Why Clapper’s In a Twist

DNI James Clapper said on national television this weekend that having the Verizon letter leaked was a “gut wrenching” affair, and that whoever did it had caused grave national damage. That got me to thinking.

What the Verizon revelation did was confirm that NSA had an ongoing program of vacuuming up external data on US domestic phone calls, i.e. it exposed a sensitive Intelligence source, thereby creating the possibility that the source would dry up. Or did it?

A source dries up when the target has control of it and finds out it’s being tapped. If I leak that the US has dug a tunnel under the Berlin wall to a GDR telephone cable and is intercepting Russian and East German phone calls, pretty soon the Stasi is out with a jack-hammer and that source is closed. The Communists are dismayed and surprised, because they didn’t think that could happen.

If the European Parliament publishes an official report that the US is intercepting and analyzing the content of all phone calls between the US and Europe, and that the program is known as Echelon, everybody figures that’s what NSA has been capable of for a long time, and so what’cha gonna do? The source doesn’t dry up, because (a) the users have no real control over such a large, complex system, and (b) they were operating under that assumption already. Maybe they could, with great effort, fix parts of (a), and maybe they occasionally forget about (b), but the fact is, the Echelon report didn’t change much of anything, except maybe EU laws about data protection.

Note the similarities between Echelon and VerizonVac. The user of the source doesn’t have control over the system — and they have no effective alternative. There are some countermeasures they could attempt, but if they were at all competent they already assumed this was happening, and were taking what precautions they could. Given what everybody has believed about NSA for years, they’d be fools if they didn’t.

Leap back to the state of Clapper’s bowels. The professional end of the terrorist spectrum should already be taking precautions. The unprofessional end has the memory and mental processing power of a bird, and won’t be a problem anyway. So, why would the source dry up?

Maybe the VerizonVac source will dry up because their constituents will become enraged at this intrusion on their privacy and demand that Congress do their job and pass laws against this sort of thing.

Maybe the primary reason for the Top Secret classification was to hide the programs’ existence from the American people.


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