Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year Schadenfreude

Is Netanyahu a secret Muslim? Image via CNN.

A couple of years ago (November 2013), in the context of one of those posts I was doing at the time trying to explain why the NSA surveillance operations affecting US persons, unacceptable as they might be if they actually existed, were definitely not the same thing as the SS or the Stasi, I wrote:
The Obama administration is considerably less Pinochet-like than [the Nixon-era programs]. They would plainly prefer that whoever they're spying on should not have a clue that it's happening, a sign that what they're after isn't fear or obedience at all, but intelligence. And above all they don't want the people being spied on to know who they are, even at the price of letting us believe, following the Snowden document dumps, that it's all of us. Am I confident nobody's spying on me? Yes. Am I confident nobody's spying on harmless dissidents, cheating girlfriends, or Binyamin Netanyahu? No, but I sure hope they're tapping Netanyahu.
So I'm naturally pretty pleased to learn from this Adam Entous and Danny Yadron article (Wall Street Journal this side of the paywall) that they decided to take my advice and even got some real stuff for a change, catching the Israeli government suborning legislators and lobbyists in the effort to sabotage Obama's Iran policy:
The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal.
They diligently followed the law, too, carefully minimizing the data to protect the identities of the US persons at the other ends of the calls:
the NSA removed the names of lawmakers from intelligence reports and weeded out personal information. The agency kept out “trash talk,” officials said, such as personal attacks on the executive branch.
Administration and intelligence officials said the White House didn’t ask the NSA to identify any lawmakers during this period.
“From what I can tell, we haven’t had a problem with how incidental collection has been handled concerning lawmakers,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Meanwhile, we still haven't seen any evidence as far as I can recall of any of that abusive domestic surveillance from the NSA, not since the dark days of 2006-07. Not that there's no abusive domestic intelligence activity in the US, but that the whole focus since the Snowden revelations on NSA continues to be a distraction from these things conducted especially by the FBI and ICE; as well as a way of making the idiotic argument that Obama is the same as Bush, and attacking the NSA's ability to do the really important work of tracking terrorist finances in ways that might cause some inconvenience to our noble banking concerns and the royal families of the Gulf. I continue to believe that those who want to focus our attention on the possibility of NSA abuse are serving forces of reaction, whether they know it or not.

But this story isn't abuse, whatever our indignant friends on the right may think (Edroso has a sampling); it's exactly stuff the NSA ought to be doing.

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