November 28, 2017

"Earth-shattering!" Bah! Humbug!

Our national discourse is made up of a series of public charades designed to convince the huddled, powerless masses that crucially important issues are being debated, so as to determine the best way forward for our society. Meaningful debate followed by profound change! That's the ticket or, to be truthful and accurate (unwelcome and unpleasant, but neither I nor you crafted this system), that's the propaganda. In fact, the debate and change are almost entirely illusory. If there is any alteration in the general state of affairs, it will be to strengthen and enlarge still more the power and wealth enjoyed by the ruling class, and to make certain that those huddled masses are further beaten down and fragmented. In this way, the ruling class's grip on power is tightened, and the already powerless masses are made still weaker.

In recent years, one of the most offensive and destructive of these charades has been and continues to be the Snowden Follies, also known as The "Massive" Leak that Changed Nothing Except to Make a Terrible Situation Worse, Which People Would Understand if Only Our Public Debates Weren't So Goddamned Stupid. We can now incorporate into our joyful holiday celebrations the latest risible sketch in this fifth-rate vaudeville show. Among other offenses, this "new" routine is one that has been performed countless times in endless variations; any slight novelty or interest that the sketch might have offered in a bygone era was worn away at least a hundred years ago. Yet our rulers continue to offer us stale and inedible morsels as if they constituted a seven-course gourmet meal. And many of us eagerly savor and swallow the nauseating swill. A lifetime of propaganda and control will reliably erase the possibility of serious resistance.

Thus, The Hill tells us that time for this year's legislative agenda is rapidly running out. In addition to a possible tax "reform" bill and measures required for government funding, this issue needs to be addressed:
Another item on the agenda is the reauthorization of Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), including the controversial Section 702.

The current authorization for Section 702 expires on December 31, and it’s the first time Congress has faced this reauthorization since Edward Snowden’s earth-shattering disclosures about the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance apparatus. Committees in the Senate and House have competing proposals to reauthorize the program. But with the clock running out, Congress once again appears to be poised to jam through reauthorization.
The article helpfully explains that, even though "FISA allows federal intelligence agencies to collect the electronic communications of foreign persons to surveil for certain illicit activities, including terrorism," "90 percent of account holders whose communications were collected were not the intended targets." Many of those whose communications were collected in this manner are U.S. citizens or residents.

Although it is not the focus of this post, I urge you to keep in mind the 90% figure. That is a stunning error rate -- and an error rate is precisely what it is, at least if you believe the "intelligence" agencies are actually doing what they claim to be doing. 90% of collected communications are from people "who were not the intended targets." But that is only one example of "intelligence" agencies' incompetence, if it is indeed incompetence. I will soon be returning to this issue in a new post about the immense fraud that is "intelligence." I have examined this subject at length and in detail (see here, here and here, all of which have links to much more), but there are some additional observations to make. The 90% figure is also an apparently much-needed reminder that whenever the government speaks (at any level), it is almost certainly lying, either by omission or commission, or both.

With regard to FISA reauthorization, The Hill article goes on:
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has marked up the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, S. 2010. The bill, sponsored by Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is actually worse than existing law. It explicitly allows the attorney general to use information collected under Section 702 for domestic crimes that have nothing to do with national security and forbids judicial review of that decision.
So the "national security" requirement is eliminated -- along with judicial review, which is forbidden. Why, it's enough to warm the cockles of a bloody tyrant's heart. The House version isn't any better:
The House version of the USA Liberty Act, for instance, has a weak warrant requirement, which would allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct backdoor searches of electronic communications collected by the NSA for domestic, non-terrorism investigations. Additionally, the proposed end of “about” collection, in which the government collects information that is neither to nor from a target, would sunset after six years.
The article mentions some better alternatives, one of which is the Ron Wyden-Rand Paul USA RIGHTS Act. The article describes that Act as "by far the strongest reform bill on the table." But the article also concludes that, "With no clear path to the floor for any of these bills, the chance that Section 702 reauthorization with no or minimal reforms is included in an omnibus has grown significantly."

