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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Maureen Dowd, "Creeping Cloud": Are You Under a Cloud of Suspicion?

Clouds can be both "good" (e.g., "on cloud nine") and bad" (e.g., "under a cloud of suspicion"), but like the weather, of which they form a part, they can be hard to influence.

From what Maureen Dowd tells us in her latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Creeping Cloud" (, the "data cloud," billowing up from the N.S.A.'s Bluffdale facility, appears to be out of control. Dowd writes:

"James Bamford, the chronicler of the untrammeled powers of the 'Puzzle Palace,' as he calls the N.S.A., wrote in Wired that the Utah tower of Babel may be able to store a yottabyte. That is equal to a septillion bytes or about 500 quintillion (500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.

'It’s basically the N.S.A.’s external hard drive,' Bamford told me, noting that our phone call was no doubt being logged by the Bluffdale computers. 'It holds more private information than anyplace else on earth.'

Bamford believes that the N.S.A. has transmogrified from an agency that 'watched the Soviet Union to make sure it didn’t blow us up with nuclear weapons,' to one 'that keeps collecting and collecting and collecting but doesn’t seem to do us any good.'

'They saw 9/11 and all these other terrorist attacks on CNN. They didn’t have a clue. The more electronic hay they stack on their haystack, the more difficult it is to find the needle.'

Bamford believes that Americans need to get out of their crouch on terrorism and get alarmed that James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, can deceive Congress without even a reprimand from the president."

As I have remarked in the past, mountains of raw data, without a methodology to sort through it, is entirely worthless.

Americans need to get alarmed that James Clapper sought to deceive Congress without a reprimand from the president? Why? Susan Rice sought to deceive all Americans regarding the reason for the attack against the Benghazi consulate, yet she was promoted to United States National Security Advisor by Obama.

But more to the point, Dowd's opinion piece was surely written before publication today of a New York Times article entitled "N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens" ( by James Risen and Laura Poitras, which points to worrisome overreaching by the N.S.A:

"Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.

. . . .

The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.

N.S.A. officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing."

And where is constitutional lawyer Barack Obama while this inclement, amorphous cloud grows darker and larger overhead?

If this is anything like the IRS scandal, he is probably reading about it in the newspapers like the rest of us, before heading out to the links.

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