Longtime Loyal Readers™ will surely recall vividly that thrilling occasion back in 2010 wherein we met one of our most admired heroes, blogger and author Glenn Greenwald (although readers will hopefully not recall the embarrassing spectacle we made of ourselves when we did). We are pleased to note that in intervening years since Mr. Greenwald won the highly coveted Perry Street Palace Major Award for Rock Star Blogger of the Day™, he has published another book, moved from Salon.com to a more influential platform at The Guardian, been targeted in a nefarious plot by America’s Owners and their loyal servants in the U.S. Department of Justice for the crime of writing blog posts in support of Wikileaks, and broken an extraordinary story just this week about government spying on Americans — which story is presently splashed across the front pages of newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and probably countless other publications that we never read. (I know what you’re thinking, and yes: we humbly accept full credit for all of Mr. Greenwald’s journalistic accomplishments over the past few years, and are just so pleased that by bestowing him with our highly coveted Major Award we were able to give him the bump of confidence and exposure he needed at the time to make his way to such well-deserved prominence and respectability.)
It is true that there are many serious allegations of governmental wrongdoing revealed by the leaked documents disclosing the NSA’s huge dragnet of virtually all American electronic communications and the FISA court order requiring that Verizon provide the government with all of their customers’ call data over a three month period. None of this will be particularly surprising to anyone who regularly follows electronic privacy or government surveillance issues. But what is inexcusably and glaringly absent in the mainstream coverage we’ve seen is anyone pointing out the sheer comic absurdity of it all. And that, my beloved readers, is something the Palace shall attempt to remedy forthwith.
The National Security Agency’s Top Secret document detailing its collection of the communications of American citizens is certainly disturbing. For one thing, the PowerPoint presentation leaked to the Perry Street Palace Major Award Winner for Rock Star Blogger of the Day™ appears to be a tool used to train intelligence professionals on the capabilities of a creepy and previously undisclosed surveillance program called PRISM. It reveals that the NSA — a military agency — has direct access to stored communications as well as real-time data collection capability on all of the systems of Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, Apple and Microsoft, which, by the way, is currently running an ad campaign with the slogan “Your privacy is our priority.” (Hahaha. You cannot make this shit up.)
The multi-gazillion dollar, lawless, unconstitutional and unaccountable surveillance state implemented under Bush and expanded under Obama is not exactly news to readers of this blog, and certainly not news to readers of the Washington Post’s excellent series Top Secret America, in which we learned that “Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.” Since then we have learned of extensive domestic military drone operations (EFF even provides a helpful interactive map. NEATO!), discovered that the Department of Homeland Security spies on and disrupts nonviolent Occupy protests, that the FBI knew of a plot to kill Occupy activists and remained silent about it (yay for massive surveillance! Keeping Us Safe, motherfuckers!), that Occupy protesters are classified as “terrorists” by law enforcement, that the NYPD goes undercover to spy on liberal groups that oppose U.S. economic policy, immigration policy, labor laws, racial profiling and/or unconditional support for Israel, and that they also intensely surveilled local Muslim communities in six year exercise which led to exactly zero leads. Congress, needless to say, has remained stalwart and unwavering in its support for all of that: these fine representatives of We The People can only muster the courage to act in fearless, unanimous solidarity when outraged U.S. business travelers (and they themselves) are terribly, terribly inconvenienced by airline flight delays.
But all of that is just old news now. *yawn* BOOOOORING! (I just told my bartender I was writing today about the NSA scandal. He said, “How is this news?” He probably
is a Longtime Loyal Reader™ of my blog reads Glenn Greenwald.)
But none of that sheds any light on the most surprising and disturbing aspect of these new revelations. I think you know exactly what I’m talking about, people. Yes, that’s right: the NSA’s abominable PowerPoint slides [TRIGGER WARNING for violent visual assault]:
AGHH! Four of the leaked NSA slides. We’d Google the other 37, but…why? WHY?! WHAT I DON’T EVEN.
BREAKING: Just as we were
drinking the afternoon away diligently working on this piece, it came to our attention (via Wonkblog) that the Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews had just twenty minutes earlier reported on “The real NSA scandal? The horrible slides.” He notes that that some d00d named Edward Tufte, a “Yale political scientist and data visualization guru” (whatever that is…) tweeted about the NSA’s horrific PowerPoint file last night:
“Dreadful spy-PRISM deck sets new record for most header logos per slide: 13”
Which tweet Mr. Tufte followed shortly thereafter with this one:
“PRISM “providers”: classic PPT statistical graphic: 13 logos, 10 numbers, 9 bubbles, 1 giant green arrow.”
