More Details Emerge Showing The US Government Has No Idea How To Solve A Problem Like Snowden

from the piling-futility-on-futility dept

For all of its surveillance and number-crunching powers, the NSA has had little success in dealing with its Snowden problem. It still seems the agency has no idea what Snowden took, with guesses varying wildly over the past several months. Some reports (not the NSA's) have put that number as low as 60,000. The NSA continues to claim the number is over one million, even with its most recent guess revising its first estimates downward.

But the number of documents is only part of the problem. Details of the government's inability to apprehend Snowden, as well as its uncertainty as to his current location or activities, continue to surface. Snowden seems to be able to operate in the all-seeing-eye's blind spots, according to officials quoted by Greg Miller at the Washington Post.

The first indication that the government was operating several steps behind Snowden surfaced during his move from Hong Kong to Russia. The plan, such as it were, was to rely on the benevolence of a country whose president often displays a casual antipathy towards the United States.
For weeks, senior officials from the FBI, the CIA, the State Department and other agencies assembled nearly every day in a desperate search for a way to apprehend the former intelligence contractor who had exposed the inner workings of American espionage then fled to Hong Kong before ending up in Moscow.

Convened by White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco, the meetings kept ending at the same impasse: Have everyone make yet another round of appeals to their Russian counterparts and hope that Snowden makes a misstep.
Snowden didn't misstep, but the US did, concentrating its efforts on a flight to Bolivia that the former NSA contractor never boarded. (It also scrambled a rendition jet on the off-chance that Snowden could be seized out in the open.) And even if he had decided to head that direction, there was actually very little the US could have done about it. Forcing the plane to land (as it did with the president of Bolivia's jet) wasn't the problem. This could be done in any allied airspace. The problem was that the country's jurisdiction ended where the plane's cabin began.
Even if Snowden had been a passenger, officials said, it is unclear how he could have been removed from a Bolivian air force jet whose cabin would ordinarily be regarded as that country’s sovereign domain — especially in Austria, a country that considers itself diplomatically neutral.

“We would have looked foolish if Snowden had been on that plane sitting there grinning,” said a senior Austrian official. “There would have been nothing we could have done.”
But what is probably more concerning is the fact that US intelligence seems to have little idea what Snowden's doing, where he's living or anything else. While some officials have made claims that Snowden is now working for Russian intelligence, any actual intelligence is sparse and nearly impossible to verify.
Snowden is facing espionage-related charges, and the FBI has power to conduct wiretaps and enlist the NSA and CIA in its investigative efforts overseas. But even with such help, officials said, the bureau’s reach in Moscow is limited.

“The FBI doesn’t have any capability to operate in Moscow without the collaboration of the FSB,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who served in the Russian capital.
Further hampering its investigation is the lack of evidence that Snowden is working for a "foreign power" or actively aiding an enemy state. Russia, despite its problems, simply doesn't qualify as a direct opponent of our national security. And so far, nothing obtained has indicated Snowden is now an FSB operative. Without this crucial stipulation, the government can only go so far in its efforts.
Several U.S. officials cited a complication to gathering intelligence on Snowden that could be seen as ironic: the fact that there has been no determination that he is an “agent of a foreign power,” a legal distinction required to make an American citizen a target of espionage overseas.
For all the claims that Snowden has done irreparable harm to US security with his leaks, it's kind of surprising that the government can gather so little information on the current situation of its public enemy #1. This also shows that the surveillance state is severely limited without cooperative partners, something countries expressing outrage over expansive data/communication harvesting should take note of.

The government claims Snowden has harmed America, but can't even determine what he took, who he's working with or even where exactly he's currently living. It can't even provide enough evidence of its claims to build a case that would provide it more surveillance options. And yet, it wants to throw Snowden in jail for espionage. That doesn't add up.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    rw (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 7:18am

    Of course it adds up. He has to be the bad guy so the real terrorist within our government won't be exposed (any further ;>)

     

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  2.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:20am

    So they can't manage to track or monitor their worst enemy, but we are supposed to think they can manage to find threats we aren't aware of yet.

    Intelligence... not sure they know what that word means

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:23am

    "And yet, it wants to throw Snowden in a cell at a CIA black site, waterboard him until he thinks he's a mermaid, and then record a confession that he's been working for the Russians or the Chinese before they execute him by means of letting his health deteriorate so that he dies from sepsis or (preferably for them and the headlines) suicide."

    FTFY

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:25am

    They are frustrated that the messenger is staying out of range of their weapons, it means that they cannot shoot him.

     

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  5.  
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    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:25am

    Wait.. what???

    Is this article actually saying that the NSA/CIA can NOT spy (gather intelligence) on Snowden in another country because "its against the rules" ???

    "irony" doesn't cover it. We need a new term.

     

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  6.  
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    Capt ICE Enforcer, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:26am

    Snowden

    My bad, I must have missed something. When did they decide this man was a problem for all the atrocities that these other government officials are doing. I thought Snowden is part of the solution.

     

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  7.  
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    SolkeshNaranek (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:29am

    Prevention is worth a pound of cure?

    How about:

    1. the NSA does not violate the rights of its citizens?

    2. Congress doesn't pass unconstitutional laws infringing on citizens rights?

    3. the administration doesn't hide illegal government actions from the light of scrutiny?

    4. politicians stop lying to citizens about what the government is doing, and how effective those same "doings" have been

    5. politicians and the administration stop being yellow backed cowards that see terrorists behind every blade of grass across the world


    If they could that, then perhaps they wouldn't be wringing their hands over what to do about the Snowdens that will keep popping up to blow the whistle on them.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:37am

    "It can't even provide enough evidence of its claims to build a case that would provide it more surveillance options. And yet, it wants to throw Snowden in jail for espionage. That doesn't add up."

    Of course, it adds up. Like System Of A Down said:
    "They're trying to build a prison,
    They're trying to build a prison,
    They're trying to build a prison, [for you and me to live in]
    Another prison system,
    Another prison system,
    Another prison system. [for you and me]"

    The United States isn't becoming a Police State, it's a Prison State.

     

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  9.  
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    sorrykb (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:39am

    Re: Prevention is worth a pound of cure?

    Bah. That's crazy talk.

     

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  10.  
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    Michael, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:39am

    Re: Wait.. what???

    "f***ing crazy ironic"

     

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  11.  
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    Michael, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:40am

    Re: Snowden

    to the US government, solutions are part of the problem.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:48am

    This doesn't pass the laugh test

    “The FBI doesn’t have any capability to operate in Moscow without the collaboration of the FSB,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who served in the Russian capital.

    Maybe the FBI on its own can't operate openly in Moscow without Russian approval, but do you honestly believe that the CIA/NSA have zero capabilities in Moscow? Surely the FBI could ask their spook buddies to keep a close eye on Ed?

    I think we (and perhaps Moscow counter-intelligence) are getting fed a load of hogwash.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:49am

    The USG wants Snowden in jail... forever. That is for daring to expose the wrong doing it has been doing. This follows the same pattern as all the other whistle blowers. It's about revenge and about using him as an example for any other that might want to spill the beans.

    Here's all the government heads not being able to pinpoint him yet we are to believe that all this spying will prevent terrorist plots. More and more the real idea comes through because of the lack of proof they are able to do what they claim to be able to do. The real idea is that they are afraid that the voters are one day going to wake up and put them all at risk of suffering the voter wrath.

    The whole damn mess makes less and less sense unless you view it with the idea of things like the Pentagon is now developing plans for what to do if there is a revolt in this country. There is a reason they are concerned. Coverups aren't working like they used to and the government is running scared.

     

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  14.  
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    sigalrm (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:50am

    It seems to me that the documents are a red herring at this point. The documents are easy for the press to focus on and the damage with those is already done. From a PR perspective, it makes sense to keep the press and general population focused on the documents so they don't skip to the meat of the problem:

    For all the claims that Snowden has done irreparable harm to US security with his leaks, it's kind of surprising that the government can gather so little information on the current situation of its public enemy #1. This also shows that the surveillance state is severely limited without cooperative partners, something countries expressing outrage over expansive data/communication harvesting should take note of.


    If you accept the premise that Snowden continues to cause "irreparable damage" to the USG, then perhaps the real "damage" that Snowden continues to "cause" is the ongoing demonstration that the USG has blind spots and operational limitations when it comes to the locating, retrieval, and/or murder-by-drone of folks who embarrass it.

    A secondary area of "irreparable damage" may be the demonstration to the population of the world that a full-blown, global surveillance apparatus is a) not a done deal and b) may not be unavoidable.

     

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  15.  
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    Bt Garner (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:53am

    Perhaps the real reason that the government cannot solve a 'Problem like Snowden" is the fact that Snowden isn't the problem.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:54am

    Re:

    This is the real eye opener. It isn't like anyone believes they have prevented any real threats, but now they are basically admitting they couldn't stop a real threat. I can guarantee they are spending a fortune trying to find him and determine what he is doing and can't do it. And as you pointed out, they KNOW about him. So how are we supposed to believe they can uncover terrorist plots that they didn't previously know about?

     

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  17.  
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    Michael, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 9:56am

    Clearly, the best hiding place for a terrorist is next to Snowden. The entire list of most wanted terrorist leaders should be on their way to Moscow right now to move into whatever hotel Snowden is staying at. The US is completely blind to this location.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 10:03am

    Re: Wait.. what???

    It is probably a case of they think that that sounds better than admitting the do not have the capability to gather the intelligence.

     

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  19.  
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    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 10:17am

    Objection!

    Objection. Assumes facts not in evidence. Specifically: assumes Snowden is the problem.

     

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  20.  
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    Capt ICE Enforcer, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 10:24am

    Sniff test

    I hate conspiracy theories, but maybe the USG has all the information about Snowden and his location. After all, the USG was caught with its pants down. What should it do.Deny deny deny, or provide misinformation so the public will start to downplay the significance of what it has done in the past and continues to be done. Snowden is a scapegoat which Uncle Sam plans to twist into making people believe that it is inept at spying on everyone on the planet. To include in World of Warcraft and Second Life. My Sniff Tester indicates the USG is FULL OF SHIT.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 10:28am

    I am offended that you consider Snowden a "problem". He is not a problem; he is a solution.

    (I know you don't really consider him a problem, but are instead using the Government's perspective of him)

     

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  22.  
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    Who Cares (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 10:51am

    Re: Wait.. what???

    Guess it is due to the amount of scrutiny anything that is directed against Snowden would receive.
    And then suddenly illegally spying on an USA citizen is a hindrance instead of standard operating procedure.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 11:55am

    Problems like Snowden?

    So they're working on developing a screening program for anyone with a shred of conscience, ethics, or morals?

     

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  24.  
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    zip, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 11:57am

    Re: This doesn't pass the laugh test

    "I think we (and perhaps Moscow counter-intelligence) are getting fed a load of hogwash."

    Bingo! No "senior U.S. intelligence official" could ever admit to the existence of undercover agents, informants, confederates, and Russian double-agents within Moscow. That doesn't mean they don't exist. If history is any guide, they probably all (still) do.

    It's also worth remembering how Israeli whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu was found, lured, nabbed, and smuggled back to Israel. Vanunu was about the same age as Snowden when he, too, went to the press after leaving his country for good (or so he thought).

     

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  25.  
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    Michael, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 12:03pm

    Re: Problems like Snowden?

    They could just hire former congressmen.

     

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  26.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 12:10pm

    Re: Wait.. what???

    Oh they're fully able to follow the rules... when people are watching and when the country who's help they'd need breaking them isn't willing to play along.

     

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  27.  
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    FM Hilton, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 12:12pm

    What insanity!

    I'd call this government probably one of the most incompetent ever if not the most.

    They can't find out what he took, when he took it, and gave to whom.

    They can't find him, can't find out anything about him, and then they charge him for doing something wrong.

    How can they charge him with anything if they don't know any of the above?

    I've always believed that most government employees couldn't get hired at Burger King for the janitor position. This is a prime example.

    They get billions of dollars every year to spend. You have to wonder why we bother to say it's even worth the money.

    Not to me. Shut it down and send everyone home with a pink slip. This is beyond stupid.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 12:41pm

    that's not true. they know how to deal with problems like Snowden alright, stand them in front of a firing squad! it's the usual government problem solver, in case there is even more crap come out during a trial which puts the government into an even worse light! just stop them from talking. ever!!

     

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  29.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Jun 16th, 2014 @ 12:47pm

    The worst offense of all

    Snowden is guilty of the worst offense of all in the eyes of our "intelligence" services - he has made them look like the fools they are to everyone, everywhere...

     

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  30.  
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    jerrymiah, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 1:29pm

    Re:

    and this, even after they sent about one hundred CIA covert agent to Russia during the olympics in attempts to either assasinate him or catch him and put him on a rendition flight. All of this under the orders or barack hussein Osama. This guy has absolutely no respect for human life. He must surely be a member of ISIS/ISIL.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 5:03pm

    Re:

    If you haven't been preparing for revolution, then maybe you haven't been paying attention.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 5:55pm

    Re: Prevention is worth a pound of cure?

    Marked as funny.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 6:31pm

    Re: Re: Problems like Snowden?

    Yes but they're also technically incompetent even by the "weaken security so only we can get in" NSA standards.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 6:36pm

    Re: The worst offense of all

    Yeah, notice how they flip their shit more over Snowden exposing their corruption than the /actual/ spies who sell state secrets to China or Russia. Notice how they try to spread the "selling secrets" bullshit about why he is so terrible yet they react calmly to actual foreign spies being caught. Being accused of something should not warrant a worse reaction than being proven.

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 7:17pm

    computer crash

    Maybe the computer crashed

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 16th, 2014 @ 10:04pm

    Re:

    sepsiside?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), Jun 17th, 2014 @ 4:37am

    Re: Re: Wait.. what???

    They're able to say they're following the rules.

     

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  38.  
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    GEMont (profile), Jun 17th, 2014 @ 7:06am

    Nothing up my sleeve.....

    One might think that this apparently huge level of incompetence in the area of intelligence gathering/analysis, and counter-terrorism that the NSA continuously displays, is because the NSA was designed for purposes other than intelligence gathering/analysis and counter-terrorism - that the NSA was in fact designed to fulfill other purposes such as blackmail, counter-intelligence programs against citizens, theft of foreign corporate intellectual property and science innovations, and ruining the reputation of anyone who its sponsors in corporate American consider to be unfair competition or a danger to their bottom line.

    Of course that would take thinking beyond the propaganda and rhetoric spewed by the paid apologists and truth-free press.... so I guess the chances that one might think such are pretty slim....

    C'est la vie eh.

     

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  39.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jun 17th, 2014 @ 1:20pm

    Re:

    They redefined it at some point talking to the courts probably.

     

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  40.  
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    askeptic, Jun 17th, 2014 @ 7:37pm

    Re: Prevention is worth a pound of cure?

    Other actions:
    All government employees dealing with Top Secret/SCI data pass rigorous background checks BEFORE they get access.
    No outside contractors - None.
    If an exception has to be made, the outsiders have to pass the same rigorous background check prior to gaining access.
    No outside agency is used to conduct background checks - that's one of the things the FBI used to do (I certainly know that my family members and neighbors wondered what the hell was up when the Feds came knocking on their doors asking about me).
    If you want to know what your people are doing, put data loggers on their computers, and track their movements within the facility - Track Everyone All The Time!
    No classified material leaves the facility, and that means not wasting your time searching the sawdust when it's the wheelbarrow that's being stolen.
    You don't bring anything in, and you certainly don't take anything out.

    If you're not willing to do those simple things, you shouldn't be in the intelligence business.

     

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  41.  
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    askeptic, Jun 17th, 2014 @ 7:42pm

    Re: Re: This doesn't pass the laugh test

    Well, the Israeli's play for keeps.
    Arafat's lads shoot up the Munich Olympics, and kill the Israel team members - Mossad hunts down and kills every member of that team.
    AQ'ers of whatever stripe attack and burn two U.S. facilities in Benghazi, killing the Ambassador, and aide, and two CIA security contractors, and we (after 21-months) arrest the alleged 'mastermind' and bring him back to the U.S. to stand trial in a civilian court.
    Is it any wonder we're not loved nor feared - we're pussies.

     

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  42.  
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    askeptic, Jun 17th, 2014 @ 7:52pm

    Re: Nothing up my sleeve.....

    No, the NSA was founded to ensure that we didn't suffer another Pearl Harbor. Counter-intelligence (domestic Humint) is the purview of the FBI, counter-terrorism/etc. (overseas Humint) is the purview of the CIA - and never the twain shall meet, or something (that Jamie Gorelick Firewall Thingie).
    The NSA's primary function is to gather and analyze signal-intelligence and to provide that analysis to the Command Structure to further their understanding as to what threats are present against the U.S. Unfortunately, they've gone far afield, and are trying to do too much.

     

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  43.  
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    John Adams DE, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 12:56am

    Questions to Radio Pentagon

    Q: Is it true that Snowden has been accused of offending James Robert Clapper as the stupid director of the most incompetent secret service in thew world?

