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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail