God, I Can’t Get the Stench of Ick Off Me!

Stinks I mean seriously. Suddenly Geraldo Rivera is making sense? I’m in the same camp as Ms. Lindsey? This can only mean one thing.

I’ve been transported once again in my sleep by aliens to a far, far distance universe. I wanna come home!

It all started innocently enough.

You know me, speak first, think later. It’s been a lifelong methodology for me. Being nimble of mind, I usually can wriggle myself into some sort of explanatory pose without looking the complete fool. (Some would say–my no-named detractors, all noted I might add for an inability to add 2 + 2 and get 4 regularly, where was I? Oh yes, my detractors might claim I’m a complete fool all the time, but of course they are wrong).


Yesterday, in view of the revelations of one Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian, I was pretty down on the President. I’m not, and never have been a Patriot Act fan, neither liking the term patriot, which seems always used by those who really aren’t,  nor liking the flag-waving exceptionalism it tends to signify. Therefore hearing that the Obama Administration has continued a policy of sorting through my telephone calls gave me reason to lament his policy, all the while suggesting that the GOP in general would have a tough time railing against something they wrote (the Patriot Act) and passed on several times already under President Bushy. I also noted that of course faux news groups like Fox would forget all that history, and condemn their favorite whipping boy with nary a dropped beat.

So, then I actually learned what this is all about.

And I’m not nearly so upset as I was, since facts have a weird ability to actually turn wild speculative gut reactions into calm reasoned understanding of truth.

Okay, so let’s review. Under Bush, the government started this data mining process of collecting phone records. It began the process in around 2002, and without authorization from the FISA court which had been started in 1978. They were proceeding without court authority. This monitoring was done to foreign persons and American citizens.

Sometime around 2006, FISA was brought into the mix and the program continued to the present albeit with FISA oversight procedures in place. Congress regularly is called upon to renew the government’s ability to proceed, and so far it has. In fact Senator Diane Feinstein indicated that the issue of data mining of phone records has been debated by her committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, no fewer than twelve times.  Ultra conservative Senator Lindsey Graham also suggested that he was not at all troubled by the “revelations” announced and that he found there was “nothing to worry about.”  Ditto Republican Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Of course, the fact that it started under Bush is not some imprimatur upon the practice to be sure. In fact it might be close to the opposite. But it behooves us to look at what the practice actually entails before we condemn it as government overreach, no matter how legal it may be–and no one suggests it was illegal.

What goes on here is called metadata  mining.

Metadata, essentially, is data about data. Data mining programs use computer algorithms to search large collections of data for patterns.

Still sound like gobbledygook? It works something like this. Billions of phone calls are made daily. The numbers are gathered along with length of conversation. It’s essentially dumped into a data base. In other words, one computer downloads its billions of numbers into another computer. There it sits. When a terrorist suspect comes under scrutiny, his specific number is plugged into the database and “hits” are looked for. The computer has the ability (which no human could do) to see patterns in the calls this person X makes. For instance. X is in Istanbul. He is a “known” terrorist. He places a calls Yemen, Colorado, and Miami. The numbers in Yemen make calls to New Jersey and Miami and Charleston. The number from Colorado makes calls to New Jersey and Charleston.  Charleston called Colorado. A pattern is established.

At this point, (with perhaps other surveillance information)  as I understand it, the government goes to the FISA court and requests a warrant to subpoena the actual names of those persons in the pattern. And with further investigation it may lead to actually looking at the actual conversations or lead to wiretaps.

Similar things are done with the Internet, now a preferred means of communication between terrorist cells.

So nobody is reading your e-mails. Nobody is listening to your calls, or noting that you called Cousin Dotty last month. It’s just numbers and no human is even looking at the metadata at all, since it is meaningless anyway.

Geraldo Rivera suggests that this leak of the program, is directly related to the anger of the journalistic community at the subpoenaing journalist phone records in an attempt to uncover leaks by government employees. It’s a “in your face” sort of response.

The Rivera claims are in fact real. Terrorists do learn from our leaks and move to new ways of doing business. It is thought that it is this reason that caused the Obama Administration to move into the Internet data mining arena. At least Nicolle Wallace, former communication chief for Bush suggested this on Morning Joe this morning.

