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More on Domestic Spying

I really enjoy reading William Arkin’s Early Warning blog. Our opinions on the intel business don’t always jibe (96Bs and 98Cs will never get along all that well) but in his latest post he hits what I think is a home run:

And sorry for being cynical, but when I lived in Washington, from 1978-1993, a favorite parlor game of the left and the activists — hey, that’s who I hung out with — was speculating about whether one was under surveillance. I used to love the George Carlin joke that the surest way to catch the FBI guy at an anti-war rally was to look for the one with the spit-shined sandals.

But I would often say to people who asked if they were targets, “Do you really think that after the diplomats and the spies and the Soviets and the Eastern Europeans and the Cubans and the Iranians and the drug runners, the NSA has enough time or energy for you?”

Of course, again and again, it turned out that some American government organization WAS spying on Greenpeace or PETA or some El Salvadorian solidarity group, and that has continued in some cases.

I don’t justify this spying, but let’s be honest: Greenpeace and PETA intentionally break the law as part of their peaceful protest. We should be concerned about government surveillance because in my mind it raises the most important question, which is: doesn’t the government have more important things to do? […]

As I’ve said before the people that need to be concerned about “domestic spying” is a minority of a minority within a minority. If your phone makes funny clicking noises don’t look over your shoulder, go to Best Buy and get a new phone.

As one who is more cynical/suspicious about what is going on in the IC, Arkin makes a key point with regards to what may or may not have been possible prior to 9/11 even if we had been listening in:

Now, we are told that the government miraculously is both focused and competent, and we should trust them because they have decided that they are operating in accordance with the President’s duties under the Constitution and that they have briefed a Top Secret highly compartmented program to a few members of Congress. We are told to trust that the government conducts only lawful surveillance and it is only focused on terrorists.

Sadly, he is right: We didn’t get all that much smarter or more competent on 9/12. If working a lot more hours means working harder, then we had that going for us, but working smarter . . . that’s stretching it. Granted, a small and focused program means a lot less QRN for what hopefully is a very capable, hand-selected team of highly competent experts, but it has been my experience that the people who get picked for special jobs are those that can be spared.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.