Monday, December 23, 2013

Continuing to Slog Through "The Report"

I realize I'm not offering up commentary on specific recommendations or details of The Report at this point. It's partly due to the structure of The Report itself, heavy on conclusions at the outset, then quite dense (for this kind of thing) with details to back them up. What I've been trying to do is understand the subtext that flows through the whole thing and get a better idea of what's (perhaps) really going on.

The Snowden Thing is obviously the trigger mechanism for this Report, but where Snowden fits in the whole assembly is still somewhat obscure. I've had my doubts about the "genuineness," shall we say, of his whistle blowing from the outset of the summertime media frenzy over the story mainly because of the way it was being packaged and marketed and due to the rather surprising reluctance of the any of the participants to get into anything particularly substantive regarding the omnipresent Surveillance/Security State they were supposedly exposing.

The story had the earmarks of a Limited Hangout, purposely engineered by a faction within the Security State in order to hamstring or undermine some other faction.

Focusing almost exclusively on the NSA when there are dozens if not hundreds of elements to the overall apparat of surveillance and security in this country alone, most of them much, much closer to the day-to-day lives of individuals and affecting them much more immediately and stringently, was a "tell" for me that this set of revelations and the summertime media frenzy it engendered was not what it seemed and was being sold as.

There was clearly a background and backchannel within the government itself that was directing this story.

I saw it as a likely contest between the CIA and the NSA for Security State Pre-eminence, and I mentioned several times that there was a curiously silent Spook in all of this, one John Brennan, recently selected head of the CIA -- the very agency Snowden came out of before going to the NSA (or so the story went.)

The overall point of the stories was clearly to diminish the powers and authorities of the NSA -- some of which it had arrogated to itself contrary to law and custom  -- but not to get rid of them altogether. Instead, the idea seemed to be to put those elements elsewhere, either in other agencies or in the private sector.

This is clearly the intent and upshot of the recommendations in The Report. In no way that I can discern are the powers and authorities of the Surveillance/Security State diminished by the recommendations, nor are their validity and utility disputed within the detailed narrative. Their application by the NSA is, however, clearly recognized as a problem. Time after time, the NSA is singled out for criticism for overstepping its authorities, violating court orders, lying to oversight bodies and so on. If this is not a "rogue agency," I don't know what is.

On the other hand, there is no sign I've found in The Report that the powers and authorities that the S/S State holds should be diminished or removed. They should merely be better monitored by courts and "policymakers" (which is a whole other kettle of fish) and -- importantly -- should be redistributed among extant agencies (mostly unnamed).

The Report does take pains to point out that the NSA is only one aspect of the S/S State, and that it is not the primary element in many ways (though obviously it would like to be). This is something that the media (in the person of Greenwald) nearly completely ignores, but it is something that more and more other media have come to recognize -- slowly and timidly, but still....

The Report also goes into great, almost exhaustive, detail about some of the Programs that have caused so much heartburn during the past six months, much more detail about them than appeared in the media. For The Report to be so open about the Programs -- when the Agency has a history of being so secretive, and even the Snowden Revelations didn't get into such a level of granularity about them -- indicates to me that there has long been some kind of urge within the S/S State to reveal itself as fully and clearly as possible, an urge which heretofore, the NSA has opposed and resisted.

Well, they can't do it now.

An internal shake-up is underway.

But will it be more the cosmetics? Time will tell.

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