Your Government Is Phone Tapping An Entire Nation. Are You Okay With This?

 

shutterstock_90519055As of 2013, the United States government “has been recording and storing nearly all the domestic (and international) phone calls from two or more target countries as of 2013.” If anybody had any doubts, the good people of WikiLeaks, who are doing God’s work, revealed that one of those countries is Afghanistan.

Your government is phone tapping an entire country’s worth of phones. This program, they claim, is vital, to keeping our drone wars going.

So, in order to keep a war going that we shouldn’t be in anymore, in a place we shouldn’t be involved anymore, we — you and I — are doing this. Privacy is a fundamental human right. We are violating the fundamental human rights of an entire nation of people, in order to keep a war going in a place we shouldn’t be in, to accomplish… what exactly?

Are you okay with this? If so, why? And if you’re going to defend it, please tell me what part of the Constitution allows this? Tell me what concept of human rights allows this? Why should a government, any government, have this power? Is this what limited government means to you? Phone tapping an entire nation of people? And what is the limiting principle here?

And for a bonus: What’s the point again?

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  1. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Fred and Barkha (or whoever else feels like answering)- What do you consider the legitimate functions of our foreign intelligence agencies to be?

    • #31
  2. user_7742 Inactive
    user_7742
    @BrianWatt

    Fred – Here’s another one for you. Let’s say for example that despite the gaps in intelligence gathering from federal agencies that should have been more coordinated prior to September 11, 2001 – we instead had the technological capability that we have now to actively monitor enough communication in Afghanistan to root out the information and discern that an attack on New York and Washington D.C. was being planned. Would you have objected to that because we were monitoring an entire country? Still simply not cricket?

    • #32
  3. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Salvatore Padula:

    Fred Cole: Look, we’re not talking about signals intelligence from specific known people, we’re talking about tapping and recording every phone call in the country. That’s a difference in scale.

    But is it a moral difference? Your criticism has been couched in terms of morality.

     There’s also a moral difference.  It’s a collective judgement on all individuals in the country as guilty and therefore deserving of this invasion of their personal privacy.  I consider such collective judgements of an entire nation of people to be monstrously immoral.

    • #33
  4. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Brian Watt:

    Fred Cole: Everybody else is either dead or locked away. No, we are not under constant threat.

    Then please tell the nice peace-loving people in Afghanistan to stop planting IEDs or firing on our troops.

    Now you have just played a game of bait and switch.  This started with vague references to a “we” (the United States) being attacked (meaning 9/11).  I pointed out that everyone responsible for that is dead or gone.  Then you’ve switched it.  Now it’s about US troops in Afghanistan and IEDs.  “We” are under “constant threat” from IEDs?

    I’m not.  And neither would our troops if we’d just leave that [expletive] country that we have no rational business being in anymore.

    So, let’s be clear: We need to wiretap an entire nation of people, to… stop IEDs?

    • #34
  5. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Z in MT:

    Yeah I am ok with it. I would be ok with it if we were monitoring all of Canada’s phone calls. I am also largely ok with the Snowden revealed activities of the NSA as long as the information is never used to prosecute or otherwise deny the rights and equal protection of US citizens. I do agree however that it is a very dangerous tool for the government to have, which means that we always have to be diligent in making sure the tool is not used improperly.

     What checks do you suggest on secret government programs that we lowly citizens are forbidden to know about?

    • #35
  6. user_7742 Inactive
    user_7742
    @BrianWatt

    Really Fred…come on. Why have we been in Afghanistan? Certainly not for the sun and snow sports. We’ve been there to root out terrorists and nullify the Taliban. I’m glad you believe that job is complete. I don’t. Proof that it’s not done is the real threat posed everyday by those who want to kill us and who are successful in their attacks. If the President decides to pull out our forces there, we at least need to monitor what’s being communicated in the country in order to prevent any further harm to the US, our allies or interests in the region. I hope that’s clear. It’s difficult to make it any clearer.

    • #36
  7. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Fred:

    The leader who green lit and financed it is dead.  The guy who planned it is in our island gulag.

    I almost let this go.  But I can’t.

    Stop me if I’m wrong, but are you equating the indefinite detention of illegal combatants (as defined by the Geneva Convention, being as you like international treaties) to the treatment of dissenters in the Soviet Union with this jab?  The Gulag wasn’t peopled by terrorists.  It was peopled by political prisoners.

