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« No Long Pork For Them | Main | Short-Term Thinking »

No Sauce For The Gander

Apparently, the NYT is fine with unwarranted domestic spying, as long as there's a Democrat in the White House, and we aren't at war.

Speaking of which, I wonder if there's any relationship between the Times' unilateral (though they had accomplices, if not allies) decision a few weeks ago to tell the enemy how we're tracking their communications, and this:

Federal agents have launched an investigation into a surge in the purchase of large quantities of disposable cell phones by individuals from the Middle East and Pakistan, ABC News has learned.

The phones — which do not require purchasers to sign a contract or have a credit card — have many legitimate uses, and are popular with people who have bad credit or for use as emergency phones tucked away in glove compartments or tackle boxes. But since they can be difficult or impossible to track, law enforcement officials say the phones are widely used by criminal gangs and terrorists.

The timing is certainly suspicious.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 13, 2006 04:59 AM
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the American media generally treats Democrat administrations far more gently than Republican administrations

Ain't that the stone cold truth. Had Clinton gone to war with Iraq, I'd bet the media would be all for it. I'd also lay a lot of money on conservatives being dead set against it.

Posted by Mac at January 13, 2006 06:21 AM

Right, Mac -- including all of us who had to grit our teeth and pretend to support Bush 41's decision not to go to Baghdad in '91.

Posted by McGehee at January 13, 2006 07:17 AM

Oops, forgot to turn the sarcasm switch off.


Posted by McGehee at January 13, 2006 07:17 AM

ooooooooh, why you little.... heheheheh

Posted by Mac at January 13, 2006 07:28 AM

Awful piece of writing.

They are not "disposable cell phones", and they are far more widespread than emergency uses or people with poor credit ratings.

Under non-CDMA systems, the pay-as-you go unlocked phone with the SIM card of your choice is a core part of the phone market.

Getting unlocked GSM phones which are effectively untraceable is the easy bit. I've half a dozen around the house and you could buy hundreds on eBay for next to nothing. Without a SIM card to register with the network they are useless.

They should be worrying about the SIM cards.

Posted by Daveon at January 13, 2006 08:29 AM

What's "awful" about the "writing"? It seemed well-enough written to me.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 13, 2006 08:49 AM

The section you quoted was factually incorrect and presented the issues around cell phones incorrectly. I find that to be awful myself. you usually in off the deep end at bad errors too.

Posted by daveon at January 13, 2006 11:58 AM

sorry written on my phone. hence some me the errors.

Posted by dave at January 13, 2006 12:00 PM

In other words, there was nothing wrong or "awful" with the "writing." You just didn't like what it said.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 13, 2006 12:31 PM

That piece in "The American Thinker" is awful and full of contradictions. It doesn't prove anything. But that is typical of much of what has been written about Echelon.

For starters, the existence of Echelon was first revealed by a British reporter, Duncan Campbell, in the UK. It was not revealed in Australia. Does anybody other than "Thinker" believe that the NY Times and Washington Post would _really_ keep the story quiet to "protect" Clinton? They actually did report on it. Their problem was that Campbell had better sources than they did. The leaks were in the UK, not the US.

There was also a considerable amount of time between when the story was first broken and when it became a controversy. It became a controversy in Europe, largely due to hype when the EU played it up for political purposes. Unfortunately, the American media also latched on to the hype, witness the 60 Minutes story.

Take for instance the totally ridiculous claim that the "Thinker" repeats again and again, that Echelon "captures and analyzes virtually every phone call, fax, email and telex message sent anywhere in the world."

Every single one? How many would that be, huh? At least billions a day, right? If not trillions? Well, according to "Thinker," the number is 48 million a day: "Project Echelon’s equipment can process 1 million message inputs every 30 minutes.”

So, it can "monitor" every single one, but that is only 48 million in a 24-hour period. I get 48 million offers for "enhancement" drugs in my e-mailbox every day. I doubt that the NSA is using Echelon to read all of them.

And in order for the "every communication in the world" claim to be true, it would require the NSA to have more communications power than the rest of the world combined. Where do they keep it all?

And some of "Thinker's" other claims don't even make sense as written:

"One of the revelations of that study was that the N.S.A. used partner countries’ intelligence agencies to routinely circumvent legal restrictions against domestic spying."

