Monday, January 20, 2014

Bring in the grownups

RtO has an opinion -- several in fact -- about the NSA. What, you are surprised? 1. If bad guys are using the telephone to try to kill me, then I am cool with using the telephone back at 'em. As a practical matter, this is something to be farmed out to gummint. 2. I am not surprised that the NSA was prying into people's affairs, maybe even my own, beyond the seemliness of passing out crumpets at high tea. 3. I am offended that it did so. 4. I am equally offended at data-mining, information-collection subterfuges and the general ickiness of private businesses that exploit the Internet. Therefore, when they prate to gummint about sacred privacy, I tune them out. 5. I love whistleblowers, but prefer that they not be racist loons, although when I was a reporter I had to take what I could get. 6. I am pleased that other newspapermen get more worked up about these particular violations of civil liberties than I can make myself do. 7. I think all sides of the discussion (with a partial exception I will get to in a moment) have missed the only important point, which is that the NSA is run by morons. When I was a teenager, I read various real and fictional tales of spying, all of them admiring. Until one day in Esquire I ran across a piece by Malcolm Muggeridge (about whom I then knew nothing) who averred that during World War II he had been invited by J.C Masterman, then directing counterespionage against German spies in England and later author of "The Double-cross System," to join his band. Muggeridge claimed to have declined on the grounds that spy groups were incapable of recruiting adults. That was a new idea to me but in the 50 years or so since, I have learned that it is about 99 and 44/100ths% true. I could give examples high and low, near and far, as famous as Masterman's unbelievable best-seller and as hidden as the NSA career of one of my ex-sons-in-law. But I will burden you with only one, because it really happened and it couldn't have happened if any adults had been in the room. As related in "Walt Kelly: The Life and Art of the Creator of Pogo" by Thomas Andrae and Carsten Laqua, "Recently released FBI files on Kelly reveal that he was even suspected of sending some form of coded messages in the nonsense poetry and southern accents in Pogo, and the FBI went so far as to have their cryptographers attempt to 'decipher' the strip." Similar examples can be multiplied endlessly in the records of spy agencies of all nations. It is said that the NSA metadata analysis failed to uncover any plots. Now you know why. The only surprise is that the NSA didn't uncover any imaginary ones, and if we only knew, I'm sure it did. In a different post from the one cited in "6," my former colleague Peter Lewis writes:
* Remind me to tell you about my escapades with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Patty Hearst, and the Symbionese Liberation Army.
I know that story and it is every bit as childish as setting codebreakers loose on Pogo. As for the reporting of labor historian and liberal publicist Sean Wilentz in "5," no one who has read Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer" will raise an eyebrow at learning:
By this point, Greenwald had come to reside in a peculiar corner of the political forest, where the far left meets the far right, often but not always under the rubric of libertarianism. He held positions that appealed to either end of the political spectrum, attacking, for example, U.S. foreign policy as a bipartisan projection of empire. Like most of his writings, his critique of America abroad was congenial both to the isolationist paleo-Right and to post–New Left anti-imperialists. His social liberalism struck an individualist chord pleasing to right-wing libertarians as well as left-wing activists.
It is all just too bad, in both senses of that ambiguous phrase.

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