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Alice's Restaurant

News & Opinion

Gobble gobble.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Happy Hanukkah too!  I'm wishing you all the best.

Have you listened to "Alice's Restaurant" yet today?  We're going to listen on Philadelphia's WMMR where the annual tradition Pierre Robert playing it at 10, noon and 2pm.  

I'm free this morning because I get off easy on Thanksgiving.  It's my sister's holiday.  I'll cook a big breakfast when the kids get up.  I've also been getting some of the grunt work done on a client project, a bit of cleaning and maybe will pull out a few Christmas decorations.  Other than that, it's an easy day.  Tomorrow we'll cook a turkey dinner here, as has become our tradition.  I know some people watch this movie as a tradition.

There are some new NSA stories out.  Fran Fleisch, career NSA'er, executive director and "den mother" who reportedly has "an almost maternal instinct to protect her NSA colleagues" is the subject of this Foreign Policy article, yet another one by Shane Harris who says she's the one who is really "running the place" because Alexander and Inglis and other senior leaders at NSA are out of the office so much of the time.  Of course they are also retiring soon.  

Shane Harris' cites as his sources:
- senior intelligence official
- Stephanie O'Sullivan, the deputy director of national intelligence
- Fran Fleisch (only the second interview she's done since 1980)
- other anonymous sources

One interesting thing the article says near the beginning is that these senior NSA leaders who are out of the office so much spend a lot of that time in meetings at the White House, which is interesting because Pres. Obama hasn't said much (or possibly anything at all, unless I missed it) about the NSA in quite a long time.

There has been some reporting that says the White House is considering appointing a civilian to run the NSA instead of a general.  Harris' anonymous sources say that Fleisch might be appointed as acting director after Alexander retires.  I've been wondering who they would put in that position, given that there will almost certainly still be new stories coming out during their tenure and whoever it is could easily be forced to resign.  So this makes a lot of sense to me.  If heads are going to roll, it seems that hers would be on the block along with Alexander's and Inglis' if she played such a big and high level role in NSA operations.  

There is not much more to the article, other than introducing her and giving her this image. And she granted the interview. So I suspect that the purpose of the article was to introduce the new acting director of the NSA.  Since it will be months before Alexander retires (March, reportedly) assuming that goes according to plan, why are they introducing her in November?  Well, Inglis is set to retire in December, so perhaps it has long been in the plans to promote her to replace Inglis.  It would make sense that she's not been one of the witnesses in Congressional hearings or speeches and interviews associated with Snowden if they didn't want her to be tainted by it, somehow, for now. If she becomes acting director though, I don't see how she'll be able to avoid it a month from now.  Considering that she's been at NSA since 1980 and had been at Wharton before then, she can't be too far from retirement herself.

Home Alone
With Keith Alexander out fighting fires, meet the woman who's really running the NSA.

Colleagues describe Fleisch as a combination of master spy and den mother. When she's not tending to classified intelligence, she is taking the pulse of NSA workers, whose morale has plummeted in the face of heightened scrutiny. Intelligence officials say an increasing number of employees are dusting off their resumes, deleting any references to classified programs and asking for approval to post them on public websites.
"The things that they talked about I hadn't even known were available" to someone with her skills, Fleisch said. She had enjoyed studying languages but hadn't considered applying her translation abilities to espionage. She applied to the agency, and soon found herself working as an analyst and Russian linguist, at the height of the Cold War.

"I fell in love with the mission," Fleisch says. She spent the first decade of her career in operations and then moved into management and up the career ladder. When Alexander was named chief of U.S. Cyber Command in 2010, his portfolio expanded, and he handed off more authorities. He decided to revive the position of executive director, the rough equivalent of a chief operating officer, which hadn't been active at the NSA for 10 years. Fleisch got the nod. "She's the go-to person for Alexander and Inglis, and has been for quite a while," says one colleague.
Fleisch said that the NSA has abided by the laws and rules that govern its mission. "We are very precise in doing only what we're authorized to do ... they pursue their mission in accordance with what they've been asked to do and always legally and with protection of U.S. persons."

And the reactions to the NSA 'porn trawl' have been plentiful and emphatic.  Conor Friedersdorf picks up on the trust issue with the NSA porn surf monitoring story, just as the NYT page editor (next story excerpted below) did and he makes comparisons, in a different way than Rosenthal did, but it shows that the trust in this agency is gone.   A lot of things have contributed to this lack of trust and I would surmise that some of it is due to the actions of the intelligence community (IC) at large, to the Obama administration who declared a war on journalism, a war on whistleblowers, a war on OWS protesters, etc.  And speaking of the war on OWS protesters, it hasn't gone unnoticed that they were declared some kind of low level terrorists by Homeland Security.

How could you expect people not to connect those dots? Their actions have consequences.   Anyone who thinks that some significant number of people are not considering how this type of thing could be used as a blackmail weapon against people who have nothing to do with terrorism is fooling themselves.   The whole "Trust Us" thing is not going to work and it's amazing than anyone in a position of power would even try it at this point.  Trust is fragile -- easy to lose and hard to win back.  How hard is it to win back?  Both the NYT article and this Atlantic article cite comparisons to good old J. Edgar Hoover.