While I am sure that the opinion of some “Yale political scientist and data visualization guru” (?!!!) may be considered respectable in certain circles (*eyeroll*), it will not surprise readers to learn that once upon a time, Your Humble Monarch™ was rather well known among “certain circles” herself as The Priestess of PowerPoint™. Truth be told, our mad skillz are still in demand to this very day by VIP patrons for client presentations, graphics for trial exhibits and legal briefs, etc. (It turns out that working for The Man pays very, very well. It also turns out that I can make PowerPoint dance on a dime without breaking a sweat, or even bothering to open both of my eyelids. Animation. Streaming audio and video. Custom graphics. “WHATEVER YOU NEED, BOSS!”) So with all due respect to Mr. Tufte’s observations regarding the NSA’s 13 header logos, 10 numbers, 9 bubbles and big giant green arrows, I submit that he has not even scratched the surface of the numerous crimes against humanity — or at least against humanity’s eyeballs — on display in this slide deck. For example:
This is not a color. DO NOT GO THERE. Especially if it is necessary for some reason to incorporate on the same slide an enormous, hideous array of red, white, blue and/or black logos.
Here, we see an oddly-shaped, green-colored arrow pointing upward for no discernible reason (except maybe to indicate AMERICA! FUCK YEAH!), pocked with yellow lemons, each indicating the name and date that various service providers forked over to the feds complete access to everything we do online.
Speaking of logos, this just might be the most craptastic thing I have ever seen (and that is saying something, my friends), for more reasons than one. First, there’s the shit-colored stork/eagle/batweasel/whatever delivering the bundled baby Earth. It looks like something right out of a South Park episode — and not in a good way. Then there’s the whole Superheros Hall of Justice vibe with the ponderous-sounding SPECIAL SOURCE OPERATIONS. And what, you might be asking yourself right about now, the hell is that? According to WaPo, it is “the seal of Special Source Operations, the NSA term for alliances with trusted U.S. companies.” Trusted? So: we pay these companies for their services with our post-tax dollars, and on top of that we pay related fees and all sorts of other taxes to the government — and this is the logo they come up with for spying on us. Joke’s on us, people!
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the logo for the PRISM program itself. The shape may be reminiscent of an infant’s plastic keyring toy, but make no mistake: this infant’s plastic key is badass, black-hat, jet black.
WaPo helpfully informs us that the program is called PRISM “after the prisms used to split light, which is used to carry information on fiber-optic cables…” …right into the gaping maw of the Eeeevil Fascists of Herbert Hoover’s FBI! It’s like we’re living in a weird old James Bond movie, although unfortunately not one with Daniel Craig running around shirtless in it. Wisely, I think, the PRISM logo incorporates a rainbow triangle. Get it? Light-splitting rainbow prisms. Take that, Wikileaks, Anonymous and Occupy people! You might as well just pack it in now, in the face of the awesome logo that is… PRISM.
Weak sauce. Some people better up their game. ‘Swut I’m sayin’.
But the visuals don’t begin to cover the hilarity. There was Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Efense Contractors), who yawningly quipped that the leaked FISA court order appeared to be a matter of routine reauthorization. “As far as I know,” she said — and as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, she certainly would know — “this is an exact three-month renewal of what has been the case for the past seven years…Therefore, it is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress.” Translation: “Ho-hum. I knew about this all along, I secured retroactive immunity for the multiple felonies committed by Verizon and the Bush Administration, and therefore everything is peachy. NOTHING TO SEE HERE, PEOPLE.”
And speaking of Senators, this little gem made me snort my drink through my nose:
“If we don’t do it,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, “we’re crazy.”
This is the same Senator Lindsey Graham who has called for a pre-emptive military strike to “neuter” Iran, accused Hillary Clinton of murder, and said — apparently in all seriousness — that “President Bush has shown great leadership.” You can peruse for yourself Sen. Graham’s right-wing voting record in all of its resplendent misogyny, derangement and sociopathy here, but I have to admit one of the headings at that link gave me the giggles:
“✭ Lindsey Graham on Drugs ✭”
Soon after The Guardian’s disclosure, the chairman of the oxymoronic “House Intelligence Committee” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-eptile) rushed to claim in a news conference that the surveillance program helped stop a “significant domestic terrorist attack” at some undefined time in the last couple years, but he declined to provide any details. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper issued a statement on Wednesday, saying “information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats.” My typically measured and carefully thought out response to these esteemed gentlemen is as follows:
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! YOU GUYS ARE FUCKING HILARIOUS!
