Friday, January 11, 2008

Phone Bills

It's not polite to display schadenfreude publicly, but I can't resist this one. Remember all those wiretaps that the FBI insisted were so critical to national security and the GWOT that they couldn't even defend them in court, because the information was so sensitive?? The ones where Dubya wants Congress to give the phone companies immunity from any possible prosecution, in case the whole thing should someday be judged unconstitutional or even illegal?

Well, it turns out there is something that will cause the phone companies to refuse to support the government's wiretap program.

The FBI didn't pay the phone bill. So, the phone companies disconnected the wires, in some cases shutting down wiretaps on ongoing FISA investigations.

And we're not talking pocket change, either: A Justice Dept. audit found that the unpaid bills to one phone company, from one FBI office, ran to $66,000! The article didn't give any overall totals. The information is probably classified.

If I actually thought the FBI was doing something useful to defend us against terrorists, or anything else, I might worry about this.

The audit found that the FBI's controls over the cash used to fund undercover operations are so sloppy that one FBI employee was able to steal $25,000. (Piker. If they're so loose, he should have been able to nick much more than that.)

Who is running this country, anyhow? The Keystone Kops? The Three Stooges?


  1. Anonymous4:30 PM

    The Keystone Kops would be an upgrade.

    It's actually pretty disturbing that the FBI would do something like this, but perhaps more disturbing is that a phone company can shut off FBI phones.

    Just remember, the Republicans are strong on national security and the economy - and the moon is a really big cheeseball.

    Anonymous David

  2. We have all grown up and experienced government intrusion and conspiracy and corruption vicariously through the media and the million and one spy tales and espionage yarns. We're surfeited by it.

    And yet we pretend to show indignation and surprise when the existence of wire-taps and covert listening is revealed to us.

    Am I too cynical, or how dumb can we get?

    The technology for surreptitious interception and recording of telephone calls has been in existence almost since the beginning of telephone technology. Now, at the dawn of the computer age, the technology of hacking and internet theft and "listening in" have all sprouted with predictable speed and efficiency.

    The FBI, the CIA, the NSA, state and local police and sheriffs and private investigators and citizens with enough imagination to put together a ham radio with parts from Radio Shack, have all been tapping into private communications for the last 80 years. There is NOTHING NEW ABOUT ANY OF THIS. It's been going on, like, forever! (Yes, that means that almost any legal, law enforcement arm or big corporate outfit can tap YOUR phone, and there's NOTHING you can do about it. AT&T and Ma Bell and all their clones and children have facilitated taps on private citizens since the 1920's. It's going on right this minute, and your Representatives and Senators and friendly lawyers all know about it. The media doesn't talk about it, and most people would prefer not to think about it.)

    The only thing that's "new" here is the mass, indiscriminate nature of the tapping. Computers have enabled snoopers to track and analyse data so efficiently that they don't even need human ears to do it with. "Devices" can now search and scan numbers and words and code sequences so effectively that a well-organized spook bureaucracy can literally follow the electronic communications of millions of people making millions of calls every minute of every day. This stuff can then be stored, almost indefinitely, until some later date when it can be examined and pondered and used.

    Al Quaeda didn't need "rocket science" to wreak havoc upon America. Their operatives could get fake ID's and jet pilot training courses and anything else they needed. If Mexicans can buy fake ID's on the streets of Los Angeles any day of the week, how difficult is it for anyone else to do?

    It would be very easy to deliver an atomic device to an American city and detonate it. If that surprises you, you've not been paying attention. That was the "proliferation" of nuclear technology which the founders of the bomb feared from the beginning, and now it's all coming true. There aren't enough security guards to watch all the water, air, airports, seaports, trains, cars, etc., especially when those who may decide to try something are perfectly willing to sacrifice their lives in the process.

    As our world becomes increasingly sophisticated by communications, and mechnical speed, and subtly powerful forms of weaponry, our fragile sense of security steadily erodes.

    This is going to sound very very corny, but the only way to deal with this increasingly dangerous world is to try to make friends. The greatest danger is creating and aggravating enemies in the world. During the cold war, as we now know, both sides built fire walls against the possibility of an accidental conflict. As uncouth as the Russians may once have seemed to us, they shared with us a reluctance to engage in nuclear conflict. For religious fanatics, that caution is sometimes lacking, since they regard "life" on earth as a transitory episode in the eternal strife between competing comological views of a moral destiny. The real danger, since the collapse of the Soviet "empire" has been the loss of that very balance that kept proliferation in check. Now, all bets are off.

