Jay Rockefeller’s Surveillance Machines

I don’t mean to be churlish. After all, Jay Rockefeller tried to conduct some kind of oversight over Bush’s illegal wiretap program. He even went so far as to write out by hand a letter to Dick Cheney telling him the wiretap program sounded like the data mining the Senate was in the process of specifically defunding. And Rockefeller was honest about his own capabilities to conduct oversight without the help of his more technical staffers.

As you know, I am neither a technician nor an attorney. Given the security restrictions associated with this activity, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate much less endorse these activities.

But is there any better demonstration that members of the Gang of Four cannot exercise oversight over such programs without staffer assistance than the way former Gang of Four member Rockefeller talks about the machines that collect and store data on you?

Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who appeared not to be a frequent customer of Amazon or eBay, was worried that an online retailer “records every book you purchase” and “these machines, as I call them, are storing all of this information about you.”

Apparently, the members of Congress protecting citizens from the powers of these surveillance machines are completely unfamiliar with the way they work and the data they’re already collecting. Yet both the Bush and Obama Administrations want to make sure they’re the only ones who learn about the surveillance those surveillance machines are doing.

  1. DWBartoo says:

    Oooh, I was waitin’ for the “but” … of this joke on the rule of law, reason and humanity.


  2. phred says:

    Gee, and who would have the ability to actually correct the current oversight procedures to make them effective? Hmmm, let me think… The answer is right on the tip of my tongue… Starts with C… Ummm, it will come to me…

    In the meantime, I will reiterate my earlier complaint that there is a big difference between “can’t” and “won’t”.

    Congress has chosen to get out of the oversight business. Hell, they can’t even handle advice and consent in a meaningful way. They prefer rolling over for the King, then they get to complain about how everything is all his fault. That is very handy come election time… “Vote for me! It’s not my fault!” Yeah, right.

    • ghostof911 says:

      It’s not my fault!

      To an extent, that is true. They are prime targets of the surveillance by the executive branch. But then, that’s nothing new. Before the internet, Nixon and Kissenger had espionage devices rigged into the offices of most of the members of their own staffs! Paranoia over what the WH might be holding over them would be enough to cower all but Mother Teresa.

      • DWBartoo says:

        Members of Congress, for the most part, go along, not because they are frightened out their po’ little wits, ghost, but rather because they deem in THEIR best “interest” to do so, it is the “principle” (it is not “moral principle to which I refer) of the “thing” that “persuades” them.

        We need not offer theories of intimidation, however “romantic” that might seem, to explain these “behaviors”, ghost, when greed and hubris will suffice.


        • ghostof911 says:

          I beg to differ. There is nothing romantic about blackmail. It is the weapon of choice in power struggles when the outcome hinges on a small number of persons being “forcefully” persuaded to agree to the wishes of the more aggressive faction.

          • DWBartoo says:

            Not romantic?

            Not a wonderful “narrative” to explain perfidious behaviors, that their real genesis by obscured, to excuse why EVERY single member of Congress who is not a Bircher, would trash, with great gusto, the Constitution, the rule of law, sweet reason and any semblance of humanity?

            Oh dear!

            And to think, we don’t know “the half of it” because Congress ia shaking in their booties?

            Oh my!

            Lying tigers and bears … ?

            Intimidation, threat and innuendo?

            No doubt.

            But, you would have me “believe” that every single member of Congress is sucking their teeth in apprehension of their closets packed full of sleletons revealed to a public who would do precisely what with the revelations that disgust?

            Better the public see them dismantle civility and the social contract than perceive “bad” behaviors of such magnitude that the public would be astonded to think that Congressional “members” might be dallying with, worse than what is already commonly seen or universally known.

            My goodness!

            Their “badness” must be beyond mortal ken. (And to think that we “knew” them way back … when …?

            Odd, so lacking in evidence, beyond what we’ve heard, (one thinks now of Harmon’s pissed words) you are content to excuse them as victims most sad, while, in truth and in fact, we’re ALL being had?

