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April 25, 2015

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Letter to the readers:

How do you make sense of NSA’s spying

As you read this, a computer somewhere is sifting through data all in the name of protecting you (and me) and our country from terrorism.

Before last week, such a statement shouldn’t have been a surprise — the government has always tracked electronic communication — but the news last week that it could be yours (or mine) was a shock, as was the extent of the National Security Agency’s massive electronic dragnet.

The reaction has been described in black-and-white terms: This is either something out of “1984,” a terrible invasion of Americans’ privacy, or an important part of the nation’s security. Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old who leaked the information to the media, has been described as a “hero” and a “traitor.”

In the post-9/11 world, is there any gray area? Is there a balance between privacy and security? (The government seems to think collecting “metadata” is that balance.)

This issue is serious, and it’s worth a full discussion.

Follow this link to find a few columns about the NSA’s surveillance program, which present different points of view and should be a good place to start. What do you think about this situation? I’d like to have your thoughts on the issue. What do you think? Send us a letter or comment on the Internet and we’ll print a selection of the responses we get.

You can write a letter to the editor by going here letter to the editor or by emailing [email protected].

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  1. Matt

    This really shouldn't really come as a shock to anyone. The magnitude of NSA surveillance has been hinted at for years. Looking for a terrorist threat is like looking for a needle in a haystack, but to be effective, it needs a complete haystack.

    I suspect this will be most troubling to those who already distrust the governmant anyway.

  2. Matt,

    This administration has demonstrated clearly,that it is out of control. Top officials in the Executive Branch declare their inability or unwillingness to manage and take accountability for the actions of the people and activities in their own organizations.

    In this environment the odds are remote that this far reaching NSA program will be effectively managed,and the chances that it will be abused are high.

    We have repeatedly seen that this administration overreaches its powers,such as in the case of the IRS,AP and Rosen matters.

    There is little credibility and trust in this administration to carry out its various missions with integrity,competence and effectiveness.If this program goes forward should we epect any more than what we have been witness to already? I think not.

    Bob Jack

  3. NSA's unchecked and arbitrary data mining violates the U.S. Constitution's 4th Amendment, a lynchpin of the U.S.A.

    Carmine D

  4. "...but the news that it could be yours [or mine] was a shock"....Only to those too ignorant or too stupid or too naive to follow post 9/11 hysteria. That facility in Utah was discussed, approved and funded in Congress. It and its mission have been discussed in various publications. Civil libertarians on the right, left and center have warned repeatedly about over-reaching on the part of the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Add in the vast amounts of money to be made by security and defense firms, consultants and lobbyists. Be honest with yourselves, these programs were/are perfectly ok so long as the only spied upon are Muslims or illegals or foreigners or someone whose politics/religion/race/ethnicity/etc. aren't like mine because I'm a patriot and they aren't.

    Anyway, why should you care? After all, the mantra of the Patriot Act fellow travelers has been that if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.

  5. "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny." Thomas Jefferson Founding Father and 3rd President of the U.S.A.

    "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

    Carmine D

  6. Supposedly, because of this, my paranoia level is supposed to be raised to unbearable levels. And I am supposed to be worried that George Orwell's "1984" is now here. I am supposed to be concerned that shadowy people in smoke filled rooms with evil diabolical plots straight out of a James Bond movie are listening in, hovering over my every word, intent on world domination, out to get me.

    Who cares. I'm not. Meh. Could care less about this junk. It has no effect on me.

    Let the Ron Paul supporters start humping each others' legs in ecstasy, happy to have some new thing to worry about this. That's their thing. Go for it. They want to blow this up to something it's not, go for it.

    I am uninterested in this. I served in the military (retired U.S. Navy Veteran) and am used to sacrifice. Sacrifice that civilians aren't used to.

    To prove my point, one particular instance... I remember serving aboard ship in the Persian Gulf awhile back. Something happened over there. Something that was of vital national interest. And it needed to be kept secret. Our Commanding Officer cut off internet capabilities to our computers aboard. And personal phone call capabilities (other than for personal emergencies). To ensure it didn't leak. Because if it did, American lives would have been lost.

    No big thing to us. Military is used to this.

    Much ado about nothing, you ask me.

    Just catch this Snowden guy. Charge him. Take him to court. He's not a whistle blower. He is committing espionage that may prove harmful to America.

    Anyways, according to Tea/Republicans and Fox News, President Obama bought my cell phone and gave it to me for free.

    So, if he wants to listen in once in awhile, it's okay. I ain't got nothin' to hide.

    I mean, c'mon, it's only fair.....

  7. Matt,

    I think for many, the NSA and government data mining is more or less of a concern depending on whether their party controls the government. Personally, I think that's the wrong way to view it.

    I'd rather have more freedom and less security. I hate flying because of the TSA. If we have to have it, I'd have it 'profile', yes 'profile' and give extra scrutiny to 'Muslims'. It isn't fair to the vast number of Muslims that are no threat but it also isn't fair that I, who am no threat, have to go through all the crap at the airport. If we can't stomach 'profiling' the group that all the terrorists seem to belong to, let's just scrap the TSA, keep the re-inforced pilot bay doors, and use the rest of the TSA money to check all 'cargo' for bombs and put more marshals on more planes.

