Roger L. Simon

Panic in Wheedle Park

I don’t condone our government spying on its citizens, but excuse me if I am a little more than skeptical about the recent revelations that Bush asked the NSA to do domestic surveillance and about the sudden appearance of this information.

Let’s start with this: For years now, anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to such matters knows that the internet is being digitally crawled by spy agencies – the NSA, the CIA, the governments of Russia, China, England, France, Israel, Germany, Italy, Canada, Australia or anyone else with the technological capability. Who knows where the list begins or ends? They have been looking into our email and instant messages, pulling out key words and scanning the contents, reporting to their superiors and so forth.

Hello! These communications are domestic and foreign. Very often they are both. They are all being examined by the same search engines. Unless you’re on a seriously closed company system, if you think your email of IM is private, you’re either an idiot or totally disinterested.

Meanwhile, most of the aforesaid entities are flying satellites over our heads. These have been monitoring phone conversations for who knows how many years, but The Puzzle Palace – the seminal work about the NSA – is copyright 1982. The book details the formation of an electronic intelligence cartel in the Anglosphere back in 1947. Anyone who believes this spying ended inside our country, that the NSA wasn’t monitoring phone, wire, internet and every other sort of communication between the US, the Middle East, Europe and Asia is a number one candidate for a Brooklyn Bridge contract. (How successful they were or are at this is another matter.)

If there is any kernel of truth in this “shocking” revelation it is that Bush – after 9/11 – reminded (or endorsed) the NSA to do what he and every other President knew they were already doing. In other words, he was just trying to make sure someone was listening in when the next Mohammed Atta called home. Wouldn’t you? (Well, it’s not pretty, but I would wager most of us would in the President’s position – no matter what our political party.)

So why publish this now?

Well, besides economic desperation (everyone knows the New York Times, like most of the print media, is in miserable shape), there’s obviously this. Of course, the nixing of the Patriot Act is not final and may ultimately backfire on the naysayers, but for the moment they seem to have won a victory. It was all they could do in the face of the Iraqi election. With the risk of that being a huge success (and it was – at least for now), they had to do something to salvage their position without seeming to be against democracy. The Times and their fusty allies are indeed in a desperate situation. Panic in Wheedle Park has set in.