Journalism in the Public Interest

How the NSA’s High-Tech Surveillance Helped Europeans Catch Terrorists

The debate about National Security Agency eavesdropping has left European investigators bemused. U.S. technology collects mountains of data that often aids their cases, they say. But there’s no substitute for real human spying.

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander testifies before the House Select Intelligence Committee on the NSA's PRISM program during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on June 18, 2013. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

PARIS — In 2007, Belgian police were keeping close watch on Malika el-Aroud, a fierce al-Qaida ideologue whose dark eyes smoldered above her veil.

The Moroccan-born Aroud had met Osama bin Laden while living in al-Qaida’s stronghold in Afghanistan. She gained exalted status when her husband posed as a journalist to blow up the renowned Ahmed Shah Massoud, the chief of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, just two days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Aroud later returned to Europe, remarried and started an Islamist website that attracted a group of French and Belgian extremists. Led by her second husband, Moez Garsallaoui, half-a-dozen of them went to Waziristan, where they joined several thousand al-Qaida fighters, including a Latino convert from Long Island, learned to make bombs and plotted against the West with terrorist kingpins.

The authorities — American, Belgian, French, Swiss, Italian, Turkish — were all over them.

U.S. surveillance had tracked their radicalization, their emails from Pakistan, even calls made to their mothers before they trudged through snowy Iranian mountains. An intercepted photo that Garsallaoui sent his wife showed him holding a grenade launcher. He claimed to have killed U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and described his escape from a missile strike: “I came close to dying.”

The militants took precautions, changing laptops and using Internet cafes. But they were no match for top-secret, real-time NSA intercepts. Some of the monitoring was approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“We were inside their computers,” a source said.

As debate rages in the United States about the National Security Agency’s sweeping data-mining programs, I’ve been on a reporting trip overseas, where I’ve been talking to sources about the controversy and how differing U.S. and European approaches to counterterrorism can complement each other.

On Tuesday, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, told a congressional committee that his agency’s surveillance programs helped stop more than 50 terror plots in the U.S. and abroad. Five years ago, I was based in Europe covering terrorism, running from one attack or aborted plot to another. As the Brussels investigation shows, these cases frequently combined the high-tech reach of the U.S. counterterror apparatus with the street skills of foreign agencies.

In November 2008, Pakistani and U.S. agents swooped into Kandahar and nabbed Bryant Neal Viñas, the convert from Long Island and al-Qaida militant. He cooperated with the FBI, admitting that he discussed an attack on the Long Island Rail Road with top al-Qaida figures.

Days later, a drone strike killed Rashid Rauf, a Pakistani-British operative who helped plan the London transport bombings and the “liquid bomb” plot to blow up planes in 2006. Three Belgian and French militants returned home, where police arrested them after intercepts picked up menacing chatter.

Viñas pleaded guilty. Aroud went to prison, and investigators believe her second husband Garsallaoui died in the land of jihad.

Other cases benefited from close cooperation. In Germany in 2007, U.S. monitoring detected a suspect checking the draft file of an email box at an Internet cafe in Stuttgart. Armed with that lead, German security services deployed surveillance at numerous Internet cafes in the city. The investigation resulted in the dismantling of a Pakistan-trained group plotting to attack U.S. military targets in Germany.

As several European sources told me, if an extremist in Marseilles was talking about nefarious activities with an extremist in Geneva over the Internet, chances were good that U.S. intelligence agencies would find out and inform the French and Swiss. Not because of sources on the ground, but because U.S. agencies could detect the communications through computer servers in the United States.

The reaction here to the U.S. debate has been bemused.

European terrorist hunters seem surprised that the revelation of the NSA data-monitoring programs is big news. The technological capacities of U.S. agencies have been an integral component of dramatically improved teamwork against terrorism during the past decade.

“In the fight against terrorism, intelligence-sharing is essential,” said Jean-Louis Bruguière, who served for more than two decades as a top French antiterror magistrate before retiring in 2007. (He declined to discuss the NSA’s role in investigations.) “Cooperation with American services has always been trusting and excellent.”

At the same time, some European experts see the furor as a sign that the strengths of the American giant intertwine with its weaknesses. U.S. agencies devote huge resources to sophisticated technology to the detriment of analysis and human spying, they say. As a result, they say, U.S. agencies sometimes appear overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information.

