Trust Us, We’re The Government: The Administration Multiplies Claim of “One Plot” To “Dozens” Foiled By The Warrantless Surveillance Programs

220px-Keith_B._Alexander_official_portraitIt appears that, as opposition grows to the surveillance programs, the Administration is increasing the claimed successes under the programs. The wonderful thing about secret massive databanks is that its use is . . . well . . . secret. After the surveillance programs involving all calls from citizens and hundreds of millions of emails were disclosed, congressional allies came forward to claim that “a possible plot” was foiled by the program. Of course, they could not tell anyone about the plot even after other members of the Senate said that they doubted that claim. National Security Agency director Army Gen. Keith Alexander, however, has decided that just one potential plot is not enough. So he testified this week that “dozens” of potential plots have been foiled in an effort to get citizens to redefine privacy in a more surveillance friendly image.

For many civil libertarians, the Administration and Congress will have to forgive the feeling that this is like asking “who are you going to believe a court or the people who were secretly spying on you?” What makes this particularly fascinating is the small problem of the past false testimony on surveillance given by intelligence officials in congressional hearings — testimony known to be false by the Senators in attendance. This is also the same Administration that only in February blocked a major effort to seek judicial review dismissed in the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote because any confirmation of such programs would endanger American lives.

Yet, now we are told to simply accept on faith that dozens of “potential” plots were stopped. Putting aside the past exaggeration of intelligence claims, this testimony (and the hearing itself) seemed designed to (as with the prior torture program under Bush) to get the public to forget about privacy and constitutional protections by keeping fear alive.

Much like Putin’s defense of the American surveillance programs, Alexander insisted that this is the new normal. Alexander repeated the position of the White House that “We do not see a tradeoff between security and liberty. We are trying to protect Americans.” That is a fascinating — and chilling — statement. It suggests that there is no balancing needed if you “are trying to protect Americans.” Of course, everything the government does in the area (as with criminal non-terrorism cases) is to protect the public.

Moreover, despite Obama’s suggestion that there is a balancing, there is no evidence of it. All of the steps like reading content of emails referenced by Obama is not some concession made by his Administration: it is a power that he does not possess. Those concessions are in fact prohibitions. Obama went all the way up to (in my view, over) the line of maximum power. It is like saying to a police officer that you balanced you desire to get to your location by speeding but not moving into approaching traffic. That really is no more a concession for a driver than it is to say that you are not reading mail without a warrant for a president.

Now back to Alexander. In a repeat of what occurred after the disclosure of the torture program, the Democratic senators structured the hearing to avoid the broad questions of legality and privacy. Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski reminded everyone that they would not address such questions being discussed “in the news.” Instead, they wanted the focus to be on the benefits of the massive surveillance system and of course attacking Snowden.

Yet, no one asked Alexander what constitutes a “potential” plot. We have not seen dozens of prosecutions. What happened to them? Likewise, no one asked for details on the plots. After all, he just said the programs uncovered the plots and presumably the plotters know that they were found out. So why not lay the facts bare for the American public?

Then there is the assumed proposition that if “a plot” or “dozens of plots” were uncovered, it would excuse a massive surveillance of the population and the creation of a fishbowl society.

By the way, various lawyers and intelligence experts with direct knowledge of two intercepted terrorist plots have said that they do not believe the program played a significant role. The two cases cited by allies of the White House involve the arrests and convictions of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi in 2009 and David Headley who received a 35-year prison sentence for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. However, court documents in the US and UK show an array of more important sources, including informants and conventional surveillance.

However, I am still struck by the spectacle of these hearings after the disclosure of false testimony by people like James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence. Clapper has recently said that his testimony was “the least untrue” statement that he could make. Yet, of course that would still make it an untrue statement — which most people call a lie and lawyers call perjury. Indeed, when Roger Clemens was prosecuted for untrue statements before Congress, he was not told of the option to tell the least untrue statement on steroid use.

Yet, it is important to note that Senators have come forward to admit that they knew of the massive surveillance program. So, when Clapper was given untrue testimony, these Senators sat quietly and allowed the public to be lied to. They are now holding hearings that assure the public that it can trust them that these programs have foiled “dozens” of plots. It is asking rather a lot from any citizen, but it may be the last measure of devotion demanded by this President.

88 thoughts on “Trust Us, We’re The Government: The Administration Multiplies Claim of “One Plot” To “Dozens” Foiled By The Warrantless Surveillance Programs”

  1. Bron
    1, June 14, 2013

    The old Romans cherished their honor…
    … But we aren’t Rome and this isn’t the 100’s.

    American modern Politicians cherish the sword and the blood it draws.

  2. I’m living for the day the Lawyers of America storm the DOJ…
    … The Bastille of America, where all your client data are belong to the NSA.

  3. If I were to write a letter and send it via e-mail, the NSA will know who sent it, where it was sent FROM and TO, and who is the recipient.

    If I put it in the mail, the NSA is clueless and I am safer from unwarranted searches of MY PERSONAL PAPERS AND AFFECTS.

    Protect your client/attorney privileges. GO POSTAL!

  4. Shorter Snowden:

    Shorter Holder:

  5. Tony C.
    1, June 14, 2013

    Is this before or after you have waterboarded the book?

  6. MM,

    You have a post pending in moderation for containing one of the four disallowed words, namely a slang term for fornication. If you’d like to edit that and repost, you should have no problem.

  7. The General is a serial LIAR to Congress.

    Hank asks NSA director tough questions about wiretaps, e-mail intercepts
    Posted March 20, 2012
    Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) questioned NSA director and CYBERCOM commander General Keith Alexander regarding reports that the NSA is intercepting U.S. citizens’ phone calls and e-mails.