    I don't feel very good about the government having the number of records they appear to be collecting. I can live with it if I have to, but I'd prefer not to. Again, I'll accept less security for more freedom and more privacy.

    Others feel differently and I have no problem with that. I can completely understand why some will trade privacy and freedom for security.

    Maybe if I were younger, I'd feel differently, but I am 60 and on the 2nd part of my life, so I guess I am willing to take more chances with my security than I was in the past.


  8. Snowden is a hero for revealing the U.S. spying. He's a traitor for going over to the other side: China/Russia for asylum.

    Carmine D

  9. I apologize, Burrittobandit2. My sarcasm perhaps was way too much for you to grasp.

  10. The two following posts are outstanding and right on target. You can't blame Obama for an act passed in 2001, updated and funded by Congress. If any of you thought the government wasn't spying on citizens you are extremely naive. As a matter of fact big business has been processing data on Americans for decades, working out of Madison Ave. in New York City.

    wharfrat (pat hayes)- 5:54 a.m.

    "...but the news that it could be yours [or mine] was a shock".... "Only to those too ignorant or too stupid or too naive to follow post 9/11 hysteria. That facility in Utah was discussed, approved and funded in Congress."

    ColinFromLasVegas - 6:24 a.m.

    "I am uninterested in this. I served in the military (retired U.S. Navy Veteran) and am used to sacrifice. Sacrifice that civilians aren't used to."

    "Let the Ron Paul supporters start humping each others' legs in ecstasy, happy to have some new thing to worry about this. That's their thing. Go for it. They want to blow this up to something it's not, go for it."

  11. If it were still George W in office, I suspect all the "it-doesn't-bother-me" comments from the Commie-lites would be howls of protests instead. Me? I'm ambivalent about the whole thing. I sense we need strong ways to counter those who would do us harm but I question how far our government is Constitutionally allowed to go in order to do that. As much as I distrust Osama Obama and his fellow travelers intentions, I am willing to wait and see what developes as things are sorted out.

  12. In terms of what's going on today being out of the ordinary. Google is working with Congress to put all of the Congressional investigations online since 1798. They comprise 75,000 volumes of data. The political parties constantly hurl accusations at each other so they don't have to discuss the real issues of the day. The $70 trillion shortfall in Medicare and Medicaid, the wars, lack of equitable income distribution, you name it! It's easier to talk about some IRS wonks that targeted a Tea party group or some Secret Service agent that got a hand job from a prostitute.

    Data collection is needed to prevent crimes and solve crimes once they have occurred. It's been going on forever. I spent 22 years in law enforcement. We collected massive amounts of intelligence data. In those days all we had were field interview cards and a few other low-tech methodologies. Today is more advanced.

    If people want crimes solved they have to accept data collection. If they don't, that's fine too.

  13. Collecting data and looking at it are two different things. The federal government has roughly the same number of law enforcement people it did 70 years ago. There are trillions of data transmissions that take place in this country. There is no one capable of sifting through it. In the former East Germany the Stasi had half the Germans on the payroll spying on the other half. We don't have that here. We have a handful of people trying to sift through all the grains of sand in the desert. It's impossible. Maybe a tiny, tiny, fraction of the collected data ever gets looked at.

  14. Snowden is a punk that violated an oath. Nothing more.

  15. Give it time. He will be begging to come back. He is too young an stupid to realize how good he had it. Some say he is heading to China. Good luck. The Chinese execute people for far less than what he did.
    Over time they all want to come back. Talk to Polanski.

  16. "This issue is serious, and it's worth a full discussion."

    Huffman -- your right on with that!

    "This administration has demonstrated clearly,that it is out of control."

    Houstonjac -- I'm with you on this one. Government at every level, including our locals, seem to govern by "might makes right."

    "NSA's unchecked and arbitrary data mining violates the U.S. Constitution's 4th Amendment, a lynchpin of the U.S.A."

    CarmineD -- nice to see someone mention it. And Jefferson didn't say that, though it fits him.

    "Civil libertarians on the right, left and center have warned repeatedly about over-reaching on the part of the executive, legislative and judicial branches. . .Anyway, why should you care? After all, the mantra of the Patriot Act fellow travelers has been that if you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear."

    wharfrat -- the Patriot Act shredded the Bill of Rights. The worst part is the Congress keeps renewing it.

    "Who cares. I'm not. Meh. Could care less about this junk. It has no effect on me."

    Colin -- that's a profoundly ignorant post for one who once swore an oath to support, etc., the Fourth Amendment.

    "I don't feel very good about the government having the number of records they appear to be collecting. I can live with it if I have to, but I'd prefer not to. Again, I'll accept less security for more freedom and more privacy."

    wtplv -- your reasoning is in line with our Founders and precedence.

    "If any of you thought the government wasn't spying on citizens you are extremely naive. As a matter of fact big business has been processing data on Americans for decades, working out of Madison Ave. in New York City."

    VernosB -- Madison Ave. isn't forbidden to do this by the Bill of Rights.

