Recent spying allegations appear unprecedented, but they’re not. Did we ever think that the NSA did not tap into an extraordinary array of communication channels, adversaries and allies alike?
While intelligence is shrouded in secrecy, snippets of news and indicated the extent of data gathering. News of intelligence officers pleading with a newly inaugurated President Obama in 2008 to drop his Blackberry could have signaled to anyone noticing that snooping into cell phone conversations was already standard protocol. At least I thought so.
We learned after 9/11 that our spy agencies listened to conversations of 9/11 hijackers discussing plans for that azure blue September morning. We nabbed the chatter, but missed the conversation. We merely learned our intelligence gathering is like a sieve and our remarkable ability to glean terabytes of information didn’t match our modest knowledge of simple language. We didn’t have enough translators to comprehend Mohammed Atta’s nefarious scheming until after his deed was accomplished. The untranslated documents sat idle at NSA and couldn’t prevent a scorching flurry of confetti ignited by jet fuel from melting the structural steel of the Twin Towers and razing the structures.
We learned nothing. We increased our Black Budget by tens of billions of dollars on technology but not on translators. Worse, Investors’ Business Daily reports the miniscule pool of Arabic translators we have is threatened with 20 percent of applicants having ties to al Qaeda.
Technologically strong, we remained blissfully ignorant. We foolishly declared Iran and Iraq an “axis of evil”, despite the sad fact those two countries lost over a million young lives annihilating each other and despite the fact that al Qaeda is no friend to either.
Iran had assisted us in our pursuit of al Qaeda after 9/11 and before David Frum penned those unwitting lines for George W. Bush to read at his 2002 State of the Union address. Why are tens of billions of dollars spent on intelligence gathering when our policy makers can’t bother to learn the differences between Iran and Iraq? What is the point? If intelligence is not the capacity to acquire and apply knowledge, then what is it?
Intelligence is not merely gathering reams of data, but the ability to perceive and comprehend meaning. The NSA’s technology budget overshadows expenditures for the Department of State by several factors and in deed, they have more diplomatic influence than our diplomats do. With recent revelations of NSA spying, it appears Intelligence overrode most negotiating efforts by The State Department. They became in effect a Fourth Branch of government with no oversight from either the executive or legislative branches.
Retired Admiral John Poindexter of Iran–Contra notoriety is the disaster that keeps on giving. His brainchild, the Information Awareness Office (IAO), began funding of research and development of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. After TIA was defunded by Congress in 2003, it merely continued under other pseudonyms, as Edward Snowden’s 2013 leaks revealed. The fact is that TIA did not prevent terrorist attacks, as the NSA already was already spying on foreign terrorists, but only enriched private contractors, including John Poindexter.
He was VP of SYNTEK Technologies prior to joining DARPA in 2002. SYNTEK provided computer technology to DARPA, which IAO later became a part of. The revolving door of contractors to government assignments and back is pathetic. As my grandfather said, “If someone protests that it isn’t about the money, then it’s about the money!”
It’s difficult to view IAO and TIA as untainted by SYNTEK’s potential for profit. The sad fact is our weakness in intelligence gathering is not in computer technology, but people. Translators are not nearly as lucrative for defense contractors as computer technology, and the avalanche of cyber data can’t be funneled effectively through our tiny pool of translators. Thus the net gain of TIA is nothing.
Thankfully NSA’s work has prevented some atrocious terrorist attacks. One conservative news network carelessly reported on a serious attempt over five years ago that would have killed significant numbers of people. (It was reckless and foolish to report the details of the plot, for the inherent weakness in the target city’s infrastructure still exists. I believe if any other network had reported the details the way this conservative network did, that network would have been accused of jeopardizing national security.) But uncovering that plot wasn’t TIA, which drowns data in irrelevancies such as Angela Merkel’s texts, but the same excellent spook work as spies do well.
That said, tapping of phone lines has been a fast tradition of our intelligence agencies since inception. We have tapped most anything we have wanted to, because we could. How we manage that information from those agencies is the real question. Or do we manage it or them, or does our Fourth Branch do as it pleases without oversight?
In several cases, the Fourth Branch of government ran foreign policy. Our intelligence agencies spearheaded several coupes, which sometimes led to disastrous outcomes. Sometimes not.
We installed Chili’s Augusto Pinochet and his military government to combat Salvador Allende’s leftist socialism. Socialism isn’t Communism, but no matter, Nixon’s and Kissinger’s thinking was that it was better to install a terrible dictatorship than to tolerate a liberal democracy. The CIA’s covert overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh in 1953 irrefutably led to blowback against us in 1979. We’re still paying the price.
Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. and the Dulles brothers were instrumental in that coupe, and they received awards of gratitude for public service from Eisenhower for their efforts.
My grandfather, Thomas (Tom) Douglas Christian, on my father’s side received the same award from Eisenhower. He was the president of the telephone company in Brazil, and he spearheaded the attempted ouster of Getúlio Vargas in 1954, who had socialist leanings and committed suicide instead. A few years of instability ensued, and when Nereu Ramos’ term ended, it seemed likely a socialist was going to get elected.
Tom was employed by IT&T but was paid by the CIA. I asked him why and how, and he replied it was likely a socialist government was going to come to power, because he tapped phones during the election.
“Everyone’s,” he replied. “’Yea,” he continued in his Virginia drawl, “We couldn’t have a Communist run Brazil.”
“Did you stuff your candidate’s ballot boxes?”
“No. We stuffed every ballot box on both sides. Then we claimed the elections were bad and then made sure our man won in the next round.”
Juscelino Kubitschek turned out to be a successful President. His term led to progress and economic prosperity for Brazil. Our intelligence agencies’ efforts led to his election, but it was Dictatorship in the name of Democracy.
Douglas Christian is a multimedia Capitol Hill reporter. He has covered the 2016 Democratic and Republican conventions as a photographer and has produced numerous audio and video reports for Talk Media News. He has written scores of articles and op-ed pieces for the Baltimore Post Examiner, touching on politics to the arts and to hi-tech.
Douglas has worked as a photographer for decades. He has produced a few books on Oriental rugs; one was on Armenian Oriental rugs and the other was published by Rizzoli and co-authored by his uncle entitled, ‘Oriental Rugs of the Silk Route’. Douglas attended the Putney School in Vermont, a tiny progressive school in Vermont, where he became enthralled with photography and rebuilt a 4×5 camera. Later during college, he attended the Ansel Adams Workshop at Yosemite, where he determined to pursue photography. He transferred to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and received a BFA from Tufts. He has photographed an array of people including politicos such as William F. Buckley, Jr., George McGovern, Edward Teller and Cesar Chavez. His photography URL is www.photographystudio.com. His twitter feed is @xiwix. He currently resides in Washington, D.C.