aNewDomain.net — “When we make mistakes, we detect, we correct and we report,” says John DeLong, compliance officer for the National Security Agency. This is supposed to reassure us. Enter LOVEINT.
Fortunately for the NSA, these trust-us statements seem to work on the one person who matters most to them. Dianne Feinstein is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is charged with overseeing and reining in the NSA. Instead, as the post-Edward Snowden outrages and abuses continue to gush like a busted deep sea BP oil well, Feinstein is the NSA’s unpaid PR flack.
Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and with the NSA it’s hard to think of anything that hasn’t. Now England’s Daily Telegraph is reporting that some of the NSA’s army of four million staffers and contractors use the agency’s PRISM and other high-tech spy programs to gather intelligence on their husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends.
“The employees even had a code name for the practice – LOVEINT,'” reports the paper. HUMINT, for example, is spook-speak for: human intelligence.
Clearly, any case of noncompliance is unacceptable, but these small numbers of cases do not change my view that NSA takes significant care to prevent any abuses and that there is a substantial oversight system in place.”
Then, parroting DeLong, she continues: “When errors are identified, they are reported and corrected.”
With watchdogs like her, you don’t need wolves.
Also — I love this part — Feinstein says that “the spying was not within the U.S., and was carried out when one of the lovers was abroad.” Because, according to the senator, goofballs who abuse their NSA access to stalk their girlfriends’ email are respectful of the part of the NSA charter that prohibits the agency from collecting U.S.-to-U.S. communication. The non-stalkers, not so much.
What did the NSA expect? If you hire a bunch of kids, some of them are going to go a little nuts.
“The NSA has hired thousands of people in their 20s and 30s (Snowden turned 30 on Friday) — including techies, hackers and video gamers — since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to keep up with the digital explosion and expand America’s cyber spying,” The Los Angeles Times reported after Snowden’s leaks came out. No sir, it was not impossible to see LOVEINTgate coming.
I probably wouldn’t do it now; I turn 50 today. But back in my 20s, I was wilder. I loved pranks, I was curious, I was testing limits. And I was a computer programmer. And a hacker. I can’t imagine 29-year-old me not using the limitless access to Americans’ private communications and personal information that NSA analysts have — these guys even tapped Obama — to check out my girlfriend’s bank balance and text messages and phone records.
If absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute access to information is irresistible.
None of this is new. Hardly a week passes without a cop getting caught using police department computers for personal peeping. In May, for example, the Anchorage Daily News wrote that “a former Anchorage police officer illegally used police computers to look up confidential information about a woman he arrested and weeks later had sex with.” Take that, OkCupid.
When the NSA finds out that their workers are using work equipment to cyberstalk their lovers, their bosses discipline them. That’s what they say, and it’s probably true. Of course, the NSA doesn’t even know exactly what Snowden took —which may explain why America’s British pets detained Glenn Greenwald’s partner at Heathrow and stole his computers — so it’s unlikely that the NSA is even aware of the full extent of LOVEINT shenanigans. But when they do, yeah, they’re all over it.
What Feinstein and the NSA spokesman she parroted don’t get is that it doesn’t matter.
As long as all that big data — our private info — is on those government servers, someone can get to it. And someone will. Whether it’s this government, some future regime, or just a random millennial twerp accessing our Skype conversations or Netflix queues or bank records doesn’t matter. We want it private. Period.
I don’t want the NSA to be careful.
I want them gone.
For aNewDomain.net, I’m Ted Rall.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Based in Boston, Ted Rall is a nationally-syndicated columnist, editorial cartoonist and war correspondent who specializes in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The author of 17 books, most-recently published The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt, Rall is twice the winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Follow him @TedRall, check out his Facebook fan page and definitely follow his Google+ stream here. Ted’s upcoming book After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan is due out in 2014.