« "A Response to Eric Alterman" by Max Blumenthal | Main | Will health insurance cost less under the ACA? »

26 October 2013


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Lord Curzon


Wasn't there something a few years back with the US listening in on Chancellor Kohl's phone calls which resulted in a deal being made, the price of which was his quiet resignation to avoid corruption charges pertaining to his Party's funds?

Maybe Angela Merkel is recalling what happened to her predecessor!

Bill H

"What do you think of NSA's systematic electronic surveillance of citizens in other countries who are attached to their own versions of the Fourth and Second Amendment."

You didn't ask me, but by all means their government should not be spying on them. That says nothing about what our government may or may not do to them.

Bill H

A repeated process with BHO, denying that which is patently undeniable and then having to "walk back" said denial. It's remarkable how forgiving the media is each time he does this.


First off, the references to Claude Rains and being 'shocked at gambling going on', are better place on people who say that Merkel's reaction, and other leaders' reactions are staged. Of course they are staged. Of course they assume this kind of spying is going on. Just was WE know that when we are caught at this our allies--to the extent they are allies--must act with faux outrage. It is OUR reaction that is phony...when we accuse them--the Merkels' of hypocrisy.

As to the general practice..collecting intel is not an end in itself. And indeed, as war is too serious a matter to be left to generals, so to is this kind of thing too serious a matter to be left, solely, to 'spooks'. The point of our collecting intel is primarily, in the end, enhancing the security of the people of the United States. If it, this practice, ever begins to threaten the security of the US people it should be challenged and altered. That is the metric that should govern the practice.

The fact of the matter now is so much intel is being collected it far exceeds the ability of anyone, any agency, any nation, to fully search it and categorize it all. So, the point of collecting the metadata might be less about becoming aware of, or stopping, something about to take place, or to take place at any time in the future. i.e gaining intel. Indeed, it may be that we are collecting SO much data that we risk burying the key data in piles and piles of meaningless data. i.e. where everything is a secret nothing is a secret.

The goal now of collecting the amount of data, and the type of data, being collected, may be to hinder dissent in the future. Or disagreement with anyone power, in the future. People are coming to believe, perhaps, that every damn thing they have done in a digital environment, and I mean EVERY damn thing, they have ever done, or said, or wrote, or looked at, or listened too is being captured, titled, stored, and rendered suitable to search if the name on the file every crosses someone in power. And at that point...you might really have a nation of sheep...fearful to open their mouths, on any issues.

To say, 'well, we've always done this, we've always have lived in this dangerous world, and had to do it', is missing the point in my opinion. This is a NEW WORLD. From a technological perspective. The storage and search mechanism, and the ability to manipulate digital data are of such a different degree than anything previous, that it is like we are dealing with something sui generis.

The Twisted Genius

I'm glad and proud we have a formidable SIGINT capability. Within our resource limitations, we should be targeting as many foreign countries, leaders and groups as possible. Obviously we have to prioritize. We target China, Russia and Iran and no one is bothered except the Chinese, Russian and Iranians. But I bet they expect it, do their best to defend against our efforts and do their best to target us. Countries like France and Germany are major players. They should, and probably do, act the same. Everything else is hypocrisy. I have no idea where Israel and Saudi Arabia sit on our current collection targeting list. As far as I'm concerned, they should be priority one targets. We should be unapoligetically targeting the crap out of them.

Domestic SIGINT conducted by the IC rather than the police/judicial system is another story entirely. I consider it unconstitutional and abhorrent. I think this mass collection is nothing but an exercise in empire building. These massive databases make for impressive PowerPoint presentations calling for more resources and bigger programs, but precious little useful intelligence.

Snowden's revelations have shined a bright light and a close look at the NSA. He has done us and the NSA a favor in my opinion. Yes, there have been political and economic costs. There will be more. I do believe the NSA's domestic collection program will eventually be curtailed by public and IT industry demand and by congressional action. It should be curtailed. It sucks up resources and focus that should be applied towards more important targets... like Israel and Saudi Arabia.


