David Harris Gershon writes at Daily Kos:
Jay Stanley is a measured, rational policy analyst. He is a man of facts, not given over to wild speculation or sensationalization. Which is why, before offering his theory that the NSA may currently be blackmailing certain politicians to support the agency’s efforts, he sounds almost apologetic.
He sounds apologetic because he doesn’t like what he’s about to say, not having the unmistakable, absolute data necessary to back it up:
Sometimes when I hear public officials speaking out in defense of NSA spying, I can’t help thinking, even if just for a moment, “What if the NSA has something on that person?”Of course it’s natural, when people disagree with you, to at least briefly think, “They couldn’t possibly really believe that, there must be some outside power forcing them to take that position.” Mostly I do not believe that anything like that is now going on.
So why, then, does Stanley proceed to offer what, in truth, is a conspiracy theory regarding the NSA and current political support in Washington? Political support that goes against public opinion?
Because, as he admits, the agency has lost all credibility regarding its actions. More than this, though, it has already been revealed that NSA analysts and cooperating entities have surveilled some of the world’s most powerful and important leaders.
The NSA’s reported reach into not just the lives of ordinary citizens, but the lives of world leaders, has been so expansive that David Sirota explicitly addressed the potential of NSA blackmail against members of Congress. And as Stanley reminds, NSA surveillance against members of Congress is something that has been alleged by whistleblowers with direct knowledge of such activities.
Whistleblower Russell Tice…alleged that while at the agency he saw wiretap information for members of Congress and the judiciary firsthand. Such fears explain why it is considered an especially serious matter any time elected or judicial officials are eavesdropped upon. The New York Times reported in 2009 that some NSA officials had tried to wiretap a member of Congress without a warrant. Members of Congress (and perhaps the judiciary) surely also noted a Washington Post report based on Snowden documents that the NSA had intercepted a “large number” of calls from the Washington DC area code due to a “programming error.”
Do we know that some members of Congress have been approached by NSA officials in possession of compromising personal information? Do we know that members of Congress vociferously expressing support for the NSA hare doing so for reasons other than political ideology or a concern for electoral politics.
Unfortunately, we know too much already to rule such scenarios out as the stuff of Hollywood. We know too much already about the NSA’s surveillance reach, and about its failure to disclose such activities.
Alexander de Avila writes at PolicyMic:
According to former NSA analyst and Bush-era whistleblower Russ Tice, the NSA has been using eavesdropping activities to gather intelligence on powerful people in the U.S. government for years. This year he even claimed that the NSA ordered wiretapping on President Barack Obama when he was a candidate for Senate. Tice, in an interview for the website of FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, said:
“They went after – and I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things–they went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial.
But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of–heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials. They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House – their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after U.S. international–U.S. companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that – like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few antiwar civil rights groups.
So, you know, don’t tell me that there’s no abuse, because I’ve had this stuff in my hand and looked at it. And in some cases, I literally was involved in the technology that was going after this stuff.”
Tice would later in the interview go on to make that enormous claim that the NSA ordered the wiretapping of then “wannabe senator from Illinois,” Barack Obama, and that he held the NSA order in his own hands at one point.
Why would it matter, if proven true, that President Obama had been wiretapped? According to retired CIA analyst and briefer to numerous presidents Ray McGovern, the reason Obama has largely changed his stance on the NSA’s intelligence gathering practices from when he was a candidate for president, and why he has exponentially ramped up the extrajudicial killing of terror suspects by CIA drones, is because he is at the whim of the intelligence apparatus for things they might have uncovered about his past. On a radio show McGovern said:
“Which leads to the question, why would [Obama] do all these things? Why would he be afraid for example, to take the drones away from the CIA? Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s afraid. Number one, he’s afraid of what happened to Martin Luther King Jr. And I know from a good friend who was there when it happened, that at a small dinner with progressive supporters – after these progressive supporters were banging on Obama before the election, ‘Why don’t you do the things we thought you stood for?’ Obama turned sharply and said, ‘Don’t you remember what happened to Martin Luther King Jr.?’ That’s a quote, and that’s a very revealing quote.“
Is the NSA using wiretapping and other unconventional data gathering methods to gather sensitive private information on government officials to blackmail them into maintaining their support? It’s an unconvincing assertion at best. The possibility, however, that blackmail a-la-J. Edgar Hoover goes on should be considered in the important debate over the future of wiretapping and data collection here in America.
Cave Lindorf writes at CounterPunch:
A revealing page-one article in today’s New York Times (“Tap on Merkel Provides Peek a Vast Spy Net”) reports on how the NSA’s global spying program, dating back at least to early in the Bush/Cheney administration, was vacuuming up the phone conversations (and no doubt later the internet communications) of not just leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but opposition leader Merkel before her party took power in Germany.
As the Times puts it, the phone monitoring, which actually dates back to the Cold War Era before 1990, “is hardly limited to the 35 leaders of countries like Germany, and also includes their top aides and the heads of opposing parties.”
That’s pretty far-reaching, and the paper says that it has learned, primarily courtesy of revelations from the documents released by fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden, that the spying went even beyond that, to target up-and-coming potential leaders of so-called “friendly states.”
But the Times buys without question the explanation offered by professional liar James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence and ultimate head of the embattled National Security Agency, that the NSA’s spying on leaders and potential was and is and has been, first of all, well known to presidents, and secondly that its purpose was simply to see “if what they’re saying gels with what’s actually going on, as well as how other countries’ policies “impact us across a whole range of issues.”
That’s pretty broad. The first explanation is really a euphemistic way of saying the NSA wants to see if American’s purported friends and allies are lying. The second is a euphemistic way of saying that the US is spying to gain inside information about its allies’ political goals and strategies, and probably their negotiating positions on things like trade treaties, international regulations, etc.
What the Times does not ask in its entire report on this spying program on leaders and potential leaders is whether there could be another motive for this extraordinary spying campaign on leaders: blackmail.
How else to explain the remarkably tepid response from the leaders who are the victims of this spying by the NSA on their private communications? How else to explain Europe’s unwillingness to grant sanctuary to Snowden, who after all has allowed them to know about the perfidy of the US? How else to explain Europe’s supine acquiescence to the US in its criminal wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, and its unquestioning support of Israel?
Nor does the Times ask the next obvious question, which is: If the NSA is spying on foreign leaders so widely and thoroughly, actually recording the conversations, not just the numbers being called, and submitting the recordings to keyword searches, isn’t it likely doing the same thing to leaders in the US? And if it is possible to imagine that the NSA is enabling the blackmailing of foreign leaders, isn’t it equally possible that the same thing is going on domestically?