“The problem is not collecting information, it’s understanding it,” said Alain Bauer, a well-connected French criminologist who has served as a presidential adviser. “What is the sense of such programs? They are too big. They will not work. We are a former colonial empire. We know the value of human intelligence. It is more efficient and less expensive than technological fetishism. Fortunately, we do not have enough money to do it the other way.”

Spy agencies such as France’s DCRI and Britain’s MI5 have long experience cultivating human sources. In early 2008, Spain’s Civil Guard broke up a plot to bomb the Barcelona subway thanks to a French informant. He was a Pakistani who infiltrated the network in the training camps and traveled with the would-be bombers to Spain. He sounded the alarm when the attack seemed imminent.

I have met many American agents who are adept at operating in foreign cultures. Diversity adds value. U.S. agencies can send Pakistani-Americans to work in Islamabad and Mexican-born officers to Mexico City.

Nonetheless, U.S. agencies have less experience with Islamic terrorism at home. That’s partly the result of a good thing: Overall, the United States does a better job than most countries of integrating immigrants, including those of Muslim heritage.

In Europe, decades of religious, nationalist and political violence have bred an arsenal of counterterror tools. The security forces have developed extensive knowledge of large Muslim populations with subgroups involved in crime, extremism or both. The security forces recruit informants, interpreters, analysts and investigators from those communities.

As Bruguière pointed out, France staved off Islamic terrorist violence from 1996 to 2012, when an extremist named Mohamed Merah killed seven people in shooting attacks on French soldiers and a Jewish school in Toulouse.

“Gathering intelligence is the linchpin of the fight against terrorism,” Bruguière said. “In France, the emphasis is on humint [human intelligence]. But technological intelligence has not been neglected, in fact it has been notably reinforced.”

To be sure, the Europeans have experienced failures. The transport bombings in London in 2005 and Madrid in 2004 took place despite the fact that some of the suspects had been under surveillance.

Though sectors of the European media and public complain about the prospect that the NSA might spy on them, at home they are accustomed to invasive practices. In Italy, electronic surveillance routinely targets tens of thousands of citizens. Italian law has made it easy to wiretap and hard to do undercover operations. In 2010, the Italian justice ministry reported that law enforcement had monitored more than 112,000 phones the previous year.

In France, political parties across the spectrum accept the existence of a vast grid of domestic spying. In 2004, I went to see a police intelligence chief in a French city. It was a Thursday in August. I wanted to know if he was concerned that a newly announced ban on Islamic headscarves in schools might incite unrest when the academic year began.

“I don’t expect any problems,” he said. “But tomorrow is Friday. It’s a good day to gauge the mood based on the sermons at the mosques, especially the fundamentalist ones. Come back tomorrow afternoon, and I will have a better idea.”

The next day he repeated his assessment, which was accurate. It was clear that the police monitored — presumably with a mix of human and technical methods — Muslim houses of worship, including the clandestine prayer rooms in basements and garages frequented by hard-core extremists. Each week, the intelligence web collected and analyzed Friday sermons and generated a report that was on the chief’s desk in a few hours.

The U.S. reaction to NSA data mining strikes my European interlocutors as somewhat academic — a debate about potential rather than actual abuse. They don’t see a scandal.

“Something that is more dangerous to individual liberties and data protection than the secret American metadata programs, such as Echelon or PRISM,” said Bruguière, “is the insufficiently controlled commercial availability of innovative technological products such as social networks or the Google Earth and Google Street programs, which can be easily diverted toward criminal or terrorist ends.”

Some here see quite another problem: They think the U.S. intelligence community has overreacted to Islamic terrorism, acting as if the networks have the dimensions and discipline of Cold War-era state adversaries. That can cause excessive rigidity and secrecy.

A veteran European police investigator told me an anecdote. He once shared intelligence with a U.S. counterpart about a terrorism case. Some time later, he talked to the American official again. The conversation led him to believe that the U.S. agency had misunderstood or misinterpreted the intelligence.

The investigator recalled: “I told him that we needed to go over a couple of points. He said: ‘I can’t talk to you about it any further.’ I said, ‘But it’s about a lead we gave you.’ He told me: ‘Sorry, it doesn’t matter. It’s secret now.’”

