Peeling Back the Layers of the U.S Surveillance Program

A prior blog of mine focused on the data-mining at Verizon, another program gathering information from Internet and other data sources and the “Boundless Informant” program that forms a “global heat map” of those countries which are providing the billions upon billions of pieces of information deemed to be an important part of carrying out  counterterrorism activities. We are learning, however, that there are additional components and capabilities in the overall surveillance program.

The McClatchy news service has exposed “a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish lthose who fail to report their suspicions.” McClatchy says the Insider Threat Program “is sweeping in its reach.” It has re ceived scant public notice “even lthough it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments.” The program “emphasizes leaks of classified material but catchall definitions of ‘insider threat’ give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.” 


Diane Dimond, who has a regular column in the Saturday Albuquerque Journal, de-bunks the notion that the government is not looking at content in the information it is scooping up. Dimond writes in the July 13, 2013 issue that after the Boston Marathon bombing, Tim Clement, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, appeared on CNN and openly spoke of the capability of U.S. intelligence agencies to “Go back and find out what was said.” During phone calls between bomber Tanerian Tsamaw and his wife, the government knows what they were saying. Dimond conludes that the government is capturing content of phone calls, not just numbers dialed. 

In the same column, Dimond refers to a recent report of a long-time surveillance system called the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program, which.photographs the outside of every piece of paper mail processed in the United States. That’s about 160 billion pieces every year! Dimond concludes: “And can you imagine the total manpower hours expended on these surveillance programs? Can you fathom how much we are paying to gather up what turns out to be mostly superfluous information.”

As onion layers seem to go on forever, we don’t know how many more layers of surveillance programs and activiites are still a secret to the public.


Bostonians Being Termed Especially Tough

Bostonians are being described as especially tough by both the media and Bostonians themselves in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. It is hard to make the case that the residents of an entire city are tougher than all other cities in the face of evil — the two bombings during the running of the Boston Marathon.

The toughness case rests largely on two happenings: the many residents who came out to cheer and applaud the first responders and law enforcement officers; and the mass singing of the National Anthem at sporting events. Lusty singing of the National Anthem was a feature of sporting events in the immediate wake of 9/11 and the line which drew the most boisterous reaction was: “and the bombs bursting in air.” A large majority of Americans wanted Afghanistan bombed for harboring terrorists. Mass singing of our jingoistic and militaristic National Anthem doesn’t denote toughness, not, certainly, the right kind of toughness. A year from now, Bostonians will probably be singing the National Anthem in the same manner they did before the bombings and their attitude toward protective forces will likely be no different than it was pre-bombings.

A look back at history shows that the “Southie” section of Boston was the focal point among northern states in resisting public school integration. Certainly, a large number of Bostonians did not show toughness in the face of the evil of educational segregation.

Raising this issue of toughness to the national level, a belief in American toughness is contradicted by what strong majorities of U.S. citizens allow to happen. Before the invasion of Iraq, various polls showed just a little over one-third of respondents supporting an invasion only if the UN Security Council sanctioned an invasion, or a large coalition had been put together to wage war. Yet, immediately after Iraq was invaded, with neither condition satisfied, about three-quarters or more of poll respondents supported the invasion. This phenomenom occurs every time the U.S. goes to war but the before and after polling gap on Iraq may have been more pronounced than usual.

One national poll found that 57 percent of respondents supported bombing Iran, despite the dire consequences likely to result from such an action.

In regard to firearms control, except for a ban on handguns, most proposed restrictions on firearms have found majority support in polling done over many years. Enhanced background checks before a firearms sale can be completed have been supported by about 9 out of ten respondents in recent polling. In regard to going to war and controlling firearms, the American people haven’t been tough enough in demanding that their country not participate in increasing the levels of violence.

I believe that too many issues get framed in the context of toughness, when the context should be wisdom. It is not wise for the United States to so often be involved in wars against nations that have not attacked it. It is not wise to continue the proliferation of firearms and not limit their destructive potential. Wisdom should aso attend how the general publiic perceives governmental spending. Polled Americans commonly say that they want the national government to sharply cut spending, yet when polled on specific programs, majorities don’t want them cut. A recent poll, for example, on about a dozen and a half programs or program areas, found that majorities wanted to cut spending only in regard to foreign aid — and that was a plurality, not a majority response. Foreign aid constitutes a tiny percentage of the federal budget.

If getting tough means being wise, then Americans need to be tougher and more reason-based in demanding their elected representatives chart wholly new directions for the nation.