Category Archives: national security

Just Try Stuffing That Genie Back In The Bottle, Folks


It’s The Corporations, Stupid: Juan Cole on why the Second Amendment is interpreted strictly, literally, fundamentally, but the Fourth Amendment is not. Good read.


Last night I was watching “All In With Chris Hayes,” a rare oasis of intelligent, in-depth conversation on the day’s news. The segment on Edward Snowden, which you can see here (WordPress won’t let me embed the video) covered a lot of the main issues. The thing that got me out of my chair was this bit from Karen Finney; I have no idea who Karen Finney is — I gather she worked in the Clinton White House and she’s got a show coming to MSNBC — but she hit every point I’ve been thinking and saying about this story, and I want to say thank you because there are a couple of larger issues here that really need to be addressed.

She said:

[…] I remember very clearly when I was at the DNC, when we were fighting the Bush Administration on the warrantless wiretapping. I mean, many Democrats, Howard Dean among them, you know, the argument we made was, follow the law. We can do, you know, let’s follow the law and we can keep America safe, we said we wanted a process. We now have a process. I think the argument needs to be, if this process isn’t right, then let’s have that conversation. But the other problem, just quickly, Chris, that really bothers me about this is, you know, somebody could track my location just based on my cell phone. Somebody not the government and so, like, we’re already — it’s a farce if we think that we’ve got a level of privacy that we used to. I mean the amount of information that is out there and available about us that we are willingly giving away all the time, if we’re going to be this concerned about it, then let’s really have that conversation because I don’t want private companies having access to that information either, by the way.

Marc Ambinder then jumped in with his notion that there’s a big difference between corporations and the government having this information, the worst a corporation can do is send you coupons in the mail, but the government can actually put you in jail. That’s an extraordinarily dumb argument, and Ambinder should know better. First of all, being deluged with advertising messaging is incredibly invasive (I wrote about it here). But also, we live in an era when corporations are polluting our elections with dark money and trying to hide their true agenda behind shadowy groups like Americans For Prosperity and FreedomWorks. So to say the worst thing a corporation can do is send you some unwanted ads is extraordinarily obtuse. They’re trying to undermine our entire democratic process, Ambinder. They’re unraveling the very fabric of our democracy. You goddamn fool.

I’m not happy about any of this, but I’m slightly less concerned about the government’s activities than I am the private sector’s. We have control over the government. We have elections, and a certain amount of transparency built into that system. Private corporations? Not so much. Money corrupts, doesn’t it? So let’s not bring the profit motive into any situation that we don’t want money to corrupt. Like, you know, national security.

Let’s take this scenario to its logical end, when we’re all slaves to the board of directors of RJ Exxon Coca-Koch Bros. Industries, and quaint things like clean air, clean water, worker’s rights and a fucking Saturday off are a thing of the past. Yes I’m exaggerating but if you think things like income inequality are bad now, wait until we turn more of our institutions over to private, for-profit corporations. It’s called “corporate capture” and it’s the real problem, the one no one wants to talk about because it’s already too late.

If I seem a little “emo” on this issue it’s because the whole surveillance issue is something I’ve devoted a lot of time to in my life. Heck, I spent 10 years on a novel I never finished (I know, such a cliche, right?) whose title was “Panopticon,” okay? So I get it. The thing is, as Finney points out, this isn’t just big, bad gummint doing this. This is a private security contractor! A private corporation! The collusion between government and the private sector is extremely disturbing. And I guess we won’t ever address that issue until some Tea Party Republicans decide they don’t like it (which will be never) because apparently our corporate media doesn’t think any issue is worth discussing unless Republicans are upset about it.

So wake the hell up.


Filed under civil liberties, corporations, FISA, FISA. telecom immunity, national security, NSA, warrantless surveillance

50 First Controversies


What Tom said.


You know what kills me about these stupid, post-truth times we live in? There’s no fucking accountability. Invade a Middle Eastern country based on lies, distortions, and fearmongering? Kill tens of thousands and bust the national treasury? No problem! Off into the sunset with you, eight years later we’ll have forgotten it ever happened.

Monitor peoples’ phone calls and internet activity without a warrant? Don’t worry about it! Five years later people will have never heard of such a thing. And when we hear about it happening with warrants and judicial oversight? Hey, we can pretend it’s some new thing and get faux-outraged all over again.