"For example, [author Nicky] Hager has described how New Zealand officials were instructed to remove the names of identifiable UKUSA citizens or companies from their reports, inserting instead words such as ‘a Canadian citizen' or 'a US company'. British Comint [Communications intelligence] staff have described following similar procedures in respect of US citizens following the introduction of legislation to limit NSA's domestic intelligence activities in 1978."

So he writes that they "circumvented" the law and then quotes a report that says that they FOLLOWED the law.

"Thinker" also makes other nonsensical claims, like: "Even as the Times defended Echelon as “a necessity” in 1999, evidence already existed that electronic surveillance had previously been misused by the Clinton Administration for political purposes. Intelligence officials told Insight Magazine  in 1997 that a 1993 conference of Asian and Pacific world leaders hosted by Clinton in Seattle had been spied on by U.S. intelligence agencies. " But there is no prohibition against spying on foreign leaders on American soil. There are regulations concerning it (it has to be done by the FBI), but it is not illegal, hence the Clinton administration was not doing anything wrong by doing it. In fact, we want the government to monitor world leaders' communications, right?

Then he cites "Patrick Poole, a lecturer in government and economics at Bannock Burn College in Franklin, Tenn." Who? Has Poole ever been recognized by anybody as an expert on intelligence collection? If so, would he be working at an institution as prestigious as Bannock Burn College? You have to dig pretty deep in the barrel to find Bannock Burn College. Put more simply, "Thinker" is citing a non-expert.

"Thinker" also seems to have his priorities out of whack. He writes: "an invasive, extensive domestic eavesdropping program was aimed at every U.S. citizen," but does not really have a problem with this as a concept. If that is true (and there is no evidence it is), shouldn't we all be totally mad at our government?

That post reads like a typical poorly-researched conspiracy theory about the NSA. But if you want information on Echelon, you can find much better and less sensationalistic information. For instance, try Jeff Richelson's article in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists from several years ago. Richelson was the first person to actually obtain documents discussing Echelon. Or try the congressional hearings sponsored by Bob Barr, where the director of the NSA specifically detailed the rules they have against domestic spying. Those hearings happened because of the Echelon revelations. And they were covered in the NY Times.

What "Thinker" clearly doesn't realize is that one reason that the NY Times covered the warrantless domestic spying story the way that they did is because when they covered the Echelon story they also covered the testimony by the Director of NSA who clearly stated that NSA follows the law and does NOT monitor domestic calls. The warrantless monitoring story is thus a change in NSA policy.

Posted by Taylor Barnes at January 13, 2006 04:17 PM

In other words, there was nothing wrong...

No Rand, the article is factually incorrect in the way it described "disposable cell phones" - wrong in a way which devalues what actually is a very serious issue.

Posted by Daveon at January 14, 2006 08:35 AM

And thanks for deleting the additional posts, I must apologise for that. I suspect the device I was using has a bug in the HTML controller.

Posted by Daveon at January 14, 2006 08:36 AM

"In other words, there was nothing wrong..."

No Rand, the article is factually incorrect in the way it described "disposable cell phones" - wrong in a way which devalues what actually is a very serious issue.

That doesn't make the "writing" "awful."

To most people, "awful writing" means unclear, ungrammatical, poor spelling, etc. Not whether or not it's factually correct. Words mean things.

This is what I mean when I tell you that you have difficulty in both comprehending, and expressing yourself in English.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 14, 2006 08:41 AM

To most people...

Really? Gosh. Wow.

I didn't know. Well. Then, I'll take it back. The writing was a well written piece of nonsense which devalued the point it was trying to make through sensationalising a serious issue but getting it wrong.

This is what I mean when I tell you that you have difficulty in both comprehending, and expressing yourself in English.


The weird thing is, I feel almost the same way about how you express yourself in English.

Posted by Daveon at January 14, 2006 03:41 PM

The writing was a well written piece of nonsense which devalued the point it was trying to make through sensationalising a serious issue but getting it wrong.

Well, having wasted my time looking through the article for "awful writing" (next time I'll know better than to take a review of yours on that subject, or any other, for that matter, seriously), and looking in vain, I'll take that to be at least a plausible (though how accurate it is I'm not able to judge given my time constraints) assessment of the article.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 14, 2006 06:28 PM

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