Anonymous Source Says


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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46 Responses

  1. Well we know they’re changing their tactics so they can hide from US Surveillance from, uhh, US Surveillance. Duh.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Actually, I think the best explanation for why the anonymous source said this isn’t because AQ is adapting to new information geaned from the leaks. Hell, anyone paying attention has known about these types of activities going back to the late 90’s. I think the better explanation is that it’s a purely political move on the part of gummint.

      Alqotoo, if the anonymous tipster is talking about domestic-international AQ communications, then it’s especially dumb since surely AQ knows the feds can monitor those communications. So the communcations must be of some other type – purely international? – that the NSA has had access to.

      But, of course, how would we know one way or the other?Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    That is,

    1. Al Qaeda is using new techniques
    2. US Intelligence is aware of that
    3. US Intelligence can still intercept the new-style messages (otherwise the story would be “Al Qaeda has gone dark”)

    That’s incredibly sensitive information to divulge. Its leakers need to be unveiled and arrested immediately.Report

  3. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    So, regarding both this:

    “Two U.S. intelligence officials say members of virtually every terrorist group, including core al-Qaida, are attempting to change how they communicate, based on what they are reading in the media, to hide from U.S. surveillance,” she writes.”

    and this:

    Unfortunately, she can’t disclose who told her this secret information because, “The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak about the intelligence matters publicly.”

    I have a few questions:

    Why would we be reading either one of these statements with heavy skepticism? Would not the skepticism be warranted by a report claiming that these weren’t the case?

    And prior to the Snowden leaks, just how did everyone think intelligence actually worked?Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

      I’m not quite sure I understand your question (if you’d like to elaborate).

      As for the issue of getting info/news from government officials about things that can’t be independently checked or sourced–that’s always been a problem.

      Most of the war on terrorism has been reported on based on government provided information–and this article in particular seeks out no sources offering counterarguments to the unsubstantiated claims made by privileged individuals.Report

    • It seems to me that if everyone was supposed to have assumed that programs like this existed all along, then the notion that exposing their existence would have caused terrorists to change their behavior seems rather far-fetched.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        Why is it so hard, Mr. Thompson, to process the difference between a politically adequate general understanding of capacities and a practically relevant particular understanding of specific capacities?

        It’s one thing to know that an enemy possesses a weapon that could kill you. It’s another thing to know its precise limitations or the enemy’s limitations in using it. To presume there’s no difference, or that a polity can defend itself successfully without acknowledging and acting upon the difference, is pure utopian fantasy. Put differently, the political question of the usefulness or legitimacy of an intelligence “weapon” and the practical question of the actual use of the weapon are two different things, and it is possible to pursue the former in a way that is prejudicial to the latter.

        As with other posts by Mr. Gach and others of the generally libertarian persuasion, I am wondering what kind of evidence on the threat and what process for coping with it either in politics or in journalism would be satisfactory to them yet not also make coping with the threat (if any) impossible. In other words, the logical conclusion of a one-sided libertarianism is always the impossibility of the liberal-democratic state, here expressed as the impossibility of its defense.Report

        • Except for the fact that I provided a number of alternatives that would have accomplished all of the government’s goals here in the previous thread. I received no response to or critique of those proposals. Additionally, as I’ve made repeatedly clear, the problem with these particular programs is the fact that they are so broad while also being conducted wholly in secret. The idea that liberal democracy can function when universally-applied policies are kept secret from the people who comprise that liberal democracy is laughable.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

            When you’re done laughing, Mr. Thompson, maybe you can either point to the particular statement providing alternatives and requesting a critique, or refresh my recollection, since I’m not sure which thread you’re referring to.

            As for the “additional” point, if the programs were conducted “wholly in secret,” then we wouldn’t be discussing them. Transparency is always relative, just as every revealing is always also a concealing.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Mr. Thompson, I don’t have the time to research the alternatives you mention in the linked comment, which I see depends additionally on the prior comment at, but I’m not convinced that its predicate – what the NSA is known to be doing, what constitutes “surveillance,” what constitutes or would constitute “abuse,” etc. – is stated accurately or in relation to a common set of facts, which was one basis of my complaint on that same thread, under a general heading of “what are we talking about when we talk about PRISM?”
                Others have discussed the distinction between politically and technically useful information, though I believe that someone involved in and responsible for intelligence and security operations might be able to put the matter more dramatically.

