The NSA and America’s Defensive Crouch

The House narrowly defeated an amendment today which would have ended the NSA’s surveillance program on Americans.  Zero Hedge has the list of those who vote aye and nay, so you can see which side of this your own Congresscritter fell (mine, a liberal Democrat – and long-term political hack here in my State – voted to keep the NSA program…but don’t be fooled, this was bi-partisan both in voting to end and voting to keep). 

Its good to keep in mind why we have this massive intelligence system – because on December 7th, 1941, we were caught with our pants down.  From that day to this, the United States government has been determined not to be surprised – and so a gigantic intelligence bureaucracy has been built up, and like all government bureaucracies, it has become self-perpetuating – and the actual results of the bureaucracy are irrelevant.

Think about it – when you actually review the events leading up to December 7th, it is plain as a pikestaff that the Japanese were going to attack, and as they were going to attack, it is just a simple leap of logic to understand that they would attack the strongest military force the United States possessed in the Pacific – our fleet.  The proper response to all this would have been aggressive patrolling by the entire fleet…seeking out any approaching threat and dealing with it in conventional, naval battle once the aggressive intent was determined (in this case, when the enemy fleet was found a thousand miles away from Japanese waters and heading towards US waters).  But that entails risk – and the risk of failure; two things politicians and most senior military leaders shy away from (honestly, for the most part no one is more craven than a senior admiral or general…having risen to the top, their primary purpose in life is to remain at the top and eventually retire without any mishap…only a very few understand their actual job and are willing to put it all on the line for it).  And, so, we were “surprised” – and the response of our leaders, political and military, was not to change to using foresight and courage, but to crouch down and build up an intelligence system which would, allegedly, prevent a repeat.

It didn’t work, of course.  We still got 9/11 – heck, even earlier, back in 1950 we were caught flat-footed by hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops in Korea.  Think about that!  This was hordes of Chinese troops streaming in to the narrow peninsula of Korea and we missed it!  It didn’t work because intelligence information is only useful if you are determined to act upon it – there were indications of Chinese intervention (just as there were indications of a pending terrorist attack in 2001), but its not like intelligence will ever give you the time and date of the enemy attack, except in the rarest of instances.  In other words, unless you are a person determined to resolve the problem, no amount of intelligence will do you any good – no matter how reliable and comprehensive it is, if you’ve got no guts then you’re not going to do what is necessary to make having the intelligence worthwhile. 

Had we desired to prevent war with Japan, win the war in Korea or prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then certain policies had to be enacted – risky policies which could go very wrong.  We’d have had to been willing to go after the problem – to solve the problem.  But, as I said, doing such risks defeat – and politicians and generals don’t like defeat.  To put it harshly, a politician or general would rather have people and troops massacred in a “surprise” attack than risk their careers by taking actions which might forestall an attack and solve the problem.  We’re in a defensive crouch with a massive, intrusive intelligence system because of this – and not only does it put our liberties at risk, it doesn’t even start to resolve the problems which face us. 

We have to get out of the defensive crouch.  Certainly, we need intelligence on enemy plans – but the intelligence is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  And even without intelligence of enemy plans, we still need to act when a threat is perceived – and act in a decisive manner which will solve the problem, even at the risk of defeat to ourselves.  Better, in the end, to be beaten in battle than to continue to have this continual erosion of our position as we sit crouched behind the NSA, hoping that we can just prevent a major attack until after the next election cycle. 

End the NSA program – end all government data collection attempts which are not specifically directed at enemies.  Build and maintain our military to a point where we can instantly apply American power anywhere in the world – and when a threat emerges, go after it.  Sure, try diplomacy, first, but let all the world know that a threat to the United States will either be completely and finally resolved at the negotiating table or it will be completely and finally resolved on the battlefield…and we won’t be squeamish about attacking first if we believe that diplomacy is getting us nowhere. 

Edward Snowden, NSA Leaker: Hero or Fool?

Well, he outed himself – a former CIA and NSA employee until just recently working as a contractor for the NSA is the man who leaked the spying plan.  Now, what to make of it?

I’m not sure if he’s a hero or a fool – but he does have some guts because at the very least, Uncle Sam is going to want to drop on him like a ton of bricks.  Whether or not that happens remains to be seen – now that he’s self-outed and not easily detainable by the government, things might not go so bad for him.  What he’s done, in strictly legal terms, probably carries a lot of “20 to life” terms.  We’ll have to see how this plays out.

I’ve been pondering this whole mess and I’ve come to the conclusion that the ultimate problem we have is a misunderstanding of just what the threat is.  The government – especially under Obama, who is desperate to propagate the myth that Islamist extremism poses no great threat to the United States – is engaging in massive intelligence gathering in a desperate effort to stave off terrorist attacks before they happen.  Of course, we have seen how well this works in Boston.  Now, of course the government probably has thwarted a large number of attempted attacks – but can’t tell us about them because to do so would reveal sources and thus jeopardize ongoing efforts to keep after the terrorists.  But, also, Boston does show that even the most massive intelligence gathering leaves gaps.  In other words, no matter how much data they mine on us and everyone else in the world, they will never catch all the terrorists – and the terrorists will keep after us, forever, unless we stop them, permanently.

Permanently stopping them means going to war with them and chasing them to the ends of the earth and killing or taking all of them.  Now, will we do that?  Not now.  Not just because Obama is unable to see the threat, but because America is tired of fighting the Islamists.  American wars can go upwards of 5 years, but no longer – we just don’t have the patience beyond that.  Especially if there’s no clear-cut goal in sight.  We’ll have to wait until the Islamists hit us again, very hard, and then hope we have leadership which sees the path to true strategic thinking.

Meanwhile, I think I’ve had enough of this intelligence gathering.  We need laws specifically prohibiting any government employee, at any level, from obtaining or retaining data on any American without a warrant – and the warrants must have an expiration date, upon which the target of the warrant is informed of its existence and 100% of the data collected in connection with it – seriously; all the original documents mailed to the target so he can see what was found (I’d like it to be no more than 90 days, but others I’ve discussed it with say it has to go longer – but it must have a drop dead date).  Intelligence gathering overseas and among foreigners I don’t give a darn about – knock yourself out, NSA.  But on Americans?  No.  Dad fought on Saipan and Grandpa in the Argonne to stop this very sort of nonsense from happening.  Enough is enough.