do in Syria?

Lefties bleated that Bush had plunged America into a unilateral, illegal/unauthorized “war of choice”. Their claims were wrong on the facts, but let’s set that aside. Has not their President Obama actually plunged America into one near-unilateral, unauthorized “war of choice” – and threatens now to do a second?

Today as yesterday, I’m a bit skeptical of the Obama administration’s version of events in Syria. Not because Syria has just accused Kerry of lying (and, sadly, both Assad and Kerry are known to lie about important matters). Not even because reports continue to suggest that Obama means to bypass Congress, as well as the U.N.

No, I’m still skeptical because of the slap-dash feeling to the public buildup of this crisis. Many of us have heard reports that the U.S. military has been building up to move against something/someone, for weeks if not months. I myself have a friend in the Army who was put on a rather mysterious regime of 80-hour work weeks, starting over two months ago. I thought maybe they were getting ready to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. And then suddenly, just in the last few days, Kerry is there to claim justification for some sort of military action on Syria, from a very recent chemical weapons attack which – while quite horrible and tragic – is still in active debate as to its authorship.

The Obama administration could be telling the truth, like I said yesterday, but… it still doesn’t smell right. The Iraq war build-up was relatively more ‘in the open’, the culmination of years of public debate about a long-term threat.

Obama ready to strike in Syria…against America’s will?

To borrow a few lines that Bruce re-tweeted, “I’m so old, I remember the press having a healthy skepticism for military involvement in the Middle East…I’m also glad we amended the constitution to exclude that congressional authorization for war…”

I’m so old, I remember that President Bush actually troubled himself to get approval from Congress for the Iraq War, including a majority of Senate Democrats. But President Obama, with Syria? I doubt he’ll try.

According to Reuters this weekend:

About 60 percent of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria’s civil war, while just 9 percent thought President Barack Obama should act. More Americans would back intervention if it is established that chemical weapons have been used, but even that support has dipped in recent days…

…just 27 percent said they supported his decision to send arms to some Syrian rebels; 47 percent were opposed…

About 11 percent said Obama should do more to intervene in Syria than sending arms to the rebels, while 89 percent said he should not help the rebels…

Obama is considering a range of options. The most popular option among Americans: not intervening in Syria at all. That option is backed by 37 percent of Americans…

If “Obama” (was Reuters disrespectful for calling him that?) intervenes in Syria, he will be doing it without the support of the American people.

There may be no good options in Syria. Just to review: An Iranian-backed dictatorship is fighting rebels who are, basically, al Qaeda. We have claims that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons; and counter-claims that it was the rebels, running a vicious false flag operation.

UPDATE: Kerry says it was the Syrian government. I must be frank: Hearing it from Kerry makes me a little more skeptical than I was before. The man has been a gigantic, shameless liar on public issues ever since he slandered a generation of veterans in testimony before Congress, in 1971.

I realize that Kerry is backed up, in this instance, by hundreds of functionaries in the Obama administration, and that makes deception less likely (or harder to pull off). But not impossible; and because of Benghazi among other scandals, we know that the Obama administration can be untruthful on foreign policy. They may be telling a true story this time; but skepticism is not wholly unwarranted, and should not be faulted automatically.

If President Obama wanted trust to come forth in a more automatic fashion, then he should have (1) not let his administration mislead the American people on Benghazi, and (2) not chosen a figure known for his decades of lying, as Secretary of State. Having said that, could the administration’s version of events be true? I’m keeping an open mind. Kerry has promised more evidence in days to come; we’ll see.

Hasan convicted, but media still avoids the dreaded T-word?

A Yahoo! current lead article, from the Associated Press:

Maj. Nidal Hasan has been convicted of premeditated murder for the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood…

Military jurors found the Army psychiatrist guilty on Friday for the attack that killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others at the Texas military base.

Hasan shouted “Allahu akbar!” before attacking and showed other signs that his motive was Islamic jihad. But only us rightie wingnuts (/sarc) will call his actions either jihad, or terrorism, or (since he fought the Army and nation that he was sworn to serve) treason. The AP article avoids the J- and T-words, and instead says delicately:

Through media leaks and statements to the judge, the American-born Muslim signaled that he believed the attack was justified as a way to protect Islamic and Taliban leaders from U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Others have discussed how the judge in Hasan’s trial sanitized the evidence of Hasan’s real motive, as did the Obama administration when they labeled his actions “workplace violence”.

