This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, March 13, 2015:
On Tuesday Wikimedia (the foundation behind Wikipedia) joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file suit against the National Security Agency (NSA) for violating the Constitution and exceeding authority granted to it by Congress. The lawsuit
challenges the suspicionless seizure and searching of internet traffic by the National Security Agency (NSA) on U.S. soil….
The NSA is seizing Americans’ communications en masse while they are in transit [in the network of high-capacity cables, switches, and routers that make up the internet], and it is searching the contents of substantially all international text-based communications – and many domestic communications as well – for tens of thousands of search terms.
The surveillance exceeds the scope of the authority that Congress provided in the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA) and violates the First and Fourth Amendments.
Because Wikipedia serves as an anonymous source of information for more than 500 million readers every month, and because its content is continually being updated by an estimated 75,000 contributors from around the world every month, such unrestricted and blatant invasion of privacy is having a dampening effect on Wiki and its customers, according to the lawsuit.
For example, according to a letter published in the New York Times from Jimmy Wales, Wiki’s founder, and his executive director, Lila Tretikov:
During the 2011 Arab uprisings, Wikipedia users collaborated to create articles that helped educate the world about what was happening….
So imagine, now, a Wikipedia user in Egypt who wants to edit a page about government opposition…. If that user knows that the NSA is routinely combing through her contributions to Wikipedia, and possibly sharing [that] information with her government, she will surely be less likely to add her knowledge … for fear of reprisal.
If this single example is played out in the minds of other Wiki contributors across the world, then everyone seeking unedited, unvarnished truth will suffer a loss, according to Wales and Tretikov.
The plaintiffs include the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Rutherford Institute, among others. The defendants are the NSA and Michael Rogers, its current director, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Justice and its current head, Attorney General Eric Holder.
Unfortunately missing from the list of defendants is the one person most responsible for turning the NSA into Big Brother: Keith B. Alexander. For eight years Alexander ran the NSA but retired a year ago, neatly avoiding any mention of him in the lawsuit.
Back in 2005, while Alexander was running the NSA, Iraqi roadside bombings were killing people, including Americans, indiscriminately. At the time the NSA employed more than 100 teams of analysts scoring any available data that might lead to the bombers and their factories.
Alexander saw his opportunity, and he took it. As one anonymous senior U.S. intelligence official said:
Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was: “Let’s collect the whole haystack. Collect it all, tag it, store it … and whatever it is you want [in the future], you go searching for it.
Alexander was obsessed with collecting it all, reminding one of the ghastly slogan from attacks on heretics in the year 2010: “Neca eos Omnes. Deus suos agnoset,” which, roughly translated, means “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.” As Thomas Drake, a former NSA official and whistleblower, put it: “[Alexander was] absolutely obsessed and completely driven to take it all, whenever possible.”
Alexander assumed unto himself both the roles of intelligence officer and military aggressor, according to another anonymous Pentagon official, fearing for his job:
[Alexander is] the only man in the land who can promote a problem by virtue of his intelligence hat, and then promote a solution by virtue of his military hat.
Concurrent with filing the lawsuit, the ACLU issued a press release explaining its position and the need to rein in the NSA:
In the course of its surveillance, the NSA copies and combs through vast amounts of Internet traffic, which it intercepts inside the United States with the help of major telecommunications companies.
It searches that traffic for keywords … that are associated with its targets. The surveillance involves the NSA’s warrantless review of the emails and Internet activities of millions of ordinary Americans.
This kind of dragnet surveillance constitutes a massive invasion of privacy, and it undermines the freedoms of expression and inquiry as well.
Ordinary Americans shouldn’t have to worry that the government is looking over their shoulders when they use the Internet.
This invasion of privacy has been, thanks to Alexander and his eight years at the NSA, going on ever since the early years of the George W. Bush administration. But, as Edward Snowden’s revelations have become more and more widely known, pressure continues to build to emasculate the NSA, and return it to its regular and limited responsibilities. As the lawsuit notes,
Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court declare the government’s … surveillance to be unlawful; enjoin the government from continuing to conduct [that] surveillance; and require the government to purge from its databases all of Plaintiff’s communications that [that] surveillance has already allowed the government to obtain.
Let’s see if the United States District Court in Maryland agrees.