The Pentagon Goes Fishin’

Following up the last post — in Slate, Andrew Rice provides a simple explanation of what’s going on (emphasis added):

The intelligence gathering, according to the agencies that conduct it, is meant to help discover potential spies and other security threats by giving them information about targeted individuals’ sources of income. When their suspicions are raised, the agencies issue so-called “national security letters” to banks and other financial institutions. Unlike the F.B.I., the agencies have no power to compel the banks to turn the information over, but they’re seldom refused. The military seems to be much more involved in it than the C.I.A. The strongest voices of criticism—and the sources for the story?—seem to be at the F.B.I., which thinks the spooks are going on fishing expeditions. “The more this is done, and the more poorly it’s done, the more pushback there is for the F.B.I.” when it goes to banks to conduct its own investigations, an anonymous “official” tells the paper.

The paper notes that the disclosure is significant, because it marks a breach of the traditional strictures on domestic operations by spy agencies. Congress has rejected several attempts by the agencies to gain the power to compel banks to give them such information. It’s not clear whom the agencies are investigating. The military claims it’s mostly keeping tabs on servicemen and private contractors, though others say the surveillance is broader, especially when it comes to the Pentagon, which has made the use of such letters “standard practice.”


… the Pentagon and the CIA have taken it upon itself to investigate the finances of American citizens with no warrants or oversight and keep the information on file forever … The military, the clandestine spy service and the FBI have all been gathering financial information on American citizens. Nobody knows what they have, who’s been targeted or if the information is correct or useful.

Don’t miss this:

We are building a well funded national police state apparatus at the same time that we are giving unlimited money and power to our military and foreign intelligence agencies to operate in the United States. This is incredibly dangerous and I can’t help but wonder why there is so little effort on the part of anyone in public life to educate the public on the inherant dangers of such powerful, unaccountable institutions. This is why we had a revolution to begin with. It’s why we fought two world wars in the last century. (Where is the Al Gore of civil liberties?)

And the most laughable thing is that all of this is apparently perfectly acceptable to the principled right wingers and “libertarians” who spent decades railing against the jack booted government thugs — at least until a Republican administration was wielding the power. It seems that unless the target in question is buying weapons or explosives (in which case they come roaring in to protect the only amendment in the Bill of Rights they care about) these people are just fine with all this. After all, only the “right” people are being spied upon — Muslims, war protestors, liberals, Democrats and other enemies of the state.

Indeed, as near as I can tell from Technorati and Memeorandum, the only rightie blogger commenting on this story as of yet is this one, who says what the Pentagon is doing is “all perfectly legal,” and adds, “As usual, the left is in a snit! Gee, big surprise huh?”

Stupid is as stupid blogs, I say. As Tim F. writes at Balloon Juice, “Add power and subtract accountability. Abuses are inevitable like water flows downhill.”