New York Post cover, Tuesday April 16, 2013: “TERROR Bombs rock Boston Marathon.”
In a wild coincidence, that would be the exact same Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, who just a few weeks ago lied in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee by denying that the NSA conducted surveillance of American citizens on U.S. soil:
SEN. RON WYDEN: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
JAMES R. CLAPPER: “No, sir.”
OMFG you guys! These clowns crack me right up! Here’s Director of National Intelligence Clapper perjuring himself in testimony before the U.S. Senate! I know, right? That’s a federal crime punishable by fines and up to five years in prison! And, well, we all know how seriously the Unites States Congress takes even the merest whiff of perjury. (Unfortunately, that mean old Sen. Feinstein is probably conspiring right this minute to deny us this entertaining spectacle by retroactively immunizing Mr. Clapper, for any thing he ever did or said in the past or might possibly do or say in the future, provided Ms. Feinstein is fully briefed on the matter. SHE IS NO FUN AT ALL.)
You have to admit, the whole racket really is ingenious, isn’t it?
Here’s a fun little factoid about the surveillance laws:
When the FAA was first enacted, defenders of the statute argued that a significant check on abuse would be the NSA’s inability to obtain electronic communications without the consent of the telecom and internet companies that control the data. But the PRISM program renders that consent unnecessary, as it allows the agency to directly and unilaterally seize the communications off the companies’ servers.
Don’t be silly, all you paranoid un-American critics! It’s not like the NSA will ever in a million years get telecom and internet companies to just fork over all of their customers emails, video and voice chats, photos, logins, file transfers and social networking details! WHAT LOSERS!
The New York Times also ran an accompanying article today about Perry Street Palace Major Award Winner for Rock Star Blogger of the Day™ Glenn Greenwald, personally. It was fairly respectful and largely flattering (unless you think “gay” is an insult in which case wow are you ever at the wrong blog). Still, the Times could not resist letting in a few snipes from critics, including this snide little quip from blogger Andrew Sullivan:
“I think he has little grip on what it actually means to govern a country or run a war. He’s a purist in a way that, in my view, constrains the sophistication of his work.”
Sullivan would know about sophistication: having never governed a country or run “a war” himself, he is, after all, a practicing Catholic who fancies himself perfectly rational. I think this must be a lot like that “sophisticated theology” I’m always hearing so much about, but I, of course, am way too unsophisticated to understand.
Finally, The Times quoted one Gabriel Schoenfeld, a “national security expert” and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, who called Greenwald, “a highly professional apologist for any kind of anti-Americanism no matter how extreme.”
Yes, yes indeed. The reason bloggers like Glenn Greenwald write so passionately about the illegal, immoral and unconstitutional wrongdoings of the U.S. government— in this case risking arrest and prosecution to do so — is because he’s…un-American.
Same reason we do it too, really.
UPDATE: Via kade ellis on Twitter last night came a link to a post on privacysos pointing readers toward a Reddit comment, with the statement:
What follows should be required reading for anyone who says they are willing to give up their privacy in exchange for promises of security.
It’s excellent and should be read in its entirety, but here are a few passages that really stuck with me:
I live in a country generally assumed to be a dictatorship. One of the Arab spring countries. I have lived through curfews and have seen the outcomes of the sort of surveillance now being revealed in the US.
the purpose of this surveillance from the governments point of view is to control enemies of the state. Not terrorists. People who are coalescing around ideas that would destabilize the status quo. These could be religious ideas. These could be groups like anon who are too good with tech for the governments liking. It makes it very easy to know who these people are. It also makes it very simple to control these people.
The only difference here is that in a dictatorship, the state itself is the entity whose interests are paramount. In our de facto oligarchy, the state is the instrument of America’s Owners. They are the benefactors of the status quo, from which they are profiting quite handsomely (they thrive on perpetual war and economic conservatism, which is why leftism is perceived as a threat). From the perspective of the ordinary citizen under either system, however, the oppression of a surveillance state operates in exactly the same way.