The latest crumb of information to emerge from the Snowden files is a claim that the NSA shares shares raw intelligence data with Israel, including data gathered from US citizens. Use of the data is governed only by a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with no real legal force.
Cynics will not be surprised. Within the US, other agencies including the DEA, Homeland Security, and the Secret Service have also been given access to data collected by the NSA. The official line is that such sharing is limited and subject to strict controls. Reading between the lines, it sounds as if the NSA’s own innate secretiveness may play a bigger role in limiting the unchecked flow of information out of Fort Meade than any official safeguards against misuse.
Once the first steps have been taken to allow a government agency to look where it couldn’t before, any new powers available will quickly be expanded beyond their intended use. In New York, police were given the power to search the bags of anyone entering the subway system as an anti-terrorist measure. The program was not particularly useful for its ostensible goal: a would-be bomber who spotted police at one subway entrance could usually find another station with no checkpoint only a little distance away, or might choose to set off his bomb on a bus or in a department store. It’s doubtful that the program made New Yorkers any safer. However, in the event that a bag search disclosed something else — drugs or weapons, for example — the NYPD was authorized to make an arrest. An ineffective measure against ‘terrorism’ offered the police the opportunity to go fishing for evidence of other crimes.
Similarly, it took less than two years for the anti-terrorist PATRIOT Act to be turned to other purposes, including the investigation of a Las Vegas strip-club owner suspected of bribery. By 2007, a government audit had determined that the FBI was guilty of ‘serious misuse’ of some of the powers given to it by the Act, violations not merely of the spirit but of the actual letter of the law.
So it’s no surprise to learn that all the new powers that the NSA has quietly awarded itself are already being used in ways that go far beyond the agency’s official remit, and that information gathered is being shared, often without restriction, with those that the NSA sees as its natural ‘partners’, including foreign powers. To date, only Israel has been named as a recipient of raw intelligence. You don’t need to be a cynic, merely a realist, to think that it’s probably not the only one, and that raw or processed intelligence derived from the NSA’s broad surveillance of Americans will be or has already been shared with other foreign states, including some that we would consider despotic.
The NSA, of course, isn’t telling, and unless another Snowden comes forward, we’re unlikely ever to hear about it.
If you ever needed any proof that our brave new panoptical world is two parts Stasi to three parts Keystone Kops, consider this quote from Lulzsec’s ‘Topiary’, in his interview page at askFM:
The only communication between LulzSec and WikiLeaks was between an FBI informant on their end and an FBI informant on our end, both trying to entrap each other to incriminate both groups further, and likely both oblivious to the fact that the other was working for the same organization.
It would be funny, except that it points to the way that the ‘intelligence services’ (a term that sometimes looks like an oxymoron) are increasingly involved not just in investigating crime, but also in inciting it. A majority of high-profile ‘terrorist plots’ supposedly uncovered by the FBI since 2001 have been variations on the same tawdry scenario: a small group of marginalized, disaffected and desperately dysfunctional people — often including long-term drug addicts or the mentally-ill — is infiltrated by an FBI informant. Under direction from his controllers, the informant then prods, exhorts, cajoles, bribes or threatens this band of losers until they agree to execute the plan he suggests, using ‘explosives’ provided for them by the Feds. At the 11th hour, the G-men swoop in to arrest the bad guys, and it’s handshakes and press conferences all round.
Of course, it isn’t just government agencies that use infiltration and entrapment. McDonalds hired teams of spies from two separate firms to infiltrate London Greenpeace, an activist group critical of the multinational. This was in the context of the famous McLibel case, in which the corporate giant unleashed the full force of its legal department on two minimum-wage defendants to earn a victory that was in every way Pyrrhic, with a number of the allegations made by the activists being shown to be true in court. Still more disturbingly, it has now emerged that one co-author of the McLibel flyer was actually an undercover police officer. To date, however, McDonalds has not announced any plans to sue the Metropolitan Police for their role in the defamation.