Please feel free to correct this post, by commenting with links to Establishment media reports that use either ‘jihad’, ‘terrorism’ or ‘treason’ honestly to describe Hasan’s murder spree.

UPDATE: So far, SwiperTheFox has nicely given it a shot (see #15, here), but I wasn’t persuaded (see #24, here).

What’s with all this talk about a terrorist attack?

In 2008, certain liberals told me face-to-face that electing a brown-skinned President (Obama) would make the terrorist threat recede, by making the rest of the world like America and feel closer to us.

And in 2012, the Obama administration told us that al Qaeda had been “decimated” and “the War on Terror is over”.

So, why all this public talk of a coming terrorist attack? Is it real, or a distraction from other issues? It doesn’t smell right to me, for several reasons.

One reason is, the public spectacle. I can’t remember the Bush administration closing almost two dozen U.S. embassies. Or them having Congressional leaders disclose intelligence and raise public alarm over a short-term threat, which is usually counter-productive because it tips off the attackers about how much we know. (I except the Iraq war buildup since it was a different animal, a multi-decade debate over a threat that everyone usually conceded to be long-term.)

For another reason, the timing seems odd. We’ve just had bombshells in the Benghazi scandal. It is very convenient, right now, for the Obama administration to NOT have to talk about them. What bombshells?

Speaking of Benghazi, some suggest that Susan Rice may simply be trying now for a Benghazi do-over, erring on the side of caution. (Wait…so…Benghazi really was an al Qaeda attack?)

So, it’s hard to know. But if I’ve misunderstood the situation – if there is a serious terrorist threat here – Please feel free to set me straight in the comments.

The government tracks your snail mail, too

Posted by Jeff (ILoveCapitalism) at 8:22 pm - July 7, 2013.
Filed under: Obama Watch,Post 9-11 America,War On Terror

From the New York Times last week:

U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement

…Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images…

…postal workers record information from the outside of letters and parcels before they are delivered. (Opening the mail would require a warrant.) … It enables the Postal Service to retrace the path of mail at the request of law enforcement. No one disputes that it is sweeping.

“In the past, mail covers were used when [ed: ordered after] you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, who started a computer crimes unit in the fraud section of the criminal division of the Justice Department and worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be, ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”

So, pro or con? A reasonable trade-off of privacy for security, or another example of America Gone Horribly Wrong?

I lean to the latter view. As the NSA surveillance revelations hit, I said:

Can you imagine one of the Framers [of the Constitution] saying the following? “Having the Post Office collect data for the President on every letter that every person sends isn’t unconstitutional because the Fourth Amendment only protects the content of letters and not information on the sender and recipient, the weight of the letters (or number of pages), etc.” – I can’t.

Having said that, I do have a tad more confidence that the Post Office isn’t illegally opening and reading letters, than I do that the NSA somehow isn’t illegally reading/listening to any e-mails and phone calls they feel like.

UPDATE: From Bruce’s Twitter stream, more in the “America Gone Wrong” category:

Edward Snowden: Pro or con?

Snowden continues to embarrass the U.S., especially the Obama administration.

He is threatening more leaks.

He has asked for asylum in Russia. Russia seems to be weirdly talking out of both sides of their mouths, as to whether they want him.

He has a statement, via Wikileaks:

On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic “wheeling and dealing” over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile…

Bush says Snowden has damaged U.S. security, a viewpoint that I respect but don’t necessarily feel outrage about, since the surveillance programs are bigger now (than what I previously supported) and since, per the Washington Post at the link just given, U.S. officials are still lying about the extent of the programs.

Your view?

UPDATE: Snowden withdraws Russia request, is denied asylum by 9 countries, still looking at some others.

