As emptywheel put it (on her way to a characteristically subtle point on a specific pitfall of "big data"), "Shane Harris has a great piece of a bunch of people hanging Keith Alexander out to dry:"

The Cowboy of the NSA
Inside Gen. Keith Alexander's all-out, barely-legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine
By Shane Harris, Foreign Policy, Sept. 9, 2013
[If it shows up behind a paywall, and if you're not a Foreign Policy subscriber and your browser has a "reader" function, you might try that. Please do read the article; this post doesn't even get to Gen. Alexander's political machinations nor to the "smart, crazy, and dangerous" David Addington-like sidekick in the story.]

Mike Masnick at Techdirt pulls out four main points from the article:

  • Gen. Michael Hayden thought Gen. Alexander was reckless and disrespectful of the law. Yes, that Gen. Hayden!
  • Gen. Alexander rationalizes like a bastard. So, logical truth be damned.
  • He really does want everything he can get, never mind the should. By any means.
  • He made his own analyses and chased ghosts in the data. Sometimes that was almost literal: some of the associations he saw were among people already dead.

To me the most striking aspect of Gen. Alexander's maniacal obsession for omnipotence is that he personally grubbed around in the raw metadata, that he played with a supercomputer-grade equivalent of his own newspaper clippings-with-red-yarn-and-thumbtacks wall. He wants to wield the power to actually get up in everyone's business, the un-"minimized" totality of it, instantly, on demand, bypassing his entire organization's filtering and analysis efforts, never mind laws and the Constitution. For that, back when Gen. Hayden was head of the NSA, "Hayden was so troubled that he reported Alexander to his commanding general, a former colleague says." Holy cow!

For all we know, Gen. Alexander himself could be sitting at his command chair this very minute rummaging around your digital communications and records, past and present, effectively with no rules to constrain him. That is not the kind of power anyone should have, much less a military officer operating on undisclosed authority secretly interpreted beyond reason and with heretofore untold billions of dollars' worth of resources at his disposal.

The model, albeit understated in significance by approximately three orders of magnitude:

Wait, that's missing something. Add in a scoop of:

Yeah, that's the ticket.

And even though Col. Jessup Gen. Alexander says he will retire next year, and while it's unclear how close he came to realizing his demented vision, he has now built much of that Panopticon-like capability and culture into our government. Of course, Gen. Alexander is not (quite) all-powerful and didn't do it himself. You can thank Gen. Hayden, other military intelligence officials, Presidents current and former, Congresspeople, profiteers of the military-industrial complex, an embedded corporate press, a complacent citizenry... All the more so, it's a "turnkey totalitarian state," indeed.

We need to take that power away. That means:

  • Exposing the abuses, as whistleblowers like Edward Snowden did and as journalists like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras are doing
  • Passing laws, like Rush Holt's H.R.2818 Surveillance State Repeal Act, to nullify the fabricated bases for these kinds of intrusiveness
  • Passing new laws
    • To define the government's proper authority and responsibility for defense of people and property in the electronic realm
    • To re-enact the divide between civilian and military functions
  • Holding those government agents and officials who have broken the law to account through administrative consequences and criminal prosecutions
  • Organized, vociferous, unrelenting public pressure

Gen. Alexander tried to make the mother of all stovepipes and "bend" it at himself. We must dismantle the stove.

United States Constitution, Amendment 4

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Originally posted to Simplify on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 01:09 AM PDT.

Also republished by The First and The Fourth.

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