Monday, August 05, 2013

Justifying the NSA

I'm not the least surprised at this: US embassy closures used to bolster case for NSA surveillance programs by Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts Guardian 08/05/2013.

No one can brush off this kind of warning. But after the intelligence abuses of the Cheney-Bush and Obama Administration, after the extreme secrecy and dishonest representations of their massive surveillance programs by Obama's intelligence officials, my confidence in the intelligence agencies to be honest with the American public about these dangers is very low.

I do wish the government and the press would stop using "Al Qaeda" as a blanket term for The Terrorists. But that usage is well established and shows little sign of going away.

As Charlie Pierce puts it in his distinctive style (What Are the Gobshites Saying These Days Esquire Politics Blog 08/05/2013):

Those of you keeping score at home will note that, for the last two or three months, the NSA has been under some criticism for its Hoovering up of our personal data. If I were running an secret surveillance state, and I found that secret surveillance state nearly defunded by the Congress only a week earlier, I might think to myself, hmm, what I could use right now, along with a cold beer and a plate of gherkins, would be a worldwide terror alert of a kind we've rarely seen before, but of sufficient vagueness that I couldn't be accused of ginning up fear for my own bureaucratic purposes. I might not even be inclined to wait until serendipity dropped this opportunity in my lap.
Juan Cole is especially impressed with the embassy-closing gesture, as he explains in How the GOP Libya Witch Hunt Made us Close our Mideast Embassies and Crippled US Diplomacy Informed Comment 08/05/2013:

... the GOP is inadvertently pushing the US into a posture of dangerous diplomatic weakness. This weakness is clear in the unprecedented closing of 21 US embassies in the Middle East this weekend because of a vague terrorist threat apparently emanating from “al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” based in Yemen.

The Obama administration most likely took this weird step to insulate itself from any further witch hunts of the sort the Republicans launched over the tragic attack on a CIA safe house doubling as a US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2011. That a radical extremist cell should have attacked in this way was a surprise, since the radicals had been persecuted by Muammar Gaddafi, and the US had helped overthrow the dictator. I was in Benghazi in summer of 2011 and was told that personal security was not so bad (you wouldn’t be mugged as an individual), but that militias might steal from, e.g., a company. The existence of a set of terrorist cells that would and could kill ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was not clear. When the surprise attack was launched, the Libyan government organized a special forces unit to extract the remaining dozens of Americans and get them to Tripoli, with it did without further loss of life. There is no reason to think that the Obama administration behaved inappropriately through the crisis. ...

So at a time when Tunisia and Libya facing the greatest popular turmoil since 2011, you have American embassies barely functioning and not able effectively to engage in diplomacy, suggest compromises, push for moderation. The GOP produced this sad situation by forcing the administration to protect themselves from further invidious inquisitions.

Now the Benghazi Disease has spread from Tunisia and Libya to the whole Middle East. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a few hundred guys out in the boondocks of Yemen (and that is really the boondocks). They have a pathological fascination with the non-metallic explosive PETN, which is why we all have to get naked at the airport while scanners look for pouches of it, since it wouldn’t set off the metal detectors. They did try to attack the US Embassy in Sanaa in 2008 and killed 6 of their own guys. As far as I can tell they have a dearth of successful operations.

It is inappropriate to give AQAP the idea that they can push around a superpower this way.
He thinks this is more of the story on the embassy closings than an attempt to justify the NSA domestic surveillance programs.

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