Why Yes, We Have Learned A Lot About The NSA's Surveillance Programs

from the alternative-pleading dept

It was fairly amazing in the wake of the initial leaks on NSA surveillance efforts that we saw folks in DC — including many in the press — try to claim that it was (a) no big deal and (b) everyone knew it was going on anyway. Soon after this came out, Steve Worona pointed out that many of the arguments appeared to be the equivalent of alternative pleading, in which people (normally) lawyers try to plead things that are clearly contradictory. In this case, Worona noted the alternative pleading went this way, demonstrating the ridiculousness of the attempted “defense” of the program:

  • There is no massive secret NSA surveillance program.
  • And everyone has known all about it for years; it’s no big deal.
  • And revealing it would be a major threat to national security.

In fact, to this day, we still see plenty of people making these kinds of arguments — a Rep. Mike Rogers’ specialty. However, as we’ve seen, while many people have suspected that this kind of extensive program was going on, they were often mocked or brushed aside as conspiracy theorists. However, as more and more evidence has come out, it’s served to confirm that these programs do exist, that they go beyond what “everyone has known” and that they don’t appear to reveal anything that is a major threat to national security.

Roger Cohen, at the NY Times, has a really good rundown of things we would not know about if it weren’t for these leaks:

We would not know how the N.S.A., through its Prism and other programs, has become, in the words of my colleagues James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, “the virtual landlord of the digital assets of Americans and foreigners alike.” We would not know how it has been able to access the e-mails or Facebook accounts or videos of citizens across the world; nor how it has secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans; nor how through requests to the compliant and secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (F.I.S.A.) it has been able to bend nine U.S. Internet companies to its demands for access to clients’ digital information.

We would not be debating whether the United States really should have turned surveillance into big business, offering data-mining contracts to the likes of Booz Allen and, in the process, high-level security clearance to myriad folk who probably should not have it. We would not have a serious debate at last between Europeans, with their more stringent views on privacy, and Americans about where the proper balance between freedom and security lies.

We would not have legislation to bolster privacy safeguards and require more oversight introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Nor would we have a letter from two Democrats to the N.S.A. director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, saying that a government fact sheet about surveillance abroad “contains an inaccurate statement” (and where does that assertion leave Alexander’s claims of the effectiveness and necessity of Prism?).

Indeed, and that’s really only scratching the surface, because more and more info keeps coming out, both directly from the leaks, but also from the responses to those leaks. Tim Lee, over at the Washington Post has tried to put together a list of everything we now know about the surveillance efforts, which is already out of date, given additional leaks and additional statements, but it’s a good starting point.

The clear point is that we’re learning some very valuable things in terms of the level of government overreach with these programs, and how they’ve been used to expand the plain reading of the laws that are supposed to protect us, such that the government is basically making a total mockery of those laws. But one thing we cannot say is that these revelations are “nothing new” or that everyone knew about them all along.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Why Yes, We Have Learned A Lot About The NSA's Surveillance Programs”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Scary part

The cost of freedom is high and I fear in the near future we might all be forced to pay that price once again. It might not be me or you, but it will be the next generation if we keep heading in this direction.

Lessons not learned in blood are soon forgotten, but ultimately they are. We’re just the unlucky ones around to see people have forgotten just what we paid for our freedom.

Anonymous Coward says:

As I’ve said several times before in posts here, we are not hearing politicians, security heads, and military explaining what is being done, why, and with transparency to set both the citizens of the nation as well as other government concerns over privacy that has been invaded.

What we are still hearing are at best half truths at worse justifications on why it’s alright. Those half truths given by Obama are already exposed as down right lies, along with the Congressional Security inquiry that Clapper owned up to telling lies to. None of this says the government understands it went too far. It all says they think cover up is the answer and after things die down it can all go back to business as usual.

Propaganda is being pitched that it’s the fault of reporters doing what reporters are supposed to do. That Snowden instead of being a whistle blower is a spy. None of this eases my mind over this. All of it points to a rabbit hole of gigantic proportions that is trying to be hid.

Business as usual is not acceptable. This massive spying is not acceptable. No where do I hear anyone in government acknowledging this. So that means it’s still going on and it means they intend to continue it. That is not acceptable.

Anonymous Coward says:

lots of security clearances === soft and rewarding target

This reminded me of one of the points that I think needs more emphasis:the United States really should have turned surveillance into big business, offering data-mining contracts to the likes of Booz Allen and, in the process, high-level security clearance to myriad folk who probably should not have it.

If millions have access — in and out of the private sector– and low-level employees typified by Manning and Snowden have such wide-ranging access… it makes their system seem like a very easy and potentially very rich target for espionage.

Based on previous history, do you just assume that China, Russia, and Israel all have their own still-implanted, non-whistle-blowing versions of Snowden?

RubyPanther says:


Obviously what people actually say is that we already knew it was happening, but revealing detailed specifics harms the country by helping terrorists avoid detection.

I’m sure there are plenty of media talking heads making absurd and contradictory statements. Most of them don’t even have the basic literacy to understand that they are doing it. But that doesn’t keep this article from being an intentional lie that misrepresents the viewpoint described.

countermeasures1 (profile) says:

Re: Re: duh

If the polls are correct, %50 don’t care one way or another – is that an indicator of “trust” ? The other 50% ? Where is the kernel of understanding the depth of the issue or is “gut” prevailing over pragmatic reason? The outcome will be interesting – particularly after the politicians get finished with it.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...