The European investigator speaks Arabic and has spent years on the front lines. He says the U.S. emphasis on technology can be counterproductive, distancing the watchers from their target.

“In our work, there is no substitute for this,” he said, gesturing across a cafe table. “Face-to-face contact. Empathy.”

Before joining ProPublica, Sebastian Rotella worked at the Los Angeles Times, where he was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2006 for his coverage of terrorism and Muslim communities in Europe.

Trust us they say.

I would think, if the NSA would be doing the world a favor, it would have revealed the emails and phone conversations of the bankers that caused the global financial crisis. But no, it seems that the behind Fort Meade, the truth lies hidden, because the powers that be had decided to go on a witch hunt.

So I find all these claims of General Alexander to be deficit of the truth.

ribeekah grant

June 19, 2013, 10:20 a.m.

Is world terrorism limited to the low lying fruits of radical extremists who perceive that they must liberate their country from corrupting western interference?  What about the financial terrorists and the death and suffering that they inflict on the world’s citizens.

The problem isn’t entirely that “we’ve gone too far,” though.  It’s a huge part of it, of course.  However…

1.  We’re taking these people at their word a week after they claimed that storing enormous amounts of information in a database wasn’t a “collection.”  If they’re willing to lie so brazenly, why are these fifty classified data points valid.  It’s the old Vaudeville routine.  The banana in my ear is to scare away all the alligators.  There aren’t any alligators in the city?  It must be working, then.

2.  There’s an overwhelming asymmetry in response.  Drunk driving kills more people every year than terrorists try to kill over multiple decades.  But we would never re-enact Prohibition of alcohol, even though that would solve the problem cheaply, because that would violate our freedoms.  But military surveillance to save a few hundred lives is acceptable, somehow.

3.  It’s a secret program, run by a secretive agency, approved by a secret court whose opinions are classified, and all contact must be approved by the Executive branch to isolate them.  Kafka would be proud.

4.  The laws that permit this were passed by lying to the legislature, based on unofficial meetings of leaders conducted in secret, as Dick Cheney tells the story.

5.  Those laws chill expression, assembly, and the press.  They are unreasonable searches and seizures.  The searches occur without due process and without protection from self-incrimination.  There is no trial by jury, you are not allowed to confront your accuser, and you aren’t given enough information to prepare a defense.  That’s four, maybe five Amendments in the Bill of Rights stomped on, plus Posse Comitatus.  Given that the people enacting these took an oath of office to protect the Constitution, I’d call these laws outright treasonous, if not a military coup.

6.  With all this information, plus the Russian government pointing out the suspect and warning us of a threat, we still couldn’t manage to stop the Boston Marathon bombings, again calling the entire premise of lives saved into question.

7.  The government presents no evidence whatsoever that what they’ve done here couldn’t have been done just as effectively by the civilian laws the rest of us live with.  Sebastien himself pointed out one where police work is really what won the day.

In other words, there is no good way of looking at this program except to assume that the government can do no wrong, no matter what its actions.

The statement “It’s secret now” sums it up.  Given the egregious lies we’ve been told be several administrations over the last 15 years, how can we trust their claims without being able to see details?  In fact, the egregious lies go back 45 years or more.

Again and again we get hints that much of this classification is used to prevent embarrassment or questioning of officials.  For example, all the circumstantial evidence we have suggests that if the daily briefings for President Bush were available to us in the months before 9/11, we’d have further confirmation of how preventable the 9/11 attacks were.

I note that some of the people who are now freaking out over the NSA’s activities never even so much as twitched when the so-called “conservatives” on the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment is null and void if a law enforcement officer claims that he or she smells something that might be drugs and hears a sound that might be the destruction/flushing of those drugs.

Try proving that a smell or sound - both fleeting and impermanent sensory interpretations - never existed in the first place.  (Seriously; you make the wrong politicians/law enforcement officials mad, and you might very well find yourself in dire need of such a defense.)

Yet if the NSA collects data that you route through the non-encrypted (by which I mean “wide open and available to anybody with a sniffer”) Internet, that deserves a freak-out.

lolll…the Republicans built the Patriot Act and the bureaucracy of a police state…but that reality is of necessity forgotten by those who would pin it on a Democrat.

The kind of secret surveillance that Snowden revealed didn’t help any country catch anyone. It was aimed (and still is) at American citizens. That is illegal even under the questionable Patriot Act and flabby FISA court.

@ribeekah grant, who said:  What about the financial terrorists and the death and suffering that they inflict on the world’s citizens.

America’s Republicans and neoliberals “deregulated” high finance in the U.S. - thus making financial terrorism legal as long as it is carried out in the name of personal enrichment.

I wish I can say I believe all of this but I don’t, our government has lost my confidence . Things have changed for the worse , integrity and honest government does not exist, its all political gamesmanship . And too many Americans are too busy to do anything about it
unfortunate but true.

Samuel Kephart

June 19, 2013, 5:22 p.m.

Want the REAL story about what the NSA is doing with your life and communications, read Freedom on the Rocks - Tyranny versus Terrorism:

You lost me with your presumption of guilt of alleged plotters of London 7/7 attacks. No evidence presented. There is much reason to doubt the official story that is elided in this article.

Stefanie Ortmann

June 19, 2013, 5:34 p.m.

Perhaps when you speak to prosecutors (always a bunch of people with a special mindset where respect for privacy and human right is concerned), but European publics have been horrified by the revelations - especially in Germany, where memory of STASI and nazi survelillace have meant that data protection and privacy is a real issue. Same for the new Central European EU members. Europe is not a single cultural space, and this article is written from a narrow perspective (I suspect French) while claiming to speak for “Europe”.

I’m surprised to see this kind of article in ProPublica, especially given the current situation.  The author must be shooting for Gen. Alexander to buy him a beer.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 19, 2013, 9:45 p.m.

Define terrorist.

I see this as the major issue. According to the 4th Ammendment of the Bill Of Rights (enacted to protect us FROM our government) evidence is supposed to be presented to a magistrate before anything may be seized as evidence against us. So I guess we all must be guilty of some crime against the state for any government entity to be able to pry into our personal lives and look at any of our transactions. Even if you have never made a phone call, never been on the internet, you still have vast amounts of digital footprint available to look at.

We have allowed our elected officals to run ripshod over most all of our rights. Many people are waking up and have had enough of this, since history proves out the actions of a tyranny and how it is implented by steps. We see it unfolding before our eyes, and really don’t know what to do about it to stop it.

As some others have already pointed out, the NSA did not stop the Boston bomings. Nice to know they can help out Europe so well. Even with Russia notifying the FBI, twice, the people that are charged with protecting us, failed.

I look for other whistle blowers to surface.

I know there are many good people in our government that want to do something to halt the actions they are forced to take against the people of this nation. Since the DOJ is criminalizing whistle blowers, seems to me by logic, they have something to hide.

Bob @ Youngstown

June 19, 2013, 11:52 p.m.

@John Henry Bicycle,
I enjoy hearing your intrepretation of the 4th amendment, however the intrepretation that really matters is that of the US Supreme Court.
As you should be aware of the 1979 ruling of Smith v Maryland, telephone metadata is not protected by the presumption of privacy.
You are entitled to your own private intrepretation of the Constitution, but until you sit on the supreme court your opinion has no significance.

Since you conclude that “We have allowed our elected officals to run ripshod over most all of our rights.” and suggest that the executive and judicial branches are in collusion, I wonder what your solution would be?

It sounds like your are calling for the overthrow of the government. Or at a minimum beating the Tea Party drum to the tune of “Throw all the SOBs out and start over.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 20, 2013, 7:50 a.m.

Bob, you are right. The interpretation of the Supreme Court is what matters. Maybe it is time for a new interpretation. Rand Paul is leading the charge to get this done. I hope it gets to the doorstep of the SCOTUS.

My opinion does not matter, you are right. But I have a right to voice my opinion against my government. For now. How much longer do I expect this to last?

Bob, I am not calling for a violent overthrow of anything.

With the current situation in this country, I certainly call it a tense enviornment that is ripe for defense against further government intrusions.

We are witnessing things going on in our country that have never been done before. We have military training in our cities, in mass. The government has the ability to track our every move. People are being tazed by law enforcement officers, children, old people, for speaking out against an action against their rights even to the point of death. These things are being done to “protect” us?

