Wednesday, September 12, 2007

". . . like an ubiquitous spook" (Part IV)

By Carol Gee

Yesterday was the day, six years ago, that New York's World Trade towers fell. Thousands of people died across the nation that day. Not long after that the so-called war on terror began. And thousands more have died -- our brave soldiers, as well as innocent people living in Iraq and Afghanistan. For two days, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker spoke to Congress -- and through them to American people -- about how the war is going in Iraq. Time and perhaps investigative journalism will tell whether they were able to convey an accurate picture. They did not talk about some of the more obscure and unintended consequences of the way the Bush administration has waged that war for six years.

The most serious one, apart from the terrible loss of life and national treasure, has been a serious erosion of civil liberties of U.S. citizens. Another has been the politicization of the war. Disentangling the Military from Civilians and Politics was my South by Southwest post on 9/6/07. (The words in bold are pertinent to today's last in my "Ubiquitous" series). I began the previous post with this:

In a time of war it is inevitable that the U.S. Military will be deeply involved in the business of the nation. Our first president, George Washington understood how important it is to put civilian leadership over the military. Most of the time this check and balance system works very well. Since the turn of the century, however, the Military has become the answer for far too many of the country's questions. And that is a natural reaction because its discipline, organization, and resources work so well to solve serious problems. They provided invaluable help with natural disasters around the world, with gathering signals intelligence, and with being available to protect the homeland from invasion from a foreign nation. Success has been more elusive when the Military has tried to wage war against non-uniformed terrorists, when they have been asked to do the work of nation-building and diplomacy, or when they have set up their own internal intelligence gathering system.

Most Americans, including me, have a great deal of respect for our military leaders. General Petraeus came to Congress with a deep wellspring of credibility on both sides of the political aisle. I posted recently about my own admiration for the work of General James Jones and his Independent Commission on Security Forces in Iraq. Monday there was a "Senate Hearing on the Terrorist Threat Six Years After 9/11," where two of the witnesses are military men. (see it at the C-SPAN website):

Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) presides over a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Cmte. hearing on "Terrorist Threat Six Years After 9/11." Witnesses include: Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff; Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell*; FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III; and John Scott Redd, National Counterterrorism Center, Director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

When I watch these good men testify, I am convinced that they are all bright, competent, principled and patriotic. "I can take the measure of them," as it were. It is the government without faces about which I am not so sure. It was not until late 2005 that I mustered the courage to blog about some of the government offices that were reading my blog. It was visits from the military on 12/16/2005 that prompted a post titled "Patriots and the Pentagon." To quote:

At another of my blogs, I wrote about my strange feelings as I discovered that governmental entities were visiting this site in November. And I have never actually physically attended any protests. I merely write online in what I view as a patriotic manner... Last Tuesday NBC first reported that anti-war activists may be the target of spying by the Pentagon... According to my editor, "If Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, or John Hancock somehow woke up and read this, they would surely ask, 'How did this happen?'"

Since 2005 I have had many visits from people in many different government offices. The most recent, on September 6, 2007, there was a record on my Site Meter of a visit from NCTC (National Counter Terrorism Center / Marines in Pensacola, Fla.).

Having the Marines read my blog for the NCTC would not bother me so much, if I knew that the government's national intelligence systems worked really well. For example, there is this recent news headline, "Terrorism Watch List Is Faulted For Errors -- Justice Dept. Official Urges Improvement." It was written by Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, on September 7, 2007. To quote:

The government's master watch list of known or suspected terrorists continues to be marred by errors and inconsistencies that can obstruct the capture of terrorists or cause innocent people to be detained by U.S. authorities, the Justice Department's inspector general said yesterday.

. . . Its size has more than quadrupled since its creation in 2004, to the point that it contained more than 720,000 records as of April, according to the new report. It is growing at the rate of more than 20,000 records a month.

But Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said its management by the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) "continues to have significant weaknesses," producing a high error rate and a slow response to complaints from citizens.

Another example -- one of my favorite bloggers, "cscs" at TPMCafe, recently posted this: "Mathematics" (8/24/07), from which I quote:

Recently, DNI McConnell revealed that putting together a FISA warrant required "about 200 man-hours to do one telephone number." Last year, there were 2181 FISA applications. Wired does the math:

That means government employees spent 436,200 hours writing out foreign intelligence wiretaps in 2006. That's 53,275 workdays. Let's assume dedicated government employees work 40 hours a week with two weeks off a year. That means there were 218 government employees with top secret clearances sitting in rooms, writing only FISA warrants.

This whole line of "200 hours" for a warrant was so obviously unlikely, yet, so far, I can't find anyone who reported it as anything other than straight fact.

September 11, 2001 was a terrible day for the people of the United States. The loss of life, the turn of events in the Middle East, the huge debts incurred, and any resulting fearfulness of our people are all confounding consequences to be confronted. Among the most confounding consequences, in my opinion, was the damage done to the U.S. Constitution. The current administration's terribly misguided effort to "make us more safe" did nothing of the sort. Our leaders must understand that we cannot let the most cherished values of our nation come under successful attack from extremists, because we became too fearful. We cannot let the terrorists succeed with that, any more than with any other aspect of the conflict.

Background reading:

Another new tool coming soon - Hat tip to Brothers Judd for Thanks Admiral -- link to Financial Times, "U.S. spies get a top-secret Web of their own." Quote:

In December, officials say, the agencies will introduce A-Space, a top-secret variant of the social networking Web sites MySpace and Facebook. The "A" stands for "analyst," and where Facebook users swap snapshots, homework tips and gossip, intelligence analysts will be able to compare notes on satellite photos of North Korean nuclear sites, Iraqi insurgents and Chinese missiles.

A-Space will join Intellipedia, the spooks' Wikipedia, where intelligence officers from all 16 U.S. spy agencies pool their knowledge. Sixteen months after its creation, officials say, the top-secret version of Intellipedia has 29,255 articles, with an average of 114 new articles and more than 4,800 edits to articles added each workday.

A separate online Library of National Intelligence is to include all official intelligence reports sent out by each agency, offering suggestions: if you liked that piece on Venezuela's oil reserves, how about this one on Russia's?

* Learn more about the Director of National Intelligence -- from Glenn Greenwald at He writes at length on Mike McConnell (8/23/07 & updates).

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home