This headline is FTW (for the win), by the way. For people not familiar with the term NSFW (not safe for work), it's a play on that.

The NSA's Porn Surveillance Program: Not Safe for Democracy
Its targets extend beyond suspected terrorists–and some rhetoric that the 1st Amendment would protect is singled out.

NSA apologists would have us believe that only terrorists have cause to be worried. A surveillance state spokesperson told the Huffington Post, "without discussing specific individuals, it should not be surprising that the US Government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence."

As the story notes, however, the targets are not necessarily terrorists. The term the NSA uses for them is "radicalizes," and if you're thinking of fiery orators urging people to strap on dynamite vests, know that the NSA chart accompanying the story includes one target who is a "well known media celebrity," and whose offense is arguing that "the U.S. perpetrated the 9/11 attacks." It makes one wonder if the NSA believes it would be justified in targeting any 9/11 Truther. The chart* shows another target whose "writings appear on numerous jihadi websites" (it doesn't specify whether the writings were produced for those websites or merely posted there), and whose offending argument is that "the U.S. brought the 9/11 attacks upon itself." That could be a crude description of what Reverend Jeremiah Wright or Ron Paul thinks about 9/11.

The article quotes another defender of the program [...] That is a stunning quote. If the history of the FBI and NSA teach us anything, it is that officials cannot be counted on to know the difference between legitimate surveillance and abuses of power. Constant checks on the judgment of insiders is vital. As well, the characterization of targets as people "engaged in trying to recruit folks to kill Americans" isn't necessarily accurate. The chart appears to set forth targeting criteria that go well beyond people trying to recruit killers of Americans.

"The NSA is using its considerable resources to repeat J Edgar Hoover’s tactics," Marcy Wheeler writes. "But it also shows that it is deploying such efforts against men who may not be the bogeymen NSA’s apologists make them out to be."

As you can see, Rosenthal, the NYT page editor, on his blog, immediately starts wondering about who the state considers to be a "radicalizer" and the whole incident summons up memories J. Edgar for him too.  For those who are too young to remember the Church Committee, this will be another opportunity for them to find out about it.

I haven't seen anyone talk about the fact that we are paying, probably exhorbitant amounts of money, for this monitoring activity and thinking about how we have to cut the food stamps program and others want to cut critical and already too scant programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while the budget for black ops, intelligence and all kinds of war has ballooned for more than a decade.  We've been listening to DoD and every hawkish apologist whine about how their budget is being cut, really in a minimal way considering that the war in Afghanistan is shrinking.  And how can a person not start thinking about how that money is being spent and the sacrifices that are being asked for and made in order to fund NSA programs like this?

Why do the austeritymongers never go after things like this?  Already the debt fetishists and fearmongers have no credibility but things like this give them even less.

The N.S.A. Dips Into Pornography

But beyond the absurdity of it all, this is precisely the way that politically directed, clandestine surveillance goes off the rails — by digging into personal behavior. Because all of these operations are conducted in secret, according to secret rules, the public has no way of knowing whether the targets are actually enemies of the state, or just individuals who have fallen out of the state’s favor.
J. Edgar Hoover compiled secret dossiers on the sexual peccadillos and private misbehavior of those he labeled as enemies — really dangerous people like Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, for example.

Government officials have repeatedly claimed that the National Security Agency’s collection of metadata is perfectly legal.  We should not worry about the N.S.A., according to President Obama, because there are safeguards in place to protect our constitutional rights. Agents would never, ever misuse that information to, say, check on where you’ve been web surfing.

This is one of what I'm sure will be many memes.  Meet #CeilingKeith.  He's going to have bird when he sees this.

NYT Op-Doc on the NSA.

Why Care About the N.S.A.?
A short film explores whether ordinary Americans should be concerned about online surveillance.

The feud between the crowd from the site formerly known as NSFWCorp and Glenn Greenwald / NewCo.  NSFWCorp is now out of business and has been purchased by a libertarian (ironic since NSFWCorp rails against libertarians and any coalition with libertarians), Silicon Valley's Peter Thiel.  The feud was initiated and is fueled by the NSFW crowd who seem intent on keeping this going.  I've written about how this whole thing played out before, so I'll assume that you know what I'm referring to.

Not to put too much focus or give too much attention to this, but I do think it's worth watching to some extent.  This might not be just the petty feud that it appears to be.  

The latest thing is Ames again, this time writing at his new home, Pando Daily.  He is complaining about the fact that Greenwald and Poitras have all the Snowden documents and argues that those documents belong to the public and should just be shared out.  It comes across as a jealous rant by another media entrepreneur with a recently failed venture, who is starting a new investigative journalism venture with a new company and who has a grudge against Greenwald.  It's also incredibly ironic that he continues to harp on the issue of funding by a Silicon Valley billionaire, when he himself has just been bought out by a different Silicon Valley billionaire, but he tries to shrug that off in a feckless way at the end of the article, largely with ad hominem and no justification.  

