Wednesday, June 26, 2013

More reassurances on the secret spying program that can't provide reassurances because it's secret

Rebecca Greenfield reports for The Atlantic Wire, Al Qaeda Has Changed How It Talks Since the NSA Leaks, but How Much? 06/26/2013. she explains in the last paragraph:

Since the leaks began three weeks ago today, intelligence officials have demonized Snowden by claiming that his leaks affected national security efforts by tipping off terror organizations. Really, that's the whole defense of the program: "[Snowden] has basically alerted people who are enemies of this country ... (like) al-Qaida, about what techniques we have been using to monitor their activities and foil plots, and compromised those efforts, and it's very conceivable that people will die as a result," said U.S. Senator Angus King earlier this week. So far, though, it's unclear how much spying on U.S. citizens has helped anti-terror efforts. [my emphasis]
That's the Administration's defense - and that of its Republican and Democratic supporters in Congress: the domestic spying is helping lots and lots. But we can't tell you how because it's all secret. Trust us.

And, oh by the way, it will take us months to figure out what information this one employee of a private contractor, Edward Snowden, took from our super-duper domestic spying records that are keeping you safe though we can't tell you how and we're not really even supposed to be saying the program exists.

As Marcy Wheeler points out in Shorter WaPo: It Would Take Months to Know about Spying Misconduct Emptywheel 06/25/2013, this is an odd argument for the Obama Administration to be making through anonymous sources:

Funny thing is, if all that were true — if the government is still struggling to figure out what Snowden took a month after he left NSA — it indicates that the government would not know if a Sysadmin at the NSA had spied on Americans, if ever, until months after someone did so.

But, promise, this giant dragnet is secure.
Trust us.

From Aljazeera English, Snowden 'is in Moscow airport transit zone' 06/25/2013:

Greenfield passes along an Administration claim about how Snowden's leaks helped "Al Qaeda", with appropriate caution:

Following the Edward Snowden leaks that detailed a large part of the process by which the U.S. government's largest intelligence agency spies on terrorists — and American citizens — Al Qaeda has reportedly (and predictably) started tweaking the way it communicates, but in a way the doesn't necessarily make it harder for the National Security Agency to track them. "[A] lawmaker briefed on the matter said al-Qaida's Yemeni offshoot, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, has been among the first to alter how it reaches out to its operatives," reports the Associated Press's Kimberly Dozier, referring to what is thought of as the most active group of the network. The AP sources, of course, cited secrecy in declining to elaborate on how Al Qaeda has shifted its digital tactics: "The officials wouldn't go into details on how they know this, whether it's terrorists switching email accounts or cellphone providers or adopting new encryption techniques," she continues. [my emphasis]
But, you know, trust us. We're keeping you safe. Though we can't tell you how. And anybody who does tell you how is committing espionage. Unless it's an anonymous Administration sources of some kind, in which case it's okay.

I wish the media and the Democrats would start being more critical about this Secret Superpower that is known by the name "Al Qaeda". As far as I can tell based on what I've seen in the public record and from my perspective as a non-security-clearance citizen, the group headed by Osama bin Laden that was called "Al Qaeda" no longer exists in recognizable form, though presumably few of its members are still at large. The groups that call themselves "Al Qaeda in xxxxx" seem to be using the label as a generic name, sort of like "kleenex" became a generic name for hand tissues, even ones that aren't sold by Kleenex.

But Members of Congress, government officials including the President, and the press keep talking about the Secret Superpower "Al Qaeda" as though its an ongoing entity from the time of the 9/11 attacks.

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