Is the NSA Actually Aware of All Internet Traditions? Some Thoughts on Incompetency

By aware of all internet traditions, I mean competent. Juan Cole makes a very good point about NSA (and who knows who else) surveillance:

If the NSA and ATF have the telephone, credit card and internet records of all Americans, why don’t they stop mass shootings? After all, you can’t order numerous guns and massive amounts of ammunition and also Batman costumes on line without generating searchable records? Maybe they aren’t paying attention to people who suddenly develop an interest in having lots of very large drum magazines for semi-automatic weapons.

Buying enough rounds to equip a couple squads of infantry could be relevant to stopping terrorism. Dunno. Then consider this (boldface mine):

What was missed by the press commentary on Mr. Hayden’s admissions was the simple assumption he was making that there will be more 9/11 attacks. One has to think that if this is Mr. Hayden’s assumption, it is also the working assumption of the federal government that created and sustains the metadata base.

Think about that for a minute. There is no hint that the NSA can use this database as a prophylactic. In other words, it is not there to prevent any further 9/11 attacks. That seems obvious after the Boston Marathon attacks, especially considering that the two Tsarnaev brothers were rank amateurs who left a rich trail of texts, emails, and suspicious purchases well before the Boston Marathon bombings. If the NSA were doing its job, it would have detected all this activity beforehand and prevented the bombings. The elder Tsarnaev brother, after all, was already on a terrorist watchlist. It should be child’s play for the NSA at this very moment to be tracking all of the internet activities of everyone on this watchlist.

The tradeoff between security and liberty inherently assumes these invasions of privacy will actually provide increased security, but if past experience is any guide, there’s no reason to believe that:

In September 2011, the Boston fusion center (‘BRIC’) turned its attention to Occupy Boston and anti-foreclosure activists. One might not agree with these activists, but they’re at worst annoying and inconvenient. Codepink? What the hell is a bunch of pacifist grandmothers going to bomb? So what if they embarrass a politician while he’s speaking…?

We are constantly told by our political betters that there’s a tradeoff between liberty and security, but the fusion centers aren’t providing much security. Instead, they are tasked with monitoring non-violent political dissidents, instead of their putative mission which is to prevent violent terrorism.

It’s the same intelligence apparatus, just with some shiny new toys, that missed the end of the Cold War. Never forget that.

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3 Responses to Is the NSA Actually Aware of All Internet Traditions? Some Thoughts on Incompetency

  1. Gingerbaker says:

    It seems you are making the NSA’s argument for them: they are NOT reading the content of all the mail, but are saving it in case they need it.

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