So, in all, I’m a lot less upset now than I was.

But of course I now find myself in a quandary. I recall that I was supportive of the leaking of the Pentagon Papers back in the Nixon years, and I have been similarly supportive of Bradley Manning and his leaking of information about the wars in the Middle East. But I find myself rather supportive of the government’s attempts to stop leaks from those who may in fact be more interested in harming a president than they are about the “immorality” of that which they leak about. (I’m of course reading that in).

So I am conflicted. I don’t think that the Pentagon papers situation or the Manning leaks compromised “security”, but rather reflected our government’s being deeply involved with corruption without those countries. Perhaps my memory is faulty. Here I see real attempts to undermine THIS government as a political ploy to gain advantage for a party or group within a party. Predictably Rand Paul is screeching that 1984 has arrived. Paul of course would be happiest without any government at all, and his squawking has to be held in that context. It should be noted that Paul introduced an amendment last year to ban this stuff when it was PASSED once again in December.

So are my positions irreconcilable or not?

Hopefully some of you can assist me, for a mind divided cannot stand. (Unless you’re a fundamentalist, and then all bets are off).

So help me out here guys.

For an excellent timetable of the Patriot Act/FISA/NSA database, see What you Should Know about the Government Massive Domestic Surveillance Program.


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12 comments on “God, I Can’t Get the Stench of Ick Off Me!

  1. lbwoodgate says:

    Yes, privacy right violations under the guise of national security often put us at odds with our perceived constitutional rights. I’m like you. I understand what’s going on here with metadata mining phone calls but I am always uncomfortable with the fact that we are still dealing with human beings – imperfect human beings, biased human, contemptible human beings, naive human beings. This program can open the door to issues that would allow some to have even more power over us than they already do.

    Always expecting good people to keep a watchful eye on such programs is not all that sensible in these days as corporate special interests gain greater control over our political system each day. The people who are in charge of this may ultimately be able to watch the every move of those forces who want to keep such powerful corporate interests in check. That seems to have already happened where wealthy special interests used the FBI and NYPD to infiltrate the Occupy Wall Street movement, shortly after it began.

  2. Jerry Faulkner says:


    Wake up, take the dogs out, take my pills, pour my coffee and read your prose of the day — that’s what I do — and your words are free!

    Am I the only one that believes if this piece was printed on the front-page of every newspaper in America, people would have an “understanding” of the issue? Instead, we have “the press” that is seemingly always tainted in some direction, depending on the writer’s current agenda or the demands of the one that lives in their back pocket.

    I like to believe that most thinking people (I know there aren’t a great deal of them) are aware of how “information” is passed on to us — we read it with one eye-fluttering — is it true or is not? Your essay provides concise historical fact, with injections of levity, concisely surveying varied angles of opinion and leaves me with everything needed to evaluate the issue.

    Instead of finding your essay on the front-page, we are often pay to read what is offered by “writers” that provide us with much less balance and accuracy of fact — depending on who pissed them off the day before or what their “master” insisted they scribble.

    I just read this piece to my household and at least between the two humans in the group — a respectful and vigorous discussion ensued. (God…I am thankful that 35 yrs. ago I chose compañero de mi vida that loves to debate all aspects of a situation. If I had to live with someone incapable of helping me mine my “truth” by engaging me in satisfying verbal intercourse — I feel sure I would be the sole human in my household).

    Finally…the “Golden Words of the Day” award for me:
    “And I’m not nearly so upset as I was, since facts have a weird ability to actually turn wild speculative gut reactions into calm reasoned understanding of truth.” — an “ah…” was heard in this house — a simple utterance demonstrating our loving appreciation.

    SO, I know… with regard to your question as to whether your positions are irreconcilable, I provided no insight — that’s my M.O. Maybe later I will let you know what flavor of good grease floated to the top for us — your loving neighbors to the north.

    Grateful to you for continuing to stoke our fires.

