Spies Like Us

Despite all the Ludlum-Jason Bourne film genre adaptations, Americans are pretty “Johnny-Come-Lately” lame for the snoopery schtick. For all the hype over the exposé from The Guardian (a newspaper NOT yet owned by “Rupert From Oz” Murdoch) over National Security Agency snooping of your Verizon call information, Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald is a bit too tidy for Hollywood’s typecast scruffy, twenty-something Brit journalist with a hipster messenger bag meme getting snuffed by a Central Intelligence Agency hitman in London’s Victoria Station for his scoop. Just the free press ($arah Palin’s “lamestream” media) at work informing us all. I owe him a pint of bitter or two. In London. Job well done. Somebody had to find the string to pull.

Seventy-odd years ago, would-be Yankee blue-blood snoops were playing catch-up ball on the other side of the Pond with our Brit cousins tutoring the jeunes filles en fleur ‘Merkin neophytes on the finer points of spying learned since the days of Sir Walsingham. Except for a few American pioneer cryptologists, the super-secret German Enigma code of the day was mostly broken by Polish mathematicians, and Brit maths dons pirated from Oxford. Americans knew how to make sewing machines, and lots of them. Those diverse skills were wedded in wartime to produce the multitude of whirring analog computing “Bombes” which would mechanize the drudgery needed to unlock the once “unbreakable” three- and four-rotor Enigma machine cyphers.

There’s a lot of intelligence work required to try bridging a fragmentary decrypt snatched from the ether, and Dubya’s “smoking gun” for Sadaam Hussein’s fictitious “weapons of mass destruction.” Lemme know when you find any Plutonium warheads in Iraq, s’il vous plait. The flowers on thousands of soldiers’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery from that misadventure might have a few days more life before they wilt.


Image: NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade – Commons.Wikimedia.org

There is every appearance that current NSA skullduggery is more like “TINA,” or traffic analysis, than actually breaking ex-Secretary of State Stimson’s 1920s edict that “gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s mail” verbatim transcripts. If you wanted actual wiretappjng, one would have to wait for the FBI’s cross-dressing chief J. Edgar Hoover taping Americans, or Reichführer Heinrich Himmler bringing Hermann Goering’s brain children, the Gestapo and signals intercepting Forshungsamt, together under a Prinz Albrechtstrasse roof. Newt Gingrich had no worries he was being overheard chatting-up not-yet-his-Star-Wars-helmet-headed-wife Callista out of her panties, even as he was leading the inquisition of former President Bill Clinton getting a certain Monica Lewinsky favor in the oral, er, Oval Office.

What then of the secretly shared “metadata?” A sea of phone numbers, long strings of wireless handset identifying serial numbers, cell tower IDs, times, and dates. Not a needle in a haystack, nay, a needle in a mountain of needles, in all the world’s haystacks. The only way to begin to make any sense of it requires Ft. Meade and a sea of government and contractor geeks running arcane mathematical algorithms through humming acres of subterranean super-computers. It certainly wasn’t nefarious ACORN-refugees armed with cereal box Drogan’s Decoder Wheel plucked from Lucky Charms cellophane deciphering gun safe lock combinations for weapons gun types bother to lock up from the kiddies. Still, a long way from listening to ex-South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R)‘s broken schoolboy Spanish come-on pillow-talk lines to a señorita in Argentina. At best, the NSA could figure out that Buenos Aires is a long way from side-schtupper Sanford’s supposed walk in Appalachia. South Carolina Fifth Estate newsies had already done that for untold billions less. We could have rehired every pink-slipped journalist from the last dozen-plus years and reopened ten thousand shuttered newsrooms for far less, and have change back. Private sector job creation.

I would be far more worried about the early Bushie “Patriot Act” bent on turning American librarians into FBI snitching snoops of Yankee racier reading habits, than of the National Security Agency figuring out, at great expense, just how many times this columnist uneasily checked his precarious, oft single-digit, checking account balance from the 7-Eleven parking lot.

The truly worrisome “scandal” for conservatives is the thought of how Uncle Sam got Verizon to farm phone metadata for free. Socialism on the march. Having seen more than my share of bewildering Verizon or AT&T “Death Star Phone Co.” cell bills, I’d frankly have better luck breaking the Enigma cyphers in England’s Bletchley Park back in the early 1940s with a Drogan’s Decoder Wheel.

For Pete’s sake, please don’t use “phone hacking” and “Murdoch” in the same sentence if you work for Fox News owner Rupert From Oz. Sore subject.


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