Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why the NSA tracking my phone habits doesn't freak me out

As promised in an earlier post's response here's why I'm not as weirded out by the government tracking phone habits.
a little background. i was an enlisted submariner, serving for 6 1/2 years onboard the USS Seawolf(SSN-575) from 1974 thru 1981. the boat's missions were many, but one of the things we existed for was "Special Ops". I won't go into any detail about what that meant, but if you are interested in an almost fictionalized version, i suggest reading Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage . while i can neither confirm nor deny the events as related to the boats in my squadron are true, i will unequivocally state that the "spying" we did provided valuable information to the government, and the folks that make policy for our country. BMB didn't cover even a small portion of what we did. i firmly believe that what we were doing increased our leaders' knowledge of what "the other guy" was doing. i can't say if we were instrumental in avoiding a conflict that could have escalated to a nuclear exchange. i can say that if we were caught, it might have.
our government needed all the input it could get to counter a very real and dangerous opponent.
today, the opponent isn't a monolithic government entity, but more a loose collection of "freelancers". but make no mistake about the danger they hold for our country. if the NSA can figure out that some wackjob has been talking to another whackjob who has a friend that's a whackjob calling from East Assistan, and they nab said whack with a trunkload of C-4 on his way to the local Outlet store mall... more power to them.
on a much more personal note, i've been subjected to surveillance. two stories come to mind.

story 1: the navy's security group out of Skagg's Island (navy's gone from there now) held training on all the boat's at Mare Island. they talked about phone security, and some of the bad guys they had caught spying on us. one day during lunch, my buddy angelo picked up the phone in crew's mess, and handed it to me. "bothenook, phone call." he was infamous for this stupid trick. i picked up the phone, listened to the dial tone, and stated "navy security sucks. are you listening?" the dial tone stopped, and a sepulchral voice answered "why yes, yes we are" and then the dial tone resumed.

story 2: a navy van pulled up two houses down from my navy housing unit. a sailor in dungarees got out, pulled a ladder off the van, and leaned it against the pole. he climbed up, tinkered in the junction node, and then left. after that, my phone line always had an echo in it. there were something like 15 of us off of both the seawolf and the parche living in that 2 block radius. i told my ex-wife to watch what she said on the phone, because there was probably someone from Skagg's listening in. she took this as a challenge. she and her friend cindy decided to see if they could liven some poor bored bastard's life. i can only imagine the conversations they had. one of my neighbors, a Crypto chief from Skagg's came over to my house one night, and had a little conversation with me. he asked me to tell my wife to chill out with the phone, because it was upsetting some of his more "delicate" sailors that were assigned to monitor the calls. so i did. and that, of course was like pouring naphtha on an already raging fire. she went to all of the other wives in the area, and soon they were spending every evening their husbands were on duty calling each other and discussing everything from menstrual cramps to the most twisted and mind warping deviance. after a while, the echo went away from our line. i never knew if they gave up, or if they got better equipment, so they could record, transcribe and sell some of those conversations to some of the dodgier magazines and publications out there.

so, i've lived with KNOWN surveillance, and i've participated in some sort of activity associated with it as well. does it bother me that joe blow, agent in charge of tracking phone calls, knows i called Brownell's ordering a new feed ramp for my marlin M60 22? nope.
again, if you think your information is somehow inviolate, you haven't been paying attention. ever use a credit card? apply for a car loan? use a cell phone? those records are already being kept and used by commercial entities, and now, apparently by the government as well.
i'm not involved in anything illegal that i feel i need to hide from anyone. and if i were... well too bad for me. thinking the govt would change its behavior because it upset me is a little polly annaish. if they want to get and use data that is already being collected and utilized elsewhere, and it's going to be used to track down those who's main goal is to bring death and destruction on me and mine.. have at it.

the bottom line is that i've seen up close and personal what good can come from monitoring communications. think what you want, but for me, it's not a problem.

edit here's a link to a clip of Tony Snow answering the usual diatribe by helen thomas masked as a question, this time regarding phone "tapping".
i like this guy.


Blogger Chrystoph said...

Only one thing to say here: The road to Hell is paved in good intentions.

5/17/06, 3:49 PM  
Blogger bothenook said...

no arguments there. i'm just being a realist in the 21st century. this is not like living in the 1840s, with my nearest neighbor over a mile away, and that's too damn close. messages don't get taken on muleback for week to go from one side of the state to the other. as a computer savvy type, you HAVE to know that any information that ends up in a database can be and probably is being used to track something or other.
just being a realist here.
by the way... the navy time you spent: it wasn't on submarines, was it? if so, let me know, and i'll get you added to the bubblehead blog list

5/17/06, 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What Chrystoph said. I appreciate the fact that you fleshed out your argument a bit, but you know...I still cringe when I hear someone say "If you're innocent, you have nothing to fear." That's Stalinist logic, IMO.

It's comforting to think that we're always going to have a government that respects certain boundaries - that's only out to get the "bad guys" - but it's not realistic.

During the Clinton years, all I heard was "Bill's gonna suspend the elections! Bill's gonna take away our guns!" In the end, that didn't happen, and it may be that the similar rhetoric about Bush is just as unrealistic.

But it can happen here, someday. And if it does, IMO, it'll happen because someone finally decides to take advantage of a progressively weakened system of checks and balances. Every time a well-meaning conservative like yourself says "They're just stretching the law to go after the bad guys," that scenario becomes a little more plausible.

Now, as I mentioned a couple threads back, when I posted here before, you mentioned that I live in Petaluma. I know how you got that information, obviously, and I suspect that you brought it up to make a point about online privacy. Did you endanger or intimidate me by doing it? No...it makes no difference to me if people know where I live.

That said, you had access to information about me that your readers didn't, and you couldn't resist using that privileged information to make a point. See what I'm getting at, here? When we're debating people, we can be tempted to use whatever tools we have at hand. It's true in this trivial example, here on this blog, but it's much more true in the blood spot of politics, where the pay-off can include amounts of money and power that most of us will never, ever have.

All I'm saying is, if you're happy with a hugely expanded definition of executive power, almost unprecedented government secrecy, and relaxed rules for domestic spying, you better pray like hell that you never become a "person of interest" to a government that doesn't share your ideology.

Yeah, terrorists want to kill us. But there's a limit to how many of us they can kill, realistically. If they make us sell out our ideals and our dedication to Constitutional freedoms, they'll have done something much worse: they'll have killed our souls.

One man's opinion. Thanks for the dialogue.

5/19/06, 10:33 AM  
Blogger bothenook said...

you said" That said, you had access to information about me that your readers didn't, and you couldn't resist using that privileged information to make a point".

sorry, but anyone that sees the sitemeter icon can access the exact same info. the only thing having the account name and password does for you is to allow it to not track your own visits, so as to not skew the actual number of visitors.

i really do understand your point, and your concerns are valid. i've been desensitized perhaps.

regarding unprecidented secrecy, perhaps there is a bit of room for discussion. the "unprecidented" is perhaps misapplied in this instance. throughout the last 100+ years, our government has utilized the latest in state of the art surveillence on its own people. look at what kind of files JEHoover was supposed to have. it's only "unprecidented" in the methodology, and the shear amount of information we now share with the world because of electronic gizmos. one good thing about it is that with SO MUCH information readily available, it's easy to get lost in the clutter.
the old adage "too much information" really applies here.

5/19/06, 12:35 PM  
Blogger bothenook said...

i guess i was too suble for my own good with the sitemeter info in the other thread. i use the program, and forgot that not everyone would know the workings of the program. sorry i didn't make that clear when i commented on your general location.

5/19/06, 12:39 PM  

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