    I mean, seriously?  I can see principled opposition to Club Gitmo, but only because any sane nation would have executed most of these cretins by now under the justification that they were engaged in combat against a legitimate armed force in the field under no flag, wearing no uniform or were engaged in acts of terrorism.

    The home nations of these individuals don’t want them back.  Most are guilty of heinous crimes.  Why not line them up after a military commission and shoot them – after all, we’re doing them a favor by sending them back to Allah, aren’t we?

    • #37
  8. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Fred Cole:

    Salvatore Padula:

    Fred Cole: Look, we’re not talking about signals intelligence from specific known people, we’re talking about tapping and recording every phone call in the country. That’s a difference in scale.

    But is it a moral difference? Your criticism has been couched in terms of morality.

    There’s also a moral difference. It’s a collective judgement on all individuals in the country as guilty and therefore deserving of this invasion of their personal privacy. I consider such collective judgements of an entire nation of people to be monstrously immoral.

     We (or any other country) do not  spy on people or governments because we have judged them to be guilty of anything. We do so because we think it prudent to know what others are up to. You may find this to be immoral. I would characterize it as, at most, amoral.

    • #38
  9. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Majestyk: Stop me if I’m wrong, but are you equating the indefinite detention of illegal combatants (as defined by the Geneva Convention, being as you like international treaties) to the treatment of dissenters in the Soviet Union with this jab? The Gulag wasn’t peopled by terrorists. It was peopled by political prisoners.

    Just wanted to second this point.  

    • #39
  10. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Mendel: [Fred’s] argument would be much stronger if you addressed the prudence of tapping an entire countrys phones, not the legality of it.

    And on the notion of prudence, I am inclined to agree with you, to an extent. I have no problem with tapping the phones of an entire country with which we are at war. I do have a problem, however, with the idea that we are still in a state of “war” with Afghanistan despite the fact that no one on either side can name a feasible objective or actionable criteria for victory.

    I’m much inclined to agree.  If we were in a hot war in Afghanistan as we were until about three or four years ago, I could justify blanket surveillance ethically, if not necessarily practically.  Given the rampant confusion as to what we’re doing in Afghanistan at this point, I can’t even go that far.

    I’m all for terrorists and other malefactors being worried that the US is watching them; it’s terrible PR — and very much against our principles — for the average law-abiding guy in the world to think we’re watching him as well.

    • #40
  11. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Tom, do you think the ChiComs, Saudis, Israelis or Germans give a fig about the PR they generate on the basis of their intelligence gathering activities?  Based upon many of their actions towards their own and other nations citizens I would say “no.”

    Only because the spotlight is on us do we get this sort of flack in the press.  The Chinese?  Well, they’re nasty people who run folks over with tanks… what’s a little spying and censorship?

    But when America is outed as having the best damn intelligence-gathering apparatus in the world (as befits the world’s foremost military and economic power)… Katie bar the door.  This is immoral!  Far worse than running people over with tanks, disappearing them or cutting their body parts off in public squares.

    • #41
  12. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Brian Watt:

    Really Fred…come on. Why have we been in Afghanistan? Certainly not for the sun and snow sports. We’ve been there to root out terrorists and nullify the Taliban. 

    That’s why we were there ten years ago.  Then it was nation building.  Now we’re just stuck there because…  well, because we’re there already and can’t leave.

    But it’s not 2004.  This rhetoric won’t work anymore.

    • #42
  13. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    And I should note: I do think the operation in Afghanistan has been rudderless.  Nobody could define what victory looked like from the get-go, and Obama, trying to make himself seem rational labeled it “the Good War” as opposed to Iraq when in reality he never thought any of it was a decent idea.  So now he has his hand stuck in a trap as well because he staked his election on ending the “Bad War” and fixing the “Good War.”

    If nobody can define what victory looks like and what a credible path to victory looks like, we should leave them to their rocks and heroin.  And build a giant, impenetrable wall around its border.

    • #43
  14. user_7742 Inactive
    user_7742
    @BrianWatt

    Fred Cole:

    Brian Watt:

    Really Fred…come on. Why have we been in Afghanistan? Certainly not for the sun and snow sports. We’ve been there to root out terrorists and nullify the Taliban.

    That’s why we were there ten years ago. Then it was nation building. Now we’re just stuck there because… well, because we’re there already and can’t leave.

    But it’s not 2004. This rhetoric won’t work anymore.

