David Harris Gershon just posted this excellent diary reporting that Ambassador Rice Asked the NSA to Spy on UN Security Council Members. After such a long series of posts from Bobswern and others revealing that the NSA has spied on virtually every top political leader, UN officials, global organizations, etc, on earth I thought I'd tip and rec David's great post before going to bed, and make a quick comment like "Thanks David. At this point it might be easier to make a list of people or groups the NSA has not been spying one. That is if such groups or people can if fact be found."
Then thinking of all the people who complain and criticize those who keep "harping" on the "excess NSA surveillance" and warnings of the possibilities 1984 like loss of freedoms in the future, my quick quip turn into the following essay which I have copied here because tomorrow I'd like to elaborate on it.
I believe we are experiencing a significant failure of our Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee and that President Obama and the Senate should appoint a major Blue Ribbon committee to do a major year plus long investigation of our intelligence design and activities with the intention of a major redesign to be more consistent with the intentions and philosophy on which our constitution and government was founded, which our 9/11 consolidation unintentionally veered from.
Without further comment, or editing, here is a copy of the comment I posted under David's excellent post for my archive.
Thanks David. At this point it might be easier to make a list of people or groups the NSA has not been spying one. That is if such groups or people can if fact be found.
One aspect of this intelligence scandal that does concern me is the lack of any evidence that neither the President, nor any of the cabinet Secretaries, UN Director, top Defense Department Generals, nor anyone else seems to have thought to have requested that anyone spy on the NSA.
Is this not the most un-American of principles? If there is any one principle above all others that is one of the strongest foundation stones of our government's design, it is that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Notice the expression does not suggest, power has the potential of sometimes corrupting ... no, this corruption is like Newton's Law of Physics and represents a simplification of the common sense observation that all people, living beings, and systems that are made of such beings have evolved to seek to improve our survival and spread our progeny by pulling "things we perceive as good" towards ourselves" and evolved to push "things we perceive as bad" away from ourselves.
A natural and unavoidable consequence of our behavior will be that those with more power will distort systems around us to the detriment of those with less power.
The proper way to interpret "corruption" is more in an objective scientific way, not as a "normative moral way" although the consequences will also appear as "moral failures" to those with less power as they perceive what happens as the more power arrange systems to their adavantage.
But, a more careful analysis will show that even the systems of the more powerful will suffer from imbalances of power in the long-term because of principles of complex systems that we see described in the mathematics of systems theory and scholars such. One famous saying of W. Edwards Deming , that was one of the first things my father taught me, was "when one optimizes a sub-system one simultaneously sub-optimizes the whole system."
And axiomatically equivalently, although it may sound counter-intuitive at first, "to optimize the whole system, one must deliberate, sub-optimize the sub-systems."
To understand this better imagine an engineer designing a car. If one "optimizes" or tries to make the strongest possible crash resistant finish, we could build it out of 8 inch thick steel at the detriment of weight, gas mileage and acceleration.
If we wanted to "optimize" or make acceleration and achieving the best possible gas mileage our most important goal we could make the exterior out of a thin plastic fiberglass, however, this would shatter at the slightest impact. One famous sports car had this difficulty, in fact. It may have been called the Corvette, but I this may be the wrong name.
So in engineering, one can never choose just one criteria and "optimize" it at the cost of all others, as we have done with "intelligence efficiency," design goals must be "traded off" against all the other goals of the whole system. No engineering evaluation and design can be done on one criteria along in "abstraction" but must be done on "prototypes" simultaneously with all other important criteria "on the table" at the same time.
Our founding fathers and mother some how recognized this principle even prior to its representation in mathematics and deliberately designed our government with offsetting powers with three branches of government. These offsetting power are a constant pain in the butt, and our founders knew this would be the case, but also know powers offset each other, and an independent forth estate of a free press to monitor and limit the power of government.
This design is now threatened and undermined by a unified intelligence system with no limiting power.
Recent reports indicated the notion of a Senate Oversight Committee is a joke, that citizens can no longer take seriously, as Senators show little evidence of even understanding the issues at stake, let along any willingness to confront this vast intelligence system that has grown beyond the control of any government institution.
So I ask again, who will spy on the NSA?
The fact that we laugh and the preposterous idea knowing there is no power in the world that could even discuss this possibility with another person without the NSA knowing answers the question. Not even the President of the United States.
Presidents will come and they will go.
The NSA will always be here. And, there, and everywhere.
Listening, and watching.
Spying on potential presidents before they get there. And, after they are gone. And, with all likelihood, even while they are there.
How would anyone know?
How would the President know?
One advantage of the old inefficient system of the 15 different uncoordinated U.S. intelligence systems is that they offset each other powers. If the President was ever suspicious that a problem had developed in any of them, he could the others to spy on the problematic one. What will we do if this situation should arise now? We already now from history that we've had a President Richard Nixon in our short history so far. And, it looks like we came very close to having a President Chris Christie. What would we ever do in such a circumstance with such singular consolidated power? What would the rest of the world do?
How would anyone stop them?
All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
It is not a matter of "goodness."
It is not a matter of "intent."
It is not a matter of "possibility.
It is like a law of physics."
In terms of spying and intelligence the NSA is all powerful. And, there is no power on earth that can match or stop it.
Do we wish to stop and think about whether we should have a limit to how much power one institution or organization on earth should have? Absolutely? Relative to other organizations? If so, when and how should we do this?
Our founding fathers and mothers would find this to be tragically un-American and perhaps the greatest failure of their constitutional design beyond their imagination.
And, one I am not sure we citizens have sufficient power, understanding, and will to correct.
Who in Washington, the The Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee, the President of the United States, The Supreme Court, our forth of the free press, and our volunteer citizen bloggers would claim to have such a complete understanding of these principles that we could reassure ourselves that our constitution, Bill of Rights, democracy, core American values, free press, free markets, and every thing that we value and want to preserve about ourselves is going to survive this unimaginable and unprecedented technological explosion of computers, telecommunication, the internet, and the other sociological changes of the last 50 to 75 years - and which show no sign of letting up?
Is it not time to appoint a broad cross-section of experts, citizens, scientists, political leaders, journalists, scholars, revolutionaries, and others, to step back and meet regularly for some period of years to think as deeply as possible for some period of years to make sure we are getting this right? And, give them complete security clearances so someone other than the NSA knows what is going on?
Remember, if we let this one subsystem choose all the criteria, for the "optimization" we will inevitably "sub-optimize" the whole system no matter what we tell ourselves about it, even it we write this phrase up on the wall and "worship it." I speak from experience because I have and knowledge of the principle alone did not save me from making the deadly errors.
Mon May 12, 2014 at 11:50 PM PT: Here is part of my response to Svincusi which may clarify part of what I'm proposal. And has a kicker at the end I'm pleased with.
Please note, however, that what am calling for is the President and Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee to appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission for a several year study - a commission that would presumably include every member of the Senate Intelligence Oversight Committee.
i am not calling for a revolution, or or for radicals to have secret night time reading of 1984 in smoky campus coffee house of liberal universities.
I'm suggesting folks start with our Constitution, The Federalist Papers, include some control theory mathematicians from MIT, some computer scientists from Stanford, political scientists from the Kennedy School at Harvard, maybe a few Pulitzer Prize winning writers from the New York Times, a few consumer activists maybe David Harris Gershon and Bobswern, along with the member of the Senate Oversight Committee even Senators Rand Paul, heck, maybe even Senator Ted Cruz, the Directors of the CIA, FBI, and NSA, maybe the Joint Chiefs, and sit down and explore, debate, and talk about whether or not we think what is happening with information technology, socio-economics etc, is still the best possibly implementation of our Bill of Rights and Constitution we can achieve.
And, at least several times during this two year study, they should all be secluded on some remote tropical island and fed marijuana brownies, magic mushrooms, or maybe even LSD (with informed consent of course) to make sure they have really looked at these issues, from every possible angle, and proven to the country they were willing to make any and every possible sacrifice to "protect and serve" the Constitution of the United States of America and all of the Values our Constitutional Framers intended we have enshrined withing in it.
Given that we were a band of anti-British rebels that just barely escaped be squashed by an all powerful, authoritarian Monarchy, and probably only because of the vast ocean made their intelligence function vastly inefficient compared to what we have now, I feel relatively certain if the constitutional framer could see what was happening now they would be horrified.
Because if the British had even 10% of the power the NSA has today, our revolution would have failed and we would all still be speaking English today and having a picture of the Queen on our money.