Open thread: Syria

Posted by Jeff (ILoveCapitalism) at 4:18 am - June 20, 2013.
Filed under: National Security,Obama Watch,War On Terror

What’s going on? ‘Syriasly.’ I understand where Iran and Hezbollah are in this: they’re Assad allies and want their interests preserved. But:

  • Do Assad’s troops really use chemical weapons?
  • Are the rebels worth supporting? Aren’t they basically al Qaeda?
  • Is this Obama’s Iraq War: where he must build a coalition (both domestic and international) in favor of a “regime change” on the word of intelligence agencies, thus becoming Bush?
  • Is this a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia/Iran? Does it lead to a serious confrontation?
  • What is the U.S. security interest in this, really? Has Assad become a worse international citizen than he was five years ago – say, a greater threat to Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq?
  • Or is this Obama’s Wag the Dog moment, where he tries to distract from his many scandals? Should I trust a war that Lindsey Graham believes in?

The Left seems to be all over the map on this.

Snowdemania

Via Zero Hedge, Republican former VP Dick Cheney comes out against Edward Snowden:
YouTube Preview Image
I’m interested by several aspects of his remarks.

First, there is what Cheney didn’t say: Cheney apparently did not call Snowden a liar. I’m not sure if that puts Cheney at odds with Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who said last week:

“[Snowden] was lying…He clearly has over-inflated his position, he has over-inflated his access and he’s even over-inflated what the actually technology of the programs would allow one to do. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

Rogers’ language is a bit slippery: He plants the word “lying” but doesn’t indicate that Snowden was lying about the most crucial revelations, namely, the extent of NSA surveillance of people’s phone records and Internet activities. Between that and Cheney’s apparent silence on the same, I will take the NSA surveillance revelations as ‘confirmed’.

Rogers and Cheney do both call Snowden a “traitor” and suggest that he is a front for someone else; perhaps China. They are not the first to wonder if he’s a front. I figured that Snowden could be acting for an NSA higher-up (who opposes the surveillance programs); but I never totally ruled out (and still don’t) that Snowden could be acting for China. It struck me as a bit odd, from the beginning, that Snowden is holed up with a foreign power which delights in the embarrassment to the U.S. here, and as well, benefits from it.

Anyway, Cheney goes on to strongly defend the NSA surveillance; he suggests it would have prevented the 9-11 attacks, and takes a ‘trust us’ type of stance.

I disagree with Mr. Cheney. I do so respectfully; he’s a great American, and there are two sides to every story. I come down on the Rand Paul / civil liberties side of this one. The current extent of surveillance goes well beyond anything I ever defended the Bush-Cheney administration doing.

And the Obama administration’s other scandals – for example, their IRS / Tea Party scandal, or their multiple spy-on-the-media scandals, or multiple occasions when they happily manipulated classified info for political gain, and/or lied to the American people – have, by now, proven that they (the Obama administration) are profoundly unworthy of trust.

UPDATE – Some tidbits from the last several days:

UPDATE: NSA surveillance has provoked disagreement among the scholars at Cato. Here is a lengthy piece from Julian Sanchez, discussing many legal details from a viewpoint I agree with.

“Government data mining matters”

A couple of opinion pieces. First, from Legal Insurrection:

…I’m also concerned with what could be done with the information gathered about American citizens not suspected of a crime if put into the hands of politicians and political groups, and bureaucrats who work for or are sympathetic to such politicians and political groups.

The threat, oddly enough, is proven by the [present] leaks…If some government employee who has sworn to keep information secret is willing to leak [it]…for (allegedly) good purposes, what’s to stop that person from violating his or her oath by leaking data-mined information…for other than good reasons…?

…The issue goes beyond the NSA programs. Obamacare is a form of data mining. Obamacare will put into the hands of the IRS medical and health information of an unprecedented level.

And from Reason:

…everything and everyone are relevant to everything, because anything could yield some clue that could conceivably solve some crime. But that view is the same one that justified those general warrants from King George III.

The problem with indiscriminate [surveillance] of homes and effects is not that it’s ineffective in finding wrongdoing. It’s that the innocent people should not be punished in the pursuit of the guilty….

The danger isn’t (just) in what’s being done with the surveillance databases now; it’s in the fact that they exist, i.e., what could be done with them – and will be, sooner or later. Especially under an administration as power-hungry, deceptive and corrupt as Obama’s.

