posted May 25, 2006 02:32 PM
Go Away, NSA - Better Dead Than Eavesdropped!
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Should I be paying some sort of royalty to the Christian religion?
On the level, I'm Jewish but there's one line in Christianity that I frequently borrow to tamp down rage. It works better than any pill or intravenous tranquilizer. The line is "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do!"
The thought of Jesus Christ dying painfully on the cross, glancing upward and asking God to forgive his murderers because they don't know what they're doing is pure moral grandeur. Pure spiritual gold. I'm not at all into meditation, breathing exercises, dynamic visualization or any other New Age tap-dancing up there where the elephants make love. That one Christian line is all that separates me from a totally vanilla, unexciting philosophical non-entity.
But that line! I can literally bring calm from the heavens down upon myself during these trigger-tense times in America by thinking about all those wrong-headed trouble-making flame-throwing hyenas on the Other Side and uttering silently to myself, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."
At the moment, my need for calm is triggered by those who trash the administration over the revelations that the National Security Agency has been "spying on innocent Americans" in "brazen violation" of the Constitution, the law, history, tradition, decency and common courtesy. My Christian mantra vaporizes my anger at all those Americans who literally do not know what they're doing. At least it takes that anger and puts it squarely where it belongs: on the heads of the opinion-makers and elected officials who know damned well what they're doing but do it anyhow because they hate Bush more than they love America.
(This perversion of patriotism doesn't happen often, but it happens. Hitler hated Jews more than he loved Germans. Here's courtroom proof. As the Soviet forces were pushing the Nazi forces westward toward Germany itself, Hitler's military priorities became NOT reinforcing and resupplying his troops, but rather using the boxcars and logistical resources to move the Jews to other concentration camps farther west so they couldn't be liberated by the advancing Red Army.)
All those honest Americans who've been sucked up the exhaust pipe by Bush-haters are exempt from contempt. Those who should wither in shame and be blown to the bottom of their fever swamps are the ones who know the truth and attack NSA and the administration anyhow. You can be in Congress and be pretty stupid. But you can NOT be in Congress or hold important posts in the mainstream media and still be too stupid to know that the NSA deserves a medal for its technology, how they use it and WHY they use it. To know that a program is an effective weapon against terrorists and yet pretend it's grounds for impeachment takes hypocrisy to poisonous and unpredictable new levels.
Everybody knows there's an FBI and a CIA. America has at least a dozen other intelligence agencies whose profiles are flat even with the ground and whose very names are completely unknown to the public. In the early 1950s the NSA was on that unmentionable list. I'd never heard of the NSA until I was thrust inside it while serving in the Army during the Korean War. There was a sprawling campus of what had been an exclusive girls' school just south of Washington, D.C., that housed a large NSA facility plus a military installation for NSA's service personnel. Our initiation into the world of high-tech espionage was a one-month course at a top-secret school on U Street in Washington, which, of course, we GIs called the "U of U."
As the first lesson began, our instructor lifted up a newly arrived letter and said: "Consider all that we can tell about this letter without opening it! We can tell who it's addressed to and where that person is, who it's from and where that sender is, when it was mailed and how long it took to reach its destination."
"And that," he explained, "is what we here at the agency call ‘traffic analysis.'" In those days NSA was nowhere near a capability to eavesdrop on phone calls from near and far. Traffic analysis dealt strictly with enemy radio transmissions in code, which we could readily intercept. Even when we had no idea what the enemy was communicating, by noting and recording the "patterns" of those enemy radio transmissions we could tell who the enemy "boss" was, who responded after being contacted by that boss, what their normal pattern of contact was and, most important, what happened on the ground in Korea either just before or just after the enemy's communication pattern was broken with wild, atypical messaging back and forth.
If I understood the importance of "pattern shifts" in communications as early as 1953, you'd think Dianne Feinstein and Arlen Specter would have caught on by 2006.
My job was translating intercepted Soviet telex messages in Russian, which were all about precisely what war goods and materiel were being shipped from the Soviet Union to North Korea through Communist China. We translators got some respect from the plain old Army drill-sergeant types, but that respect was tepid compared to the respect WE had for the code-breakers in the agency. I, personally, couldn't crack the area code for Massachusetts and here we had professional cryptologists on our team who were continually getting a grip on the enemy's secret codes – in a foreign language yet!
Only rarely am I propelled into a fit of chest-bursting superiority, but it happened three years after my NSA duty as a reporter in Moscow. Every time I'd walk by the headquarters of a Soviet agency whose secret telex messages I'd been translating, I'd smile and think: "Hey, Comrades. I've been reading your mail!"
Flip forward to today. America and the world would be safer if we didn't know this, but so many media types today figure why be an anonymous keeper of an American secret if you can bleat it out and get a Pulitzer Prize? The NSA tracks but does not listen to great numbers of phone calls to see what patterns emerge when calls are frequently lodged between points inside America and points known to be centers of terrorist activity. By observing patterns that suggest more than Akhmed occasionally calling home or Makhmoud checking on an old girlfriend, the NSA, at least prior to the revelations of this operation, could zero in and listen ONLY TO THOSE MESSAGES SUGGESTING A POSSIBLE SINISTER CONNECTION.
All attempts to make masses of American voters think the NSA is eavesdropping on innocent Americans are as absurd as they are destructive. It would be a ridiculous waste of time for the NSA to delve into any calls that do not, through their pattern profile, elicit genuine suspicion.
If the New York Times and the other mass media that piled on and the artificially indignant elected officials had kept their self-serving mouths shut, America would still have a chillingly effective weapon with which to penetrate terrorist capabilities and intentions. As it is, we have little more than a way to inconvenience our enemies and make them hustle a little more to communicate among themselves. (I say "artificially indignant elected officials" as a compliment to them. If I described their indignation as sincere, I'd be insulting their intelligence.)
The NSA is no more spying on us than the mailman and the postal employees are spying on us when they sort and route our letters to us. In fact, your mailman knows more about you than your NSA "snoop" does. He knows who you are and where you live. The NSA neither knows nor cares who you are unless your phoning pattern jumps up and yells, "Hey! Look at me!"
The NSA doesn't care about your race, your religion, your political views, your drinking history, the reason you slugged an umpire at a Little League game, the state of your marriage or your sexual preference; just your phone pattern.
The World War II posters that pleaded "Loose Lips Sink Ships" were aimed at lonely sailors in East Coast port city barrooms to remind them not to tell the friendly, sympathetic woman on the adjoining stool what time the convoy headed out the next day. It was never dreamed that plea would be needed for senators, congressmen, editors and reporters.
A knife poised at the stomach can be the beginning of a murder … or the beginning of life-saving abdominal surgery.
And all who know good and well it's surgery but nonetheless cry "murder" are a kind of murderer themselves.