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Forum Post: WikiLeaks Cables About a Tiny Country Like Iceland Expose the Dark Depths of American Empire

Posted 9 months ago on Oct. 20, 2013, 4:41 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5842)
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WikiLeaks Cables About a Tiny Country Like Iceland Expose the Dark Depths of American Empire

Sunday, 20 October 2013 09:20 By Sam Knight, AlterNet | News Analysis


The NSA Isn't Foiling Terrorist Plots

Sunday, 20 October 2013 09:47 By Teun van Dongen, Foreign Policy in Focus | Op-Ed


There's still no credible evidence that the NSA's massive digital surveillance has disrupted any terrorist plots.

U.S. officials claim that the government’s massive data collection has protected the country from terrorist attacks. After The Guardian’s first revelations about the National Security Agency’s digital surveillance programs, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee, jumped to the NSA’s defense by pointing to two terrorist plots supposedly foiled by the organization’s digital surveillance programs. Lawyers and policemen involved in these cases disputed these claims, but this did not keep NSA chief Keith Alexander from taking it up a notch by raising the number of foiled attacks to more than 50, and later to 54.

These numbers are crucial for an informed debate about the digital surveillance programs. If the NSA’s digital surveillance indeed prevented 54 terrorist attacks, the public can decide whether these 54 attacks are worth their privacy. This number would suggest that the NSA’s programs are actually keeping the United States and Europe safe from terrorism.

It is far from certain, however, that the NSA is getting its numbers right.

Who Stops Terrorism?

Contrary to what one would expect given the secretive nature of intelligence operations, we actually know quite a bit about how terrorist plots in the United States and Europe are foiled. Several attacks, for instance, were discovered after law enforcement agencies picked up on suspicious (non-digital) behaviors of the plotters. Samir Azzouz, the most prolific jihadist terrorist in the Netherlands, attracted the attention of the Dutch secret service when he tried to travel to Chechnya to join the jihad against the Russians.

Other plotters gave themselves away by associating with known terrorists. For instance, a 2009 plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange came to light after one of the perpetrators contacted a Yemeni extremist who was under FBI surveillance. The plans of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who was arrested just before he could execute his attack against a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, were detected in a similar manner. The FBI started following Mohamud after he e-mailed a known terrorist recruiter. Since the FBI does not have mass digital surveillance capabilities, the person Mohamud contacted was likely already under surveillance.

Najibullah Zazi’s plans for an attack against the New York subway were thwarted this way, too. British intelligence informed their U.S. counterparts that Zazi had had e-mail contact with a Pakistani radical who was being watched for involvement in a British terror plot. A fourth example involves Abdullah Ahmed Ali, the ringleader of the cell that prepared the liquid bomb attacks against transatlantic flights in 2006. He first came to the attention of MI5 after he was seen interacting with known radicals.

In other cases, the police uncovered terrorist activities after having arrested the perpetrators for unrelated crimes. A cell in London, for instance, attracted the attention of the police after its involvement in skirmishes with right-wing extremist youths. A more bizarre example concerns Ahmed Ferhani, who, apparently deeply enraged after an arrest for petty crime, told the police about his ambition to join the jihad. Several months later, he was arrested for planning an attack against a New York synagogue.

Sheer luck sometimes plays a role as well. UK police disrupted a terrorist attack against a rally of the English Defense League, a right-wing extremist organization, after pulling over the perpetrators because of a problem with their car insurance. Sometimes it’s not even the police that uncover terrorist plots. In the cases of planned attacks against the Fort Dix Army base in 2009 and against a shopping mall in Bristol in 2008, alert members of the public tipped off the police.

What about the NSA?

Admittedly we do not know how all terrorist plots have been detected. But going by what we do know, the conclusion is simple: terrorist plots have been foiled in all sorts of ways, few of which had anything to do with mass digital surveillance. True, in the case of the dismantlement of the Sauerland Cell in Germany in 2007, NSA information played a role. But whether the authorities got this information from “digital dragnet surveillance” or from more individualized and targeted monitoring is hard to tell.

It might be tempting to give the NSA the benefit of the doubt, given that the organization speaks on the basis of information that we do not have. But such dubious claims about the effectiveness of the digital surveillance programs fit seamlessly into a pattern of misinformation and deceit. The U.S. government acknowledged the existence of PRISM only after Edward Snowden had leaked details about it to The Guardian. Moreover, when the news broke, President Obama and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tried to downplay the scale of the digital data gathering, even though we know now that the NSA is essentially making a back-up of pretty much all conceivable forms of online communication. President Obama further promised that “nobody is listening to your phone calls,” but it later became clear that the NSA can access the content of phone calls and e-mails if it so desires. Congressional oversight is poor, privacy rules are frequently broken, and the NSA liberally shares data with other intelligence agencies and foreign governments.