In the Bush 43 days, I believed that the government was only after real terrorists. But because of Obama’s IRS/Tea Party scandal specifically, I now know otherwise. That scandal has proven that the government’s motives are not pure.

And thus the NSA revelations, while they may be a non-scandal by themselves, they do carry the whiff of all of Obama’s other scandals. Because all of them fit together in a disturbing pattern. I am not against responsible counter-terrorism; I am against Obama’s pattern.

Surveillance updates

Lots of news this weekend on the NSA (phone surveillance) & PRISM (Internet surveillance) revelations. (Some info on how PRISM works from the Silicon Valley side of things, here.)

As these revelations dominate the headlines, perhaps they do obscure other important Obama scandals like Benghazi, IRS / Tea Party, DOJ spying on AP, Pigford, the many EPA scandals, and more. But I say, look at the bright side. There are plenty of revelations to come in those other scandals, so it’s probably temporary.

And, although it’s bad that the Obama administration is so scandalous: given that it is, it’s good that so many of them are coming to light. If some voter doesn’t care about scandal X, they may well care about scandal Y. Even a good chunk of Obama’s left-wing base who may approve of his IRS abusing the Tea Party, is disturbed that he has gone from criticizing to defending the NSA’s activities in spying on ordinary Americans.

So, meet Edward Snowden, now receiving media attention as the NSA whistleblower. I found the whole article interesting. One minor detail which caught my eye is that Snowden sounds like a disillusioned Obama supporter:

…the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave him hope that there would be real reforms [of CIA and NSA activities], rendering disclosures unnecessary. [Snowden] left the CIA in 2009 in order to take his first job working for a private contractor that assigned him to a functioning NSA facility…It was then, he said, that he “watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in”, and as a result, “I got hardened.”…”you can’t wait around for someone else to act…”

By the way, it looks like Obama means to prosecute the recent leaks. If he does, let’s remember that he will be carrying out the law.

Having said that: The difference between Candidate Obama and President Obama on these issues is astounding, even to a seasoned cynic. Here’s Obama from 2007:

[The Bush] administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest…

Now click here for some video of Obama hemming and hawing about how we should all trust the Congressional and judicial oversight of these massive surveillance programs. (more…)

If Al Qaeda is on the run, why do we need such intrusive surveillance?

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 5:24 am - June 8, 2013.
Filed under: Random Thoughts,War On Terror

Over at Ace, CDR M asks the important questions about the Obama administration’s surveillance program:

If the War on Terror is over and the administration views terrorism through a pre 9/11 prism, why is the administration assembling and wielding the most powerful and intrusive systems of surveillance ever conceived?

‘Nobody is listening to your telephone calls’

Posted by Jeff (ILoveCapitalism) at 3:54 pm - June 7, 2013.
Filed under: Democratic Scandals,Obama Watch,Post 9-11 America,War On Terror

President Obama just gave a speech, wherein he addressed the NSA surveillance revelations. From CNN:

Sweeping up Americans’ telephone records and monitoring Internet activity from overseas are “modest encroachments on privacy” that can help U.S. intelligence analysts disrupt terror activity, President Barack Obama said Friday.

“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he reassured Americans…

And from Yahoo!:

“I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs,” Obama said…”My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly. We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards.”

Isn’t that reassuring? Obama says he means well!

Dan has posed the question, Is revelation of phone data gathering “scandal” a (kind of) distraction?

With respect, my answer is: Perhaps. Maybe the Obama crew staged the NSA revelations, to divert attention from their main scandals.

But, if true, wouldn’t it mean they’re getting desperate? (Telling the media “Don’t cover that scandal, cover *this* one.”) As a fan of truth coming to light, I’m pleased. And don’t worry, the other scandals are still under investigation and have plenty of revelations to come. There will be plenty of oxygen for them.

So, getting back to the NSA revelations…I’m worried by some of the commentary I’ve seen.

Dan quotes law professor John Yoo as saying that this “data collecting isn’t unconstitutional because the Fourth Amendment only protects the content of phone calls and not information on the dialed numbers, length of the calls, etc.” And Yoo may well be right, as regards the state of the law today.

But that doesn’t necessarily make it right. Here is the text of the Fourth Amendment:

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.

