FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

General Alexander and the NSA

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Gen. Keith Alexander of the National Security Agency has shown himself to be at times overly eager, and at other times incompetent in pursuing his convictions. Even if he was taking sharpened scissors to the Bill of Rights, he was barely capable of making good his mission. The zealous have a habit of stumbling.

Edward Snowden’s disclosures remain the perennial dilemma of security minions – they cannot claim that he has been effective, for that shows they have been incompetent in enabling such material to be accessed by a contractor. Nor can they deny that he has had no effect at all – he must be shown to be dangerous enough, credible enough, to warrant execration, capture and sentencing.

The Snowden disclosure also brings another matter of security into play: showing that the NSA is useful, that its funding is justified, and that the surveillance role is indispensable to the security of the United States. In testimony before the Senate, Alexander argued that the NSA’s phone data collection under section 215 of the Patriot Act had frustrated “dozens of terrorist events” in the United States and abroad.

Even here, Alexander could not get it right. There was disagreement, for instance, over the role played by the NSA in interdicting Najibullah Zazi, the man behind the 2009 plot to bomb the New York City subway. Alexander had told the Senate that the internet records collection under section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act was what was essential, being “not just critical” but one “that developed the lead on [the Zazi case].”

Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, thought otherwise. It was the phone bulk collection “program that was used” in dealing with Zazi (Guardian, Jun 18). Rogers, never cheery about the Snowden novelty club of open information, is permanently fixated with the idea that the U.S. will return to the pre-surveillance era prior to the attacks of September 2001. The giant must not be shackled by legal briefs and oversight.

This tightrope of rhetoric and security is what Alexander finds himself on, though he would prefer to be working on the latter aspect of his work, rather than the former. Even his predecessor, General Michael Hayden, found his zeal to be troubling (Atlantic, Nov 12), a fascinating thought given that Hayden was the one who oversaw an aggressive spike in surveillance activities after the attacks of September 2001. “Alexander tended to be a bit of a cowboy: ‘Let’s not worry about the law. Let’s just figure out how to get the job done’” (Foreign Policy, Sep 9).

Cowboy he might well be, but what of efforts to fire Alexander, let alone hold him, and dare we use that term, accountable? Senator John McCain of Arizona was one who decided that Alexander should be made to account, not for his assault on the American constitution, but for his carelessness in letting the likes of Snowden through. The zealot was not up to scratch. “Why did Edward Snowden have that information? And what are we doing so far as screening people who have access to this information? It’s outrageous, and someone ought to be held accountable.

In Der Spiegel, McCain called for a “wholesale housecleaning” of the intelligence stables, with considerable care being paid to the use of contractors. Asked whether Alexander should resign, McCain felt that he “should resign or be fired.” The focus was on making the NSA more effective, rather than accountable as such.

Unfortunately, the McCain formula, combining frankness with deflection, lucid determination with a moment of back peddling absurdity, had to manifest itself. Yes, he had said something or rather to a German magazine, but Politico would report subsequently that McCain had not, in fact, suggested Alexander resign at all. “Senator McCain believes that there needs to be accountability for the Snowden leaks, but he is not calling for the resignation of General Alexander, who is retiring soon.” And so, the McCain effort sank like a lead balloon: no one would be walking.

Accountability is a difficult word. It’s elasticity in political circles is troubling. But in terms of the NSA, its absence is invariably addictive. Indeed, the NSA’s creation took place in the name of unaccountability, a function of national security fears in keeping the empire afloat. Little wonder that monsters such as Alexander result as the offspring of their conjurers – the soil he grew from was contaminated and putrescent to begin with.

The intelligence industrial complex shows itself yet again to assimilate those who accuse it. From being indignant about a lack of accountability, McCain has shown himself to be feeding that very complex by getting at the wrong side of the problem. The reformers have yet to have their day before the minions of the NSA. The cowboy survives, at least for now, continuing his gun slinging, data filching ways. At least till retirement.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He ran for the Australian Senate with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party.  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
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail