It’s Hoover Time

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks our political leadership (such as it is) might be reluctant to take on intelligence agencies due to fears of political retribution (behind paywall; boldface mine):

Consider the deep messaging of the NSA’s brand. Only forty years removed from the blackmail-tinged reign of J. Edgar Hoover, the NSA has developed an image which implies the agency is vacuuming up more than enough incriminating phone records, emails and text/sext messages to politically torpedo any rank-and-file congressman, should that congressman step out of line.

And here’s the thing: for all the agita intelligence officials express about new disclosures, those disclosures illustrate the sheer size and scope of governement surveillance. That doesn’t weaken the NSA – on the contrary, it serves to politically strengthen the agency by constantly reminding lawmakers that the NSA 1) probably has absolutely everything on them and 2) could use that stuff against them.

Think through just some of the most recent disclosures – only not through the eyes of an ordinary American who might claim he “has nothing to hide,” but through the eyes of a professional politician who might have plenty to hide. Let’s call him U.S. Rep. John Doe.

A few weeks ago, Congressman Doe read in the Guardian that the NSA is “currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon,” which happens to be his phone service. In the same paper, he also read that the agency “has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US Internet giants” to track potentially millions of people’s online activities. Then maybe he saw the CNET story about the Obama administration working “to obtain the master encryption keys that Internet companies use to shield millions of users’ private Web communications from eavesdropping.”

Then, this week, Rep. Doe read in the Wall Street Journal that the NSA has the capacity to collect up to 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic. He also read in the Washington Post that the NSA has a “collect it all” mentality and that in the midst of Rep. Doe’s 2008 reelection campaign, the agency intercepted a “large number” of “calls placed from Washington.” And, if all that wasn’t enough, he heard this week from his more senior colleagues on the Intelligence Committee that these disclosures are just the “tip of the iceberg.”

Now, put everything Rep. Doe learned together with his memories of July 23rd. On that day, NSA chief Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper frantically convened an emergency closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill to pressure him and his congressional colleagues to vote against a bill that would merely prevent the agency from indiscriminately surveilling Americans who are not under formal criminal investigation. According to U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), in that meeting Rep. Doe learned that the NSA probably has a file on him.

The first time the Rubicon was crossed, by Sulla, it was to save the Roman Republic. Proscriptions exist for very good reasons–because all people, no matter how well-intentioned, are human.

Don’t think it won’t be used against us–or you.

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