Friday, June 7, 2013

A Magician's Act of Misdirection: Why Would the United States Government Admit that the NSA and Project PRISM are Spying on Us All?

The National Security State and Top Secret America are spying on you. Why is the admission that Verizon, Internet providers, and sites such as Facebook, Youtube, and Apple, are filtering information about users' searches and phone calls to the United States government a surprise?

When I was in middle school, my father introduced me to a former Black Panther who was indicted as part of their famous trial in New Haven during 1970-1.

At this point, he was a bit of a local celebrity who hung out at Yale University's coffee shops, was semi-homeless, and ran his own newsletter from the public library and copy center on Broadway. He would tell folks about Cointelpro and surveillance programs such as  "Typewriter" and "Echelon" that systematically monitored American's phone calls and other communications.

Many folks laughed at him; they said he was crazy; others chose to listen before becoming upset, disturbed, and moving on.

In the Age of Obama, it would seem that the conspiracy theory and "paranoid" types may just be ahead of the curve of "normal politics." As such, they are dismissed and mocked even while their observations are proven years later to be true.

In reading about how Top Secret America has its hands in all of the proverbial cookie jars, I am experiencing a mix of emotions: I am numb and not surprised; I am jaded and relatively disinterested because so much of this is old news.

As the American people admit their complicity to a violation of their rights of privacy, I would suggest that Benjamin Franklin will be proven correct once more:
In a state of tranquillity, wealth, and luxury, our descendants would forget the arts of war* and the noble activity and zeal which made their ancestors invincible. Every art of corruption would be employed to loosen the bond of union which renders our resistance formidable. When the spirit of liberty, which now animates our hearts and gives success to our arms*, is extinct, our numbers will accelerate our ruin and render us easier victims to tyranny. If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom—go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!
We are all being watched. Yes, you, right now, are likely being surveilled by Top Secret America.

The go-to explanation for the public's dispassionate response to the surveillance society often grounds itself in the philosopher Michel Foucault's description of the "panopticon"--what he detailed as an all seeing arrangement of power that conditioned people to a certain set of behaviors because they knew that the prison guards (or other keepers) were watching them.

Top Secret America works in a slightly different manner. The mass public knows it is being watched online as well as by cameras in public spaces. However, they do not feel a need to rebel because the watching eye is comforting and familiar. Why? how else are you going to stop those "terrorists?" And if you have not done anything "wrong" what are you worried about?

Power does not just punish its objects. Rather, it makes people feel safe, secure, and offers security that legitimates our complicity and surrender to it.

By that logic, a natural question arises. Why would the National Security Administration all but admit that the all seeing eye known as PRISM exists? What is the act of misdirection here? In poker--and in magic--a master player only lets their adversary see what he/she intends for them to notice. Thus, what is the misdirection, and how is PRISM a magician's trick that is focusing the public's eyes on the left hand, when the real coup is happening somewhere else?


Shady Grady said...

The obvious question is what are they doing with all of that information. They couldn't possibly be using it to blackmail, extort and embarrass people could they? Nah..

Lee Viola said...

OT, but whenever I see Penn, I cringe. Via Wiki:

Jillette is an atheist, libertarian (he has stated that he may consider himself to be an anarcho-capitalist),[24] and skeptic, as well as an adherent to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, as stated on his Penn Says podcast. Jillette is a Fellow at the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, and has stated that he "always" votes Libertarian.[25]

j.ottopohl said...

Well as long as they don't start carrying lethal drones at the new base in Niger I should be okay. ;-)

chauncey devega said...

I know. But, what of the bigger question?

chauncey devega said...

Data mining and selling the info to corporations too?

Shady Grady said...

Most definitely. I really hope people are not blase about this. There are a number of activities that many people do which are not illegal. But certainly they wouldn't want the government and/or political enemies knowing of them.

Mac McComas said...

It certainly directs attention away from the drone issue, and surveillance from above. Of course I probably cannot even conceive of the new and terrifying ways in which the government, and others, are able to invade our privacy.

Ben Grim said...

Not sure I buy your thesis that this is a tactical/strategic leak. The snakes ain't perfect. This could just as well be an 'oops somebody who shouldn't know found out and told someone else and we are unable to hide the evidence so we might as well confess'. The silver-lining in living under a cryptofascist regime is the fact that nothing can be kept secret from everybody all the time. Obama/Bush and the gang will forever stub their toe on this axiom: You can fool some of the people all of the time [My God, how true that is!], and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Not with Wikileaks and similar whistleblowers around. Not in the age of the Internet.

Lee Viola said...

I shot my wad on this about ten years ago, protesting and donating to left-leaning civil liberties causes. I'm strangely detached. Kevin Drum had the best line today:

"Will the public finally rebel after learning about the latest way their
government is keeping tabs on them? I doubt it. As near as I can tell,
most of the public is willing to sell their innermost secrets for a free
iTunes coupon."

Ali I know is, while the mad men screech and twist and play rope-a-dope, we'll have three more years of increasing poverty, apathy to the poor, crumbling infrastructure, and quite possibly zero relief for all the drug and political prisoners rotting in our jails.

Ben Grim said...

Might be time to abandon the 2 party dosey-doe. Seems to me the right is just as upset about this as the left. Well, except for Obamaphiles. If only there were some way the two opposing ideologies could come together over this public surveillance infringement. Just this one time. Just this one issue. Could be a dam breaker. For anything to change, the political duopoly must be first exposed and then opposed. Recognize that, as of 2008, no longer represents its constituents. This is especially true when it comes to black people. The Democratic party is now the left wing of the Republican party. Abandon it. I say abandon it and sue it for fraud. Use the damages to establish a new genuine liberal party. Might even want to call it that; just to remove any doubt as to what the party stands for.

Somebody tell me. What does the Democratic party stand for. It's not clear to me at all.

Lee Viola said...

Most of them stand for nothing. I don't even think half of them even heard about the New Deal.

I don't see much long-term joy. Like I said, I'm sort of in the Morris Berman camp, for all his flaws. But I think Digby may have the helpful answer for you, Ben - have real liberals retake the Democratic Party. (New political US infrastructures are nearly impossible, but how nice it would have been to occupy the Democratic Party. But that would enable the greater thugs and shits - the Fascist/Tea Party/ Rand/Military Republican Party to gain four more years of almost absolute power.)

If you can, get active. If you can't, I don't blame you. It's bloody daunting.

chauncey devega said...

I don't know it is. Could be the cat was mostly out of the bag. Why not let the rest of it out on your own terms so that folks don't notice the lion sitting in the corner.

Ben Grim said...

The more I hear about this the more I am certain this was a genuine breach of that secret world and the shadow government. The leak came from high up. Someone in the higher echelons of the alphabet soup of secret service agencies has a conscience. Can you imagine that? There is actually a person with a conscience in a high position of system of agencies comprised of psychopaths!!! That is our hope. Humans among the psychopaths! They can't weed us out of those agencies completely. We can blend in with the body snatchers, undetected, until we do something audacious, like leak a top secret memo that reveals that our government is surveiling our phone calls. I hope this person can survive Obama's ruthless persecution of whistle-blowers.

Ben Grim said...

Digby the Normalized? Answers? Don't make me laugh!

'that would enable the greater thugs and shits - the Fascist/Tea Party/ Rand/Military Republican Party to gain four more years of almost absolute power.'
How would that be different than what we have now. Except that the left might start fighting back instead of rolling over for the Fascist Obama party. The greater (more effective) evil is already at the helm.

CNu said...

seditious, malfeasant, and threatening social networks are rendered deeply and conspicuously transparent to the all-seeing eye of elite governance - why - there's even been an internet demo for kiddies that's been around for years which shows at a very superficial level how this works

sorry, that's just for the smart kiddies - not the simple-minded sympathizers and political patrons of dysgenic dummies....,

Ben Grim said...

'In the Age of Obama, it would seem that the conspiracy theory and "paranoid" types may just be ahead of the curve of "normal politics." As such, they are dismissed and mocked even while their observations are proven years later to be true.'

In the age of Obama, which also happens to be the age of the Internet it no longer takes years. The discovery that such people were/are right by the gen public is now measured in months.

The real magic trick here is how Obama remains unacknowledged in the blame for this:

'The Obama administration is engaged in a secret and illegal dragnet to accumulate detailed phone records of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of US residents in a program organized by the National Security Agency (NSA).'

In addition

'The Obama administration has investigated more leaks than all the others combined, and now its hunt for leakers is straying into madness. There will be a government investigation into the leak of the Pentagon report about CIA leaks to the producer of Zero Dark Thirty, The Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman reports. And, according to NBC's Brian Williams, the government will likely investigate who leaked to The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald that the National Security Agency got a court order for the metadata of every single call made by a Verizon customer over three months this year.'

Behold the magician's greatest trick! Making himself invisible! In 'seditious, malfeasant, and threatening' black ops. (hattip CNu).

Lee Viola said...

If Obama was an utter sociopath, you wouldn't be in the position of writing your response on your keyboard. Additionally, the Revolution Will Not Be Keyboarded.

And who are the heroes to step up and rescue America and give us all unicorns?

The stark reality is you had a choice between a senile McCain, an ignorant, vile, and racist Palin, and two true sociopaths in Romney and Ryan. Obama was the better reality.

Ben Grim said...

No. I vehemently disagree.

"If Obama was an utter sociopath, you wouldn't be in the position of writing your response on your keyboard."

Yes I would. I had it under Bush. The only way these things can be taken away in a nominally free country is in secret and under the cover of night. Obama is the best of all at that kind of covert operation. He's taking it all away and you're sitting up watching him do it with your eyes wide shut. McCain, like Bush, wouldn't be able to accomplish half the subversion Civil Liberties Obama gets away with because partisans on the left would be fighting against his efforts every step of the way, instead of enabling them; like they do with Obama. It takes a Democrat to cut welfare, social security, inaugurate austerity and erect the police state. Republicans can't do it. Too heavy handed. Too obvious. It takes a smooth, pablum spouting con-man.

'Obama's the better reality.' That's utter nonsense.

Magda Kamenev said...

This is shameful. Still wrapping my head around the details, as RL is very, very busy right now. There is some numbness, some resignation, but there's also a small nub of cold fury.

I used to be a Californian. As such, I never voted for Dianne Feinstein in a Democratic primary. She always pushes towards the security apparatus, never against. And whatever posturing she may do, I am sure she knew and approved these programs.

Also, I am a librarian. Not one that works with the public in any sense. But my cohort and I tried to raise the roof on the USA PATRIOT Act. We talked with patrons, we blogged, we wrote articles, we sent letters and visited our representatives. Our associations opposed the renewals.

And then Wall St. cratered the economy and we had to fight for our jobs and the very notion of libraries as a public and private good in the Age of Google.

So, I'm tired. And I'm disgusted with the position of this president. And ... I need to re-up with the ACLU and EFF, so someone can continue fighting this good, if losing, fight.

Thank you for the extended quote. It is a bitter but healing salve for me.