We have spent untold fortunes on our “protection” since 911.

I ask myself why does the government have to do so many things in secret now. In our name. With our money.

Our military commanders are being asked if they would fire on our own citizens if given the order to do so. This comes from multiple sources. Put so many of these things together we have to come to some very disturbing realizations.

Bob, I am an independant voter. I vote every time the polls are open.

Bob, I don’t have a solution. I don’t think many of us do. I certainly open to sensable ideas.

Bob, thanks for being objective and adding to the conversation with knowlege and information.

Bob @ Youngstown

June 20, 2013, 11:06 a.m.

@ John Bicycle,
I will defend your right to speak your mind.
While I am reluctant to cherry pick through your assertions,  I’d really appreciate it if you could provide some background for your statement that ” children, old people, are being tazed for speaking out”. If that is happening without any other accompanying violation of law or threat, the person doing the tazing should be brought to justice and punished.
Specifically can you provide some credible sources to support your statement?

The toll that the US has endured in life, treasure and confidence since 911 is monumental. And now the efforts to attempt to shield the US and it’s citizens from further attacks has created more distrust in our government.  I myself accept that certain actions, like surveillance, must be done behind a veil of secrecy. What I reject is the notion that the NSA program (and the billions of dollars to support it) is designed to target Americans on the basis of their political beliefs, their religious beliefs, their economic status, or their ethnicity.

What this episode with Snowden has exposed is that the clandestine services can not rely on an employee’s (or agent) sworn oath.

The damage, as evidenced in the 911 attacks, caused by guerilla terrorists, continues to grow.

Bob, hasn’t this also shown that we can’t put any faith in the oaths of generals and elected officials?  They swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, which I feel trumps a promise not to reveal secrets that are in the public interest.

I’ve never been in the military, myself, but I’ve been told time and again that a soldier has no duty to follow an unjust order, and in fact has a duty to not follow such an order.  I’d argue that applies equally or more so to civilian contractors.

If it’s true, then, that a large part of the government sees fit to ignore the Constitutional protections of the people, then we have a need to know about it.

As an aside, I want to point out that the losses we’ve endured that you cite are the fault of these same high-level officials, who decided we needed to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq, wipe out historical sites for bigger landing strips, and murder and displace civilians when they’re inconvenient.  Don’t you think any of us would “radicalize” if someone did it to us?  Our government sent soldiers into harm’s way, and the blood is on their hands, not of some vague enemy that allegedly requires even more blood-letting to stop.

In other words, Washington set us on a path of revenge, let many Americans die to get it, and now wants to use the deaths it caused as an excuse for grabbing more power.  You don’t hand a drunken teenager car keys because he complains that he can’t walk straight.  The tantrums need to end.

@John, who spake thusly: In other words, Washington set us on a path of revenge

Revenge?  Or profit?

You can make a lot of money - and leverage legislation enabling near-shore and perhaps even ANWR drilling - if you know that tensions in the Middle East are about to be ratcheted up.  (Enough money, perhaps, to merit a “secret energy task force” meeting.)

And once you’re in a Middle Eastern country, the ability to manipulate those tensions - and so the price of oil - with micro-precision is added to your bag of tricks.

Bob @ Youngstown

June 20, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

I would not dispute the concept that elected and appointed political and military have to be held to their Constitutional oath. Where we have a problem is when you and I have a disagreement over the interpretation of the Constitution.

Traditionally you and I resolve that dispute by submitting our respective arguments to the courts, ultimately to the US Supreme Court. It is their task to resolve these Constitutional disputes. 

The Supreme Court has already ruled on the issue of the government’s access to phone metadata, so I don’t understand your complaint (”  large part of the government sees fit to ignore the Constitutional protections of the people”).

Regarding the NSA, could you be a bit more specific? Who in the government is ignoring Constitutional protections? What protections are being ignored? And who has the Constitutional authority to determine that protections are being ignored?

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 20, 2013, 11:23 p.m.

Bob, from what I can glean from your posts is, that what the government is doing now is ok with you?

So, it is ok with you to let the government track your phone calls, track you, monitor all of your internet useage, even listen in on your phone calls if they so desire?