            Suppose you are right, and how you must feel that these much-maligned souls have got such a raw deal, perhaps some courage someplace they can steal?

            If right you are, then what are they worth, if their history is as bad as you say why would we want such speaking for us? I mean really, among them who do YOU trust?


            • ghostof911 says:

              The only member of Congress I can honestly say I trust is Dennis Kucinich. The rest have all been compromised to varying degrees.

              The promblem is, once compromised, one must continue to make compromises to cover up the initial transgression.

                • ghostof911 says:

                  The tragedy with respectable folks like Russ and Al Franken is their generosity to others extends only so far until it conflicts with the interests of the State of Israel. It’s a defect of their upbringing in the closed society of their religion.

              • DWBartoo says:

                Often, we agree.

                We agree that Congress is not responsible.

                We just get different meanings from those words.


              • michaelfishman says:

                If you really think that, just keep an eye on him…and I think you’ll find that he learned not to compromise from his compromise.

        • ghostof911 says:

          One caveat, blackmail is not a weapon for amateurs. Jack and Bobby were gathering dirt on LBJ because they wanted to dump him from the ticket in ’64. They were about to have a story go public that would have ended LBJ’s career. We all know who struck first.

          • AitchD says:

            How is it ‘blackmail’ to ‘go public’? It’s the good-faith promise of not going public that makes it blackmail.

            • DWBartoo says:

              You’ve bite yourself by the tail, stop chewing forthwith, or you won’t leave a trail.


            • ghostof911 says:

              Stand corrected with the use of the word blackmail. Jack and Bobby were not going to give LBJ a chance to get out of the scandal over the dirt they found on him.

            • DWBartoo says:

              Excuse me AitchD, I mistook your comment as from the ghost whose circular argument is absurd, indeed, quite the most.


          • fredcdobbs says:

            Jack and Bobby were gathering dirt on LBJ because they wanted to dump him from the ticket in ’64. They were about to have a story go public that would have ended LBJ’s career.

            Hmmm – why would JFK and RFK need to do that? LBJ was about to be publicly dipped in shit as a result of the Senate investigation into the Bobby Baker scandal and was likely to have faced criminal charges.

            Perhaps you have a source for your claim?

            We all know who struck first.

            Uhhh – you may “know” that LBJ was behind the assassination but I’ve never heard of or read any convincing evidence of this. Yes, I think it was a conspiracy and yes I think LBJ was a key player in the cover up but I think his strings were being pulled – not the other way around.

        • bobschacht says:

          Members of Congress, for the most part, go along, not because they are frightened out their po’ little wits, ghost, but rather because they deem in THEIR best “interest” to do so, it is the “principle” (it is not “moral principle to which I refer) of the “thing” that “persuades” them.

          Unfortunately, most congress critters spend so much time raising money for their re-election that their position is, “What, we have to do oversight, too???”

          To be a bit more fair, most congress persons only have the time to bone up on the subject of the committees they’re assigned to, and for everything else, they depend on the leadership for guidance.

          Bob in AZ

      • michaelfishman says:

        I think Mother Teresa could have been had…but I don’t buy that all these turkeys are kept in line by blackmail. Surely one of them, over the past fifty or sixty years, would have called the bluff.

  3. ghostof911 says:

    Given the security restrictions associated with this activity, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own, I feel unable to fully evaluate much less endorse these activities.

    Perfect description of the disdain expressed by those in power center of the unitary government for everyone outside its sphere.

  4. SaltinWound says:

    Why does Congress continue to allow briefings for a Gang of Four, as opposed to the Gang of Eight? Could they not make a stink and say that, if you are not briefing everyone you are supposed to brief, then you can not brief any of us? Would the Administration care?

    • michaelfishman says:

      Simpler solution: make it a felony to classify any information at a higher secrecy level than the security clearance of any member of Congress.