    "Collecting data and looking at it are two different things."

    "Snowden is a punk that violated an oath. Nothing more."

    zippert -- no it isn't in Fourth Amendment context. Last year's U.S. v. Jones clarified that by making it clear the Fourth Amendment's this kind of search is within that prohibition, and one's "expectation of privacy" is the determining factor. And comparing Snowden's "oath," if he actually took one, to our national officials is just ignorant.

    "I will reserve judgment, but Snowden started a conversation that is needed."

    Jeff -- excellent post!

    "...a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law." -- Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803)

  17. This kind of activity has long been a matter of speculation (knowledge?) beginning with the start of the Internet. Even back then it was commonly thought that the NSA scanned all email and Usenet traffic, looking for certain words and phrases. Some people made it a practice to include such supposed triggers in their signatures (this was known as adding "spook bait".)

    I have little doubt that agencies such as the NSA could in fact monitor the content of phone calls, not just the meta-data, but I have no doubt that they examine the contents of virtually all email, blog posts, and other such digitized text transmissions. I also have little doubt that some form of such monitoring has been taking place since long before 2001.

    One has only to look at the stink that was raised by the government over PGP to see just how long this has been going on.

  18. It's unfortunate but I feel it necessary to respond to Bradley. I do not feel superior to Muslims or those that practice Islam. It is a fact however that almost all known terrorists that committed acts of terror do practice Islam and are Muslim.

    I would be fine with abolishing the TSA and using its budget for the things I stated in my letter. I'll take my chances. If we are going to screen people though, I just happen to believe it makes sense to screen people that are more likely than the general population to be terrorists. Is it fair to those that are not terrorists? No it isn't. Is the world fair? No, it isn't.

    Bradley of course ignores the fact that I'd be OK with abolishing the TSA so we don't 'profile' anyone at an airport, and jumps to unfounded conclusions such as 'I'm better than you, so I derserve better treatment' and the bullcrap about 'my superior Caucasian ethnic group'.

    Geez Bradley.... just because I happen to hold some views different than yours.... does not automatically qualify me as a Neanderthal, Conservative, Neocon, Tea Potty person, who hates minorities, wants to close the border and kick out all illegals, wants to take away abortion rights, hates gays and lesbians and any other vile names and accusations you can throw my way.

    I'm not mad but that is laughable.


  19. This is a great discussion with many good comments. Please keep them coming.

    I think JeffFromVegas @9:25 a.m. framed one of the major issues well, saying:
    "I KNOW this type of program could and may stop the next 911 massacre.

    "I also KNOW the government or rogue government employees WILL ABUSE this information."

    As others have commented, there's a tradeoff between privacy and security. The issue there is what that tradeoff is and what's acceptable.

    Another issue, pointed out by Carmine and KillerB, is the constitutionality of this. Unlike wiretaps, which are typically specific to a certain person or phone number, the NSA, according to reports, is vacuuming up information and then sorting out what might fit their criteria. The FISA court has apparently signed off on all of this, but that's not supposed to be the way it works.

  20. As stated above they don't have enough people to monitor even a tiny fraction of the data. The federal government has roughly the same number of law enforcement people as state of California.

    If you look at Mr. killers posts through the years everything is a violation of the Constitution. Much of this stuff has been going on since the FBI was established in the nearly 1900s. In a much less sophisticated way in those days.

    Snowden is kaput. Confidential data is accessed on a need to know basis pursuant to your employment. Whether he took an oath, signed an agreement or was given training on the matter he's going to be living the rest of his life in a box someplace because of the breach. I had access to confidential data my entire law enforcement career. I learned as a young kid starting out that that data was to be accessed I need to know basis only. Any violation my job was out the window and I was off to prison. It's amazing what people are getting away with today.

    At a minimum he violated his employment agreement, on the other end he possibly committed high treason. Time will tell.

    Mr. Snowden doesn't want to live in a country where "this goes on". I have a newsflash for him. All major countries do it.

    Oleg Kalugan was the youngest KGB general in history. He set up the KGB spy apparatus in the United States. Where is he living today? Washington DC baby.

    Living in America,, nothing quite like it. Wait till Snowdon gets to his new rathole. He's going to love it.

  21. "As stated above they don't have enough people to monitor even a tiny fraction of the data. The federal government has roughly the same number of law enforcement people as state of California." - zippert1

    They don't need people to monitor the overwhelming majority of the traffic. Think about how much data is scoured by Google every day, if not hour. Comments on *this story* will turn up very shortly in response to search queries for just a few words.

    You can bet that the government has search/scan technology as good as or better than Google now. There is a reason that NSA has *always* had the biggest/fastest computers that can be built.

  22. "Unlike wiretaps, which are typically specific to a certain person or phone number, the NSA, according to reports, is vacuuming up information and then sorting out what might fit their criteria. The FISA court has apparently signed off on all of this, but that's not supposed to be the way it works."

    Huffman -- not sure which is more disturbing, the outing of our feds "vacuuming up information" (good way to put it) without warrants, or the existence of a secret court approving it all (can you say "star chamber"?). I see a complete lack of the outed feds telling us what they plan to do with all that info gathered on us, like erasing it when its purpose has been served.