    Yet I'd be willing to bet that the next "terrorist" event will make what's already happened look like a picnic. It won't come as a result of "nations" dueling with each other, but through the plotting of a few dedicated fanatics. That's almost a cliche by now.

    But the answer isn't to turn our lives into exercises in spy craft. The best defense against intrusion, and uncontrolled weaponry, is open debate, citizen participation right down to the level of speaking with your local cop on the beat, and the free exchange of information and ideas. Without that, as the founding fathers knew, we're all in deep doo-doo.

    If our politicians cared for the health of our democracy, they'd be more worried about the consolidation of the media, than the myriad flow of electronic messages that constitutes the human hive in action.

    I hear that those honey bees are disappearing, and no one seems to know why. Who will we get to fill the ranks of the "pollinators" when our fuzzy friends aren't there to do it for us? Something tells me the crop dusters couldn't.

    How we get from bombs to flowers is anybody's guess. It must be that stuff we took back in the 'Sixties.

  3. Anonymous8:59 PM


    Makes damned good sense to me.

    Regarding privacy, I asked a cousin who was pretty technologically advanced as an employee of Southern Bell what I would have to do if I wanted to get some information to someone else in complete privacy. He said I would have to be in a windowless room, write the message on a piece of paper, show it to the other person, and then eat the piece of paper.

    We have no privacy beyond anything no one else has any interest in finding out.

    Anonymous David

  4. Not to mention that if we approached "the others" (in this case the Islamists) with something resembling respect, instead of screaming about crusades and axes of evil, we might have a better chance of an actual conversation with them. There's a small minority we'd never reach, but a very large portion of Muslims would probably be more than willing to talk instead of fight if we stood down from our absurd, macho position as the world's bully. Ask the guys that are working directly with the Sunnis in Iraq, or on the ground in Afghanistan. You get respect from people when you act in a way that is worthy of respect. Threatening people means you don't respect them, and - surprise! - they don't respect you.

    It's absolutely disgraceful the way we're playing up the historical ethnic polarization between the Arabs and the Persians (aka Iranians) for our (and Israel's) benefit.

    As to the bees, did you see the charming article in the Saturday Chronicle about the guy in San Leandro who bought "a few" bees for his garden and suddenly discovered he was a beekeeper?? (Apparently there's no such thing as "a few" bees...)

    David, burning the paper wouldn't work?? Just asking; I've been known to eat paper in my day but I've kind of outgrown the habit.

  5. Anonymous11:22 AM

    Hmmm...The oil companies? Not really. I don't think the country is being "run" so much as hung out to dry.

    The current admin. is part of various oil companies. This is old news. Now, since there is only one oil company totally USA owned, and that one is rated as number 13 or something close in terms of amount of oil it controls (therefore power). Yes, our USA oil company is taking us for all it can get and then some. Do a net search. Find out who those other oil companies are. We buy their oil, too, and when you want something from an entrepreneur, seller's market, you are truly being held captive by the short and curlies.

    Even with the economic shock provided by the sub-prime loan mess that has hit a goodly part of the world, (EX: This loan mess has almost put paid to a family owned, German bank that invested heavily in US loans.), I doubt the oil companies really are concernced. No matter what we need to eat (growing food, transporting food), we need to get to work, (tranpostation), and all the uses to which petroleum is put. Their market is in the black. (enjoy the pun)

    What I wonder is if and when this administration goes bye-bye, how many hard or impossible to get out of entanglements will be left behind? Is there anyone who can say, "Look folks. We've got a major mess here. We are going to have to go on a national economic diet for years to come because pulling ourselves out of this hole is going to take time - lots of time." Can this be said? Can this be said AND get people to cooperate?

  6. I hope it can, boggart - I really do. What you describe is called "leadership", admittedly a concept that has fallen out of favor in recent decades. Point is, I think if someone stood up and said it, and gave examples and facts, the American people (who are not collectively that stupid) would say, "Yes, we realize it's that bad. Now what do we do??" But the "what do we do" will have to be collectively agreed to or it won't work...