Saturday, December 21, 2013

Oh What A Tangled Web

Now that I've got about half way through the Report (see posts below), it's clear that the Review is intended do a number of things simultaneously, the first, and perhaps most important to the purposes of the Government, to expose and detail insofar as possible what sorts of domestic and international intelligence gathering have been authorized and under what authorities they are conducted, and to describe insofar as possible how those authorities have been implemented, which includes plenty of instances of overreach and worse.

The Report seems to be organized and presented as a point-by-point response to the Snowden/Greenwald revelations and demands, and to a surprising -- or perhaps not-so-surprising -- degree, it concedes the points that Snowden and Greenwald make: that the NSA and other branches of the intelligence community have taken upon themselves authorities they don't really have, they have been repeatedly told to reform and/or desist by courts, their provisions for privacy protection are inadequate or nonexistent, their structures are open to abuse, and their mission is compromised by their own actions as well as those of people like Snowden and Greenwald who went to the trouble to expose to the public aspects of what was really going on that the agencies would prefer that people (including Congress, Courts and the President) not know.

The recommendations of the Review Group are actually quite startling, given the vilification heaped upon panel members for their close connections with the Security/Surveillance State. It was assumed, after all, that this panel would go out of its way to protect and defend the actions of that State, no matter what. This they have not done at all.

The Report goes into much more granular detail about the missteps of the Surveillance State than most of the press has been able to get into, and the recommendations reflect the panel's interests in reducing to the extent possible further missteps. Many of those missteps involve actions outside the legal authorities of the agencies involved, but clearly, part of the problem has been the laws themselves, and the over-generous interpretation of those laws and authorities by the heads of agencies over quite a long period of time.

This has been allowed in part because no one fully knew what was going on, as the agencies concealed their activities from the public and the oversight bodies that were supposed to be monitoring them. Consequently, many of the recommendations have to do with timely information about what is going on and how it is being done, not simply by stating "we are in compliance," but requiring extensive and more detailed reporting not only to Congressional oversight bodies but to the public as well. The agencies would consider these requirements to be onerous punishment, but too bad. This country has had far too much experience both recently and throughout its history with certain agencies of government spinning out of control and harming more than helping the nation. Reining in rogue agencies is a constant challenge and necessity.

While one of the recommendations deals with the transfer of bulk collection and storage of telephone meta data from the government to the carriers or a separate third party private entity (for a fee of course for the private entity or entities which shall hold the data for a specified period), I haven't yet found what I suspected I might: that the recommendations would foster and feature even greater levels of privatization of the Security/Surveillance State than already exists.

The upshot of the recommendations instead seems to be to significantly curb and constrain the actions of the Security/Surveillance State on its own account and to bring it into a narrower, more targeted and much more accountable (to the public) framework within government, rather than spinning off its activities to the private sector.

Of course, I may still run into rationales to further privatize the intelligence/surveillance operations of government, but so far, I haven't.

As a side note, most if not all of the information the government seeks in connection with the Security/Surveillance State is relatively easily available from the private sector -- which has a vast, growing and intrusive surveillance apparatus in place. Were government agencies forbidden to collect this information on their own (none of the recommendations suggest any such thing, btw), little or nothing would prevent them from getting the same sort of information -- or even more complete information -- on the open market. So even a prohibition on direct collection of surveillance data by government could be circumvented quite easily.

There have been rumors that the President will accept all of the recommendations and that most of them will be implemented. There are counter rumors that say just the opposite, that the Report goes too far, and the President will reject most of the recommendations.

What I find interesting is that this Report is apparently written in response to Snowden/Greenwald, it accepts their reading of the situation with regard to the NSA's overreach and the inadequacy of legal restraints on its activities, and it recommends some relatively harsh corrections. This suggests to me that there has been a "Snowden Faction" within the Security/Surveillance Apparat for some time (whether or not Snowden knew of it or was acting independently) and they needed some sort of engineered crisis in order to a) present their case, and b) press for reform. In other words, these recommendations and much of the study that brought them forth were pre-prepared awaiting only the crisis to be presented.

But in the meantime, what a tangled mess the Security/Surveillance State is revealed to be in this report.

What a full on mess.

I've always been an abolitionist when it comes to these sorts of things, and this report makes clear (to me at any rate) the reasons why.

No comments:

Post a Comment