     No, apparently we’re going to leave. But thanks for avoiding most of my questions. It’s clear that you don’t see certain factions in Afghanistan to be a threat ever and therefore not worth monitoring at all. Thankfully, most of the intelligence community, the military and the national security experts disagree with you.

    • #44
  15. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Majestyk: Tom, do you think the ChiComs, Saudis, Israelis or Germans give a fig about the PR they generate on the basis of their intelligence gathering activities?  

     I don’t.  So what?

    Majestyk: Only because the spotlight is on us do we get this sort of flack in the press.  The Chinese?  Well, they’re nasty people who run folks over with tanks… what’s a little spying and censorship?

    That the Chinese aren’t held to civilized standards is also a sad but irrelevant matter.

    Again, I agree with you whole-heartedly, that as a matter of law, the US government is free to surveil foreigners to its heart’s content.  If Fred argues otherwise, then he is wrong on that point.  Moreover, I’m fine with the feds using aggressive tactics to surveil foreigners it has reason to want to keep tabs on.

    However, I do not support support the government surveilling everyone without a U.S. passport overseas simply because it can.  Besides the prudential, ethical, and diplomatic concerns, I don’t want our government being in a position to trade that information with a “friendly” country in exchange for similar information about me.

    • #45
  16. Julia PA Inactive
    Julia PA
    @JulesPA

    Misthiocracy: Perhaps Mr. Cole is referring to Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

    I’d say that ignoring the human rights of 3000+ American civilians with several precisely placed, fully fueled giant planes negates any recognition of the “human rights,” honor, or reputation of the offenders, or their associates.
    And if the Article 12 of UDoHR protects such people (can we call them “people”?), maybe the civilized world deserves whatever they toss our way.
    If tapping phones is a way to gather information, go to it. Life is risky business, either way. I prefer a phone tap over a terrorist attack, at home, or abroad. 

    • #46
  17. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Brian Watt:

    most of the intelligence community, the military and the national security experts disagree with you.

     If the intelligence community, the military and the national security experts disagree with me, then it sounds like I’m onto something.

    Because if the last decade is an indicator, they are all terrible at what they do.

    • #47
  18. user_96427 Contributor
    user_96427
    @tommeyer

    Hypothetical circumstance:

    US President: Though the United States can and does surveil citizens of country X, it is not empowered to do the same to its own citizens without a warrant, which would be in violation of our constitution.  Thank you and good night.

    [Two hours later, the US President’s phone rings]

    PM of Country X: Mr. President, would you like to exchange the raw data of our exhaustive surveillance of your citizens in exchange for the same about ours?

    US President: Sounds like fair trade for me!

    • #48
  19. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Fred Cole:

    Brian Watt:

    most of the intelligence community, the military and the national security experts disagree with you.

    If the intelligence community, the military and the national security experts disagree with me, then it sounds like I’m onto something.

    Because if the last decade is an indicator, they are all terrible at what they do.

     Fred- I apologize for asking repeatedly, but I am truly interested to know your view on this. What do you think the legitimate functions of our foreign intelligence services are? I understand that you don’t think they should be doing this, but I’m not sure what you think they should be doing.

    • #49
  20. user_7742 Inactive
    user_7742
    @BrianWatt

    Fred Cole:

    Brian Watt:

    most of the intelligence community, the military and the national security experts disagree with you.

    If the intelligence community, the military and the national security experts disagree with me, then it sounds like I’m onto something.

    Because if the last decade is an indicator, they are all terrible at what they do.

     You still haven’t articulated what your plan is to minimize or help ensure that no future threats arise from Afghanistan. All you have is moral outrage (for some reason) and wishful thinking. Not really a coherent national security policy. You don’t really believe that nations don’t routinely spy on other nations to be more secure do you? You don’t really think that abiding by a UN resolution somehow trumps our own national security? You do plan on answering more than just the occasional question rather than avoid what I and others keep asking?

    • #50
  21. user_7742 Inactive
    user_7742
    @BrianWatt

    Fred – You’re not pulling a Henry Stimson on us, are you?

    Henry Stimson’s cold reply when, as Secretary of State, the American code-breaking operation was explained to him. “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail,” he said, pushing aside the pile of proffered telegrams.

    • #51
  22. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Brian Watt:

    Yeah…I’m pretty much okay with spying on a nation’s citizens with a history of supporting terrorism that resulted in the death of thousands of Americans and other nationalities in this country and abroad. Any other questions?

