Frog Boil

Boiling FrogThe news was broken by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian and also by The Washington Post that FISA court Judge Roger Vincent approved a warrant drafted by the National Security Agency (NSA) to require Verizon to turn over all of its records of calls made to and from the US and any foreign telephone.  It was done under the provisions of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  

FISA was designed to enable the gathering of – guess what – foreign intelligence.  It works in secret and is accountable to nobody, so we have no way to know if its actions are justified or appropriate and its provisions and restrictions are not well understood by the public.  Not surprisingly, our government has a way of stretching the meaning of the act to suit its purposes.  Here is an example of that stretching.

In addition to Verizon’s domestic-to-foreign calls being reported, the NSA also requires Verizon to turn over its records for all completely domestic calls.  Remember that part about FISA being about gathering foreign intelligence?  How a call from a domestically registered phone to another domestically registered phone is foreign is an unholy stretch, but that is what our government is doing.  And it gets worse.

The Washington Post broke the story that the NSA has a surveillance program called PRISM.  It is a another lovely piece of FISA stretch that delivers to the NSA all of the records of all the big online servers, like Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and more.

With the Verizon intelligence grab the NSA knows every call you’ve made and all the  calls made to you, the duration of the calls and the number your phone was connected to, the location of both phones and all of the records are delivered to the NSA daily.  With the PRISM program, the NSA can dig into anything you’ve ever done online, including your used-to-be-private emails and web surfing history. 

As reported in The New York Times, “James R, Clapper, Jr., director of national intelligence, “.  .  .  the government ‘does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers’ of telephone and Internet providers, saying that information is turned over only under court order, when there is a ‘documented, foreign intelligence purpose for acquisition’ of the data.”

Sounds reassuring.  And not confidently believable, if there is anything substantive to what whistle blowers Edward Snowden and William Binney have said.

These kinds of “data mining and harvesting” were supposed to be do-able only as part of a specific investigation that the NSA was conducting, not as a “grab the entire universe of information” fishing expedition.  Further, the warrant that is required for the NSA to dig its tentacles into you was supposed to be authorized by a FISA court judge using a very hairy eyeball, but nearly ever warrant requested has been allowed.

You may have committed no crime nor even have known anyone who has, but the NSA has all of your records, phone, emails and web surfing history, and is looking at them, even though you are not part of an ongoing investigation.  Honest person that you are, you are being snooped and groped.  Every day.

Let’s see – is there more?  Well, we’re killing people overseas with drones and we have a most strange way of quantifying the effect of these machines.  We identify the people we kill in various categories, including al Qaeda, militant, civilian and unknown.  Strangely, we’ve killed thousands classified as unknown yet our government has claimed that there were very few civilian casualties.  If we don’t know the identity of the people we killed, how can we know they weren’t civilians?

And, by the way, surveillance drones are already flying inside the U.S.

This is just the most recent few outrageous things our government is doing under the cover label of national security.  What is disturbing is that these kinds of government power grabs, this taking control of our privacy, our freedom and our lives is exactly what we used to abhor about the Soviet Union.  That government robbed its people of their freedom and millions of Soviets were killed by the state.  Indeed, our rendition programs are functionally identical to the Soviets sending their people to die in labor camps in Siberia.  Put any face, label or justification on it that you like; stealing your freedom is stealing your freedom.

It is said that if a live frog is suddenly thrown into a pot of boiling water that it will thrash violently and do everything it can to get out of the pot.  On the other hand, if a frog is thrown into cool water and then the heat is turned up so that the water warms gradually, the frog will swim about calmly until it is boiled dead.  That is to say, slow change doesn’t seem to get the frog’s attention, and then suddenly it is too late.

We’re a lot like that frog.  Our government has incrementally changed at a pace that doesn’t seem to get our attention, but we are gradually losing the America you believe in, as we plunge headlong into totalitarianism.

“Americans are living in a totalitarian state.  They just haven’t figured it out yet.”  Russian immigrant.

Copyright 2017 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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One Response to Frog Boil
  1. Steve Grossman Reply

    Jack, in sadness and outrage, I am reminded of this famous last paragraph:

    “He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”