Sir, I worked in US overt strategic Humint collection during the last decade of the Cold War in Berlin, that is "joint allied". I have a bias towards Humint and see much of the current US emphasis on SIgint as resulting from the US Sigint community's necessity to find a new mission after the end of the Cold War. There is also the whole corrupting influence of using Signit for commercial/industrial espionage. I heard all the arguments back then, and honestly found them wanting.

So there is the cultural aspect to this. The US has always relied heavily on Sigint since we have been historically good at it and not so good at say Humint. As far as "daily functioning" goes, is that not why a country has diplomats, military/intelligence liaison, country specialists, open source analysis . . . ?

But what I really have a problem with is the whole corrosive aspect that this attitude towards Sigint has on our alliance relationships. We worked well as a team during my service and I thought at the time that would be the wave of the future, which unfortunately has not been the case. The only time I had to lie to my alliance partners was regarding sources of NSA interest . . .

So sir, my basic point is, that if we are in fact dealing with the "Machiavellian world" that you mention, then we don't really have alliances or "special relationships", so much as vassals, adversaries and potential adversaries, and we say so openly and drop the hypocrisy. As to whether France and Germany "do the same thing"? They spy on us of course and I'm sure the BND had a nice file on me, but that is not really an argument for the intensity or capability that we are unleashing towards them, let alone the backlash we will suffer in the future as a result.



It sounds like you were some sort of de-briefer. did you ever have access to SIGINT products? TTG and I are both old HUMINTERs (clan and overt)and probably share your inclination in that direction. US SIGINT has been a virtual industry ever since it grew so large in WW2. Many Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of Clandestine HUMINT and I think that has resulted in a disproportionate reliance on SIGINT. Nevertheless I agree with TTG that it is good that we have such a robust capability. As for the means of collecting and diplomacy that you mention, they are all necessary but without SIGINT we would be much more at risk than we are. We do not have "special relationships" of friendship with foreign countries. All is transactional. The idea of the "Special Relationship" with the UK was produced largely by British propagandists seeking American help in WW2. Before that war, defense against an imagined Japanese/British naval alliance was the basis of most of our war plans.


Sir, I'm not arguing against having a robust US Sigint capability, but it is rather the targeting. While targeting the domestic US population is both illegal and immoral, targeting allies is corrosive to necessary working relationships and ultimately self-defeating.

I served four years as a German language debriefer and the following four as an ops officer, all in US overt strategic Humint collection. Oh, and I loved it . . .


"German papers lay into Obama over US spying claims"

These are the most pro-U.S. papers in Germany. But now they have major "anti-American" editorials on the issue.

It is NOT the spying on Merkel as a chancellor that is the problem. She is known for some lack in communication security issues.

What is really concerning the people is Alexander's "collect it all attitude". (I for one believe it is pretty useless.)

People here in Germany do have a historic baggage with spying. We do not like to be sniffed on. Our constitutional court has judged that the "right to privacy" is a major human right that should, like other major human rights, be held high by everyone.

The U.S. does not do so. It will cost it dearly. Forget the Transatlantic Trade Deal. It is dead in the water. Forget selling more IT products in Europe. I'd rather buy Chinese because they have less interest in spying on the general public. Forget about your Internet products. Ten years from now there will be a different Internet and it will be much more secure and in Europe will likely be dominated by European companies.

The commercial damage "collect it all" has done to the U.S. is much bigger than whatever your SIGINT might have ever collected.


"... Before that war, defense against an imagined Japanese/British naval alliance was the basis of most of our war plans."

Really? Being a 20th century history junkie, I would like to learn more details about this. Colonel, could you point me to some sources to read? Thanks.



Look at the color war plans generally. Several posited Britain as the planning enemy the Red plan was specific. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Plan_Red It was not an accident that much of the Regular Army was stationed along the Canadian border in the east. pl

different clue

When you get your different and more secure Internet, will there be a way for ordinary British and American citizens to wire themselves into it so as to reduce the level of digital spying currently waged against us on our current Internet system?


A few straightforward points.

1. There is no major external threat to the United States or to its core interests.

2. The United States has been spending vast sums (trillions)on its pointless wars, oversized military establishment, and hugely oversized intelligence establishment.

3, Simultaneously, the United States has been inflicting very serious damage on itself through its domestic and external actions. Some of that is financial in nature (see 2 above).

