NSA: From a galaxy far, far away

ON YOU: And they didn’t “willfully” destroy Alderaan either – if Princess Leia had just turned over the information the empire wanted, they wouldn’t have done it. Maybe.
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ON YOU: And they didn’t “willfully” destroy Alderaan either – if Princess Leia had just turned over the information the empire wanted, they wouldn’t have done it. Maybe.

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

Revelations in recent days from the National Security Administration is like watching an all-day “Star Wars” movie marathon of twists, turns, heroes and villains.


If you missed any of it, it’s OK because we’re here with a wrap-up of all the news that broke since Friday — and we’re doing it with a Star Wars twist.

On Friday, the Washington Post ran a bombshell of a story exposing that the NSA violated surveillance privacy laws more than 2,700 times since it was given sweeping new powers in 2008.

The NSA blamed the privacy violations on “mistakes by employees,” and said the agency never “willfully” broke the law. But that’s kind of like the Galactic Empire saying they destroyed Alderaan by accident.

I mean, really, they probably didn’t know what that massive laser cannon (or, say, multiple electronic dragnet surveillance programs) could do to a planet (or, say, your privacy) until they tested it out (collected all your information and shared it with the DEA and IRS).

Not only that, but we learned that the NSA tells its employees to lie about how surveillance data is used — probably because they didn’t want us regular folks finding out they use the information more often to fight the War on Drugs and to track down tax cheats than to keep us safe from terrorism.

The entire Washington Post piece is worth reading, and the immediate backlash from editorials and opinion pages across the nation was refreshingly libertarian.

But, seriously, this point: Even if Edward Snowden has accomplished nothing else with his leaks, even if nothing is done to rein in the American surveillance state, he has at least awakened the American mainstream media from its decade-long post 9/11 we’ll-trust-the-government-about-anything-relating-to-national-security-no-questions-asked slumber.

He hopefully has brought an end to the days when anonymous Pentagon sources were allowed to be quoted on the front page of the New York Times and those who raised any questions about the validity of their statements were forced the sidelines.

Just take a look at how the Washington Post bodyslammed an Obama administration spokesman on Friday.  Ask yourself: Would something like that have happened a year ago? Three months ago?

That is not the end of the struggle — just like destroying the first Death Star was not the end of the rebellion — but the return of a skeptical, cynical voice in American media is a big step in the right direction.

A new hope, indeed.

But like any good trilogy (OK, like every trilogy written during the past 30 years) there had to be a second act where evil rose again and looked more fearsome than ever before.

This weekend’s second act began on Saturday evening when Time Magazinepublished this ode to government surveillance and the gloriousness of giving up of freedom in the name of security.  In between trite, empty cliches and emotional appeals for the government to save children from terrorists, writer Michael Grunwald finally made his point.

“Those of us who support aggressive government action to protect the public ought to acknowledge that it does, at the margins, limit individual rights — the rights of gun owners, the rights of business owners, the rights of the accused,” he wrote. “I guess you could call me a statist.”

But Grunwald wasn’t done.

Saturday night, he took to Twitter to voice his support for capturing WikiLeaksfounder Julian Assange and encasing him in Carbonite.

No, wait.  It was worse than that?

Yeah, much worse.

In fact, Grunwald called for Assange — who is still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London — to be assassinated via drone strike.  Specifically, Grunwald said he “can’t wait to write a defense” of that attack.

He later removed the tweet, and TIME Magazine distanced itself from Grunwald’s views.

Then, on Sunday morning, we learned about Glenn Greenwald’s partner being detained by the British authorities at Heathrow airport 49 hours as he tried to make a trip from Berlin to Rio.

David Miranda, the partner of The Guardian journalist who broke the NSA spying story with help from Snowden, was detained under the auspices of Britain’s version of the Patriot Act, but he wasn’t questioned about any terrorist activity. Instead, he was asked about Greenwald’s reporting and his contact with an American reporter in Berlin who helped Snowden and Greenwald break some of the big innocent stories.

The British authorizes held Miranda for nine hours without giving him access to a lawyer or any contact with the outside world.  Under the British anti-terrorism law, even refusing to answer a question can make you subject to arrest.

Then they seized all his belongings and sent him on his way.

Yes, the Empire struck back.  Not against the terrorists — the supposed bad guys here — but against the individuals, Assange and Greenwald, who have dared to speak truth to power.

Luckily, there was still time for a third act on Sunday afternoon

And just like Return of the Jedi, it looks like the climactic battle will take place on two fronts.

Filling in for the forest moon of Endor is the United States Congress — a body equally dense, difficult to navigate and full of strange looking creatures.

In Congress, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., says he is readying another effort to bring down the legal authority underpinning the NSA spying regime. As you may recall, his last attempt fell short by only 12 votes, and Amash believes the result will change after the recent revelations of the NSA willfully violating its own laws.

The second, frontal assault on the NSA’s Death Starwill be launched directly through the American court system.

On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he wants the U.S. Supreme Court to review the NSA’s spying procedures and the legality of them.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  That this has to end with Amash and James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, crossing lightsabers in the Capitol rotunda?

Boehm is a reporter and Watchdog.org and can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com.  Follow him on Twitter at @EricBoehm87



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  1. I wonder how many lawyers have petitioned for access to the DEA/NSA information to check a case they lost and now see a chance to have overturned because of the illegal gathering of information..
    And I wonder how much this will cost taxpayers to clean up,,that is the trouble,,we pay either way.
    It is almost like the drug war,,the government spends billions of dollars arresting and incarcerating mostly low level drug users and the American people spend billions keeping the cartels equipped to outgun and outrun the Mexican army,,we are paying for both sides of that war and the banks make money from all facets of the drug war.

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