                My main point, which you find so winsome, was a general one with the blogger’s approach as a case in point. It concerns the implications of a any one-sided libertarian approach to the liberal democratic state. From this point of view, what would be “laughable” would be to think that a functional liberal-democratic state can also be a libertarian state, or that “libertarian state” isn’t oxymoronic, or that any externally imposed “liberalization” of security-related measures wouldn’t generally tend to impair their effectiveness (especially against enemies unwilling to agree to “conventions of war”).

                In the view of critics, and even in my view but with qualifications, security-related information operations will predictably and necessarily distill a 99 44/100 % pure anti-liberal/libertarian essence. Others, speaking loosely and misleadingly, will call that illiberalism “anti-democratic.” Recognizing this problem ahead of time doesn’t require us to support or tolerate whatever the government or its security agencies spin up, but may help explain why we overall will in fact end up doing so to a large extent.Report

              • I don’t have the time to research the alternatives you mention in the linked comment

                What research could possibly be required? They’re not exactly complicated; moreover, their very existence answers your question “what process for coping with it either in politics or in journalism would be satisfactory to them yet not also make coping with the threat (if any) impossible.” If I were simply insisting upon a “one-sided” approach, then I’d just say “eliminate surveillance programs entirely,” or, at the very least “eliminate all domestic warrantless surveillance programs entirely.”

                but I’m not convinced that its predicate – what the NSA is known to be doing, what constitutes “surveillance,” what constitutes or would constitute “abuse,” etc. – is stated accurately or in relation to a common set of facts, which was one basis of my complaint on that same thread

                As Stillwater was – I think – trying to point out in the other thread, though, what constitutes an “abuse” is an inherently subjective and value-laden question, the definition of which will vary from person to person. The question is not whether a given practice is objectively abusive of citizens’ rights; it’s a question of whether enough citizens, upon becoming aware of the practice’s existence, would find it absuive or uniquely and unacceptably subject to abuse such that it should be restricted or prohibited. Clearly you and I have different values with respect to this, but that’s not the point – the point is that when something is kept secret from the populace, that question cannot even be debated or answered. To say that the abusiveness of a program must be proven before the program should be subject to debate or even sunlight creates an impossible standard wholly inconsistent with any notion of a liberal democracy.

                While secrecy is sometimes necessary for government to function in the realm of national defense and law enforcement, there is, for example, (1) a very good reason why the CIA is prohibited from operating domestically, (2) a very good reason we generally require probable cause and specific search warrants (the validity of which can be challenged in an adversarial process after they’ve been executed) for use in connection with criminal investigations (I am acknowledging that a search warrant is not required for pen register/metadata information), (3) a very good reason FOIA exists both federally and in just about every state, and (4) a very good reason that Congress responded to Smith v. Maryland by requiring that even pen register data can only be obtained upon a certification that the information obtained is likely to be related to an “ongoing criminal investigation.”

                That last point is particularly important because of the absurd degree to which the concept of “related” has been stretched in this case, as well as showing that democratically passed laws in this country do not contemplate allowing a dragnet approach to investigations. Combined, though, these examples show a consistent philosophy and principle that underpins American democracy, which is that the federal government’s right to act in secret or conduct investigations in secret is highly limited, and the American people have a general right to know how their government is acting towards the American people as a group.

                This is because for a liberal democracy to function, secrecy must be a limited exception, not a boundless rule. Where secrecy is necessary as a matter of national security, our democracy has determined that it cannot reach the domestic activities of its citizens; where it is necessary as a matter of law enforcement, our democracy has determined that it must be limited temporally (a defendant or object of a search warrant eventually gets to know the evidence against him and how it was obtained and gets to challenge the propriety of its use in an adversarial process) and by breadth (search warrants must be for specific people, and receipt of pen register data is limited to data relevant to an “ongoing investigation.”).

                My main point, which you find so winsome, was a general one with the blogger’s approach as a case in point. It concerns the implications of a any one-sided libertarian approach to the liberal democratic state. From this point of view, what would be “laughable” would be to think that a functional liberal-democratic state can also be a libertarian state, or that “libertarian state” isn’t oxymoronic, or that any externally imposed “liberalization” of security-related measures wouldn’t generally tend to impair their effectiveness (especially against enemies unwilling to agree to “conventions of war”).

                If this is your main point, then this is not the topic on which to make it. For starters, your main interlocutors on the topic (myself aside) neither view themselves as libertarian nor would be viewed by libertarians as such, and while I may personally still self-identify as a libertarian, mine is a very soft libertarianism and few libertarians would consider me one of them. But additionally, the subject at hand is this string of posts, the tradeoffs inherent in them, and whether those tradeoffs have been decided in a manner consistent with a functioning liberal democracy, have little to do with the tired debates about libertarianism as a political philosophy. To argue the merits of libertarianism as a political philosophy in these threads is to change the subject.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Mr Thompson, your assertion that “to argue the merits of libertarianism as a political philosophy” is “to change the subject” could not be further off. I have no idea whether Mr. Gach thinks of himself as a libertarian, but his post and his approach, like the presumptions underlying your comments, reflect ideological libertarianism in operation, whether a particular critic is a hard libertarian, a soft libertarian, or a liberal dipped in libertarianism with a nougaty leftwing filling. Questions concerning the defense of the liberal democratic state and supposed contradictions of its foundational premises regarding civil liberties are libertarian questions.

                As for your main arguments, you begin by claiming there’s nothing complicated enough about the matter to necessitate research, then proceed to give part of the reason why the matter is so complicated and deserves further research. You also appear to be confused about what “threat” I was referring to in the sentence from a prior comment that you quote. I was referring to the threat of terrorism or other hostile action, not whatever threats of “abuse” related to the NSA programs. It was the former threat, possibly magnified as a result of the Snowden revelations, that Mr. Gach is reluctant to acknowledge. Nothing you have proposed has anything to do with assessing that threat properly, although the limiting factor, the level of detail at which attempts to investigate the underlying matter would endanger sources and methods, is similar to the limiting factor your suggested measures may encounter, when attempts to expose or constrict information operations destroys the potential utility of those operations.

                As you proceed to your preferred theme, you still fail to integrate the distinction between politically necessary and operationally relevant information into your position. You write:

                [T]he point is that when something is kept secret from the populace, that question cannot even be debated or answered. To say that the abusiveness of a program must be proven before the program should be subject to debate or even sunlight creates an impossible standard wholly inconsistent with any notion of a liberal democracy.

                You don’t explain why maintaining operational security must make adequately debating the policy, which includes the question of secrecy, impossible. This problem leads to speculation, including political-philosophical speculation, about the intentions of critics whose apparent definition of “adequately debating the policy” is a debate whose necessary pre-condition is revocation of the policy through the elimination of secrecy. That wouldn’t be a debate. It would be a decision already made.

                As for the series of “very good reasons” you refer to, they are typical of the civil state in peacetime, though, even then, they remain subject to being suspension in emergency situations. It was for similar “very good reason” that the FBI and CIA were walled off from each other prior to 9/11. It was for “very good reason” that terrorism generally was treated as a criminal law problem rather than a security threat, meaning that the primary focus of anti-terrorism policy need not be to interdict operations, but rather should be to gather evidence for the sake of future indictments. We could go back to the older approach, but it seems far from clear that the citizenry at large is of a democratic mind to reverse – even temporarily, much less permanently and comprehensively – the decision for what amounts to a permanent, low-level state of emergency or state of exception in relation to terrorism.

                I am not claiming that some of your “very good reasons” not to let this process go too far aren’t as very good as ever, but lawful and democratically validated determinations on where those limits should be placed, how they should be defined, and whether and how they should be re-drawn, also provide for very good reasons.Report

              • Avatar Mark Thompson says:

                No, I quite well understood what you meant by “threat.”. My proposals pretty clearly attempt to deal with that threat in a manner that is an extraordinarily far cry from any kind of absolutism. Yet you simultaneously accuse me of ignoring the threat entirely in my suggestions and arguments while insisting that you need to do research to evaluate them. Which is it? Do they fail to deal with the threat, in which case you need to explain to me why they fail to address the threat, or do you need to research whether they deal with the threat, in which case your accusations are wholly unproven?

                Indeed, while I have provided suggestions that indicate where I think the limits of liberty and, for that matter, open government, are located on this topic, you have provided no indication whatsoever of where the limits to security should be drawn and exist. Yet somehow it is I who am the absolutist insisting on one way solutions.

                Regarding your insistence that the topic should bebhow this shows libertarianism’s worthlessness, you first need to demonstrate that the preferences of myself and others would have disastrous consequences on this issue, and state what exactly those disastrous consequences are. Because all I am seeing is a group of people who have serious objections to where the government has drawn the line between privacy and security and even more serious objections to the fact that they seem to have been deprived of the right to know where that line was drawn. Indeed, they have been so deprived of this right that, when publicly asked under oath with advance knowledge of the question, the government outright lied about where the line had been drawn.

                On a final personal note, I will just point out how incredibly condescending it is to be told that I am unconcerned with “the threat.” I lived within sight of the Pentagon on 9/11. I heard the sickening thud of hundreds pf lives being extinguished. Watched and heard as F-16s flew over my building in anticipation of possibly needing to shoot down the fourth or even a rumored (wrongly, thankfully) hijacked passenger flight.

                It remains the most terrifying day of my life. While my experiences do not even begin to compare to those of so many others, I will not be told that I am unconcerned about “the threat” by someone who is not from that group.

                For me, though, after a couple years, I eventually got to the point where I got sick of feeling terrified every single day. At some point after yet another false alarm based on questionable intelligence I started to conclude that that feeling of terror was the main point of “the threat,” and that so many of the security measures I saw every single day served only to reinforce that feeling of terror rather than do anything meaningful to eliminate or reduce “the threat.”

                The effectiveness of terrorism is not predicated on the number of innocents it slaughters but rather on the fear it instills in those it does not.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                From one comment to another, Mr. Thompson, I don’t know whether to expect you to be laughing, yawning, or testifying. You also are putting words into my mouth. I never referred to the “worthlessness” of libertarianism or suggested you were an “absolutist,” for instance.

                I’d prefer to focus on the argument, such as it is, but since the latest reaction suggests you’ve taken offense, I have to say I didn’t make any claims about you or your lack of appreciation in general of “the threat.” I’m also not going to try to critique your personal reaction to 9/11 and aftermath. I remain unclear about what led you to refer to your proposals in relation to a statement I made regarding the OP and similar statements, since they focus less on the NSA program itself than on skepticism regarding, to quote my original comment, “evidence on the threat.” In this case I was referring to Mr. Gach’s skepticism regarding standard issue anonymously sourced reporting on actual or suspected enemy operatives altering their behavior in the wake of the Snowden affair.

                Maybe you were too distracted by a perceived but entirely unintended slight to your honor. If so, I’d invite to re-read the second paragraph of my prior comment, where I note a similar structure between the two types of concern, but do distinguish them from each other. Mr. Gach complains about anonymous sources, officials reluctant to go into detail, etc. the effect, as I stated initially, is to raise a question about what he actually expects officials to say and do, or journalists to be able to report, in regard to presumably highly sensitive information.

                It’s true that the officials could be lying, but solving that problem is more difficult than a 3-point proposal for a post-PRISM NSA. In this connection, I don’t get why you’re so stuck on my reference to “research.” I just don’t have time to give you a good reply on your proposals, which I don’t find strictly relevant to the topic here. To deal with them adequately, even for blog-commenting purposes, I would need to review the reporting and analysis on NSA operations, including certain matters to which you refer that do not square with my current understanding. I hesitate to bring them up at all, due to other time commitments. (I really don’t even have time to be writing this comment.)