    Quite simply, the Fourth Amendment exists to forbid our government to do what its doing, and that begs the question who are the real criminals.

    "In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means - to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal - would bring terrible retribution." -- Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928), Justice Brandeis dissenting

  23. "If you look at Mr. killers posts through the years everything is a violation of the Constitution."

    zippert -- unlike you I use actual authorities to back up my points. Since it's evident the Constitution and its limits on our governments mean so little to you, we have nothing more to discuss here.

    "If the exercise of constitutional rights will thwart the effectiveness of a system of law enforcement, then there is something very wrong with that system." -- Escobedo v. State of Illinois, 378 U.S. 478, 490 (1964)

  24. I believe that you are absolutely correct. Is a machine filtering trillions of pieces of information the same thing as a search? I have no idea.

    Technology has evolved to the point where the courts have to decide these issues. Are machines collecting, filtering and storing data the same thing as me searching someone's house or business pursuant to a search warrant?

    If courts decide that they are one and the same than the government will have to stop the practice. That will put us in a tremendous disadvantage in dealing with both terrorist nations as well as countries like China and Russia. They collect data and have vast amounts of people that look at it. Whether it's corporate espionage or governments spying on governments our competitors do massive amounts of it.

    Are you sure that the NSA has the biggest and fastest computers? The computers I used to use were typically 5 to 10 years old. Junk! Budgets are and always have been tight. I wouldn't be surprised if the stuff that Google, Microsoft, the phone companies and Apple have is much more sophisticated than the government stuff. These companies have hundreds of billions of dollars in cash laying around that they don't have a clue what to do with. Federal state and local governments do not.

  25. Jeff,

    I think screening certain groups more thoroughly would make good sense, be less expensive, probably be more effective and actually speed up moving through the airports more quickly for just about everyone. It would not be fair to those in the groups targeted and the courts would most likely not allow it. I understand and accept that, but the unfairness does nothing to make the positives of such a program untrue.

    If I practiced Islam or were a Muslim, I would not like a program such as that and would feel it is unfair. In Israel, this is done and nobody protests. Here, we actually do profile by using 'lists' of people held up to more scrutiny, but since the numbers are small and the program is not known by many Americans, it flies under the radar.

    In Israel, they don't confiscate tubes of toothpaste and other nonsense, because they feel their 'system' has a pretty good chance of keeping terrorists off planes. Sooner or later, another plane will be brought down or used as a WMD here and more than likely, the perpetrators will be practioners of Islam. I don't know how many dead Americans it will take, but I suspect, as it was with Israel, there is a point where the general public would call for profiling, even though courts would disagree.

    As I have said twice now, I'd rather just disband the TSA and use the money for more marshals on planes and better checking of cargo on planes.

    Doesn't look like any changes that matter will be happening anytime soon.


  26. Killer.. You use authorities to back up your positions? Like your above reference US vs Jones. Read the case. A GPS tracker put on a narco traffickers car over a protracted period of time is hardly what were dealing with here. The court did not even rule the search was unconstitutional:
    On January 23, 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously held that "the Government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a 'search'" under the Fourth Amendment.[4] The court did not address whether such a search would be unreasonable and therefore a violation of the Fourth Amendment.[5]

  27. I'd have to do some research to verify this, but I *think* there was a ruling back in the 1800s that basically said that it was illegal to tap telegraph lines (which was being done even back then) without a warrant. With that in mind, I would argue that there is no difference in substance between that and "tapping" the Internet.

    I see no difference between monitoring the contents of communications and searching one's home or belongings. The government (as opposed to the private world) has rules that must be followed laid down by the Constitution.

    At one time there were only two major hubs through which all Internet traffic flowed. It was assumed by many that the government had tap points installed there, especially since the connections were all copper back then. Although router technology is vastly more advanced than then, one can *still* put a router into what is called "promiscuous mode" and see all packets going through it, no matter what the envelope address says.

    Scanning traffic is a trivial exercise, limited only by capacity. Google and Bing are explicit examples of this.

    Given the state of voice recognition software (and assuming that the government is always a couple of years ahead in research) it is not beyond reason to think it is possible to monitor voice data in real time the same way now to an extent.

    One should keep in mind that virtually ALL forms of communication today (in fact, for a very long time now) are transmitted as digital packets over networks that are identical to the Internet in operation. No one who uses VoIP should think their conversations are not being monitored for content.

  28. A few things:

    First, I find it adorable that the party that gave us WARRANTLESS WIRETAPPING ON AMERICANS under the Bush administration is now clutching their pearls and is suddenly concerned with our civil liberties. Are these the same politicians that voted to give the telecom industry blanket immunity in 2008? Yup.

    Second, a question for Mr. Casler: how does one profile a group of individuals based on their religion? Religion transcends ethnicity. Frankly, it's impossible to look at a person and tell their religion with any degree of certainty, unless they are wearing some sort of physical indicator.

    I believe what you have proposed is profiling Arabs, not Muslims. It is VERY telling that you can't tell/don't know the difference.