    A: In principle yes, but it hasn't been for offending Mr. Clapper but for revealing a military secret.

     

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  44.  
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    Seegras (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 3:29am

    The real threat

    Well, to the NSA it might be Snowden. But actually, it's their own attempt to hide their (wrong-)doings.

    To the USA (and much of the rest of the world), the real threat is actually the NSA.

    One of the reasons this NSA got so severely out of hand, is the problem of classification. You should classify as little as possible (and certainly NEVER try to classify the workings of an agency such as the NSA), so as to allow as many people as possible to work without any clearance.

    2 Million people with "top security" clearance is just a ridiculous amount. And mind, most of these couldn't really work without it, because some idiot classified the materials they need to do their work with.

    The solution is as simple as impossible to get through the bureaucracy: revoke the clearances of about 1.9 Million people, and revoke the classifications of about 99% of all classified material.

     

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  45.  
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    Seegras (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 3:31am

    Re: Re: Prevention is worth a pound of cure?

    You're missing the main point: Don't classify every piece of shit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
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    Seegras (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 3:35am

    Re: Re: Nothing up my sleeve.....

    Did they already find this intelligence outfit that sniffs everyone on the planet? It's one of the the biggest threats against the U.S.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
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    GEMont (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 4:34pm

    Re: Re: Nothing up my sleeve.....

    Well thank you A Skeptic, for replaying the NSA Brand-Name Theme advertisement, because well, we had all forgotten the "purviews" of the various tri-letter agencies after learning that the NSA steals everyone's communications and uses the gathered intel for things like "blackmail, counter-intelligence programs against citizens, theft of foreign corporate intellectual property and science innovations, and ruining the reputation of anyone who its sponsors in corporate American consider to be unfair competition or a danger to their bottom line."

    Matters not one iota what an agency was "founded for", if it is not thereafter being used for that purpose and all its sister agencies - who also were "founded with special unique purposes" are all working together for the same undisclosed secret purposes noted above, or making use of the illegally stolen data gathered by the NSA, CIA or HSA to fulfill their original mandates.

    Nor have they "gone too far afield" by the way. It is simply that you, like so many others, actually believed the Brand Name Ads the agencies produced about their apparently unique "purviews", rather than realize that that too was merely propaganda designed to fool the masses.

    Even going back only a short distance in history brings us right up against Mr/Mrs Hoover and the then FBI, who used the same systems for exactly the same purposes as listed above.

    Let me guess. You think that Snowden is a bad guy and so have refrained from actually reading the information he has exposed, because you're a patriot.

    I cannot imagine how else you can have reached this date unaware of what has transpired.

     

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  48.  
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    GEMont (profile), Jun 18th, 2014 @ 4:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Nothing up my sleeve.....

    You must be referring to the Utterly Evil Organization of Serious Bad-Guys, Unrepentant Villains and Dirty Old Men With Sticky Zippers!

    Yes they have definitely located the group's US HQ, in Mister Clapper's crapper, but sadly the group had already moved its Brainiac Orgonic Computer System before the Clapper Crap Cops could reach the plunger.

    BTW, Resident O'Bummer will be doing a State of the Onion A Dress next week to explain to the general adversary, that it will be necessary to issue personal walking papers to all pre-investigated US citizens over the age of six, so that the Forces of Goodness and Apple Pie can finally track down and put an end to the nefarious deeds of this awful, vile and despicable nemesis of Freedom and the Amerikan Way of Lie. Zig Hile.

     

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  49.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 18th, 2014 @ 5:03pm

    Re: Re: The worst offense of all

    Actually they're trying to spin the "working for the Russians/Chinese" thing into public consciousness because then they can simply have him arrested and delivered in chains to his execution, legally. You have noticed how this agency likes to do everything "legally", so they can use the "Nation Security" threat as an excuse for all their actions. Sure is nice to be able to secretly rewrite the laws to suit your purposes, so that everything you do is legal according to your secret set of laws.

     

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  50.  
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    Pragmatic, Jun 25th, 2014 @ 4:10am

    Re: Re: Re: This doesn't pass the laugh test

    Look up the term "Rule of law" at some point. The fact that other people don't observe it is actually why it's there. Now repeat after me: "Due process is not an impediment to justice."

    Believing that it is has created the mess we're in with the NSA and Snowden.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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