Where is the vaunted "public debate" about any of this? Mass surveillance is so yesterday. It would appear that almost no one gives a damn about it any longer. We've had "public debates" about many "crucial" issues since the time of the Snowden "leak." Today, the burning issue is sexual harassment. Talk about public charades! But that's a subject for another day; I'll get to it soon. (Sexual harassment is a real and very terrible problem. The various melodramas currently being enacted for a voracious public -- sex sells like nothing else -- have precious little to do with the actual dimensions and contours of the problem, and nothing to do with a genuine solution.)

As for FISA, what has happened is precisely what I predicted four years ago:
Consider the enormous value of the hugely restricted publication of the Snowden documents to the various States involved. Rusbridger, Greenwald, et al. all trumpet the great triumph represented by the "debate" publication has engendered -- the clamor of public voices demands "reform," so committees will be formed, investigations will be undertaken, and when the dust has settled, life for the States involved will go on almost exactly as before (remember: if the NSA were disbanded today, identical surveillance would continue via other agencies and institutions of power) -- and the States will be able to claim that the public knows the "truth," and their activities now have the full blessing of informed public consent.
In connection with that parenthetical comment about the NSA, I refer you to "When the State Floods the Zone, Reform Is Dead." The beginning of that post describes the FBI's InfraGard program, which should legitimately terrify you. What's especially terrifying is that the government isn't at all secretive about InfraGard: it's enormously proud of the program and can't wait to tell you all about it. While preparing this, I checked on the InfraGard site. It's still there, right in the open. If you've forgotten about InfraGard, or are hearing about it for the first time, this is how InfraGard describes itself on the website's welcome page:
InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and members of the private sector. The InfraGard program provides a vehicle for seamless public-private collaboration with government that expedites the timely exchange of information and promotes mutual learning opportunities relevant to the protection of Critical Infrastructure. With thousands of vetted members nationally, InfraGard's membership includes business executives, entrepreneurs, military and government officials, computer professionals, academia and state and local law enforcement; each dedicated to contributing industry specific insight and advancing national security.
See the earlier post for details on InfraGard's operations. After discussing InfraGard in that post from 2013, I wrote:
As a result of the recent NSA/surveillance stories, there is much debate about the NSA and its massive spying apparatus. But as the existence of InfraGard shows, the NSA is only the beginning of what should concern us. In fact, and it gives me no pleasure to say this, but it's better to face the truth as fully as we can, if the NSA ceased to exist today, it would not make any appreciable difference in the surveillance activities of the United States government. Given InfraGard's existence, which the State happily tells us about, if only we would pay attention, what other programs of this kind is the State engaged in, doubtless including many programs that the State is determined to keep secret? ...

[T]o focus on the NSA as if that agency is the only or even a major source of the problem is entirely wrong. The NSA is only one source of the rot that is spread across numerous agencies and programs, the rot that has infected our government at every level (federal, state, county, municipal, etc.) and in countless ways. But the unique and restricted focus on the NSA is also an enormous boon to the State; it is largely the result of our culture's idiotic and myopic focus on the "hot" story of the moment, devoid of history, of context, of everything that should inform our understanding of the issues involved. It creates and supports the view that, if only we "fix" the NSA, then a significant part of the problem will be solved. But that is flatly untrue.
Even if the Wyden-Paul USA RIGHTS Act were passed, and that would appear to be extraordinarily unlikely or impossible, it wouldn't make any difference. The State will continue to do exactly what it does now. If any change does occur, the State will engage in more extensive and intrusive surveillance. You can comfort yourself with the notion that the ruling class is dumb and incompetent -- and on numerous particular issues, that is certainly true -- but it is not dumb and incompetent with regard to power. The ruling class is very experienced and adept at acquiring and wielding power. And to the degree that our rulers are brainless boobs, such defects are more than compensated for by the massive power they have already accumulated. That's why they constitute the ruling class, and you don't.

But we will have had a lovely, enlightening debate about it. Doesn't that make you feel warm and tingly? Humbug. It's all humbug.