    In other words, Michael would have us focus on Arabs, regardless of their actual religion, based on his perception that all/most terrorists are Arab.

    John Patrick Bedell
    James Lee
    Wade Michael Page
    James Holmes
    Adam Lanza
    Tamerlan Tsarnaev
    Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
    Everett Dutschke
    Shannon Richardson

    If you were looking at a passport or flight manifest, which names would stick out to you? Which names are "Muslim?"

    All of those names are suspects or have been found guilty of domestic terrorism since 2010.

    It simply isn't as black and white as Mike wants you to believe.

    The GOP continues its decline. They want to stop and frisk African-Americans. They want to see your papers if you're Hispanic/Latino. They want to profile you if you're Arab. They're terrified of a non-existant "government database" of guns, but are totally fine with the NSA's massive database.

    What a joke.

  29. Everything is extremely complicated and nothing is black and white. That's why many supreme court decisions have dissenting opinions. The most brilliant legal minds in the country can't agree on anything.

  30. "Killer.. You use authorities to back up your positions? Like your above reference US vs Jones. Read the case...The court did not even rule the search was unconstitutional..."

    zippert -- since you took the trouble to actually look it up, I'll bite this once. I did read it, that's why I cite it here. You obviously just skimmed its 34 pages and missed the parts about the expired warrant and "Jones was convicted. The D. C. Circuit reversed, concluding that admission of the evidence obtained by warrantless use of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment. . . . .The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit is affirmed."

    More importantly you missed "The Fourth Amendment protects the "right of the people to besecure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."

    "...the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table." -- District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. (slip opinion at 64) (2008)

  31. Part of the concern needs to be that these agencies are blinding themselves with a virtual blizzard of data. If you try to hoover up every phone call, Internet web page access, text message, etc., you will end up with a unbelievable amount of data. In an era when we have watched the government ignore warnings about the "underwear bomber" and the Boston Marathon bombers, miss other intelligence and relatively clear economic trends, should we ask if the problem is too much data rather than too little? You have to wonder about a system that sees when someone like Eliot Spitzer spends $5,000 on a prostitute, but fails to see the market for financial derivatives grow by a factor of 1000 in 10 years. The former information revealed a threat to himself and his family but the latter was a threat to the entire world economy. It is just interesting what was considered important.

    And while it is true that if you have nothing to hide, you should not care that people look at what you do and say. But the knowledge that you have less privacy has the impact of limiting everyone. Add to that fact that it is said that the average person commits three felonies per day, it gives any bad actor in the system the ability to quash almost anyone who gets in their way.

    The President said that we cannot have 100% safety and 100% privacy at the same time. The mistake there is to believe that the government can create 100% safety, since it cannot. But it is more than happy to continue to take away your rights as it promises to get you closer to the goal, while continuing to miss the mark along the way.

  32. Killer...I look up all your cases. I did not miss the part about the expired warrant. The question is what does a search warrant in a drug case involving a GPS tracker have to do with mass data collection by the federal government.

    Maybe you see a link. I do not. I believe the court will eventually rule that the government can collect data, if in fact the issue even goes in front of the supreme court. It's essential for national security. They may have to change the way they do it but it is needed in a nuclear/biological world. We'll see who's right. Have a wonderful day. All the best!

  33. As a foreigner (Canadian) I'm a bit reluctant to weigh in on this incident because it's mostly an American issue.
    Having said that, at least I don't have any political baggage to taint my opinion. So many of the comments posted above appear to support or abhor the government's actions depending on whether the poster likes or loathes President Obama.
    I congratulate Mr. Snowden on his decision to make his concerns known publicly. In my mind he has performed a great public service to America, and I expect his employment future and personal life are forever ruined because of his bravery.
    The whole issue is now being debated and hopefully your government will either discontinue its conduct or agree to some system of proper controls (if that is even possible, which I doubt).
    I even suspect that your government may now flag me as a possible troublemaker. If that happens, then I hope they read carefully the many comments I've posted on the Las Vegas Sun and on CNN's former show, The Cafferty File, the only places where I've been an active contributor.
    If your government wants further reading material about me, then maybe they will read the book I've published (Frugal Lawyer, Flashy Lawyer). At least that will put them to sleep at the switch and render them incapable of causing further trouble for innocent American citizens.

    Donald W. Desaulniers

  34. "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - B. Franklin

    From Wikiquote where the above quotation was obtained: "This was written by Franklin, within quotation marks but is generally accepted as his original thought, sometime shortly before February 17, 1775 as part of his notes for a proposition at the Pennsylvania Assembly, as published in 'Memoirs of the life and writings of Benjamin Franklin'" -

    This is so far as I can the correct rendition of the often used (and misused) phrase. I agree with it.

    The freedom to say exactly what we think or feel about any topic, especially one that concerns the government, is an essential liberty. Can anyone deny that even the thought, let alone the knowledge now, of the government scanning our communications has a chilling effect on that essential liberty?

    (And I would wager that there are those who are ardent supporters as well as opponents of the government and various people in it who are also looked at closely if such support borders on what one might consider pathological, such as that of a stalker.)

  35. Jeff,

    Are you saying you never had an opinion about, say George W, that you hesitated to put in electronic form because you wondered if it could come back to bite you? :)

    I'm sure many of us (a large majority) have had such thoughts that we gave voice to only among friends, and only verbally and in person.

    The suspicion of government monitoring has been around for a long time now and has tempered many an Internet discussion. The more recent revelations has only made it worse.

    Where is the line, now, between what can be considered a "gripe" and something more dangerous, when talking about the government or those in power? What are the key trigger words today? (And that might well be one, itself.)

    I'll grant that this might be an extreme example, but what, really, is the difference between putting a segment of the population in special housing without evidence of presenting a threat and scanning electronic communications in general for the protection of the population in general?

  36. "Are you sure that the NSA has the biggest and fastest computers? The computers I used to use were typically 5 to 10 years old. Junk!" - zippert1

    I don't know what part of the government you worked for. What I can say is that the purchase of the first Cray computers by the NSA is well documented, and in fact the first one is on display in a museum dedicated to cryptology.

    There is speculation now that the NSA is building (or having built, rather) a computer capable of 1 Exa-FLOP slated to be in operation in 2015. (10^17 FLOPS, yeah, I had to look that term up, too.)

    I don't doubt that the run-of-the-mill government departments make do with older equipment. I know that I did, too, when I worked at Quantico. But we are not talking about the average desk-jockey in a government cubicle, now, are we? :)

  37. Some random thoughts...

    1. Posters are over-rating 9/11. Consider: 10 times more people were killed in 2011 auto "accidents" than were killed at the World Trade Center. 3 times as many people were killed in 2011 drunk driving "accidents".

    2. The data swept up by the NSA wholesale is the same data that local police departments must have a warrant to collect for one individual.

    3. "The federal government has roughly the same number of law enforcement people it did 70 years ago. There are trillions of data transmissions that take place in this country. There is no one capable of sifting through it." - True, so far as it goes. Does anyone here think that Google actually employs PEOPLE to respond to all the random search requests it receives every minute?

    4. "At least they aren't listening to every conversation." Add the word "yet." The information they ARE getting, and storing, is far more dangerous to civil liberties. Catch someone using a cell phone while driving. Go thru the NSA database entries for that cell phone: Who ELSE was called? When? Was the prep driving then? Were those people called also driving when they dared answer a call? BRING 'EM ALL IN!!!

    5. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. Just who has NOTHING to hide? Particularly nothing as redefined by NSA first thing tomorrow morning - but that definition is never actually RELEASED.

    6. "Edward Snowden committed treason by airing NSA's dirty linen." Read Article III, section 3, Constitution of the United States. What specific "enemies" did he adhere to? Specifically HOW did he provide those same enemies "aid and comfort."

    7. Is al Qaeda, or other equally alert terrorism groups, REALLY so dense as to think the data swept up by NSA isn't actually available? Or are they so silly as to use electronic communications in such a way that readily available (with a warrant) information could be used against them?

  38. BChap,

    I have to ask, just what did Snowden say that most of us have not thought or assumed was already going on? His so-called revelations might be a PR nightmare for the government, but hardly anything that could be called "breaking news."

    With special regard to his claims that we have been hacking Chinese computers for quite some time, wouldn't you not only expect us to be doing that, but be upset if we weren't?!? Of course we are doing that, and probably have been for much longer, especially considering they (and many others) are doing it to us.

  39. Is Edward Snowden a traitor? Yes. He damaged U.S. surveillance by leaking information that will aid terrorists. He also set back U.S./China diplomacy by stating that the U.S. has been hacking Hong Kong and China for years. (The last comment probably stemmed from his other complaint that the U.S. is "bullying" Hong Kong to extradict him.)

    Is Edward Snowden a whistleblowing hero? Yes. It is ONLY because of him that we are having this debate of whether the U.S. government has crossed the line into invading its citizens' privacy. I believe Snowden has done more good than harm so far.

    An improvement would be to increase government bipartisan oversight of the NSA would add transparency. The NSA needs to report its parameters, safeguards, and results. What have been the successes and failures of their systems regarding prevention of terrorist attacks? For example, why wasn't the Boston Marathon bombing prevented?

    Democracy requires whistleblowers who do more good than harm. In today's Sun, commentator Tom Keane said, "If the people aren't told the truth, then they are no longer the ones running their government." On the other hand, in today's Sun, columnist David Brooks noted, "But Big Brother is not the only danger facing the country. Another is the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism...." Democracy also requires informed voters who elect representatives worthy of voters' trust. Voters have their work cut out for them.

  40. A few commenters have mentioned Congress. The administration and members of Congress have said they were told about the NSA program. A few members of congress have defended the program. What do you think about Congress' oversight? (Perhaps Rep. Darrell Issa should next investigate Congress...)

  41. Mr. Hufman,
    Edward Snowden has spoken about a program that was first started under a presidential order signed in 2002,during the Bush years. Thousands of people in the U.S.had phone calls and e-mails intercepted by the NSA in trying to close in on AL-QAEDA and other terrorists groups who are bent on killing Americams any way possible and by any means possible.

    He is no hero, but is more like a wimp who has to run and hide because he can't face the music for his actions.Seeking asylum in another country just adds more fuel to the fire.

  42. Matt:

    The House started investigative hearings on the NSA matters yesterday. The 3 star General in charge of the NSA was before Congress in an unclassified briefing. Today, classified briefings are scheduled and likely more to come.

    WRT your jab at Issa: You may not like him, I certainly don't, but he's doing his job.

    Carmine D

  43. "CarmineD -- nice to see someone mention it. And Jefferson didn't say that, though it fits him."

    Tom said the first part but not the last.

    Carmine D

  44. There are very real enemies out there who are so evil they think that blowing up children to smithereens will get them 100 virgins.

    When we are about to get on a plane, or a train, or drink water; at the back of our mind we want our fears assuage by the thought that the government is doing EVERYTHING it can to keep us relatively safe. We tolerate the 'state' to 'police' everyone much like we tolerate them going through our very private luggage and sometime our very private person. We gave up a large chunk of our privacy when we allowed over 3,000 killed on 9/11, over 4,000 in Iraq, over 2,000 in Afghanistan, and many more across the world.

    Are we a 'police state?' Perhaps. The advent of technology has allowed us benefits beyond imagination. To use it to fight the evil lurking beneath our vulnerabilities is brilliant. What we must point our indignation upon is to question if there is someone 'policing' the 'police.' If anyone out there has ideas better than what we have, by all means contact the CIA.

    I personally would like to stop being paranoid every time I see a man with a huge backpack on a plane, on a train, and now even on a sidewalk.

  45. Like him or not, Rep. Issa is the ranking member and head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Just like Rep. Cummings better get use to it, so do others.

    I have said and still do, that the AG Holder should appoint an independent counsel [aka special prosecutor] for the IRS controversy. So far, AG Holder. So,... if you have a beef with Issa doing his job, take it out on the AG Holder who isn't doing his.

    Carmine D

  46. Matt et al:

    A FOX poll June 9-11, yes FOX is allowed to conduct polls too, say Americans agree with Congress 78 percent, 76 percent and 73 percent to continue investigating IRS, DOJ, and Benghazi.

    I have an unfailing belief that the American people despite their preoccupation with more mundane life matters know exactly what's happening in the government and the country. Unlike the President of the U.S. who learns about it in the news.

    Carmine D

  47. Mr. Matt Hufman asks: "What do you think about Congress' oversight? (Perhaps Rep. Darrell Issa should next investigate Congress...)"

    Congress doesn't want to rock the boat. They will all sit on their thumbs and look around to see what others will do first. Then nothin' gets done.

    The only one who is actually taking any steps to getting anything done, believe it or not, is the President. He said, sure, let's talk about this Bush Era Program, let's HAVE this debate.

    He's pretty much the only one with testicular fortitude that has stepped forward and out of the mold on this.

    As far as Issa and his Congressional Hearing goons, they won't touch it.


    Because they can't seem to tie it in with an attack against President Obama and his entire administration. If they think there is linkage to throw blame at him, or even the possibility they can use it to smear our President, then they will.

    Truth? Meh. They could care less about that. They just want to use their Congressional Hearing hooligan and attack goon abilities for political purposes.

    To get Issa to search for the truth on anything is pretty much the same likelihood as Godzilla being elected as Mayor of Tokyo.

  48. Congress moves by its own momentum. It took 11 months after Watergate to start the first Congressional investigative hearings into it. It took 24 months after Watergate for Congress to vote on impeachment before Nixon resigned. Not comparing the two Presidents except to say both are very smart and very dumb. Abe Lincoln's quote comes to mind...You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time...BUT you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

    Carmine D

  49. "I have an unfailing belief that Carmine has no discernible value as a commentator"

    Never know it by the way you troll me here.

    Carmine D

  50. "It took 11 month's after WATERGATE to start the first congressional investagative hearing into it.It took 20 month's after WATERGATE for congress to vote on impeachment before Nixon resigned."

    The Republicans are wagging their tails,and have their tongues hanging out like neckties and foaming at the mouth, looking for thier own WATERGATE scandal, that just is not there.

    While they have nothing to work with,they look for and try to build a WATERGATE type scandal on their own.Nice try but you got nothing,but a gun and a badge.

  51. Our national "Main St." debate has shown that Congress needs to get back to work on serious issues. History shows that Congress can function on a bipartisan basis WHILE we still have a lot to protect. It's time to call it quits on trying to destroy the other party, such as repealing "Obamacare" for the 38th time. Congress voted for "Obamacare" in the first place. (In the spirit of compromise "Obamacare" was modeled after "Romneycare.")

    Edward Snowden deserves credit as a whistleblower who has forced Congress and Americans to debate this serious surveillance/privacy issue. (However, because he seems to have had honorable intentions, I would like to hear him acknowledge that he has caused some collateral damage. I appreciate that he feels like a man without a country now.)

  52. 24 months not 20 Sam.

    Carmine D

  53. This is one reason why we have problems with our politics, hypocrites such as this clown who pretend they are journalists.

  54. In reference to Congressional "involvement" a recent AP article by Lara Jakes noted that "Congressional leaders and intelligence committee members have been routinely briefed about the spy programs, officials said, and Capitol Hill has at least twice renewed laws approving them." She also said that Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. "conceded many lawmakers had failed to attend classified briefings...."

    It took Edward Snowden's "alert" to get Congress' and others' attention. The resulting debate offers a useful bipartisan exercise to examine a serious 4th Amendment issue. For example, Congressmen need to examine the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to see whether it has acted as a rubber stamp. I listed some other concerns in an earlier comment.

    The snowballing power of the NSA demands bipartisan oversight. It is too tempting for personal, the-end-justifies-the-means abuse by our leaders and their operatives, especially for the ones who believe that they alone possess all the answers.

    Regarding the question of whether whistleblower Edward Snowden is a traitor, I stated earlier that he is, literally. He leaked information that some unsophisticated "terrorists" could benefit from. But isn't is ironic how many editors, commentators, and "commenters" have been happy to spread the exact details of that terrorist-friendly news? In a recent Washington Post article by Ellen Nakashima and Jerry Markon they repeated it, in case you missed it. (No Las Vegas Sun editorial has revealed it, however.) Once classified information is leaked, why is it fair game? That leads to a new discussion about too many classified documents and too many people with "secret" level clearance. (See "Secrecy scandal? Not so much" by Clarence Page in today's Sun.)

  55. Congressional oversight CAN be useful. But only if there are a suff8icient number of us overseeing CONGRESS!

    When it comes to things like the current NSA actions, Congressional oversight isn't worth so much. It's all done in secret, so the incentive for Congress is simply to avoid a fuss and gloss over the situation. Additionally, anything they may happen to disagree with can't be communicated to the people with the final authority. Congresscritters can, with impunity, say ANYTHING on the floor, but the media would get hit with security violations if they tried to tell us about it.

  56. Not to be too picky here, but the debate over whether it took 20 or 24 months "after Watergate for Congress to vote on impeachment before Nixon resigned" is a little ridiculous since Congress never voted on impeachment.

    Read your history books. The House of Representatives *NEVER* voted on Articles of Impeachment for Richard Nixon.

    The House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend articles of impeachment but contrary to your assertion, Congress never took "a vote on impeachment"

    Congress has only voted to impeach two US Presidents in history. Both were Democrats. Both were acquitted at trial in the Senate.

    Those who talk about "The Impeachment of Richard Nixon" immediately prove their own ignorance of history.

  57. Nixon knew Congress would vote to impeach him and resigned to avoid the historical disgrace.

    Carmine D

  58. "Resignation

    Richard Nixon resigns

    Resignation speech of President Richard Nixon, delivered August 8, 1974.


    "In light of his loss of political support and the near-certainty of impeachment, Nixon resigned the office of the presidency on August 9, 1974, after addressing the nation on television the previous evening.[197]

    Carmine D

  59. If Nixon were impeached, there would be no need to resign. Right!

    Carmine D

  60. The second article of impeachment against Nixon:

    "1. He has, acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposed not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner. "

    Sound familiar.

    As I said, I'm not comparing the two presidents who have totally different political philosophies. But both, Obama and Nixon, are extremely smart men who are very dumb.

    Carmine D

  61. "However, Alexander McClure attributes the quote [You can fool....] to Lincoln in his 1901 book Lincoln's Own Yarns and Stories. McClure (1828-1909) was a personal friend of Lincoln and was appointed Asst Adjutant General by Lincoln. He also worked on Lincolns 1860 election."

    Carmine D

  62. The comparison I made, no once but thrice, was to say both are smart BUTT are very dumb too. The facts are what they are. You and I are both entitled to interpret and apply them as we see fit. History will be the judge after you and I are dead [right or wrong].

    Carmine D

  63. Political Opera....

    "All the world's a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances,
    And one man in his time plays many parts,
    His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
    Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
    Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
    And shining morning face, creeping like snail
    Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
    Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
    Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
    Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
    Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
    Seeking the bubble reputation
    Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
    In fair round belly with good capon lined,
    With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
    Full of wise saws and modern instances;
    And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
    Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
    With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
    His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
    For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
    Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
    And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
    That ends this strange eventful history,
    Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
    Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

    William Shakespeare

    Carmine D

  64. For anyone still around, thanks for all of the comments. This has been a great discussion, and we'll use some of the comments in the print version of the Sun on Sunday. (If your comment isn't used, it's not because we didn't like it, we have space limitations.) I appreciate all of the response.

  65. "To echo Teamster, who made the most salient point thus far:


    One of the questions should be.....

    Why are we using private contractors with people who don't even have a high school diploma handling national security information?"

    Excellent question by Teamster. The reason that consultants and contractors have security clearances that give them access to confidential information is because the U.S. government classifies much too much information that shouldn't be. A lot of classified information is readily available in the pages of Washington Post on a regular bases yet requires security clearances by government employees and the contractors working for the government to have access to it. It's asinine and breeds rogue spies like Edward Snowden who aggrandize themselves using the information at the expense of the U.S. and its citizens.

    Carmine D