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Secrecy's Tangled Web of Deceit

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Source: Consortium News


Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency.

The name card at the Senate hearing read, "Hon. General Keith B. Alexander," but layering on the extra honorific title was not enough to change the sad reality that the National Security Agency's director -- a proven prevaricator -- was not "honorable."

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You might have thought that some impish congressional staffer was trying to inject a touch of irony into the proceedings by prefacing "General" with "Hon." -- like Mark Antony mocking Julius Caesar's murderers as "honorable men" in Shakespeare's play. But that didn't seem to be the case.

Likely, the extra title was just a mistake by the person printing out the name cards or someone who thought it would do no harm to tack on one more flattering title like a court herald might do in announcing the arrival of royalty. But -- whatever the case -- the image of Alexander, with his history of lying to Congress (see below), sitting behind the assurance that he was "honorable" might have elicited from the Bard a comment like, "Methinks they doth protest too much."

The Wednesday hearing was led by Senate Appropriations Committee chair Barbara Mikulski, Democrat from Maryland, the state which hosts the gargantuan multi-billion-dollar-spending National Security Agency. To her credit, she let her Senate colleagues focus on the revelations by Edward Snowden regarding highly intrusive NSA monitoring of the communications of virtually every living soul, even though cyber-security spending was to be the main agenda item.

The public hearing, however, did allow the "honorable" Alexander to do a snow job on Edward Snowden, with the eager help of some of the senators. But when a few senators dared to ask probing questions, those were deferred to the Senate Intelligence Committee, where chair Dianne Feinstein can more easily protect Alexander and his Fourth-Amendment-shredding accomplices -- including herself -- especially in executive session.

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Oversight Is "Nonsense"

Wednesday's hearing proved Daniel Ellsberg right in saying earlier this week:

"...to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense -- as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time -- as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads -- they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor."

Given what we now know, thanks to whistleblower Snowden, it is clear that Alexander made a host of untruthful statements to the media as well as Congress in recent years. Not to worry. Unconstitutional eavesdropping advocates/defenders in Congress and the media know quite well how to play all this. Exhibit A: Lead headline in Thursday's Washington Post, "Dozens of attacks foiled, NSA says."

Here's the lede:

"The head of the National Security Agency defended his agency's broad electronic surveillance programs Wednesday, saying that they have helped thwart dozens of terrorist attacks and that their recent public disclosure has done 'great harm' to the nation's security."

The Post adds that Alexander went on to claim: "Our agency takes great pride in protecting this nation and our civil liberties and privacy."

The front-pager by Ellen Nakashima and Jerry Markon recounted -- with no apparent attempt to solicit background, much less confirmation -- specific cases where Alexander claimed that the intrusive eavesdropping programs "helped thwart" terrorist attacks. It took the London Guardian virtually no time to challenge Alexander on two of the main cases he adduced: the arrests and convictions of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi in 2009 and David Headley, now serving a 35-year prison sentence for his role in the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

The Guardian's Ed Pilkington and Nicholas Watt, no doubt anticipating the tales Alexander would weave, wrote:

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"But court documents lodged in the US and UK, as well as interviews with involved parties, suggest that data-mining through Prism and other NSA programmes played a relatively minor role in the interception of the two plots. Conventional surveillance techniques, in both cases including old-fashioned tip-offs from intelligence services in Britain, appear to have initiated the investigations."

Previous Prevarication

My apologies, but it's just too contrived for me to defer to the convention, prevailing in the Washington Establishment, of not calling a lie a lie. For those few who may not have noticed, lying to the obsequious note-takers and speedy stenographers who pose as journalists is part of the woodwork in the nation's capital these days.

But lying to Congress? Isn't that still a felony or at least grounds for getting summarily fired? There is proof that Alexander lied to Congress -- well before Wednesday's disingenuous performance. He did so almost eight years ago. And he seems to have paid no price. Indeed, it has served him well, career-wise.

For almost a dozen years now we have been hearing, "After 9/11 everything changed!" Include NSA under that rubric. After the attacks of 9/11, then-Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden saluted smartly when ordered by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to trash what had been known throughout the intelligence community as NSA's "First Commandment -- Thou shalt not eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant."

After 9/11 the prevailing attitude -- in Congress as well as the Executive -- was that there was no need to pay much attention to the rule of law, or to abide by solemn oaths to support and defend the Constitution. But there were still some Americans who believed that the law was the law and who sought some accountability from telecommunication companies that had cooperated with warrantless wiretapping.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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