FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The NSA Review Panel Shut Down

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The message about the U.S. surveillance state for some time has been one of cosmic, immoveable proportion.  The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss spoke of “cold societies” – those operating under unchanging assumptions about nature, about matters of immutable cosmic order.  The intelligence community, under the guise of reform, functions under similar principles.  Change the ordering of furniture, but never the furniture.  The same assumptions operate.  The staff, for better or for worse, are in place.  And they will always get funding.

The green fields of espionage must be kept in immaculate order.  Which is why, when the government shutdown in Washington began, the oversight team also went with it.  Or at least the staffers connected with that task.

The NSA Review Panel, set up in August after Edward Snowden’s revelations, was something of a comic interlude in the business of American power.  If you wanted the Triads or the Cosa Nostra to conduct a review of their own operations, this is what it would look like.  The staffers on the five-member Review group are themselves so ensconced in the intelligence-White House establishment they have ossified.  When one is getting former acting CIA director Michael Morell to be top heavy in the action, the power comedians have again taken over.

As for some comedic commentary, we have Morrell himself on the subject of halting the group’s work, claiming it was “no more important than – and quite frankly a lot less important – than a lot of the work being left undone by the government shutdown both in the intelligence community and outside the intelligence community.”

On Friday, the office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, which is facilitating the window cleaning operation, argued that staff connected to the panellists would be subject to furlough.  Now, in the pro bono spirit of public service, the panel members might still continue in their patriotic industry.  But the spy business, and, it seems, those reviewing the spy business, don’t see it that way.

Clapper is himself edgy about the shut down and what impact it will have on the surveillance state.  In theory, the NSA operates in the vacuum of exception. (It has since its foundations, operated in a state of legal exception.)  It has been exempted, in large part, from the ravaging furlough, though Clapper takes issue with the assertion.  According to the wise spook, 70 percent of civilian intelligence workers have been furloughed.  The reason: they were not connected with tasks associated with imminent threats to life or property.  Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) has suggested her own percentage – 72 percent of intelligence employees’ jobs, by her calculation, have been put on hold.

Add to this the unconvincing voice of NSA director, General Keith B. Alexander, who speaks of the furlough as a portent of doom.  “We have over 960 PhDs over 4000 computer scientists, over a thousand mathematicians.  They are furloughed” (The Washington Post, Oct 7).

The actual total of employees who are now out of the office is classified, and we are none the wiser about the effect Alexander is suggesting.  Former deputy director Chris Inglis, in a rather humourless way, hazarded a joke about the numbers in the employ of the NSA: “somewhere between 37,000 and one billion.”  This may be closer to the mark than first blush – after all, the security complex has been privatised, with the U.S. government effectively a huge commercial franchise.  Security, both in its actual and fictional assertions, is big business.

Given Alexander’s own trenchant denials that the NSA has not scoured social networks for data (any deviations being attributed to personal rogue infractions), it is difficult to give any value to the numerical assertions.  The math can always be fudged.

The government shut down has served a few purposes. It has shown the dangerous strategy played by the Tea Party elements of the GOP, one that may see them pay a heavy toll. But it is not without its benefits. When the funding dries up for government services, it is incumbent on the public to see what takes priority.  To take one conspicuous example of where these priorities lie, the Department of Defense has recalled 90 percent of civilian employees.

Despite what the Clapper-Alexander narrative suggests, the spy business will always triumph over the task of oversight.  Unaccountability remains the treasured goal of the surveillance state, elevating national security to the status of the sacred.  The constitution of the Review panel, sans technologists and an interest in protecting encryption and secure technologies, suggests that.  The NSA crew have a perfect excuse: in times when there are no funds, they are entitled to be beyond scrutiny. The agency has admitted as much: it is currently refusing to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and Henry the First: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail