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Web Letter

Please consider reading the July 28 New York Times article "Mining of Data Prompted Fight Over Spying" and consider who exactly is responsible for conducting and the oversight of domestic surveillance and dbase mining. Then link to a Sept. 17, 2006 LA Times Greg Miller article "Spy Agencies Outsourcing to Fill Key Jobs." ("The proliferation of contractors has outstripped the intelligence community's ability to keep track of them." and "...two-thirds of the contractors at the counter-terrorism center are information technology workers who manage computer systems...including the task of posting names of new terrorism suspects to immigration and law enforcement watch lists." Should this type of activity be privatized and shielded from privacy obligations imposed upon government agencies that are not applicable to private corporations?

Within testimony and reported during a Senate Judiciary Committee last March FBI Director Mueller implied the FBI didn't actually mean to break the laws but this happened because of "mistakes, carelessness, confusion, lack of training, lack of guidance and a lack of adequate oversight." So what are the private contractors getting away with? In 2002 I was sued by a former employer--an international billion-dollar IT/TelComm Holding company--with a special subsidiary ending with Government Solutions. After over a year of costly litigation I forced this bllion-dollar company to seek a dismisal of all their claims against me, with prejudice. How often does such a thing happen? Hardly ever...drawing one to reasonably conclude this legal attack was malicious and filed for improper purposes. Within days of the lawsuit being reported in the press I received a warning that this company could easily tap my home phone lines and read my ISP...and that I should expect this. I was also warned from an insider of a threat that I would be litigated to death and would never work again. I tragically underestimated the latter threat because basically that happened. It was like my name was on some type of list.

Regarding domestic surveillance...just what do you think everyone is lying about? That we have been spying on suspected terrorists and international calls? Anyone who believes this Administration would not use/abuse information it gained from illegal wiretaps (phone/ISP) or secretive examination of financial records to advance its political/commercial agenda and attack its critics is being either naüve or stupid. As for the argument about the lack of evidence of abuse, trust me, there is plenty. But to whom does one complain? The DOJ, the FBI? Who is watching the watchers?

Mark J. Novitsky

Minneapolis, MN.

Aug 1 2007 - 8:07am

Web Letter

Here's an aspect of outsourcing intelligence to corporates that I have yet not seen discussed: If any American corporation can be hired to perform intelligence duties in any country, won't corporate entities then become suspect, and quite possibly targets for terrorism? Wouldn't that only widen the theater of operations to include all Americans, in any country, anywhere?

I seem to recall the disappearance of people merely suspected of being CIA plants; what happens when the US confirms that it's outsourcing intelligence ops?

I agree that corporate interests and national interests can conflict, and any corporate that feels its bottom line is being affected by events will have a distinct incentive to alleviate the situation--whether by skewing intel, shaving intel, or omitting intel antithetical to its interests.

Very bad idea, but it's of a cloth with so many others by this Administration.

Rita L. McKee

New York, NY

Jul 31 2007 - 5:31pm

Web Letter

Last night I watched Bill Maher once again deconstruct George Bush on his recent HBO special. The central premise of Maher's brilliant stuff is that Bush is a moron, who should "stay inside the box.... The box was made for guys like you!" After seven years, many of us vehemently agree with Maher, but then again, Bush's inarticulate, "Foghorn Leghorn" persona may just be a classic case of "dumb like a fox."

During his Administration, the operating budget for almost every substantive component of the executive branch of government has been wholly or partially transferred from public to private hands. This began before he took office, but he has accelerated it to the point where the term "corporatocracy" is no longer just a left-wing slogan but has become the real force and political power in all our lives.

The cabal of extreme fiscal and religious conservatives that launched this Administration, and that still props it up against the onrushing tide of limp Democrat investigations, came into power behind the throne with two primary objectives: cut taxes on the rich to the bone and in perpetuity, under the rubric of "stimulating economic growth," and shrink the federal government to a nub, under the composite rubric of "free markets, individual economic freedom, and reversal of government spending." Of course they didn't highlight the fact that instead of shrinking spending, they'd simply move it from public to private hands, à la Bush's failed effort to privatize Social Security (mark my words, it will be resurrected). After hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars have been so "re-allocated", across the board of the executive branch in virtually every office and agency, it looks like they've succeeded big time in hard-wiring these two objectives into the fundamental operation of government and the consciousness of the public, i.e., it's so much more "efficient" this way, isn't it?

The head of the GAO is hop-scotching around the country giving seminars on the federal government's looming fiscal crisis, warning whoever will listen that if we don't do something about "entitlements," we'll be going over a spending cliff as the boomers retire in force during the next fifteen years. While he may be right in his numbers, he says little if anything about the astronomical defense budget, as if there's no "discretion" there but only in Social Security and Medicare. His message boils down to: "We've got to cut back on the little guy's retirement and health benefits, or perish down a hole of red ink, but we can't touch those space-based missile defense systems or obsolete weapons systems, perish the thought!... We need those for the infinite 'war on terror'!"

It appears the "moron" President with the annoying body language, who can't speak in anything but simple-minded sound bites, has succeeded mightily, with the complicity (many say direction) of his General Contractor-in-Chief VP Dick Cheney, in "starving the beast," making Grover Norquist a very happy boy. Dubya goes along his merry way, impervious to political pressure, keeping his own counsel (one of the great mysteries of history), his finger firmly stuck in the dike of public opiniom against his wrongheaded war and its arm's-length list of unintended consequences, content in the knowledge that he's transferred billions in public treasure to his corporate cronies, woven them into the fabric of government operation so tightly they're virtually indespensable, and borrowed enough billions from our adversaries like China to keep this country in hock up to its eyeballs, and therefore actually subservient and pliable, for the rest of this century.

Our young men and women in combat are fighting beside mercenaries earning five times their salary, but their risk of death or injury is the same if not greater, since the mercs are used for the most part in special ops and are not out routinely patrolling in under-armored humvees at the daily mercy of IEDs. Those private salaries and incentives are being paid by a host of favored corporations whose revenues flow like Niagra through contracts, often if not always no-bid, written with this administration and winked at by both parties in Congress. If this is the democracy that the Founding Fathers had in mind, I'm Brad Pitt's lost twin brother. Ike knew from whence he spoke about the military/industrial complex (He was forced in that speech to leave out the word "Congressional" from that infamous sobriquet).

Would it be any different if Obama was President? or Edwards? After so many years of these private entities burrowing their way into the foundation, things couldn't and wouldn't change "overnight." The core question now is, Can any one executive, however strongly his or her rhetoric challenges the status quo, actually return our country to the status quo ante, when we believed that the federal government was not just a wholly owned subsidiary of GE, Exxon/Mobil and Halliburton, let alone that in actual practice it was indeed independent of corporate influence?

What policies are needed to demonstrate this change is actually happening, and not just some digitally doctored fake reality regurgitated for the public through the standard propaganda machines, while the corrupt symbiosis between the public and private sectors continues to metastasize unabated, until we've arrived back to the future in "1984"? To me, this is the ultimate question and challenge of this coming election, and so far, some entertaining moments from Mike Gravel or Obama and Clinton notwithstanding, it's merely business as usual. We need our own real-life Matt Santos, that is if such a person can in fact materialize before our eyes. Is Obama that guy?

Stewart Braunstein

Port Washington , NY

Jul 28 2007 - 8:12am

Web Letter

Private enterprise is not government, and it takes a different set of skills to run intelligence or military operations. I don't think Lockheed-Martin is famous for running intelligence operations, so I would bet they subcontracted to one of those private security firms, or they bought one. Along with Boeing and other firms, Lockheed-Martin is into Missile Defense Systems big time. In order to sell these systems to the public, you need to be facing a serious threat from the big bad Iranians, North Koreans or Russians in order to gain public support. It is in Lockheed-Martin's financial interest to hype these countries as a threat. These systems have cost billions of dollars, and they don't work. They have a hard time getting them off the ground and going in the right direction. they are a menace to the country that launches them. Are you going to depend on them for accurate intelligence?

We have more contractors in Iraq than military personnel. They have lost billions of dollars, and for the price of these contractors, we might have had the several hundred thousand troops Shinseki recommended for securing Iraq. We would certainly have had enough people so soldiers didn't face three or four tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

You want to look at the "wonderful" job contractors have done with hurricane relief after Katrina. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is: Private contractors cannot find their rear end with both hands.

Pervis J. Casey

Riverside, CA

Jul 27 2007 - 2:38pm

Web Letter

This is a poorly argued opinion piece. It is written under the assumption that outsourcing our Intelligence is a bad thing, yet provides no facts to support this position. It starts out with, “The unprecedented involvement of private corporations in the Iraq War has been well documented,” as if this is something new. However the use of mercenaries is a tactic dating back to the Iliad.

It is an unarguable stance at that, being the same argument that college football is far superior to professional football. Since it is an opinion, neither side can claim victory for their position.

The “extreme example” isn’t even an example, it’s a hypothetical. However, you can easily find a real-life example of this exact manipulation, not from an evil corporation but from the far superior elected appointee that has manipulated data or straight up strong armed the government to get her or his state more funding, i.e., base closings.

At the end of the day, I am sure that R.J. Hillhouse would rather use the evil corporation Fed Ex to ship a package than stand in line for the Post Office and pay their outrageous prices. Oh yeah, that was a complaint from the editor when I logged onto this site.

Michael Alan

Austin, TX

Jul 26 2007 - 12:18pm

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