The right to be secure in your “papers”. Now, the Framers (of the Constitution) said “papers” in part because they couldn’t conceive of phone calls. In their day, people communicated over distances by paper letters. Can you imagine one of the Framers saying the following?

Having the Post Office collect data for the President on every letter that every person sends isn’t unconstitutional because the Fourth Amendment only protects the content of letters and not information on the sender and recipient, the weight of the letters (or number of pages), etc.

I can’t. In other words, I don’t find it terribly reassuring to be told that they don’t actually open the letters phone calls and read listen to them.

Finally, I would remind people that the NSA is traditionally much closer to the White House than the other security agencies, which is why I put “for the President” in the above mock-up. I do support counter-terrorism, but… Color me skeptical. I have concerns on this.

Obama’s NSA phone surveillance called “shockingly broad”

Posted by Jeff (ILoveCapitalism) at 10:03 pm - June 6, 2013.
Filed under: Obama Watch,War On Terror

Michelle Malkin has a must-read post on NSA phone surveillance of Americans (a subject that I touched upon in an earlier footnote).

She starts by reminding about the NSA phone surveillance of the Bush administration:

The Bush NSA’s special collections program grew in early 2002 after the CIA started capturing top Qaeda operatives overseas, including Abu Zubaydah. The CIA seized the terrorists’ computers, cellphones and personal phone directories. NSA surveillance was intended to exploit those numbers and addresses as quickly as possible. As a result of Bush NSA work,the terrorist plot involving convicted al Qaeda operative Iyman Faris was uncovered — possibly saving untold lives…

Normally, the government obtains court orders to monitor such information from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. But the window of opportunity to exploit the names, numbers, and addresses of those associated with the top terrorist leaders was obviously small…

So the Bush administration had the NSA track Americans’ overseas phone calls, insofar as captured terrorist phone numbers might show up. But the Obama administration? Not so much…err, so little:

The new Obama order covers not only phone calls overseas with the specific goal of counterterrorism surveillance, but all domestic calls by Verizon customers over at least a three-month period.

[Malkin now links/quotes an article at Politico:] Trevor Timm, a digital rights analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the order “shockingly broad.” …The “top secret” order issued in April by a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the request of the FBI instructs the telecommunications giant Verizon to provide the NSA with daily reports of “all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

I’m willing to preserve our counter-terrorism efforts. And I don’t know much about the legal ins/outs of all this. But, all domestic calls by Verizon customers? Sheesh! This surely goes beyond the Bush NSA surveillance that the public debated in 2005-6.

So, it’s worth discussing the rightness (or wrongness) of the broadened surveillance. The more so if (note IF) the War on Terror is over, as some international observers thought Obama to be implying in his speech last week.

By way of counterpoint, Senator Feinstein implies that the broadened phone surveillance did start under Bush, in 2007. But that still wouldn’t make it right. Or make it anything that the public has approved, because we haven’t learned about the broadened efforts (or been able to debate them) until now.

As always, please feel free to post whatever more you know about this issue, in the comments.

State-sponsored terrorism?

By now, most of us have heard the reports that the Tsarnaev family received some $100,000 in taxpayer-funded assistance.

It touches on a key question that arises when government pays people to basically do nothing: what the heck are they up to, all day?

The classic story that welfare-spending advocates give us is, The Family Who Just Need A Little Help To Get On Their Feet: imperfect but responsible parents who are going to school and looking for jobs (however desperately), while they take care of kids or others who depend on them. I’m sure that some proportion of recipients is like that. I’m also sure that at least some other recipients sit on their rear ends for years at a time. And finally, some others must be up to no good: running meth labs, planning crimes, or studying radical Islam and (perhaps) learning how to commit terror. What are the true proportions of the three groups? That, I do not know.

When people must work for a living, we have a pretty good idea what they’re up to all day: Their jobs. If they’re going to make trouble, they must do it more in their off-hours.

Back in 2001, Mickey Kaus noted some of the links between welfare benefits and terrorism. I also remember Bruce Bawer talking about it in his 2006 book: the idea that the European welfare state paid benefits to its unassimilated Islamist immigrants as a kind of appeasement, oblivious to the fact that it was (in effect) paying them to remain unassimilated and Islamist.