Anyone Who Thinks Massive Surveillance Won’t Be Misused Is Ignorant of History

Seriously, we haven’t figured out to make people better or more principled, and since, in the last decade, we have legalized torture, how could one possibly think that we have appropriate safeguards in place to prevent misuse of surveillance data (or whatever the bullshit phrase of the day is)? Consider this from Mark Ames about leaks in the Nixon Adminstration (it’s behind a paywall, but is definitely worth paying for; boldface mine):

Nixon’s wrath turned on Anderson and finding who his leaker was. And this is where things got really weird. After a lot of strong-arming and interrogating, it turned out that Anderson’s source was a 27-year-old Navy Yeoman named Charles Radford, who served as an aide to the National Security Council. At first Nixon thought Radford leaked to Anderson because both were Mormons. But under polygraph interrogation, Radford confessed he’d been acting on orders from top Navy brass — two admirals serving in Nixon’s National Security Council, and the head of Nixon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer. On their orders, Yeoman Radford stole classified documents right out of Kissinger’s briefcase on Air Force One flights, during meetings, or in “burn bags” meant for destruction. It was no secret that the military brass and military-industrial complex were unhappy with Nixon’s plans to form an alliance with Red China and to bring de facto peace with the Soviet Union through arms treaties and detente. But finding out that officers at the highest levels of the American armed forces were running an illegal spy operation against Nixon, and leaking damaging information to the press, was downright frightening. (It was later revealed that the National Security Agency illegally spied on Kissinger during this time, and passed his communications on to Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, for roughly the same reasons.)

But what could possibly go wrong? And from a few decades earlier (boldface mine):

Even outside of the bureau, Hoover exercised powerful forms of control over potential critics. If the FBI learned a particularly juicy tidbit about a congressman, for instance, agents might show up at his office to let him know that his secrets—scandalous as they might be—were safe with the bureau. This had the predictable effect: Throughout the postwar years, Washington swirled with rumors that the FBI had a detailed file on every federal politician. There was some truth to the accusation. The FBI compiled background information on members of Congress, with an eye to both past scandals and to political ideology. But the files were probably not as extensive or all-encompassing as people believed them to be. The point was that it didn’t matter: The belief alone was enough to keep most politicians in line, and to keep them voting yes on FBI appropriations.

But I’m sure that’s not happening today.

Caesar wasn’t the first person to cross the Rubicon, Sulla did so (twice) to save the Roman Republic. He is also widely thought to have set the precedent for Julius Caesar (he claimed as much). Good intentions are not enough. Proscriptions exist for a reason. Maybe Obama has used this power wisely. But it’s foolish to think that he, or anyone else, wouldn’t be tempted to do worse.

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1 Response to Anyone Who Thinks Massive Surveillance Won’t Be Misused Is Ignorant of History

  1. Pingback: Yes, Complete Surveillance Will Be Misused: The Mail Cover Edition | Mike the Mad Biologist

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