  5. JohnLopresti says:

    I think the issue of each G4 principal being entitled to bringing specified expert assistant(s) to informational presentations, or in some manner joining and scrutinizing briefings realtime meritorious. I forget whether there have been improvements in briefing protocols to permit that since the early plight Senator R documented; I thought some progress ensued following the 2008 elections, with the advent ot the new administration. I think the *machines* term is adequately technical, if slightly vague; there even was a company called eMachines once in the Valley, later acquired by Gateway, in turn later acquired by MPC, Gateway ultimately going out of business (in ~2009). But the eMachines gear looked nice at tradeshows, in the day when its branding had a fresh charm.

  6. fatster says:

    Archives have been opened on an earlier era of spying. Corporate links and journalists and Nazis and all. Origins of where we are now, only now We the Citizens are the focus.

    Secret US spy agency used serial killer and Nazis as sources

    “[The Pond] operated under the cover of multinational corporations, including American Express, Chase National Bank and Philips, the Dutch-based electronic giant. One of its top agents was a female American journalist.

    “Now the world can finally get a deeper look at the long-hidden roots of American espionage as tens of thousands of once-secret documents found in locked safes and filing cabinets in a barn near Culpeper, Va., in 2001 have finally become public after a long security review by the Central Intelligence Agency.”


      • Sara says:

        “Here’s the link to that story. Should be fascinating, tracing origins of this spying and surveillance which now threatens to overwhelm us all.”

        Fatster, thanks for linking the article — yea, I found it fascinating. The estate (Longlea) where the files were found is not described in the article, but OH WHAT THE STONE AND BRICK WALLS COULD TELL!!!

        During WWII, it was owned by a Texas newsman/Washington Operator named Charles Marsh. Marsh had a long time relationship with the top British Spy, William Stephenson, (The Man Called Intripid) — and probably more or less worked for him during the war, spying on Henry Wallace and Lyndon Johnson. Johnson used the estate for his long term relationship with Alice Glass, but it was also where Clara Booth Luce hung out and Fu**ed everyone with a male orientation. (See “The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the Wartime Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, by Jennet Conant for all the romantic details.) Eventually it went to Paul Mellon, and I would imagine the clean-out came when he died a few years back. In fact Mellon served in some sort of hush hush super secret outfit during WWII, so the files were probably intrusted to him given his possible connection to something like “The Pond”.

        I suspect there is an interesting tie-in between the decision to close it down given the connections with Tail-Gunner Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover who was always trying to poach on CIA’s turf, and the politics of the early Eisenhower Administration. Ike was determined to take down McCarthy in the 53-54 period, but he wanted it done without leaving any fingerprints. It all has to do with Ike’s essential deep loyalty to George Marshall, (whom McCarthy had called a Commie because of the loss of Red China and Yalta). The Army-McCarthy Hearings provided the venue for the take down, but in addition, he had to close down things like “The Pond” which had supported McCarthy and his minions. What I find interesting is that this is the period when Allan Dulles built the Congress of Cultural Freedom — which very much involved getting the left-liberal arts, music and writers class in Europe on board the CIA Gravy Train of funded exhibits, concerts, literary magazines, and all the rest as a sort of Socialist alternative to Soviet efforts to flirt with the Western Arts and Literary World. Whole thing came crashing down in 1966 when Ramparts broke the story — but it almost didn’t get off the ground because some of Joe McCarthy’s boys wanted to attack CIA’s and Dulles’s connections with the European Left Lit Set. (Full Story, see Frances Stonor Saunders book, “The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters.”)

        It is rather ironic, you know, that eventually the Nixon Administration sold Richard Mellon Scaife the remains of the CIA Lit operation (they had ownership of magazines, monthly literary papers and two conference centers) just before he resigned the Presidency for a cool million. Richard Mellon Scaife and Paul Mellon were cousins, but they hated each other, and never spoke except at an occassional funeral. Scaife built up the operation again, and used it during the Reagan Administration to campaign against South African ANC folk, and for the support of Apartheid. (has to do with Gulf Oil, and fear of Independent Blacks getting control of resources of interest to Mellon-Scaife’s African resource investments.)

        anyhow most of this is just my chatter about some of the fun but absurd stories and connections one finds when exploring the Spy Game.