Against this background of disputed or outright false government claims, the public is wise to be skeptical of the NSA’s claims about the effectiveness of the digital surveillance programs. The recent revelations may be mind-boggling in their technological, legal, and procedural complexities, but the bottom line is quite simple: The first credible piece of evidence that these programs are doing any good in the fight against terrorism has yet to surface. Until such evidence is provided, the Obama administration is only eroding the trust of the citizens it is claiming to protect.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.



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[-] 2 points by ZenDog (13616) from South Burlington, VT 9 months ago

you people still don't get it do you. It isn't the data

  • it's the way that data can be used.

A newspaper is just a newspaper, right? I mean, no one is going to argue that, right?

And it is full of DATA

I presume I haven't lost anyone yet?

Now, let us suppose I roll that newspaper up into a tight cylinder, and shove it, say, into Ted Cruz's eye - for want of a better alternative, although there are a whole host of other people and places that one might . . . chuse

One might say that such an act constituted an abuse of the data.

Still with me?


Of course with a data base of records that included email and phone calls, an abuse of the data might well include blackmail of public servants or even various forms of corporate espionage . . . and such activity depends entirely on access to the data

But there is another form of application that without access cannot take place, it is one that represents a form of targeted advertising that is nothing short of terrorism.


What's that? you say? HUH?

I cannot imagine why anyone would be confused about the issue - after all, it has only been 16 years of CRUSADE


against that windmill, and still it turns . . .




Every single bit. By now, even your tax records - assuming you do them online and use third party software. And everything is for sale.


I have things to do, like right now - but consider:

Milk purchases.

  • Quantities of milk purchased over a two month period will indicate numbers of children in . . . what? 98 of 100 instances?

  • The most frequent purchase of milk over that time span will take place in a three mile radius of home.

Doesn't that sound reasonable? Both are simply assumptions on my part, I have no data to back up my claims.

These are just two deductions one can make regarding one facet of data within such a database examined from two different directions. Now just imagine what might be done using a comprehensive collection of behavioral data by a practical joker intent on terrifying their subject into submission.

That is what your buying and spending habits are - behavioral data.

And it is all in the private sector, long before it hits the NSA.

and all of it is for sale.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5842) 9 months ago

"If the NSA’s digital surveillance indeed prevented 54 terrorist attacks, the public can decide whether these 54 attacks are worth their privacy."

It is indeed about the data for without the data there's no issue of how the data is being used. That's the whole point of privacy. Government surveillance of private communications between individuals without probable cause infringes upon the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.

[-] 2 points by ZenDog (13616) from South Burlington, VT 9 months ago

no shit, Sherlock, you think that up all by yourself?

now do please expain: what the fuck is the difference between a private contractor accumulating all of that data, and the government accumulating it

because I gotta tell ya, from where I sit, the potential looks exactly the same.


Let me put it another way - maybe that'll help:

  • the government can neither infringe on your right to assemble, nor to engage in free speech.



Because I am convinced, if a private contrator cannot curb your right to speech or to assemble, then neither may it seize your private information.

And if they don't seize it, there is nothing for NSA to gather.

I realize the application might be a little problematic, especially AT SUCH A LATE DATE - but surely the concept itself, the principle - that's not so hard is it?

[-] 1 points by DKAtoday (34876) from Coon Rapids, MN 9 months ago
[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5842) 9 months ago

"It isn't the data •it's the way that data can be used. "

Those are your words and therefore supposedly your issue. Now you wish to make it an issue of private contractors or the government??? You can spin it however you like but the issue is still the same; Privacy. No matter who collects the data, no matter how it is used, the issue remains the ongoing surveillance of the public's private communications without probable cause.

[-] 1 points by ZenDog (13616) from South Burlington, VT 9 months ago

yes, these are two separate, yet inextricably linked, issues.

And yes, I do maintain, as a practical matter, the data itself is not the issue.

It remains the application of that data - and to apply that data one must first possess that data.

Private contractors have no more right to collect it than the government does. This fact is completely ignored whenever the issue comes up.

As is targeted advertising.

[-] -1 points by HCHC4 (-28) 9 months ago

Purchasing data and private data are a little bit different Zen. One is done out in public, the other is um, private.

[-] 1 points by ZenDog (13616) from South Burlington, VT 9 months ago


So . . . you are saying your data is every bit as safe as . . . the NSA and every PRIVATE CONTRACTOR can possibly make it . . . .


n . . n . . .n . . n . . .n . . n . . .n . . n . . .

ahawt yaght ahhh I hab a quesston?

dummb dwaz Snowden a pwaivate contwactor?


you ignorant fuking cartoon

[-] 0 points by HCHC4 (-28) 9 months ago

"So . . . you are saying your data is every bit as safe as . . . the NSA and every PRIVATE CONTRACTOR can possibly make it . ."

Thats not what I was saying at all actually.

[-] 1 points by ZenDog (13616) from South Burlington, VT 9 months ago

it's all for sale

It's just a matter of price.

A fukin local drug dealer got some chick at the phone company to sell him an undercover cop's phone number and shit.

it's all for sale.

[-] 0 points by HCHC4 (-28) 9 months ago

What's your price?