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Reading Others' Mail...or Going Blind on the Battlefield

"Gentlemen don't read each others' mail," said U.S. Secretary of State Henry Stimson back in 1929.  False then, false now.  What?  Spies are actually spying?  asks the blogger known as the DiploMad, who has done a bit of spying himself.  Ridiculous!

Virgins are losing their virginity?  Surely no serious person can be surprised, least of all any American who -- even occasionally -- follows the news.  "Privacy" has been abolished, long since.  We live in the age of Wikileaks and Anonymous, as readers here have known for some time.  Snooping is omnipresent, although the White House has said it will do less in the future.

Don't forget that eight years ago the Wall Street Journal told us:

In a recent survey of 840 U.S. companies by the American Management Association, 60% said they now use some type of software to monitor their employees’ incoming and outgoing e-mail, up from 47% in 2001,” wrote staff reporters for The Wall Street Journal on March 9, 2005. “Other workplace privacy experts place the current percentage even higher.

And that's just the private sector.  The government's bigger, by orders of magnitude.

What are we to make of all this?  For guidance, I turned to the spirit of the late James Jesus Angleton, once upon a time the head of CIA counterintelligence, himself a consummate snooper.  I wasn't sure my untrusty ouija board would work, having been occupied with writing obligations of late, but it was fine.  There he was, gravelly voice and all, seemingly happy to chat.

JJA:  Wow!  Talk about action...so many circular firing squads, it's amazing anyone is still standing in the intel world, huh?

ML:  I'll say.  And everyone's an expert.

JJA:  Of course.  As a general matter, knowledge is power and status.  Not always, of course.  Ignorance is blissful at scandal time.   But the general rule is that admitting ignorance is tantamount to confessing weakness and lack of importance.  So they feign knowledge.  But not the president, who wants to blame his assistants in this case.

ML:  Well, there ARE others who purport to be ignorant.  The Feinstein woman, for example...

JJA:  Good point.  She's calling for an investigation, as if that wasn't her job all along.  I mean, she's the chairwoman of the Senate Intel Committee, isn't she?  So she's supposed to be on top of such activities.  What does she need an investigation for?  She should just tell us what she thinks about it all.

ML:  I agree.  Her call for an investigation is a bit of misdirection to protect herself, and it also fits well with the president's strategy.

JJA:  Yup.  They want to develop a picture in which lots of otherwise important people didn't know.  That's standard scandal practice.

ML:  It's unlikely anyone is going to step forward and say "but I briefed the president on such and such a date," so we're left to ponder the logic of the ignorance claim, right?

JJA:  It's certainly unlikely, but it's well short of impossible.  Remember that NSA is a military organization, and there are many current and former top officers who are very upset with Obama.  You've been reading the stories about the so-called purge of the military, right?

ML:  Yes.  This one, for example, by one of the best journalists in Washington.

JJA:  It's conceivable that someone in the military might actually know that the president gets briefed on the targets of our intercepts, and might be so angry at what he sees as a purge of his friends and colleagues that he comes forward.

ML:  Or someone who straddles the line between the military and intelligence communities...

JJA:  Yes, a Petraeus type.  Or someone close to Panetta.  But this is all what the Italians call fantapolitica, and there's plenty of reality to deal with here.