You knew this was coming – well, I certainly did. Human beings being what they are, it was inevitable. Yes, the National Security Agency really is tracking the online sexual activities of "radicals" it doesn’t like in order to discredit them.
I predicted it here, but then again you don’t have to be Nostradamus to realize that a government intent on collecting all information about everyone is going to home right in on the personal idiosyncrasies of alleged "radicals" and others it seeks to marginalize. And since we’re talking about Americans, it should be fairly obvious that by "personal" I mean sexual.
A document recovered by Edward Snowden and reported by the Huffington Post reveals a memo originated by the NSA Director which profiles six targeted individuals, all Muslim "radicalizers," none of whom has been charged with terrorist acts. Furthermore, these targeted "radicalizers" are said to have "very few" contacts who might be described as terrorists. Nevertheless, these "radicalizers," whose sins are listed in an accompanying appendix and arranged in the form of a chart, are apparently in the agency’s sights: the NSA seeks to discredit them by exposing individual "vulnerabilities" which "would call into question a radicalizer’s devotion to the jihadist cause." The NSA document indicates the agency has compromising information on at least two of the targets: they are accused of "online promiscuity." Another target "charges exorbitant speaking fees" and is "attracted to fame." (Who does he think he is – Bill Clinton?) Yet another leads a "glamorous lifestyle"!
Interestingly, one of the targets is described as a "US person," which means he’s either an American citizen or else he has a green card. What happened to those supposedly strict "guidelines" which allegedly forbid surveillance of US persons?
Is it really necessary to recall the past misadventures of our domestic spooks, who spied on dissidents like Martin Luther King, Dan Ellsberg, and others – tapped their phones, and gathered enough information on their "vulnerabilities" to threaten them with blackmail?
The idea that this Cointelpro-like NSA operation is only targeted at "terrorists" is laughable. Does anyone seriously think our own politicians could possibly resist the temptation to eavesdrop on their political rivals in an effort to gather information about their "vulnerabilities"? They have the means, they have the methods, and they have the motive: I’d be shocked if the NSA wasn’t gathering extensive dossiers on not only prominent dissidents but also "mainstream" political and media figures.
How long before a chart depicting their vulnerabilities pops out of Snowden’s magic bag? I can hear those knees knocking together in Washington, D.C., all the way here in California’s wine country.
And remember: the NSA shares raw data with our trusted (cough! cough!) ally Israel – which may have an interest in the personal "vulnerabilities" of key US politicians and media figures.
It is nonsensical to think that any of this is really directed at "the terrorists": indeed, the NSA document explicitly states none of these individuals had been charged with any crime and furthermore that their contacts with bona fide terrorists are considered minimal. Yet there was no hesitation on the NSA Director’s part to write up a plan of attack aimed at compromising these individuals – either by blackmail or simply exposing them. And how, exactly, would this be done?
Would the NSA issue a press release, would the State Department hold a briefing for lawmakers and the media, all about how Abu bin-Terrorist looks at gay porn and prefers scenes depicting … well, that’s probably the first press conference certain portions of which will have to be bleeped out. One wonders: will there be any visual aids?
It is beyond ridiculous to believe this is going to be an effective weapon against Al Qaeda, or, indeed, any other adversary in the year 2013. The Saudi princes are among the most decadent ruling caste in human history: their excesses are rivaled only by their Gulf brethren, the emirs and sheiks whose oil money finances a royal lifestyle of the obscenely rich and decadent. Their "vulnerabilities" are widely known, and yet they have remained in power all these years.
The real purpose of the NSA’s porn-data dragnet has nothing to do with "terrorism" and everything to do with setting up the "architecture of oppression," as Snowden dubs it, on the home front: the technical and "legal" framework of a police state.
Imagine the following: A rising reform-minded candidate is up against the Old Guard, and his insurgent campaign threatens to upend a political dynasty with national aspirations – and connections to the national security bureaucracy. A week before the election, an unnamed source leaks emails laden with sexual innuendo written by the married candidate to a nineteen year old college coed. The candidate denies having any sexual relationship with the young lady in question, but he’s running in a conservative district and there isn’t time to make his case: he goes down to defeat.
Who supplied the emails? Well, it could’ve been the NSA. Or a lone hacker. Or some assiduous opposition research by the other side. Or quite possibly some combination of the above. We’ll never know, now will we?
That’s the kind of world Snowden said he didn’t want to live in: that’s why he gave up his cushy life in Hawaii: that’s why he decided to come clean with the American people – in order to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening. But how do we know it isn’t already happening? If the State has the technical and "legal" capability to create and maintain an online porn dragnet, it’s reasonable to assume they’re already doing it – as this latest NSA document strongly implies.
If they can track the "online promiscuity" of alleged terrorists, they can do it – and no doubt are doing it – in the case of domestic "radicalizers," i.e. US persons who may not be considered capital-T Terrorists, but whose public pronouncements might serve as an apologia or rationale for terrorist actors.
Glenn Greenwald keeps telling us we haven’t even begun to see the worst and most shocking examples of NSA surveillance, and practically every week he is proved right. If this latest revelation doesn’t spur the civil libertarians in Congress into action, then I don’t know what will.
And, no, I’m not going to write about Thanksgiving.
I am, however, going to write about our Thanksgiving-Autumn fundraiser, which is taking longer than I thought (or hoped) it would. Listen – I hate begging my readers for money. Believe you me nothing makes my eyes roll back in my head quicker or more effectively than the prospect of having to raise enough money to keep this web site going for another quarter. Yet it has to be done: it’s the price I pay for writing exactly as I please about what I please: rather than catering to a few big donors, who get to determine the direction of the site, our aim here at Antiwar.com is pleasing our ever-expanding worldwide audience.
This is the only successful model I know of for maintaining independent media: asking for donations from our readers. All the others – a pay wall and dependence on an eccentric billionaire – have been tried (albeit not by us) and found wanting. So this is it: we must make our goal of $80,000, and, frankly, we aren’t doing all that great. When we put the word "Urgent" up there in on the front page, that’s when things began to pick up a bit. But we’re still way behind, and so let me emphasize the word urgent when it comes to this particular fundraising drive. We’re raised around $20,000 in matching funds – less than we usually do – and now we’re having some trouble matching even that.
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NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.