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The International Writers Magazine: Whose listening?

It’s Flu Season and Obama Is Hacking
• Dean Borok
If I were Obama I would lay awake at night worrying about NSA hacking of foreign governments. The Republicans have got enough on him right now to start impeachment hearings in the House, but they have been too stupid to exploit the opening.

Nothing impacts politics worse than espionage. Nixon fell because of phone hacking (they called it bugging). Cameron’s government barely survived Murdoch’s phone hacking. The French government under Mitterand endured years of political turmoil because of a telephone hacking scandal called “tables d’écoute”. And these were all small potatoes compared to an NSA web of satellites and receiving stations that have hacked virtually the whole world and everyone in it, right out of James Bond!

The presidents of Brazil and Mexico had confidential communications sucked right out of their offices by the NSA vacuum cleaners. The French summoned the U.S. ambassador to hear a lecture on ethics. Only last week, Obama had to reassure Germany’s Merkel that he had not hacked her (oh, sure!). Even the Chinese are complaining that we’re hacking them!

With regard to evil intent, this scandal is no worse than all the others. The distinction is in the scale of the thing. Whereas previous hackings were the technological equivalent of holding a water glass to the wall, this stuff is comprehensive and panoramic in scale. George Orwell would have cried tears of joy if he would have had this kind of creepy material at his disposal to fantasize about. All it lacks is a compelling story line to become a world classic.

Sorry to say it, but Snowden deserves a medal for exposing this stuff to the light of day. Because of the nasty risks he had to take, and I must say he has navigated them with admirable élan, the extent of the enterprise is now well-known to everybody.

As is always the case, the government is claiming that the legitimacy of the operation is derived from national security, and it has demonstrated a handful of cases where terrorist acts have been thwarted by following up email interceptions. The problem is in setting the policy on who gets hacked. Where does it say that we need intelligence from spying on the presidents of Mexico and Brazil, to name two. More likely, the intelligence recovered was more commercial than criminal-related. The issue concerns the lack of oversight and supervision about who shouldn’t be hacked. Basically, foreign governments that are friendly to us should have been excluded, as well as their citizens. They have their own cops, and don’t need to be supervised by us. Obama has been absent from this process, and he needs to ensure that the policy is not determined in a mental or ethical vacuum.

Any impeachment process instituted by Republicans would have to establish Obama’s knowledge and complicity in the process, what he authorized or benefitted from. As the old saying goes, “What did the President know, and when did he know it”. If they could establish that he calculated any of his strategies based on unethical intelligence sources, they would have an issue that generates a lot of public interest. They could toast him with it.

All it requires is one spark to conflagrate, something the public can relate to, like the Milly Dowler case in Britain, which was totally sordid and revolting. If the Republicans hope to generate public opinion, they need a skillful investigator/promoter for digging up and exploiting an equivalent story about the NSA.

Obama has headed off the Republicans on this issue by appearing to move very aggressively to try to apprehend Snowden, though he allowed Snowden to slip through his fingers in Hong Kong, and it’s interesting to speculate on whether or not that was intentional. If he had charged Snowden on the grounds of stealing intellectual property, which Hong Kong is very sensitive about, instead of a nebulous extradition request asserting national security, self-interest would have dictated that they send him back immediately. Ha-ha, maybe the complaint was inadequately composed by the same somnambulant bozos that have been formulating policy. Obama’s administration has been making a lot of mistakes, but the Republicans have been too involved in chasing their own tails to identify them.

Obama deserves great recognition. After all, he won the Nobel Peace Prize about one week after assuming office, unless the Nobel Committee was delivering a broad slap at Bush, which was probably closer to the truth. He has always won because his opponents have been idiots. But it’s entertaining to speculate what the world would be like if there existed more than one smart guy.

© Dean Borok October 2013
Meltdown on K Street
Dean Borok

I am anticipating a huge stock market correction when Obamacare goes online. If the UK can provide full, universal coverage at half the cost, where is all that extra healthcare money going to?


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