        • DWBartoo says:

          Most fascinating, Sara.

          Thank you.

          You appear to occupy a “place” in the vicinity of historians such as Howard Zinn and Gore Vidal, regarding so many hidden, or glossed-over, but profoundly important things.

          One hopes we may see more of your considerations as time may permit, for your grasp is enormous and your “style” most delightful, enlightening and fine.


        • fatster says:

          Wonderful “chatter”, Sara. You added valuable information for understanding that “ancient” history which, of course, set us on the path to where we are today. I will certainly save it.

          And Clare Boothe Luce–what a piece of work! She and Dorothy Parker simply despised each another. One evening, the two, each accompanied by an escort, almost collided in front of a door to a fancy NY restaurant. Luce, in her usual snooty mode, gestured toward the door as she said to Parker, “Age before beauty.” To which Parker replied, flinging her scarf over her shoulder as she turned with a grand sweep through the door, “And pearls before swine.”

      • DWBartoo says:

        Thank you, fatster … the things you connect … discover/uncover, and bring back for us.

        You are a “big game” hunter in the very best sense.


        • fatster says:

          Aw, DWBartoo, I just have a fascination for a broad swath of stuff. Happy to know that you and Sara and some others I admire here appreciate some of the links I find. And now we’re off to a new day. What will it bring? Sigh.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      Hey, didn’t France just publish a list of names reagrding the French Resistance ,in WWII?

      • harpie says:

        I had no idea about this [pg16]:

        And like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has invested border agents with the authority to engage in suspicionless searches of Americans’ laptops and cell phones at the border; Americans who return home from abroad may now find themselves confronted with a border agent who, rather than welcoming them home, insists on copying their electronic records —including emails, address books, photos, and videos—before allowing them to enter the country.(Through FOIA, the ACLU has learned that in the last 20 months alone, border agents have used this power thousands of times.)

  7. bobschacht says:

    This morning on NPR:

    National Security
    U.S. Turns Up Heat On Internet Imam Awlaki

    Last month, U.S. lawyers got a series of unexpected phone calls from Yemen. The father of Anwar al-Awlaki — a cleric with al-Qaida ties who appears on a CIA “capture or kill” list — was asking for legal advice as he seeks to protect his son.

    This covers some of the issues mentioned by EW.

    Bob in AZ

  8. Gitcheegumee says:

    O/T — Sorry if this a dupe

    Ousted USDA employee Sherrod plans to sue blogger‎ – 25 minutes ago

    SAN DIEGO — Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said Thursday she will sue a conservative blogger who posted an edited video of her …

    The Associated Press – 917 related articles »

    She’s gonna hold Breitbart’s feet to the fire.

  9. TarheelDem says:

    Darcy Burner’s panel at Netroots Nation was very helpful. The panelists pointed out the limits on time and on staff and yet the issues that Congress has to deal with are becoming more complicated and the process for getting anything done is becoming more convoluted, filled with hours of negotiation. And it’s been that way for a decade at least.

    Working with Progressive Congress, the ew gang should put together a presentation about data security and civil liberties and feed the members of Congress the simple language that allows them to talk about this issue with voters. It is what lobbyist do, and often lobbyists are members of Congress’s only source of information on an issue. And members of the national security and law enforcement community behave as lobbyists a lot of the time.

    • AitchD says:

      Excellent thinking! But I would prefer that the ew gang continue to try to fulfill its current mission.

      You might write to your Congressional Senators and Representatives, and also to the WH and the SCOTUS, and suggest that a Constitutional Commission be formed to address those specific and narrow points you mention. Suggest in your letters that the commission be formed based only on recommendations made by __________ (you fill in the nominators or nominator types; it’s probably most politic if the nominating group includes MSM, blogosphere, WH, Senate, House, SC, Lobbyburg, DOD, etc., and anyone can nominate herself).