I mean, shit. We can’t even have a national discussion about this surveillance with FISA courts and all that because everyone’s pretending this is the same extra-judicial overreach that Bush did. It’s like “50 First Dates,” every day the sun rises and memories are wiped clean. Every day we start back at square one. It’s annoying as hell.

I want to know some things about this, like how long the NSA keeps this information or if they’re required to dump it after a certain period of time. Also, who and what governments (or corporations) are they sharing this information with? And what legal recourse do those being surveilled have? What can you do if a mistake is made, which is bound to happen? What limits and restraints are there?

Now is the time to find out about this stuff but no, we can’t even get that far because we’re still in “OMG THE GOVERNMENT IS LISTENING TO MY PHONE CALLS” mode. C’mon, folks. We covered this ground, like, eight years ago. There are some serious, real issues that need to be addressed here, but we never get around to having the grown-up conversation because we’re in constant reaction-mode.

Look, pay attention, people. Hit the Google. Read a fucking newspaper or magazine instead of getting your information from the TV, which caters to the 30-second attention span. Hey, I’ve learned a lot from Harper’s but maybe The Economist is more your speed? Fine, whatever. Just fucking learn something, please. I’m tired of having the same conversations all over again.


Filed under civil liberties, FISA, FISA. telecom immunity, national security, NSA, warrantless surveillance

Feeling Safer Yet?

God I’m so glad we’re still taking our shoes off at the airport and having our e-mails read by the NSA:

The hammering on the wall of America’s premier storage vault for nuclear-weapons grade uranium in pitch-darkness six weeks ago was loud enough to be heard by security guards. But they assumed incorrectly that workmen were making an after-hours repair, and blithely ignored it.

Minutes earlier, a perimeter camera had caught an image of intruders — not workmen — breaching an eight-foot high security fence around the sensitive facility outside Knoxville, Tenn. But the guard operating the camera had missed it. A different camera stationed over another fence — also breached by the intruders — was out of service, a defect the protective force had ignored for 6 months.

In theory, the pounding might have been the work of a squad of terrorists preparing to plant a powerful explosive in the wall of the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), a half-billion dollar vault that stores the makings of more than 10,000 nuclear bombs. Instead, it was a group of three peace activists, including an 82-year old nun, armed only with flashlights, binoculars, bolt cutters, bread, flowers, a Bible, and several hammers.

Are you kidding me? The story goes on to report that the activists “waited 15 minutes or so for the Mayberry-style guards to make an appearance.”

Here’s the worst part: we’ve outsourced security and operations at this facility to two private contractors, WSI-Oak Ridge and Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services. So y’all can just stop throwing up your hands and saying the government can’t do anything right because this is yet another epic private contractor fail. Babcock & Wilcox has pocketed more than $5 billion to operate this facility in East Tennessee over the past 10 years.

This part really got me:

[…] Inside the HEUMF, which the activists were able to deface, and pit with hammers — but not breach — the harvested material is stored in thousands of barrels and small casks placed on racks, in the open, according to an NNSA video tour of the inside.

Given the obvious risks, the HEUMF’s designers initially envisioned it buried underneath a large earth berm, a relatively cheap approach to nuclear security that has been zealously embraced by the nuclear mandarins in Tehran. But at the last moment before construction started, the NNSA reversed course and opted instead to build its aboveground “prison,” based on advice that doing so would be quicker and cheaper to build and easier to defend.

That advice came from Babcock & Wilcox, which had already secured the guard force contract, according to a 2004 DOE report. The cost savings claim was discredited at the time by security experts from Sandia National Laboratories and by Friedman’s Inspector General office; he concluded that constructing the aboveground version would cost an extra $25 million, and staffing it with a guardforce four times larger would cost taxpayers an extra $177 million over its lifespan. It would also need extra cooling.

NNSA allowed Babcock & Wilcox “to continue redesigning the facility even when initial attempts to reduce the cost and improve the security of the facility failed,” Friedman complained. Michael C. Kane, then an NNSA executive and now a top Energy Department official, told him in a letter, however, that NNSA and its local site managers were convinced an aboveground “Defense-in-Depth security design” was the best course.

Nobody could have anticipated that the for-profit entity which got the operations contract would build a facility that cost more to operate! I’m so shocked!