4. None of this is addressed in a serious way in the MSM or the almost-MSM

5. All of this is irrational bordering on madness

FB Ali

States have always sought an advantage in their dealings with other countries (whether friend, rival or foe) by seeking 'inside' information. Because such raw product was limited in both quantity and quality, it was just one factor considered by the strategic and political analysts who supported the decision-makers.

The vast increase in the quantity of raw intelligence now possible using technological means only marginally improves its quality. The quantity itself dilutes the significance of individual items, while the occasional 'gem' is compromised by the ever-present possibility of deliberate deception. The conclusions to be drawn are now much more heavily dependent on the intelligence analysts, and their quality. The potential for error is considerable, whether caused by the limitations of the analysts, or deliberately introduced bias (Iraq's WMD are only one example).

These limitations ensure that intelligence is still just one of the many inputs that goes into the strategic/political analysis, despite the inflated expectations of intelligence honchos. It probably plays a smaller part in the conclusions drawn than the influence of open source information and analysis.

These considerations provide a sound basis for a realistic cost-benefit analysis of the intelligence-gathering effort. There is the not inconsequential money cost in these straitened times, and there is the other potential cost if the operation goes wrong or is exposed. It is all very well to say that Merkel and others must have known they were being bugged. It is one thing to have your security people occasionally remind you that this may be happening, it is quite another to have your face publicly rubbed into it in this fashion. It would be unrealistic to expect that this will not have an impact on attitudes, both of the leaders and, even more so, of their publics.

Were the effort and its results worth all this?


FB Ali

The only new thing here is Snowden. There will be no serious repercussions, Yes, over the decades it has been worth it. Canada? You should ask your government what their cooperation and agreements are with the US. pl



I agree that the IC is too big but overseas SIGINT is only partly about adversaries. It is a normal tool of statecraft. pl



It appears that you wish to return to an imagined world in which Secretary Stimson could say in the 20s that "gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's mail." This was on the occasion of Stimson forbidding the US State Department to further participate in SIGINT (cryptology). Fortunately the army and the navy did not follow his example. pl

FB Ali

Col Lang,

Snowden or his like are part of the equation. The modern technology that allows all this massive data collection also enables the odd operative to perform massive leaks. There will always be people inside the organization who are repelled enough by what it is doing to take the risks involved.

I continue to doubt that intelligence has led to changes in policy that other strategic/political analysis would not have caused anyway often enough to justify the cost of all this massive effort (including the negative costs).

I am not as sanguine as you about repercussions. There is already a growing revulsion among ordinary people everywhere against the 'perpetual war state', of which this intelligence gathering is just an aspect. These disclosures will feed into this sentiment.

Many Canadians believe their government acts as a lackey of the US in these matters.


FB Ali

This has nothing to do with the "perpetual war state." It is ordinary statecraft. I too, oppose the continuation of the AUMF. pl pl



No. It is a matter of proportion. There is no threat out that that can do us grievous harm, so why waste trillions on this massive collection of intelligence trash irrelevant to the very minor threat that does exist - apart from the manifest fact that no one even can process it.

I have yet to see from the current intelligence community, and its associates, any reasonable justification for what we are doing worthy of the name - or worthy of debate


Walter is expressing a very effective ideology as long as one remembers that "a human being has only two cheeks", as my Jesuit teacher of Catechism put it.

Gandhi was lauded by the English and glorified by Sir Richard Attenborough because at the other side slaughter was awaiting them through the hands of British Indian Armed Forces. Bose lead the INA in collaboration with Germany and Japan - and although he failed in his military objectives, he was inspiring inspiring enough to the Raj soldiers to cause serious doubts of their loyalties. After the WWII, the English did not have the stamina nor troops to protect their citizens in India.

In that sense, the power of "underdog" ( http://www.ebay.com/itm/David-and-Goliath-by-Malcolm-Gladwell-/181246296733?pt=US_Audiobooks&hash=item2a331f029d ) should not be underestimated.



One more time, you think this is about adversaries. It is not. pl



I am unimpressed by your anti-colonial angst. Did you ever do anything yourself that was not just bullshit? pl

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad