June 15, 2013

In June, 1942, the United States Navy achieved one of history’s greatest naval triumphs over the Imperial Japanese Navy, thanks to a combination of brilliant leadership, plain good luck, and code-breaking.

US carrier-based dive bombers led by the intrepid Commander Wade McClusky Jr. swiftly sank three Japanese carriers. A fourth Japanese carrier was sunk soon after.

Midway turned the course of the Pacific naval war and spelled inevitable defeat for Japan in World War II.

US Navy code breakers had secretly deciphered Japan’s naval codes, so US Admiral Nimitz knew the Japanese fleet’s movements and timing. Nimitz positioned three US carriers northwest of Hawaii and ambushed the oncoming Japanese fleet heading for Hawaii.

Code breaking played a key role in the Allied WWII victory. The British and Soviets also broke many German military codes. The decisive battle of Kursk and the U-boat war were primarily won thanks to code breaking. Ever since, the US has made signals intelligence (SIGINT) a key part of military operations.

Fast forward to last week’s furor over electronic snooping under the PRISM program by the US National Security Agency (NSA) into America’s nine big internet providers. We should not have been surprised. Surveillance and spying cannot be stopped unless forcefully constrained. Intelligence, like fire, to quote Ben Franklin, is “a useful servant; but a terrible master.”

The National Security Agency is America’s largest but least known spy agency. In the military, we used to jokingly call NSA, “No Such Agency.” I was invited to join NSA at the end of my US Army days, but declined.

Investigative author James Bamford has written fine books and articles about the top secret workings of NSA. Way back in the 1960’s, we knew that NSA could listen in to almost every foreign embassy in Washington and many military transmissions around the globe.

When I was covering Moscow, NSA managed to eves drop on the private phone of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. We also know that NSA’s secret “ECHELON” system was hoovering up phone and fax messages around the globe.

That was fine – overseas. At home, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot listen to the private communications of Americans.

But 9/11 conveniently changed all that. President George Bush and his neoconservative advisors got a cowardly US Congress to enact the pernicious Patriot Act that tore down America’s constitutional safeguards and allowed the intelligence agencies to run amok under the guise of national security. Warrantless wiretaps became common. Unlimited electronic snooping spread like wildfire to Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Most communications by phone, email, fax, Skype, Tweets are sucked up by NSA’s big ears and run through the world’s most powerful computers at NSA HQ at Fort Meade Maryland and its many branch locations.

President Obama asserted this week that the PRISM program only collected metadata – that is, patterns rather than reading mail. NSA’s chief claimed snooping in the US thwarted numerous terrorist attacks.
Both claims are hard to believe.

The US security state keeps growing. Any communications of possible interest are read under the impossibly vague anti-terrorism laws. If I am a subject of interest because I read Muslim religious sites on the internet, then anyone who emails me also becomes a suspect, and anyone who contacts them, and so ad infinitum.

The endless faux “war on terror” sanctions all violations of personal rights. Its is the magic lantern of the far right, a carte blanche pushing the US and its allies ever further to the right. Once bad laws like the Patriot Act are established, they rarely go away.

Americans will just have to get used to acting as if they live in old Communist East Germany or the Soviet Union. Anything sent electronically becomes government property. Privacy has been repealed by the 342-page Patriot Act. The big internet providers are becoming government accomplices.

Amazingly, polls show a third of Americans think all government surveillance is good if it protects them from “terrorism,” whatever that is. Many Germans thought similarly in the 1930’s.

As an American, I am hugely proud of our code breaker’s triumph at Midway. But dismayed and angry that today our SIGINT efforts are aimed at our citizens.

COPYRIGHT Eric S. Margolis 2013

This post is in: 9/11, Intelligence, Military and Security Affairs, USA


  1. My Facebook thoughts this morning.

    I see this morning that the NSA is claiming that the phone tapping stopped 50 terrorist attacks in America. What they did not say was that because of it over 20,000 people were also saved from being eaten by T-Rex attacks. (There is just as much danger of these as terrorism.)

    What it also did not say was that all the phone taps did not save over 300,000 Americans from being killed by guns, nor did it stop any mass shootings.

  2. And in view of all that has happened to increase the power of the American Government, the scrapping of rights and the trillions of dollars made, how can anyone still doubt that 9-11 was staged?

  3. Why are politicians immune to mental illness?

    • You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town.

  4. The not so popular and immoral Patriot Act brought on by Bush Jr. will go down in history as the act that stripped Americans of all rights and liberties,despite the fact that far too many Americans are unable or simply won’t accept this as a fact in their everyday lives.

    This was created to intentionally keep Americans scared silly of the word terrorism,which has become a word used daily by Washington to tell Americans that they should listen and obey their leaders and don’t ask questions.Much like the rights of prisoners currently on Death Row in prison.Those previously enjoyed rights of citizens are gone and the Constitution is nothing more than a worthless piece of literature that every American was once proud to be a part of.9/11 will one day shed the truth that Washington’s top brass were complicit or at least knew about these horrific acts that were about to happen but did absolutely nothing to stop them.

    Meanwhile,today every American must feel really awkward knowing that his or her every conversation,email or “private” phone call is being monitored by the very politicians that were supposedly elected to protect them.To shame….politicans know only one thing…and that is to look after their own pockets firstly….then their constsituents.It is indeed a very,very sad time for ALL Americans,except those who have become filthy rich as a result of American foreign policy.Even President Obama,in his second and last term,is proving that he is not much better than his predecessor G.W. Bush.His backbone stopped growing the minute he set foot in the White House and that is a terrible shame and that America has become one of the most,if not the most,distrusted countries in the western world….or perhaps the entire world….and nothing can be done about this as long as the rich only want to become richer.All one has to do is google about the smaller number of billionaires that have control over the most money in America nowadays.The results are mind boggling….but not unexpected.

  5. The excesses of the British government at the time of the American Revolution pale in comparison to those of the current American government.

    If things ever ‘turn south’ down there and there is mass unemployment and disenchantment, there could be ‘interesting’ (in a Chinese sense) outcomes…

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