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Monday, June 10, 2013

David Brooks, "The Solitary Leaker": Data Mining or Strip Mining?

Were you ever a whistleblower? For almost 40 years I have been privy to government, corporate and military secrets, and during this entire period there was indeed one instance - many years ago - when I wrote to a government regulatory authority concerning the "distribution" of corporate assets among management and highly placed friends. The information was passed from the regulatory authority to the board of directions of this august institution. Given its haste to dispose of this time bomb, they promptly created a new rule: If the source of information is "anonymous," we won't discuss it, i.e. we don't care if it's true. On the other hand, serious efforts were undertaken to determine who was responsible for the leak.

Me? I learned that there is much to be said for the pleasure of growing broccoli, sans anxiety, in my garden.

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "The Solitary Leaker" (, David Brooks addresses the leak by Edward Snowden of "data mining procedures of the National Security Agency." Brooks claims that Snowden engaged in a series of betrayals against "honesty and integrity," "friends," "employers," "open government," "the privacy of us all," and "the Consitution." Yup, that's a whole lot of betraying.

But hold your horses, David. NSA "data mining procedures"? Given the enormity of the information being gathered, the limited value of this information, and the resultant damage to the Constitutional rights of the individual, I prefer to label this "strip mining."

Brooks, of course, argues, "If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods." My goodness, federal security agencies will need to go after bad guys with names after first obtaining court orders for wiretaps?  Just think, in the interests of privacy and First Amendment freedom, they might just have to do things the oldfangled, time consuming way. What a disaster!

Brooks isn't concerned about Snowden's claim that "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail" ( I certainly am worried.

Brooks writes, "The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed." On the other hand, I would argue that the founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could access from his desk the most intimate thoughts of any citizen.

Brooks concludes:

"Judging by his comments reported in the news media so far, Snowden was obsessed with the danger of data mining but completely oblivious to his betrayals and toward the damage he has done to social arrangements and the invisible bonds that hold them together."

Well, in case Brooks hasn't noticed, we have just begun to learn to what extent "social arrangements and the invisible bonds that hold them together" have unraveled without connection to Snowden. A US ambassador can be sacrificed without his government so much as lifting a finger to protect him in order to perpetuate a pre-election myth that the president had brought al-Qaeda to heel. The IRS can engage in flagrant discrimination against conservative organizations (I am not a conservative), while making "Star Trek" movies and spending millions of dollars on lavish conferences. The EPA can similarly engage in discrimination against conservative organizations (see:  The Department of Energy can engage in nepotistic hiring practices (see:

"Social arrangements and the invisible bonds that hold them together"? As W.C. Fields once said, "Sounds like a bubble in a bathtub."

Don't get me wrong: I don't agree with the manner in which Snowden leaked this information, and he should be extradited and prosecuted. However, I also believe that NSA outsourcing and "strip mining procedures" need to be urgently reviewed and radically revised.

And then there is also that "small" matter of how James Clapper lied to the Senate. As observed by Dana Milbank in an opinion piece entitled "Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks are backlash of too much secrecy" in today's Washington Post (

"Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper at a Senate hearing in March, 'Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?'

'No, sir,' Clapper testified.

'It does not?' Wyden pressed.

'Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.'

We now know that Clapper was not telling the truth."

Query for Brooks: When America's Director of National Intelligence is prepared to tell falsehoods to Congress, what does this say of his precious "social arrangements and the invisible bonds that hold them together"?



    If only these students knew just how much Baidu, China's #1 search engine, conspires with their government to filter and censor search results.

  2. Google knows what we think based on what we search for. In fact, Google is smart enough to accurately predict and complete a phrase or sentence we're searching for. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter know who our friends and colleagues are as well as where and what we've been up to, simply because we agree to share that information with them. Verizon knows what we say because all calls are tapped in accordance with the Lawful Intercept sections of the The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) passed in 1994.

    NSA knows all of the above and much more because that's their job - and they're very good at what they do.