    Can’t possibly like this perspective enough and must emphasize upon the author of this post that liberty exists only under the rule of law.

    • #52
  23. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Well I hope whoever’s listening really understands Dari and Pashto this time…..

    (That’s another question.  Who’s listening? US citizens? Pakistani mercenaries?)

    • #53
  24. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Brian Watt:

    You still haven’t articulated what your plan is to minimize or help ensure that no future threats arise from Afghanistan.  

    What about future threats from within the US? 

    Am I the only one that finds the argument that the US Govt will always treat its own citizens differently from the way it treats foreigners, even when tempted by the ability to monitor every subversive PTA meeting in the land, somewhat unconvincing? 

    If your Govt can get away with (ie doesn’t get caught) treating you the way it can (apparently) legitimately treat all foreigners why wouldn’t it?

    • #54
  25. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Zafar:

    Well I hope whoever’s listening really understands Dari and Pashto this time…..

    (That’s another question. Who’s listening? US citizens? Pakistani mercenaries?)

     This came to my mind, too. There’s no way we have enough translators to adequately monitor all these communications. Our intelligence people have to be using some kind of computer system that just listens for certain key words or patterns of communication. That introduces another layer into this — have they actually programmed those systems right, or are significant conversations getting through? Very hard to test for, since you need a whole lot of skilled translators just to test and calibrate.

    • #55
  26. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Zafar:

    Brian Watt:

    You still haven’t articulated what your plan is to minimize or help ensure that no future threats arise from Afghanistan.

    What about future threats from within the US?

    Am I the only one that finds the argument that the US Govt will always treat its own citizens differently from the way it treats foreigners, even when tempted by the ability to monitor every subversive PTA meeting in the land, somewhat unconvincing?

    If your Govt can get away with (ie doesn’t get caught) treating you the way it can (apparently) legitimately treat all foreigners why wouldn’t it?

     Like I said, they may just be practicing on the Afghans until they can hide it well enough to implement here.

    • #56
  27. user_7742 Inactive
    user_7742
    @BrianWatt

    The question at hand is whether our government has a legitimate reason to monitor the communications within Afghanistan. Apparently Mr. Cole believes we do not and seems outraged that we would do such a thing, even if what we might find out poses an existential threat to America. 

    Let’s all take a moment and remember what happened on 9/11. The Pentagon was hit, the White House and the Capitol Building were probable targets for the hijackers on United 93, and the Twin Towers in New York were brought down. The nation’s commercial aircraft were grounded for days. The markets plummeted.

    Now let’s consider if the attack was even several degrees more successful – That the White House and Capitol are destroyed, the Pentagon and perhaps CIA and NSA facilities are destroyed, the Treasury Building flattened. 

    I’m not buying the argument that Afghanistan can no longer be used as a platform to launch an attack. I want that country and its radical factions monitored as closely as possible for decades to come. And I don’t give a damn what the UN or any other nation thinks. 

    • #57
  28. user_7742 Inactive
    user_7742
    @BrianWatt

    Excerpt from your WikiLeaks citation:

    “An ongoing crime of mass espionage is being committed against the victim state and its population. By denying an entire population the knowledge of its own victimisation, this act of censorship denies each individual in that country the opportunity to seek an effective remedy, whether in international courts, or elsewhere. Pre-notification to the perpetrating authorities also permits the erasure of evidence which could be used in a successful criminal prosecution, civil claim, or other investigations.

    We know from previous reporting that the National Security Agency’s mass interception system is a key component in the United States’ drone targeting program. The US drone targeting program has killed thousands of people and hundreds of women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia in violation of international law. The censorship of a victim state’s identity directly assists the killing of innocent people.”

    Fred – These people are either incredibly naive or deliberately dangerous. They either live in a fantasy world where nations don’t have designs to cripple or destroy this country or its allies by supporting acts of terror and allowing terrorists to flourish within their borders; or WikiLeaks is a covert KGB operation.

    • #58
  29. Pete Inactive
    Pete
    @user_166838

    The question seems a bit backward. Why should I care that our intelligence community is spying on the citizens of another country? I think there is an argument to be made about the effectiveness of the spying and whether the the program is a wise use of resources. This type of collection seems far more appropriate than bulk storage of data on U.S. persons.

    • #59
  30. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Except US residents are closer to (in the) country and therefore more able to do it harm.

    • #60
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