                Anyway, even if I did feel able to respond usefully to specific proposals for NSA reform, this comment thread doesn’t seem like a good venue for discussing them seriously. Why don’t you present your ideas more formally? I for one would especially appreciate a clear statement, which you seem eminently qualified if not entirely inclined to offer, of the specific harms or abuses that the proposal is meant to address. It might require you to review and re-explain what makes you sure the rest of us should be more concerned, not in abstractions about a “surveillance state” or “major alteration,” etc., but in more tangible terms – what those words mean to you and you think should mean to us concretely. Perhaps you could also explain more fully what would be different after your proposals were implemented: That would imply a clear and reasonably well-evidenced, even-handed and objective summary of the current state of knowledge about the NSA programs. I’ll promise not to participate in any subsequent discussion, if that makes the idea more attractive to you.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew says:

                For the record, I’d like to say that as far as I can see it is not the case that Mr. McLeod said that Mr. Thompson is unconcerned with the threat of terrorism in this thread.

                He said that the alternatives to the policies being debated now don’t offer a proper assessment of that threat (which would clearly be an assessment that is dependent on Mr. McLeod’d opinion about the proper assessment in that regard, whereas a claim about a complete lack of concern about a terrorist threat would be a claim about an objective fact). To state the opinion that another person’s assessment of a threat or other pressing imperative is not sufficient is not to state that the person has no regard or concern for that imperative. If Mr. Thompson has similar personal objections to that statement of opinion by Mr. McLeod, where Mr. McLeod’s opinion about the matter is simply out of place given Mr. Thompson’s proximity to the events on 9/11, that would be fair enough. But it’s not fair to say (unless I’m missing the statement) that Mr. McLeod asserted that Mr. Thompson is unconcerned with the terrorist threat. I don’t see where he did that.Report

              • Avatar George Turner says:

                Well, unless the Geneva conventions and international law is amended to require all belligerent parties to post their war plans on Facebook, I fail to see how slurping up the contents of everyone’s daily chats and musings is particularly useful for protecting national security.

                There is a large body of enlightened thought that tries to balance the rights of the innocent, including their protection from harm, against the pursuit and punishment of criminals or the prosecution of war. These range from Blackstone’s formulation “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” to deep moral thoughts on collateral casualties in aerial bombing.

                Blackstone’s formulation holds that some measures should not be taken because the injuries to liberty outweigh the security they grant, and it stands in stark opposition to the principle “but if it saves even ONE life!”

                According the NSA’s own claims, their elaborate programs only prevented about fifty terrorist attacks (half of which were half-baked ideas and ham-handed foolery), netting perhaps a hundred people, many of them egged on and entrapped by the FBI. To secure these gains, hundreds of millions of people had the privacy of their most intimate secrets potentially violated, can never know how far the government went in secretly examining them, or what the government may do with that data in the future, or whether China and Russia will eventually hack the database and blackmail everybody, including you and me.

                These tools can do vastly more damage to civic life than the perpetrators the programs are designed to combat, and there’s little or no balance between the expansive powers and intrusiveness and the extent of the targeted threat. It’s a case of the government granting itself almost unlimited power over the people (and knowledge is power) so that politicians don’t get caught by surprise and lose five points in the polls.

                The program also overturns the cherished balance between a free people and the government that used to be their servant. Instead of each person being an island of liberty and free will until suspected of an actual crime based on the oath or affirmation of a fellow citizen, they are all now open books to classified agencies who can pull up more evidence and personal data than a squad of police rifling through underwear drawers, drug testing hair strands from long lost combs found in a couch crack, or sifting through garbage cans. The new balance between a citizen and their government is that the government knows enough dirt to have everyone shot, so everyone had better shut up, stay in line, and not make waves. And the bigger trouble is, almost everyone will feel that the government already knows enough to throw them in jail for a host of offenses, and might do so if provoked.

                For this, we busted a handful of dimwitted plotters, and even that is arguable because almost all the plots were initially uncovered because people tattled to the regular cops. There is no balance.

                The other issue is that the security from this all-seeing data collection is an illusion, and the data itself is often illusory. There is absolutely nothing that requires terrorists to communicate electronically in any way, shape, or form. Bin Laden remained uncaught for a decade because we had no way to force him to use a cell phone. Centuries of brutal warfare, plots, and assassinations were carried out quite well enough without anything electronic to even eavesdrop on.

