Monday, June 17, 2013


The big story yesterday morning was a CNET story by Declan McCullagh titled "NSA Admits Listening to U.S. Phone Calls Without Warrants."
The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed “simply based on an analyst deciding that.”

If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned....
Charles Johnson noted at the time that what Nadler actually said didn't match this claim:
If you read this carefully, you'll notice that the source for this "admission" is not the NSA at all -- it's second-hand information from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). And Nadler himself never even says he heard it from the NSA....

The key quote here is, "We heard precisely that you could get the specific information from that telephone." Notice: Nadler did not say they could listen to the phone call, he said "get the specific information."

...There's no mention of it in McCullagh's article, but this entire discussion was about metadata. They explicitly say this several times, using the word "metadata." And metadata is not "listening to phone calls"...
And what Nadler was saying was in response to a denial from FBI director Robert Mueller that NSA can listen to a call at will -- or, if you agree with Josh Marshall, Nadler and Mueller were misunderstanding each other (or CNET's McCullagh was misunderstanding their conversation).

The CNET article was later altered, and retitled "NSA Spying Flap Extends to Contents of U.S. Phone Calls." And then after that, CNET's sister site ZDNET walked back the story:
Update at 2:50 p.m. ET on June 16: We're pulling the plug on this story ... following Rep. Nadler's latest comments casting doubt on CNET's story. In a statement to our sister site, Nadler said: "I am pleased that the administration has reiterated that, as I have always believed, the NSA cannot listen to the content of Americans' phone calls without a specific warrant." ...

Update at 10:20 p.m. ET on June 16: The U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released a statement, debunking the claims. "The statement that a single analyst can eavesdrop on domestic communications without proper legal authorization is incorrect and was not briefed to Congress," the statement read....
It's not surprising to me that CNET ran with this and that much of the blogosphere believed it. The government has a disturbing amount of access to what we're doing on the phone and the Internet -- but it's apparently not unlimited access. However, I think an awful lot of us would like to believe it's unlimited. That would make us -- all of us -- unambiguously at imminent risk of utterly unrestricted eavesdropping.

We want this to be a story about villainy that's unchecked, with us as its victims. Similarly, we wanted to believe that the NSA agents directly taps into to the main servers of major Internet companies, rather than having access to FTP sites where specific information is dropped based on specific government requests. The latter is unsettling enough, but the former means they're reading what we're writing on the Internet as we type! All of us! You! Me! And that's not quite true.

Right-wingers love this feeling of persecution -- they want to believe that Obama is coming for their guns, itching to shut down their churches, planning to send them to death panels. It's an ego boost to believe the government wants to do this to you.

Lefties relish the story of the government targeting American citizens with drones. They could target us! The fact is, the vast majority of us aren't going to be targeted. The reality of the targeting seems sufficiently problematic without our trying to turn ourselves into potential victims -- but we like doing that. It makes us feel important.

There's a lot to dislike about this approach to national security. There's plenty to be appalled at. But the government really isn't as interested in most of us personally as some of us seem to want to believe.


Unknown said...

Seems to me that the media is just happy that there's a lot going on in the Obama administration, finally! The poor dears were just so bored with "No drama Obama".
And besides, how many times can you write stories about how expensive trips by the president overseas are? Oh, wait, Schieffer's on it!
/Don't recall any scrutiny of any previous presidents' travel costs. What's different...hmmmm.

Victor said...

Back when I first started commenting, I also used to send some rants as e-mails to some of my closest friends.

One of them asked me to stop sending him those e-mails, because he was nervous that the government was monitoring ALL communication.

I told him, no problem, I'd talk him off my list - but that, IF the government was, indeed, really listening in, they'd come for me first, and THEN, maybe him. And then, he could say my e-mails weren't solicited by him, and that he's told me to stop, but I wouldn't.

And I told him, we'd know well in advance if this was happening, and they were picking people up, because by the time they got around to bringing me in, and then him, a good chunk of the US population would already be arrested, because, in reality, I was a little voice, shouting in the wilderness.

And on the food-chain of prioritization of people to pick-up, I'm sure there were a hell of a lot more of more important people out there, with a whole hell of a lot more influence, than little old me, typing feverishly, my anti-W and Cheney e-mails to friends.

I imagine it feels good to think that you're important enough that the entire American government is out to get you.

But it's not.

And if the government does decide to "crack-down," they'll start at the top, where the few are, and not at the bottom, where the many are.

Logic would tell you that you if you take the leaders out, that will confuse, and defuse, the followers.

But, then, our righties aren't exactly known of their ability to use reason and logic.

They "feel" they're important. And so must everyone else, including the US government.

Get over yourselves, righties.

You're pain's in the ass, and roadblocks on the road to progress, BUT YOU AIN'T ALL THAT!!!

Erika Frensley said...

I wish I could like your comment 1000 times, Victor. You've said exactly what I've seen with my friends and neighbors. It's the elevation of the individual over the community - something we've seen with health-care (keep it on the individual level, let them take care of themselves), with taxes (I don't want my money going to those people), gov't aid, etc.

Philo Vaihinger said...

When there's no real news and no real reason for outrage at the Democrats . . .

Victor said...

Your taking the time to write that, meant more than 1,000 "likes."

Thank you. :-)

And you're spot-on.
Ayn-Randianism is running rampant in this country.
And how I wish the religious morons who love her, knew that she was an Atheist.

And that her Libertarian and Austerian followers, knew that she collected Social Security, and used Medicare.

And no, "MORANS," 'you didn't build all of that.'
You had help, all along the lines, from the government you hate.

Move to Somalia, if you want go to the country you want to turn the US into!
And, as an EXTRA-ADDED PLUS - no gun regulations!!!

Chris Andersen said...

The frustrating aspect of this is how many liberals are responding to this story in a way that feed rights into right-wing frames about the big-bad scary government; the very same government that liberals want to play a central role in managing our healthcare.

Libby Spencer said...

I've been thinking that for a while too. Back in the day it was something of a badge of honor to claim the FBI had a surveillance file on you. It reminds of that Law and Order episode when Munch found out he didn't have one, after claiming for years that he did.

Grung_e_Gene said...

Confirmation Bias has been running rampant. It's really the only bias that's acceptable anymore.