    • Sherry says:

      Jerry this may be the nicest comment I’ve ever received and from a fellow New Mexican! What can be better? It has occurred to me after learning a bit about this issue that as usual, truth gives way to what is politically expedient. We have the outrage of Fox who knows better but finds that the brain dead who listen to them won’t know that. We have the rank and file Republicans who voted for it, know all about it, and figure they can’t back away. We have the teabaggers like Paul who knew all about it, and yet try to make it as if they are just finding out and appalled–all in time to continue to stoke the fires of presidential dreams, and then of course we have the blue-dog democrats who figure it’s a safe item to attack on to soothe the savage beast of Republicanism rampant in their districts. Few speak truth. And while I never like that which compromises privacy and human freedom, this is far from one– at least with this President. Talk to me again if we switch to a knuckle dragger next election. Much love Jerry. !END

  3. Thomas says:

    That’s a lot of just taking the government at their word. They admitted to what they got caught doing, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing more.

    Even if all they are doing is stockpiling “metadata,” Nixon could have used that information to quickly uncover who “Deep Throat” was, find out who was helping organize those pesky anti-war protests, and learn who the friends of his “enemies” were. Accessing an existing database wouldn’t be too difficult, and there are always G. Gordon Liddys and Oliver Norths around happy to lend a hand.

    We’re just one bad president away from finding out how damaging this program can be.

    • Sherry says:

      Thomas you are correct. It deserves a full discussion, just without the pretend hysteria. There is, as the PResident said, a compromise that is required to be safe and free at the same time. Where to strike the balance is a discussion we should be having. !END

  4. Hansi says:

    Boy am I sure glad that ordering pizza to be delivered is not against the law, I’d be seriously busted. But seriously, you clarified this whole issue, and clarity will arise for you too on this issue.
    My basic position on “Big Brother” type issues is: There’s just too much information these days, and not nearly enough bureaucrats to monitor it all. If you’re not doing anything flagrantly visible, you’ll be able to stay under the radar all ya want.

    • Sherry says:

      WEll that’s what common sense tells me too Hansi. The depth and breadth of information available to even the casual user of the Internet boggles the mind. Nobodies basically are ignored,and that is what most of us are. It’s just another attempt I think to try to discredit this administration. When will they accept that, yes a black man is in the white house? lol..!END

  5. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    I’m reserving my knee-jerk hysteria, which is what I’ve seen going on since the news broke. Were this issue not cloaked in political up-manship, we Americans probably could have a rational discussion about it. Rand Paul needs to shut the hell up. He’s useless. Frankly, I have no issue with what the government is doing. I’m just not going to get my bowels in an uproar over some perceived invasion of privacy. People want privacy? Stop sharing so damn much on social media and through e-mail. I CAN’T get worked up over this when throughout the world, people are facing much dire problems and disasters and tragedies because of their truly repressive governments. Thanks for this post, Sherry. A bit of ambivalence in how we feel about something is fine – but toppling over into some vast government big-brother conspiracy is just silly.

    • Sherry says:

      I tend to agree with you Jean. I laugh at the folks who are screaming about invasion of privacy. Most of them are anti-choice when it comes to abortion and of course that is ALL about privacy isn’t it? I think there should be a rational discussion about the issue but I too am not inordinately upset about it. You are so right that we share a heck of a lot more through social media than the government gets from this business. It’s all politics in my mind. !END

  6. darknesslites says:

    I haven’t quite made up my mind about the whole mess. Makes sense to have computers monitoring for tell tale key words & patterns that might help us out. Makes no sense to keep trivial everyday data for floating around for years and years “just in case”. There’s of course a risk such data can be misused. That has to be considered, but I’m not decided on how seriously it should be considered. I have no illusion of privacy on the net or much of anywhere else. So I have a bit of trouble worrying overly much about it.

    • Sherry says:

      I share your conflict, and I tend to come down on the same side. The new NE senator (independent can’t think of his name) suggested that the data be retained by the phone companies and only accessed by way of court order. But they are saying that they are having to build new facilities just to house this data, so how can you impose that on the phone companies? It bares this discussion certainly and now we are having it hopefully. !END

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