    Snowden was naive to think that he could single handily change the system when in fact, as he points out, "it will only get worse". Why worse? Because these systems work SO well. PRISM and other similar programs allow governments to assess the {fill in the blank} beliefs (and possibly the intent) of everyone who ever surfed the Internet or talked on a phone while systematically categorizing them into Friend/Foe/NA bins. These tools are the collective wet dream of McCarthy, Hoover and Nixon with the official guarantee of immunity from prosecution by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

    Honestly, if Nixon's plumbers had access to something like PRISM in 1971, would we ever know about the extent of his abuse of power?

    I too, hope Snowden will be extradited and will soon see his day in court, in an open hearing. The alternative is a never ending smear campaign portraying him as a high school dropout , traitor and mental case. A gloomier, alternative ending is how he "committed suicide as a result of a prolonged despondency" - found floating face down, with five shots to the back of his head.


    Is this a petition to pardon Edward Snowden or an an expedited request to be audited by the IRS?

    Time will tell.

  4. Those of us who watch NCIS might be lulled into thinking only the good guys hack, but, we also know Gibbs' Rules, also available in Dutch, French, German, and Spanish:

    Rule #7 "Always be specific when you lie."
    Rule #16 "If someone thinks they have the upper hand, break it."
    Rule #35 "Always watch the watchers."
    Rule #36 "If it feels like you're being played, you probably are."
    Rule #39 "There is no such thing as coincidence."
    Rule #40 "If it seems like someone's out to get you, they are."

    or, you can start by watching NCIS, season 9 "Power Down" where all it takes is one deep cover Russian spy to replace one server at one ISP provider to eavesdrop on the entire USA government.


  5. My July 2013 issue of 'Vanity Fair" came in the snail mail yesterday. Still reading what is also posted online, a corollary to all of this, exposing cyber-war:

    "Silent War"
    "On the hidden battlefields of history’s first known cyber-war, the casualties are piling up. In the U.S., many banks have been hit, and the telecommunications industry seriously damaged, likely in retaliation for several major attacks on Iran. Washington and Tehran are ramping up their cyber-arsenals, built on a black-market digital arms bazaar, enmeshing such high-tech giants as Microsoft, Google, and Apple. With the help of highly placed government and private-sector sources, Michael Joseph Gross describes the outbreak of the conflict, its escalation, and its startling paradox: that America’s bid to stop nuclear proliferation may have unleashed a greater threat."



  6. "These Agency inner sancta are so totally immune from any monitoring, that such unconstitutional goings on continue freely."

    These powerful and prophetic words first appeared in an article published (in print) by The Jewish Press in 1992.

    The article also appeared later under the title "One Man's Agony After The Fact"

    ...and elsewhere, under the title "Revelations of a Former NSA Insider".

    While 'Brill' is obviously a non de plume, I thought it was amusing that David Marconi, who wrote the screenplay of the movie "Enemy of the State" (1998), choose the same name for the NSA leaker and confidant of Gene Hackman's character/protagonist, Edward Lyle?

  7. K2K, most politicians I've met have followed the following rules/flowchart to the letter:

    1. Thanks, Anonymous, but VC is too intellectual for me although I sometimes try to analyze the iconography/evolution of America's cowboy-sherriff-cop-Marine sniper turned cop.

      Gary Cooper to Clint Eastwood, and past ten years, NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs Gibbs. 'Royals and Loyals" 2010 is on, again, as I type. Brit challenges Gibbs "You Yanks are cowboys -like John Wayne' and Gibbs retorts, "Gary Cooper" The Brit says "ah, Sergeant York"

      my favorite:
      #9: Never go anywhere without a knife.


      p.s. FX' "Justified" is another iteration of Gary Cooper as Sergeant York and the Sheriff in "High Noon", but I love this show because the writing is Appalachian Shakespeare (the setting is Harlan County, Kentucky, where everyone has a gun)

      maybe I should become anonymous.