    JOHNSON: Does the NSA routinely intercept American citizens’ emails?

    JOHNSON: Does the NSA intercept Americans’ cell phone conversations?


    JOHNSON: Google searches?


    JOHNSON: Text messages?


    JOHNSON: Amazon dot com orders?


    JOHNSON: Bank records?


    JOHNSON: What judicial consent is required for NSA to intercept communications and information involving American citizens?

    ALEXANDER: Within the United States, that would be the FBI lead. If it were a foreign actor in the United States, the FBI would still have to lead. It could work that with NSA or other intelligence agencies as authorized. But to conduct that kind of collection in the United States it would have to go through a court order, and the court would have to authorize it. We’re not authorized to do it, nor do we do it.

  8. LOL
    And I have two hands filled with one special finger for HOLDER, ALEXANDER, AND OBAMA…

  9. “Al Gore: NSA Programs Unconstitutional, ‘Not Really The American Way’

    Igor Bobic 4:45 PM EDT, Friday June 14, 2013

    “Former Vice President Al Gore weighed in on the matter of National Security Agency surveillance programs on Friday, calling them a massive illegal undertaking that violate Americans’ constitutional rights.

    “I quite understand the viewpoint that many have expressed that they are fine with it and they just want to be safe but that is not really the American way,” Gore said in a telephone interview with The Guardian. “Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that those who would give up essential liberty to try to gain some temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

    “This in my view violates the constitution. The fourth amendment and the first amendment – and the fourth amendment language is crystal clear,” he added. “It is not acceptable to have a secret interpretation of a law that goes far beyond any reasonable reading of either the law or the constitution and then classify as top secret what the actual law is.” ” Talking Points Memo

  10. raff,

    As far as I know, asteroids are not sentient and ergo lack the requisite intent to terrorize. It’s just being a rock caught in a gravity well doing what rocks do under gravity. Namely fall down and go boom. Besides, would you want to be the one who has to handcuff one of those things?

  11. All this “foiled before it even happened stuff” sounds like Pre-Crime only without the clairvoyant mutants or dissenting minority report.

  12. Arrest Obama Under NDAA For Supporting Terrorists in Syria

    ( I would also add Sen McCain & Sen Graham to this piece)

    President has violated section 1021 of act he signed into law

    Paul Joseph Watson
    June 14, 2013

    Under the terms of the National Defense Authorization Act that he personally signed into law, President Barack Obama should immediately be arrested and indefinitely detained for providing support to Al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria.

  13. Resorting to the “body count” — or its equivalent, the “foiled plot” — statistic as a demonstration of “success” inevitably fails as the need to show increasing success leads to hyper-inflation of the number of bodies or “foiled plots” claimed until one reaches the point that:

    “If it’s dead and Vietnamese, it’s Viet Cong,”


    “If it’s secret and a ‘plot,’ it’s been ‘foiled.'”

    Behold the militarized “mind” at work. How I have come to loathe the military stuffed shirt pontificating about anything to do with national “security.” These clowns can’t even keep their own soldiers from raping each other or killing themselves in record numbers.

  14. I think one reason that it is so important that we discuss NSA’s role is that in can only be usefull against a very narrow range of adversaries.

    According to Clapper, himself, our front line, powerful adversaries are too knowledgeable. They do not need a Snowden to tell them what the NSA can and is doing. They have capability that rivals our own.

    At the other end of the spectrum, by definition NSA data collection techniques cannot be effective against the lone wolf operative running silent. A person who does not discuss his capability and does not reveal his intentions in blogs, on social media, or through telephone communication is impervious to NSA data collection. That kind of adversary will fall to ordinary intelligence and police method – if at all.

    It is clear that NSA data collection techniques are most useful against unsophisticated adversaries and wannabe terrorists.

    The important question is do we need to eviscerate the constitution to protect ourselves form the least sophisticated adversaries that we face?

    Is it possible that we could be as successful with more traditional intelligence and police methods.

    People like Clapper think it is appropriate to lie to prevent that discussion from taking place.

    It is vital that we clearly discuss what NSA can and cannot do. It is necessary that we evaluate to see if more ordinary techniques can be as effective.

    If you want to live in an open, democratic society it is necessary that we develop the information to discuss thoroughly the choices we make.

  15. OS: Cool video. But that mechanical governor, albeit genius (and no software to hack), is expensive compared to a fifty cent chip controlling a flow solenoid.

    But yeah, as for steam, I am in, I think it is the future. By far my favorite form of alternative power is solar concentration that acts as the heat source for a boiler that drives a steam engine that produces electricity. Zero emissions, and more importantly, the tech is so simple it can be built, machined and repaired by a typical garage mechanic (and local electrician). That is even true for closed-system engines (spent steam is recycled to the boiler, which increases efficiency since the residual heat is not wasted).

    It also a distributable tech, it does not require centralization and although there is some economies of scale, they are mostly about keeping full time technicians on site and busy with maintenance and repair, it does not get much more efficient by making truly giant steam engines.

    Another advantage is that the desert areas, in Arizona, Texas, Cali, New Mexico — are wastelands that could be power plants. We could probably use steam to get off oil, and it would be beneficial for reducing Global Warming to boot: Not only do we burn nothing and have zero emissions, we are converting heat into electrical power. We have the equivalent of negative emissions.

  16. “… this is like asking “who are you going to believe: a court, or the people who were secretly spying on you?” — Jonathan Turley

    Nope. Ask instead:

    “Who are you going to believe: the people who were secretly spying on you or the secret court which routinely issues blanket permission for them to secretly spy on you?”

    There. Fixed it.

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