Bob, you are ok with the government TSA people groping you before you get on an airplane? I have surgical metal implants, so I have no choice.

Bob, are you in that much fear of the terrorist? Do you really believe the radical Islamist are behind every tree, in every alley trying to blow us up?

So you are just all in agreement with the “Patriot Act”?

Bob, are you a law enforcement officer? I was at one time many years ago, and I can tell you now, people were not treated as they are now in most places. In the county next to where I live now, where I grew up, an old guy in a wheel chair on his front porch was tazered. There are even handcuffs in production now with tazers built in them. What for? Someone in handcuffs might run, but my mother could chase them down with her walker! Tazers and definetly the misuse of tazers have caused many deaths, and why do we need them in our school systems?

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 20, 2013, 11:30 p.m.

Oh yeah, and the FISA court (the secret court that we cannot even see the documents from) had about 1800 requests for warrants last year. They said no warrant shall be issued how many times? None, 0, nada.

What other courts have this kind of track record?

Why does his face remind me of Colin Powell and his ‘weapons of mass’ destruction speech?  I go along with the views of Smedley Butler myself.

The first person put herself out there to be found by setting up a jihad website.  It’s hardly an example where a vast dragnet of internet activity and phone calls is necessary.  Just hire someone with experience using Google and searching the Deep Web to find these websites.

Bob, my interpretation of the Constitution starts with phrases like “Congress shall pass no law…”  The Supreme Court has, incidentally, said many times that this also means that the Executive may not implement any such law and local governments are bound by the same restrictions.

Passing such a law is, therefore, illegal, no matter who blesses or excuses it, because the law that supersedes every other law (except where amended) says so.  The executive lying to them to convince them to pass the law is illegal.  Stacking the courts to OK illegal actions is illegal.  Doing so in secret shows that they know it.  I mean, if they were doing nothing wrong, they’d have nothing to hide, right?

It’s not the right of the government to say what the limits of government are, because the answer is always “more.”  If you’d like to live under such conditions, there are plenty of countries like that already, and we don’t need another one.

I call it treasonous, personally, because if it’s not treason, then it’s basically a military coup.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 21, 2013, 7:01 p.m.

Very well put, John.

Bob @ Youngstown

June 21, 2013, 7:08 p.m.

OK John,
1) I’d like to repeat my request to you for provide sourcing on this issue: ”  I’d really appreciate it if you could provide some background for your statement that ” children, old people, are being tazed for speaking out”. 

2) Does the Supreme Court (judicial branch) have the right to say what the limits of government are?  Does the Supreme Court have the right to intrepret the Constituion?

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 21, 2013, 8:21 p.m.

Well, sorry, but one decent link did not work. Bob, do you really believe that it is not happening? What are tazers doing in our school systems, I asked you? I also asked you of what value to law enforcement is a set of handcuffs with a tazer built into them, unless it is for torture?

The Supreme Court does what any other appellate court does, it is just the last stop. It is charged with interpreting how a law applies to the case before it, based on the evidence presented. The Supreme Court cannot change any law on it’s own authority. Any judge can use court precidents as a basis of decisions before it, but court precidents are not law.The judge may decide that the precident does not apply. The judge decides how the law is applied on the case before him.

The Supreme Court does have the right to interpret the law and the constitution as it applies in the case before it. That’s it, that is the scope of their authority. The law can be rewritten by the legislative branch and the President’s signature makes it the law of the land again until another challenge.

Bob @ Youngstown

June 22, 2013, 10:41 p.m.

@ John,
I’d really like to follow-up on your assertion that children and old people are being tazered for speaking their minds, please tell me where you got this info. Don’t try to include a link, apparently the moderators will reject your comment. Just tell me where you read/experienced this.

On the second item, regarding the Supreme Court and interpretation of the Constitution,  I think that you are saying that the Court is limited to just the case before it.  If so, does that mean that Roe v Wade only applies to a Texas Statute?  Or that Miranda v Arizona only applies to Arizona, or that District of Columbia v. Heller only applies to DC, or that Smith v Maryland only applies to a Maryland trial?

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 23, 2013, 9:39 a.m.