                The really dangerous plots come from the participants who are wise enough not to broadcast their intentions, rendering the NSA programs utterly useless against them. Yet the programs still suck up vast oceans of data and someone is going to stare at it and look for patterns. Those patterns likely won’t include the huge threats, but they will include lots of juicy items that can be used to blackmail Congressmen, generals, and judges and undermine the Constitution, along with its key principle of having the government answer to the people and be controlled by its people.

                The existence of these programs is already doing serious and lasting damage to America’s reputation at home and abroad. We used to carry a lot of moral weight in the G20 meetings, but now all the participants know that we’re nothing but underhanded schemers who rely on real-time wiretaps of their own diplomats and politicians to cheat at negotiations. We are not trustworthy, and probably represent a greater clandestine threat to their own nations’ well-being than the KGB ever dreamed of. Is prosecuting a few idiotic teenage religious wackos worth that price?

                It’s also an illusion that the data being gathered always presents an accurate picture of individuals and groups. For example, in my case they could sift through every electronic tidbit about me, and from that they would come up with a large set of completely erroneous certainties. They wouldn’t even suspect who my best friends are. They probably wouldn’t even suspect that I was even acquainted with any of my best friends because I never communicate electronically with them, and in most cases never have. I do all my endless chatting with them in person, without ever using e-mail or even carrying a cell phone. Even if we were all charter members of al Qaeda and spent all our time talking about bombs, none of it would show up.

                They would also tie me to numerous social circles made up entirely of people that I’ve never even met, whose names I don’t even know, and who I wouldn’t recognize on the street. This is of course not true for most people who are always madly texting their real life network of friends, but it is true for large numbers of people. The electronic intelligence world doesn’t reliably map to the real world, and yet it doesn’t include all that real-world data that flatly contradict the illusion, so the screens of data showing sophisticated networks and faces and credit card transactions will trick the watchers into believing that they’re seeing the whole of reality, or a valid subset of it, when they don’t.

                They’ll hold an elephant by the trunk and nobody will have the contradictory data to convince them its not a python, and our nation will spend its time snake hunting. Meanwhile the rest of the world will live in fear of the paranoid snake-hunters who put no limits on the extent they will go, where they will snoop, or how they’ll use the information.

                It’s a certainty that since the programs grant such unrivaled information and power, those who run them will say or do almost anything to justify the retention of that power. They’ll trumpet the importance, exaggerate the threat, lie about the capabilities, shroud everything in a cloak of secrecy, and try to keep the world’s people and the world’s leaders hoodwinked as they go about bugging America’s enemies and allies alike, and use the information against our own allies, as has already been established as standard procedure. Organizations that will do that would have no qualms at all about targeting a lowly person, or even millions of them.

                We’re all on the victim list, and we’re just standing in line waiting to see what the penalty is.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          I’m confused. What details do were revealed other than “They can look at everything?” And if that’s all, of what use is it to potential targets?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I don’t understand your reasoning.

        Look, here are two things that I (and maybe I alone?) take as a given, before I even read this post:

        1. The intelligence community doesn’t tell us everything about the information it collects or how it collects it. It never has.

        2. If one of the methods of intelligence gathering is leaked to the press, those who fear they might be targets of such gathering will try to change what they do in order to better avoid the government’s eye.

        Why can’t I hold both of those concepts in my head at the same time? And why should I be suspicious that anyone that pointed out either of these obvious facts was a government stooge?Report

        • The thing is that we keep hearing how we shouldn’t be concerned about these particular programs because everyone should have assumed their existence all along. Well, if everyone should have assumed their existence all along, then why would anyone change their behaviors significantly in response to that existence being confirmed?Report

          • Avatar RTod says:

