Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How come they call it intelligence?

I feel funny about suggesting that our August THREAT might have more to do with the NSA's harried public relations than with Al Qa'eda. I've been very wrong about this before, notably during the Clinton administration, when I couldn't believe what they were saying about this Osama bin Laden. It seemed to me so obvious that he was a comic book villain made up by the CIA to justify bombing Sudan or the FBI to justify rounding up Arabs. But of course he wasn't.

Still, it seems so odd that Ayman al-Zawahiri should be choosing this precise moment to be "chattering" over the Internet about his plans, which everyone agrees he normally doesn't do, just as the world is learning about the NSA's ability to listen in. Unless he wants them listening, of course.

And I've read enough cheap spy fiction to think of a scenario that works like that. Zawahiri's reading his Washington Post about Snowden, and he's wondering how this can be, that the devil Crusaders are allowing their wicked ways to be exposed like this, unless they want him, Zawahiri, to know about it, or to know more than he already suspects. He can't imagine this ridiculous nerd is simply telling people, on his own initiative, without being instantly assassinated, he must be a tool of the Yankees. Because maybe they're bluffing, pretending to have a capacity they don't actually have. So he decides to test it out, and tosses off an email  places a conference call to the boys in Yemen Somalia: "O my brothers, could you kindly stage a horrible big incident preferably involving a US embassy somewhere in the neighborhood, sometime this month? Or a consulate will do, just not Benghazi. What did you think of the season end of Game of Thrones? Let us know by the usual channels if there's anything we can get you. Your friend  Have a good one," etc. The usual channels being the couriers they normally use to bypass electronic eavesdropping.

So the NSA picks up on this startling development and gets all excited. Al Qa'eda's planning something! And pretty soon everybody's mobilized and terrorized and the embassies are all closed down and Dr. Evil up there is saying yup, I guess they can read my email monitor my phone all right.
“This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom,” one U.S. intelligence officer told The Daily Beast, referring to the coalition of villains featured in the Saturday morning cartoon Super Friends. (Gawker, via Betty Cracker)
Of course in this case, ironically, the NSA will have done itself considerably more harm than Snowden did. But that's intelligence for you. Wonder why they call it that?

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