      Personal letters with sincere and original ideas aren’t ignored by everyone they’re sent to.

  10. john in sacramento says:

    Rockefeller’s not the only one

    There was a story a couple years ago (too lazy to dig up the link) about a week or so after one of the neo-fascist surveillance bills got passed (FISA extension?) where some Sens were absolutely befuddled by how computers and the internet worked

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      I think that you have just hit a bulls-eye on one of the key problems of our era.

      I don’t expect Congressional reps and Senators to be totally up to speed on all the latest OS’s and gadgets and router technologies and… and… and … [enter your fave tech topics].

      But it totally cheezes me that so many seem so incredibly naive, and (in some infuriating cases like Richard Shelby) don’t appear to even ask basic questions about technologies.

      Frankly, as much as Rockefeller’s comments irk me, I have to give him credit for at least admitting his limitations. That’s a damn sight more than I have ever seen out of Pat Roberts, or Richard Shelby, or Lindsay Graham, or John McCain, or HoJoe Lieberman, or…. [enter your most egotistical politician here].

      Problem #1 is a general lack of understanding by policymakers — you basically have 98 naive people and maybe 2 knowledgeable senators on a technical topic.

      Problem #2 is the filibuster.
      There are too many chances for some ignoramus or ideologue (Inhofe comes to mind) to shut down the entire policy or legislative process simply by threatening a filibuster — so the ignoramus beats out the knowledgeable members.

      This is lunacy.

  11. AitchD says:

    WTFingF? At the top of this blog’s message list now, there’s a “You’ve got 1 New Message” which clicks to an ad for Limewire, a P2P file sharing program (it’s been used before to ‘steal’ music files & such). Is it only on my page? Anyone else have it? Some of the ads on this blog are IP-smart, I mean, I’m pretty confident that Jay’s PC isn’t advertising ‘Top Restaurants In Charlotte’. Hmm. Charlotte is vying for the 2012 Democratic National Convention and is on the short list. Okay, I’m not confident anymore.

  12. hackworth1 says:

    Jay Rockefeller has learned to how to manipulate his voters and how to manipulate the English language so that he presents a personna that is superficially suffiently credible to win 50 percent of the vote. The Rockefeller name is good for the extra two points.

    I wonder how a man of privilege and wealth like Jello Rockefeller never had the ambition or intelligence to have became a lawyer or a technician.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Rockefeller didn’t have to live a public life; where I live, trying to get good people to run for office has been extremely difficult because no one wants to have to deal with the kind of appalling ‘campaign tactics’ that Lee Atwater created for GHWB and that Rove perfected for Dubya.

      Whether I am, or am not, a Rockefeller fan is beside the point.
      This man did not need to put himself in front of the public, and he did not have to put his family and reputation in the public arena. He could have hidden behind a hedge fund like too many wealthy people do.

      On that level, at least, a little civility seems in order.
      And I’ll reiterate that at least Rockefeller is admitting some of his knowledge gaps; a lot more people in Congress need to be this honest.

      • bmaz says:

        Rockefeller has a long history of service and spent many of his early years before politics very heavily involved in the Peace Corps and VISTA. Say what you will about the guy, he has never been the rich dilettante type.

        • bobschacht says:

          And besides, he’s a Democrat in a family full of Republicans. It is remarkable enough that he’s done what he has done with an Uncle like David Rockefeller to answer to.

          Bob in AZ

  13. mzchief says:

    It’s just a act. What Jay Not-Rock is really sayin’ is he is just not that into We The People:

    “Hello, hello, baby;
    You called, I can’t hear a thing.
    I have got no service
    in the club, you see, see…
    Wha-Wha-What did you say?
    Oh, you’re breaking up on me…
    Sorry, I cannot hear you,
    I’m kinda busy.”

    Do you buy it? I don’t.