I really don’t want to hear how much shinier/sparklier/cheaper/better private contractors are. I also don’t want to hear about the budget deficit from phony fiscal hawks who are pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from these private companies. And finally, I don’t feel good knowing that our nuclear weapons programs are being handled by private, for-profit corporations. This is atrocious. If I were King I’d make this shit illegal.

But hey, war and nuclear weapons are just another “job creating enterprise,” right? That swords into plowshares stuff is so hippie-dippie! There’s money to be made, y’all! Come on!

Here’s the icing on the cake:

Over the years, NNSA has steadily said less and less to Babcock & Wilcox about how to do its work. It eliminated its regional office in 2002 and turned oversight over to an office located on-site. The philosophy it has adopted recently — with the strong support of lawmakers on Capitol Hill — is called the Contractor Assurance System. It essentially means that the government cannot tell the company how to operate or guard the site; it can only hold the company responsible when it fails to accomplish its mission.

I’m not holding my breath on that “holding the company responsible” stuff. The staff on site has been “reassigned or retired” and that should be sufficient, right? Your tax dollars at work!

By the way, the peace activists who revealed this dangerous security failure are facing felony charges.


Filed under defense, national security, privatization, Tennessee

>Your Tax Dollars At Work, Literary Edition

>I’ve been hearing about this on the interwebs for the past two weeks but I didn’t think it was true. But now that it’s in the New York Times, well, I guess we are given to believe that it is:

WASHINGTON — The National Security Agency, headquarters for the government’s eavesdroppers and code breakers, has been located at Fort Meade, Md., for half a century. Its nickname, the Fort, has been familiar for decades to neighbors and government workers alike.

Yet that nickname is one of hundreds of supposed secrets Pentagon reviewers blacked out in the new, censored edition of an intelligence officer’s Afghan war memoir. The Defense Department is buying and destroying the entire uncensored first printing of “Operation Dark Heart,” by Anthony Shaffer, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, in the name of protecting national security.

Another supposed secret removed from the second printing: the location of the Central Intelligence Agency’s training facility — Camp Peary, Va., a fact discoverable from Wikipedia. And the name and abbreviation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, routinely mentioned in news articles. And the fact that Sigint means “signals intelligence.”

As a writer, I think this is sheer genius. Now you, too, can zoom to the top of the bestseller list by compiling some common knowledge — hey, what are those 11 secret herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken? — and wait for someone to buy up all the copies to keep a lid on things. Oh, wait, looks like only America’s security agencies are dumb enough to fall for that one.

What’s really stupid is that the Army already approved the book for publication way back in January. But then two months ago the Defense Intelligence Agency and NSA decided the book contained “sensitive” information (some of it common knowledge already readily available) — well after copies had already been made available to reviewers and book clubs. And now by trying to buy up every copy, they’ve called attention to a book that probably would have gone ignored by most folks. Now, says the Times, uncensored copies of the book are going for $2,000 on eBay.

Pretty big screw-up if you ask me. Will anyone get fired? Nah. That’s not how we do things.


Filed under national security


>Talk about your security breaches: A New Zealand man bought a used MP3 player for $15 only to discover it came with 60 pages of sensitive U.S. military data:

The files Ogle found on the MP3 player contain the names and personal details of US soldiers, including some who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are no details on exactly how many personal records are contained within the documents (most of which date back to 2005), but they also have information on mission briefings and equipment deployment.

This incident is probably not the worst breach of military data in recent memory. […] Still, Ogle’s situation is a bit bizarre in that no one knows how or why this sensitive information was stored on an iPod, or how that MP3 player slipped out to a used hardware vendor. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), some of the phone numbers from the MP3 player’s records still work, and the identified individuals indeed picked up on the other end.

“The more I look at it, the more I see and the less I think I should be [seeing],” Mr Ogle told ABC. He says he will hand the player over to the US Defense Department should it ever ask.

WTF? You mean, they haven’t asked?

For the past eight years the Bush Administration used “national security” as the excuse for all sorts of bizarre decisions, from refusing to strengthen federal whistleblower protections to censoring a quote from the Supreme Court to–I shit you not–withholding transcripts of a World Trade Organization agreement related to online gaming.

Yet military secrets are stored on an iPod and its sold for $15 to some schlub in New Zealand who just wanted to listen to some tunes.


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Filed under Bush Administration, national security