But is it also an attempt to pressure Greenwald and Poitras to dump some of the Snowden documents?  This would be an incredibly foolish thing to do and as the Chelsea Manning/Wikileaks experience shows, the national security apparatus would use that in all kinds of ways to assert that such a document dump was a reckless, irresponsible act that endangered people and the country.  If anything was learned from those events it is that the treatment of top secret documents leaked by whistleblowers have to be treated with extreme care.  

Plus, Snowden carefully sought out very specific journalists to give the documents to.  He could easily have done a document dump himself if he had wanted to do it that way. But he understood that the treatment of the documents was critical, he specifically asked for responsible editing and vetting, and he wanted to make sure that the caretakers of the documents would handle them in a way that provided maximum impact and informing of the public.  Arguing that the documents belong to the public is an alluring argument, particularly for an audience who sympathizes with, say, Aaron Swartz's work, but it's not that simple. Dealing with the Snowden files is a hell of a lot different than dealing with already published academic journals, theses, etc.  Ames tries to use Daniel Ellsberg as an example of someone who turned everything over to the public. But Ellsberg reviewed and exercised editorial control over the Pentagon Papers.  Chomsky revealed that in his panel appearance at a Big Data conference just recently.  He held one part of the Pentagon Papers back for national security reasons. They were later published, but Ellsberg did exactly what Greenwald and Poitras, et al, are doing right now.  So Ames' argument that Ellsberg just dumped the documents is not valid.

I don't think for one minute that this kind of manipulation is going to have an effect on Greenwald's and Poitras' decisions, but it's possible that this is also an attempt, yet another one, to undermine NewCo and the Snowden files operation in general by causing people to question their motives, and Ames, of course, makes it out to be all about the money.  And of course, having just had a failure of his own, a media company that started out with a splash but failed within a year, Ames could very well be trying to attach his new venture to Greenwald and NewCo, just for the attention and traffic, hanging on their coattails.  So is this just a personal thing?  Or is there more to it, or rather more behind it?  Thiel, Ames' new backer, is also the cofounder of Palantir and the ill-fated partnership between Palantir, HBGary Federal and Berico, was pitching their smear techniques to the Chamber of Commerce several years ago, and ironically, via the leaked PowerPoint presentation, we know that Greenwald was their target back then, which just adds yet another layer of irony and IMHO suspicion to the whole thing.

Here is Ames' latest manipulative screed.  I also note that on Twitter, Paul Carr (Ames' partner) after being the aggressor, last night he found a way to turn himself into the victim, for even more manipulation and attention.  We've seen this schtick before from political operatives on blogs. I'm not saying that they are political or intelligence community operatives, but I'm saying this maneuver is very familiar to anyone who has been involved in political blogs or in the process of engaging in dissent.

Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks

Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.

It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.

Another interesting development is that Stewart Baker, who was quoted in the HuffPo article, has written a blog post lashing out as well.  He objects to the way he was quoted in the article, though he admits that they used almost everything he said to them.  He tells us that the "backstory" is more interesting but then by the time I finished the article I kept wondering what the interesting backstory was.  It's amazing that some very important, very serious members of the intelligence community looks very important and very serious when they're chosen by the heads of the intelligence agencies or oversight committees, or quoted in articles friendly to them, but when they get the chance to do a rebuttal or debate, the curtain is kind of pulled back and we see things like this.  Things are fine when they are shielded and protected by the massive surveillance and national security state and a media immensely friendly and deferential to it, but when challenged out in the open, well, things look quite different. I'll leave it at that.

Understanding the Enemy

When one of the authors, Ryan Grim, called me for comment, he said that while Glenn Greenwald was transitioning to his new Omidyar-funded venture he was temporarily publishing his Snowden leaks with HuffPo. So when he asked for my take on the NSA story, pretty much the first words out of my mouth were, “Why wouldn’t we consider doing to Islamic extremists what Glenn Greenwald does routinely to Republicans?”  The story quotes practically everything I said to Grim except that remark, even though I returned to the point a couple of times and emphasized that it summed up my view.

I don’t think HuffPo cut the quote because they ran out of electrons.  The article itself is so tediously long that I defy anyone to read every word in a single go.

Moyers puts out this useful information for the Thanksgiving weekend.
How to Donate Food or Volunteer at a Food Bank

As we head into Thanksgiving weekend, Americans are still struggling and there’s less help available to them. It falls on all of us to pick up the slack, even as many urge the government to continue or expand programs for those in need.

Reductions in food stamps, other benefits hit South Jersey's poor

With less than a month’s notice, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients locally and nationwide received letters advising them their food stamp allotments would be cut.

The federal economic stimulus program that raised benefits during the recession did so only for three years.
“By the end of the month, those dollars I lost will make a difference when you are buying fresh products, because I don’t feed my kids junk food meals.”
Gonzalez, the Camden mother of six, volunteers with the Food Bank of South Jersey in Cramer Hill.

On Fridays, she helps the food bank distribute Kidzpacks of food for prekindergarten and kindergarten students who don’t have enough to eat on the weekend.


Stop Watching Us.

The revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance apparatus, if true, represent a stunning abuse of our basic rights. We demand the U.S. Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA's spying programs.

Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest

The Evening Blues

More Tunes

Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant (Live at Farm Aid 2005)

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