Bob, just watch the news online. The Blaze had a link to an article in the Washington Post just a couple of days ago. Why do we need tazers in our government er, uh, public schools? Do you actually believe some kids are not being tazed for speaking out? They are. Just keep up with the news.

People are being executed in our streets in some cities, by our law enforcement. They seem to have a pass when they just proclaim “I feared for my life” so now we have to be concerned about how a cop perceives our movements or actions. I contend that if these guys are that afraid, they don’t need to be cops.

What I am trying to convey is, the SCOTUS is only there to interpret the law, based on the cases before it. The SCOTUS cannot make nor enact laws, nor do they have any means of enforcement, except by the executive branch of government, or at least that is the way it is supposed to be. A county judge has more methods of enforcement of laws than the SCOTUS.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 23, 2013, 10:23 a.m.

If you want to live in the country that wants to spy and pry into every corner of your life, fine. Don’t say anything don’t do anything. Don’t protest it.

I for one don’t want to live in a country that wants to spread a control grid down over the entire populace. A few years ago we fought against another government for doing the same things our government is doing now. If you cannot see it, you need to step back and look at the big picture and look.

The very things we are witness to in our government today is one reason those that set up this government early on did not want a strong central government. These men understood and had experienced a strong central tyranny. Things may be a lot more complicated by technology today, but humans remain the same. Some men crave for power and or money and some men crave for freedom.

I am a Christian. Now, in our country in some places people of Islamic faith are being discriminated against in my opinion from what I can read in the news. If we Chrisitans, as citizens of this country, do not stand up and say that this is wrong, how long do you think it will be before the government gets around to us in a big way? Check out the recent congressional hearings involving the IRS.

Bob @Youngstown

June 23, 2013, 6:18 p.m.

I live my life quite fine, and what I do everyday is not guided by a concern about the government, or my neighbor, or my minister watching, listening or recording what I do or say.
I am at complete peace with my life, nothing to hide, nothing that I am ashamed of, nothing that I would be reluctant to be on the front page of the newspaper.
That’s probably the most compelling reason why I can’t get my mind around why some people are so obsessed with their privacy.

John, since you raised the subject of the IRS inquiry, even though it’s off topic, why yes I have watched ALL of the hearings. I even recorded those that I could not watch in real time. I also have read the transcripts released by the Chairman and also by member Clayborn. I have read many of the applications (once approved). I even watched the Tea Party rally and all their speakers last week. I’ve read the series of articles appearing on this website on dark money and the connection to the 501c4 applications, inspite of the left leanings of this website. I’ve listened to Fox news go on about it.  After all this, my comment is that there really is not the scandal that the Obama haters and the Tea Party patriots were hoping for.

So I wuld say that I’ve done everything to inform myself e

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 23, 2013, 6:48 p.m.

You wrote,“That’s probably the most compelling reason why I can’t get my mind around why some people are so obsessed with their privacy.”

Because I have a right to privacy.

Bob @ Youngstown

June 23, 2013, 10:13 p.m.

Well John, I guess that’s my point. I don’t need a right to privacy, because I have nothing to keep sequestered from public scrutiny.

On the other hand, those that are concerned about privacy ......(fill in the blank)

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

June 24, 2013, 7:13 a.m.

That’s the reason that there is more than one flavor of icecream :)

relentless pursuit turns us all into criminals. if it doesn’t, then the spooks are not doing their job and will be out of work.

we should have learned from The French Connection.

Bob @ Youngstown, on June 23 at 10:13 p.m., uttered Well John, I guess that’s my point. I don’t need a right to privacy, because I have nothing to keep sequestered from public scrutiny.

So you’re OK with the government recording everything you do?  If so, all I can figure is either you’re an exhibitionist or you don’t have a sex life.

But let me extend your “Everyone should meet or exceed my standard in all aspect of their lives.”:  Since you don’t, I presume, use bottled oxygen, then it is “OK” to ban access to bottled oxygen?

The whole concept of “equal rights” - to include the right to privacy - is to prevent anybody who thinks as you do from stripping others of their rights just because you don’t happen to need them.  E.g., your name indicates that you are a man - should the 19th Amendment be overturned because it never applied to you?

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Dragnets: Tracking Censorship and Surveillance

ProPublica investigates the threats to privacy in an era of cellphones, data mining and cyberwar.

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