            Because there’s a big difference between knowing on New Years Eve that the cops will be on the look out for drunk drivers, and knowing that cops will have a breathalyzer stop for anyone driving through the intersection for SW 5th and Mississippi.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            Here’s where I agree with CK: if we knew the programs existed, but didn’t know the particulars of how they gathered information, it stands to reason that learning those particulars could cause changes in behavior that simply knowing the programs existed wouldn’t have.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              In fact, I think that’s part of the point of knowing that the program exists without knowing the particulars. If you’re up to no good, and you know that such programs exist, but don’t know how they function, you’re going to have to assume that you’re being monitored anytime you communicate about your nefarious plans. If, however, you know the specifics of how the programs work, you can know which sorts of information and communications are monitored, and which aren’t, and therefore know specifically which of your communications are monitored and which aren’t, and to what degree.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Is that really CK’s argument? It seems to me he’s taking a claim to one of its logical limits, showing the impracticality of the original claim at that limit, then refuting the original claim because it doesn’t hold at the margins. But Mark never offered his argument as a logical analysis of … well … anything. All he needs is some evidence to support his views. I don’t think that’s in short supply, myself.Report

              • I guess the other thing is that I’m not sure how many, if any, of the particulars these leaks actually exposed.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I mean CK’s point about the different types or levels of knowledge.

                I am willing to concede that these leaks may not have revealed any useful particulars, from the perspective of the folks who are up to no good, though.Report

            • Avatar zic says:

              The Uncertainty Principle. The act of observing a system changes the system.

              I find it very dangerous to presume that those changes are just for the better. They also result in harm; for instance, harm to agitate for social changes like we’ve seen today — repeal of a law that discriminates against a class of people.Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

          Perhaps I’m just quibbling with the article’s seeming to imply that potential terrorists have MEANINGFULLY altered their practices.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Actually, you shouldn’t backtrack on this by considering what any author means my “meaningfully” or any implication thereof. The burden is on the writer to clearly articulate what they intend by their words. That doesn’t mean they deliberately wrote a misleading story. But your final point about the change from “said to be” to “has”(!!) is balls on, in my opinion, and supports your initial take the issue.Report

  4. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    I think it is a given that releasing the details of the program makes it more likely that AQ will be able to communicate about plans without getting caught. And other things being equal, that makes succesful attacks more likely. How much more likely? Probably not much, but somewhat. Probably nobody can really know how much more likely with any specificity. Just somewhat more likely.

    The Snowden decision to let it all out was a tradeoff. Some damage to security for increasing transparency. It wasn’t all good. Life isn’t that easy or simple.

    The reason I think Snowden should be punished (though not for espionage) is that he didn’t have the right to make that tradeoff, even if we here all agree that it is a good tradeoff, especially given that the program appears to be legally authorized by a democratic public, with judicial oversight (that may be of questionable efficacy, but it is the judiciary).

    I do think these sorts of stories are often misread by a public that is too easily scared by AQ into giving up their rights and freedoms. But that, IMO, is the public’s fault. They deserve the bulk of the blame.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho says:

      “Legally authorized by a democratic public”…

      That phrase implies something that the fact of public knowledge of how broad this surveillance goes being criminalized proves to be *clearly* false.

      If we didn’t know, and further were not allowed to know, we didn’t “democratically authorize” jack shit. Even moreso, based on it involving collection of data by security personnel on everyone — not simply individuals with probable cause to suspect of a crime — such “democratic” authorization would require a 2/3rds vote in each house of congress & ratification by 3/4ths of the states, as that is what it would take to repeal the 4th Amendment.Report

  5. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    NB: Other countries haven’t always reacted this badly to terrorism (or crime waves, too). You could say the media is worse in the U.S., but I don’t really see that. The problem is the voters in this country are irrational and uninformed.Report

  6. Avatar Mark Thompson says:

    The other thing here of course is that this is the same agency that just a few months ago lied under oath when it did not need to about the very existence of this program. We are now expected to believe them when they make anonymous claims, purportedly also disclosing classified information, but not under oath, about the impact of that program. Forgive me if I am skeptical.

    Also worth repeating and emphasizing- none of the above referenced individuals will be prosecuted or charged with any crimes despite their own clear violations of the law.Report

    • Avatar George Turner says:

      The weird thing about the tor project is that 80% of its funding comes from the government (DARPA, ONR), as if the NSA wanted people to use it.Report