But wait — there’s more. According to the Guardian, the officer who co-wrote the pamphlet also had sexual relationships with four activists and fathered a child with one of them, before abandoning his false identity and disappearing back to Scotland Yard. He didn’t sleep with Helen Steel, one of the ‘McLibel Two’: that was left to his colleague, another police infiltrator from the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad. And the shenanigans don’t end there: it’s been reported that at least one of the corporate spies hired by McDonalds also infiltrated an activist’s bed in order to win his trust.
It’s easy to focus on the farcical aspects of this: the teams of competing spies all busy compiling reports on each other, the terrible seriousness with which senior officials try to persuade us all that a ‘conspiracy’ composed of six addled homeless men constitutes an existential threat to our society, the secret policemen who can’t seem to keep it in their pants. But the methods in use — infiltration of peaceful groups, deliberate entrapment, and yes, the use of sex as a tool for espionage — are also the tried and tested strategies used by repressive regimes everywhere. When they become common currency in self-styled democracies, that’s not funny at all.
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We came, we got drunk, we took turns reading Laurel K. Hamilton’s “Micah” out loud in silly voices. Hilarity ensued.
This year, I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Clarion Writer’s Workshop in San Diego. Here are my thoughts on Clarion, four weeks in.
Black’s Beach, San Diego, CA.
Window seats and good weather and long plane rides are an amazing combination for anyone who likes to take photographs.
I was feeling a bit stressed the other day. On an impulse, I wrote on my Facebook wall:
I have decided I am in need of advice. Please send me all the advice you have. I will pick whatever seems applicable.
I didn’t really know what I wanted or expected, but it struck me as a funny thing to write. I also thought it might be a little like flipping coins or consulting the I Ching or a horoscope when you’re trying to make a decision: whatever comes up, you just project your own reading onto it (or, in the case of coins, flipping repeatedly until you get the result you want), and end up doing what you secretly really wanted to do all along.
My friends came through. I received lots of advice. Some of it was generic: "Buy low, sell high", "Wash behind your ears", "Don’t take any wooden nickels." Some consisted of popular culture references: “Don’t blink”, “One word: plastics” and “Only an asshole gets killed for a car.” Some of it was surreal: "Don’t wash mushrooms in a washing machine", "Don’t pat a burning dog." Two friends shared advice they’d had from their parents: "Tell them to stop, if they don’t then punch them" and "Don’t drink whisky or you’ll have nothing to fall back on when you’re forty." One person sent me detailed advice on cooking asparagus.
Two people suggested what looked like proverbs: “Never take two camels when a mule will suffice” and “If ye will not when ye may, when ye will ye shall have nay.” Two sent in summaries of their own current ideological programs: "Have no fear" and "Disconnect". One quoted the great Jon Langford: “Get the money, don’t leave anything behind." Two couched their advice in corporate speak: "Ideate. Iterate. Keep the throughput in the green zone" and “Proactively leverage synergies across the enterprise.” One whimsically advised me "Don’t stick your prick in daisies". That one took me a moment or two to figure out. Another told me to "Fallow your heart". I couldn’t decide if that was a deft epigram … or just a typo.
Not all of these were easy to apply to my own life, but "Have no fear" and "Disconnect" sound like good ideas. "Have a good time, all of the time" is also a nice goal, but potentially challenging. Something about "Red wine to start. The rest will come" also appealed to me. But in the end, the one that struck the deepest chord was the enigmatic “Run, you clever boy. And remember.”
I can’t explain why that was what I needed to hear just then. But it was, and it made me feel much better.
I feel as if I’ve made a discovery. Specific advice is overrated, unless you’re buying something. The key is to get advice that’s as generic or random as possible, and then you can read into it whatever you want.
.@blip flash mob on the N train
Hey, who let the developers out?
Blip takes over a subway car, in more ways than one.