Is The NSA Blackmailing U.S. Politicians?



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 phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Communications from the United Nations. Even Pope Francis has been spied upon, it appears.

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?

Meanwhile, President Obama claims the NSA has never abused its authority.

22 Comments on "Is The NSA Blackmailing U.S. Politicians?"

  1. emperorreagan | Jan 3, 2014 at 10:10 am |

    Of course the NSA is blackmailing US politicians. Before the NSA, the FBI was doing it. It’s a feature of the security state.

    And the sort of person who chases power is liable to have plenty of information subject to blackmail floating around – anywhere from moral indiscretions that don’t play well with their electorate to outright criminal activity.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Jan 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm |

      That certainly puts Ted Cruz in a different light. You do have to admire him for being open about his Satanism, even if you don’t agree with his policies per se. There is absolutely nothing he would feel ashamed about.

    • It’s an ugly truth about power seekers that we really have to come to terms with soon. Too often people invest in their chosen ‘team’ a state of grace that exempts them from examination or scrutiny, and predatory persons know this to be true and naturally flow toward that kind of opportunity. There are cases outside of politics, where sociopaths and serial molesters groomed relationships with the powerful to shield themselves, either through religion, or sports, or any activity generally held to indicate good moral character. It doesn’t matter if its a DC politico or a college football team with a predator in the mix, it’s human nature at work…and the sooner we just wise up and stop blindly worshiping people who are hunting for our approval and applause the better off we’ll all be.

      • Virtually Yours | Jan 3, 2014 at 10:39 pm |

        “It’s an ugly truth about power seekers that we really have to come to terms with soon” The ancient Greeks used sortition: choosing public officials by lottery. We would no longer have to worry about power-seekers, though we would still have the NSA to contend with. Someone needs to aim a giant EMP burst at that data center in Utah…

        • You are suggesting we also employ sortition, and that nobody with a honed predatory instinct would ever have a lucky draw? Doesn’t add up to me. The only case I could think of that actually working in is a culture without much necessity for tightly organised leadership/structure in the first place rendering the position ceremonial, or even absurd.
          Promoting awareness of the predatory however does add up for me. Not only does that mechanism of control seem to boil down to approval, but also the reliance on people’s need for safety and guidance which is too often wholeheartedly given in complete trust of a perfect stranger if they but ask for it. Calls for “transparency and truth” still play into the predator’s hands, you’re still caught in their game because you still believe in the structure of co-dependency.
          And so it seems I have skipped predictably into some region of anarchy. sigh.

          • Virtually Yours | Jan 4, 2014 at 12:19 am |

            “and that nobody with a honed predatory instinct would ever have a lucky draw” It could happen, absolutely. But in the scenario which I am thinking of, you would be drawing from a select pool of qualified candidates, all of whom would be nominated. These are people who would (presumably) have no desire to be in such a position because they already have other things that they are focused on and would rather be doing, which would make them (in theory) ideal candidates…

            You could also set limits and say: “Here is the issue which you are being tasked to oversee, and here are the limits on resources and time that you have to work within. If you finish before your time is up, congrats! Your services are no longer required and we will now select someone else for the next task on the list.”

            “you’re still caught in their game because you still believe in the structure of co-dependency” But we are (to a certain degree) a co-dependent species…we rely on each other (from a communal point of view) to get stuff done all the time. So then how do we go about dismantling the structure of the system which has come to dominate (and not by accident) a concept such as this? By offering up valid alternatives and figuring out how to implement them in place of what currently exists…

            I think it is also important to focus on the desired end goal. For instance, I would like to live in a world that utilizes a resource-based economy…where there is no such thing as money and thus, no fear of its corrupting influence. Sortition would also seem to do away with the desire for power, rendering it moot.

            Once you get rid of money and power, though, you still have to contend with fear (of the unknown) and laziness (as a result of all our modern “conveniences”). Me thinks those will be the true challenges to overcome, making the first two seem almost easy by comparison…LOL

          • That is one alternative, to answer fascism with more fascism. The image it conjures up is that scene from Family Guy in the episode where Peter founds a new town post-apocalypse and decides to allocate jobs by pulling titles out of a hat. “I’m a doctor,” “Oh great, we need a doctor, hope you get it!” Inefficient, and abstracted from the complexities of reality, much like our current situation.

            It also seems to rely on the assumption that power-seekers do not deserve power, that certain ‘sociopathic’ tendencies associated predatory behaviours are wrong and should not be catered to, and then by proxy those who prefer to be led and let somebody else handle the larger decisions.
            I don’t deem their existence as wrong, I’ve seen examples where it can be a beneficial arrangement. The problems come in when the led have little awareness of the leader’s nature, and then complain when they are taken advantage of as if there was no responsibility on their part, usually ending in a Karpman triangle situation.

            When I say anarchy, I don’t mean a dismantling of the current system, I am referring to the individual asserting more personal responsibility for learning about the environment we find ourselves in rather than wishing the whole world could change to suit their personal needs or that some perfect savior will come along and fix everything for them. Which seems a much more attainable goal than a complete restructure or all-out destruction with many more foreseeable long-term benefits.

          • Virtually Yours | Jan 4, 2014 at 10:21 pm |

            “That is one alternative, to answer fascism with more fascism” How are you defining fascism in this context? I am talking about a participatory system – something along the lines of direct democracy – which, when needed, calls upon certain qualified individuals from amongst the ranks whose guidance/experience/advice may be needed when certain issues arise.

            And the Family Guy example does not make sense because you would not be calling on someone and assigning them a random task…you would be looking for qualified individuals who meet the criteria for said task and then randomly selecting from that qualified pool so as to eliminate any concerns of bias.

            “It also seems to rely on the assumption that power-seekers do not deserve power” No one “deserves” power. And I agree with Arthur C. Clarke when he said that anyone who desires that much power/authority/responsibility probably has ulterior motives of some sort and thus, they cannot be fully trusted.

            “The problems come in when the led have little awareness of the leader’s nature, and then complain when they are taken advantage of” So how do you feel about souseveillance? What if all of our (s)elected officials had to wear monitoring equipment the entire time they are in office? xXGrizZ and I are having a similar conversation along these lines, just below…

            “I don’t mean a dismantling of the current system, I am referring to the individual asserting more personal responsibility for learning about the environment we find ourselves” From my point of view, there is no disagreement between these two statements. Yes, the individual needs to be more responsible for vis actions, but that responsibility can (and also should) take the form of participating in – and potentially changing the nature of – the communal system which we all rely on to some degree or other in order for civilization to function and exist.

  2. ask john roberts

  3. heinrich6666 | Jan 3, 2014 at 10:46 am |

    More conspiracy theory! Heaven forfend!

  4. gustave courbet | Jan 3, 2014 at 11:42 am |

    I recommend checking out the whole interview between Russel Tice and Sibel Edmonds as it is quite informative. I was floored by the revelations that Tice produced, and find it telling that, despite the ramifications, his whistle blowing has received scant attention in comparison with Snowden’s.

  5. heinrich6666 | Jan 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm |

    There are perhaps other questions just as big that nobody has thought to ask yet. Like: Is the NSA spying on the activities of other agencies (CIA, DIA, FBI, etc.)? The answer: almost certainly yes.

  6. Exactly. Just like we can simply ask the Catholic Church to tell is the truth about priests raping boys. They are the church after all, and they would never lie, since it is a sin after all.

    • Or asking Benito Mussolini why he granted sovereignty (city-state status) to the Church.

      (Oops! He’s dead….)

  7. InfvoCuernos | Jan 3, 2014 at 6:05 pm |

    In my opinion, this is THE issue when it comes to spying on your own people. If you gain (or manufacture convincingly) the right information about the right people, you can control the political system from the top down.

  8. Virtually Yours | Jan 3, 2014 at 10:49 pm |

    Who watches the watchers? That would be souseveillance…a world of all-access transparency. While I would rather live in a world where neither souse- nor surveillance are necessary, perhaps in the meantime we should start utilizing one in order to combat/balance out the other…

  9. Virtually Yours | Jan 3, 2014 at 10:56 pm |

    “A transparent, forensic audit is long overdue for the CIA, NSA and DIA” I concur, though how do we go about manifesting such an audit? Are any such ideas discussed in the video you linked to? I am curious about the concept of souseveillance (us watching each other) and wonder if we, as a species, could handle full-on transparency? Could it help to restore some semblance of balance or would it break us completely?

  10. Virtually Yours | Jan 4, 2014 at 10:16 pm |

    “I am all for them being required to wear cameras that all civilians can review – starting with cops” Absolutely! Anyone willing to take on that kind of power/authority/responsibility should be smart enough to acknowledge the necessity of being held accountable for their actions.

    Then again, if wearable/recordable tech ever does become as ubiquitous as cell phones, then perhaps the police will become more like a volunteer organization: someone sends out an emergency signal and anyone in the neighborhood who is able to do so can drop whatever they are doing and rush to assist. And in the meantime, the person who sent out the signal will be recording and/or live-streaming whatever is happening to them…

    Could it potentially prevent crime, if the criminal knew that vis actions were being witnessed by everyone in that community? I suppose you would still need detectives, for crimes where there were no witnesses and/or the tech was unable to record the crime. And we do live in a day and age when digital footage can be faked. Suppose these are issues that we are gonna have to deal with at some point, assuming that this kind of tech continues to become more prevalent in our lives…

    I read an interesting article about giving non-violent criminals the option of being under some form of souse/surveillance in exchange for living at home. They would have to work in order to pay for the monitoring tech, and would continue wearing it until they have proven that they are able and willing to participate responsibly. It would get them out of prison and away from the corrosive influences/situations that often result in people coming out of prisons significantly worse-for-wear than when they went in.

    Perhaps this method of “veilling” could also be combined with Restorative Justice in certain instances, depending on the nature of the crime. While we’re at it, though, we also need to completely overhaul the prison industrial complex. Goodbye, for-profit prisons! And can we please immediately release everyone whose only “offense” was of a non-violent and drug-related nature? Sigh 🙁

    And no need to apologize for long posts! I try to count my blessings, but brevity has never been one of them…LOL

    • Those are some very interesting ideas indeed! You clearly have an optimistic view of humans. Sadly, though I wish more than anything that your outlook for our species is proven accurate; my outlook is more pessimistic almost to a point of being misanthropic. I am forced to think about 2 articles I read recently where in one- a man was stabbed and robbed on a NY sidewalk and people walked by him for hours as he lay dying on the concrete. The other, a man was killed in the doorway of a liquor store and people were actually stepping over his body to give the establishment their custom. I feel that most people are, inherently, selfish and will not risk themselves or allow themselves to be imposed by the matters of others if there is no clear benefit to themselves. Additionally, I worry that there will still be a danger in that the ones given the task of reviewing and judging the souseveillance may become compromised and all the problems will start again. That being said, I hope that you prove me wrong! The world needs more people like you that have optimistic ideas to solve our many problems; where the key point is to solve the problem for the betterment of mankind and not merely to find a way to profit from it.

      • Virtually Yours | Jan 6, 2014 at 10:54 pm |

        “a man was stabbed and robbed on a NY sidewalk and people walked by him for hours” I wonder if it was clear to those who were passing by that he was bleeding and/or in pain? Did he try to seek assistance? I live in a city and there are definitely moments when I avoid making direct eye contact if I am running late and/or focused intently on something that I am thinking about. I want to believe that I would stop if I saw someone who was injured or – if I feared for my own safety – that I would keep walking while simultaneously calling the police.

        “a man was killed in the doorway of a liquor store and people were actually stepping over his body” This one is especially disturbing, as it forces you to wonder how anyone could not have noticed?? If this is true, then it would be an unsettling example of why souse/surveillance perhaps should be mandatory, since it would be within the interest of the local community to know the identities of those neighbors who were so aloof/distracted/disconnected that they walked (knowingly? unknowingly?) right over this man’s body. Who are these people and what were they thinking and should they be held communally responsible for their inaction in some way? Not public shaming, per se, but some form of public acknowledgement or service…something to try and wake them the fuck up 🙁

        “I feel that most people are, inherently, selfish and will not risk themselves” Given the examples you listed, I can see how you would feel that way. I can think of several selfish moments in my own life which I regret, but would like to think/hope that I could also balance most of them out with examples of selflessness. This brings up another idea which I stumbled across in a science fiction novel: “whuffie” (horrible name!) is a form of social currency which manifests as a glorified point system, what I like to think of as karmic currency…

        In the book, pretty much everyone is walking around with wearable tech. If you see someone doing something kind/nice/selfless/etc. you can give them a “thumbs up” and if you see someone being a dick, you can give them a “thumbs down”. All of these “points” (as well as the recorded evidence for why they were given) are tallied and entered into a public archive which everyone has equal access to. The biggest real-world problem with this idea would be the integrity of the archive…it would have to be unhackable, or else the points would be meaningless.

        “I worry that there will still be a danger in that the ones given the task of reviewing and judging the souseveillance may become compromised” Unless all of that info/data is made available to everyone, which means we are all communally responsible: us watching each other, versus them watching us. It is an uncomfortable distinction and not one which I relish, though I fear it may be necessary at this point…if only as a temporary stepping stone, while aiming for some form of social justice which is balanced and fair, from top to bottom.

        We have never had full-on transparency…it would be (as far as I am aware) truly unprecedented, which leads to fear of the unknown: what if things stay the same or get worse? I try to remain agnostic about all of these potentially game-changing ideas: basic income guarantee, compulsory voting, jubilee, restorative justice, sortition, souseveillance, whuffie, etc.

        But something needs to change and I would much rather focus on proactive solutions which force people outside of their comfort zones because we have become far too comfortable/complacent. Not sure if that makes me an optimist, but it gives me something to strive for…

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