Flushing Out The NSA, The Old Fashioned Way

Roger RabbitBack in the good old days before gunpowder, if you didn’t like your neighbor, the easiest way to get rid of him was to surround his castle and then wait for him to run out of food and water. Laying siege was much easier than storming battlements, not to mention more economical of human resources, and if camp life got too boring you could build a trebuchet and amuse yourself by flinging heavy stones and burning hay bales over the enemy’s walls.

Today, the basic concept is still sound, but the 21st century trebuchet is a legislative bill. Specifically, H.B. 2272, introduced last week by 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats. The target is the Yakima Research Station, the government’s moniker for the NSA listening post tucked away on the grounds of the Army’s Yakima Training Center, within view of passing motorists on I-82 en route from I-90 to Yakima.

Although officially secret, it’s well known by now that YRS is a major component of ECHELON, the NSA’s program for scooping up telephone calls, faxes, emails, and all manner of other communications.

H.B. 2272 is a clone of the so-called “Fourth Amendment Protection Act,” which seems to be the brainchild of the OffNow Coalition, a motley collection of organizations whose pitch goes,

“It doesn’t matter what political ideology you hold dear. It doesn’t matter who you voted for. And it doesn’t matter what political party you support, or don’t. Every single person across the political spectrum is affected by NSA spying. We are here to set aside differences on everything else – and to come together for common cause. We believe in your right to privacy, and the limitations created by the 4th Amendment. Whether you’re part of an organization, a group, a business, a loose coalition – you can join us in our coalition to push back against NSA spying. Prominent bloggers and activists are more than welcome as well.”

Friendly legislators have introduced similar bills in Utah, Washington, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and California. The principal goal of these bills is to turn off the water and electricity supplied to NSA facilities like YSR.

The bill declares, “It is the policy of this state to refuse material support, participation, or assistance to any federal agency which claims the power, or with any federal law, rule, regulation, or order which purports to authorize, the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes the person, place, and thing to be searched or seized.”

Gee, I wonder which “federal agency” that might be.

This is followed by implementing sections, including criminal penalties and civil liability for violations, plus the right to injunctive relief and damages. Although couched in legal language, the heart of this legislation makes it illegal to supply water and electricity to federal agencies that collect “electronic data or metadata” without search warrants. You can read the actual wording of the bill here, if you’re interested:

Any operation that intercepts billions of phone calls and text messages needs big computers, which need electricity to run, and cooling water. Turn off the juice and water, and it shuts down. No need to storm the ramparts. Applied to the NSA by state legislators acting at the behest of angry citizens, it’s an interesting — if unoriginal — idea.

Interestingly, one of the bill’s sponsors is Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee); YSR is in his district.

The effort might be superfluous, as the NSA may have already abandoned the fort.  It informed Rep. Doc Hastings in April 2013 that it plans to close its Yakima facility and relocate its operations to Colorado, although it didn’t say when, and as far as anyone knows YSR is still in operation at this time. This isn’t a case of the NSA seeing the mob coming and getting out of Dodge in a timely fashion; it has more to do with the fact most communications are transmitted by fiber optic cables instead of satellites nowadays, making NSA’s antenna farms largely obsolete.  I don’t read into NSA’s announcement any indication they’re backing off their surveillance of virtually all communications on earth.

The NSA was authorized by President Truman in 1952 and built up its resources and technology in the 1960s and 1970s to intercept Soviet communications during the Cold War. A perfectly understandable mission. Since then, its capabilities have expanded unimaginably, and the breadth and depth of its activities arguably have gotten out of hand. (Can this really be argued?) For example, it’s been known for years the NSA has 1,056 pages of file material on the late Princess Diana, although the NSA never admitted possessing lurid details of Diana’s love life, as was speculated by a British tabloid. (But how could they not have such material?)

A 1998 Washington Post story contains this snippet:

“Steven Aftergood, an intelligence expert at the Federation of American Scientists, said he can’t understand why the Echelon controversy has gone unnoticed in the United States. The lack of interest, he acknowledged, may stem from the fact that the NSA is prohibited by law from targeting American citizens for communications intercepts, here or abroad.”

Right. Well … suddenly the American public is VERY interested in what the NSA has been up to all these years, thanks to a fugitive named Eric Snowden our government has branded a spy for blowing the whistle on all this. Not content with that, probably because they’re frustrated by their inability to get their hands on him, this weekend some D.C. poobahs accused him of working for an unnamed foreign power. (No idea who that might be.) I suppose the edict boycotting the Sochi Olympics will come next weekend, unless Putin hands him over. (I don’t think he will. He’s enjoying this too much.)

Chances are H.B. 2272 won’t get far in this legislative session. I say that, not because people aren’t mad or the majority of our legislators are too chicken to mess with the feds, but because our legislature has proven incapable of passing anything, even pedestrian legislation like filling potholes and paying for schools. Nearly all bills die in the black hole that is Olympia, regardless of merit.

But even if NSA has already bolted from Yakima, the introduction of H.B. 2272 is interesting in itself, for several reasons. One, in these hyperpartisan times, Democrats and Republicans seem united in their fury at finding out the NSA has been targeting American citizens for communications intercepts, here and abroad, for years and years — the Constitution and laws and our civil rights be damned. And two, the tactic chosen to fight the NSA’s domestic spying is the Tenth Amendment — partisan of left and right have found a use for the long-neglected “states rights” amendment. It’s fascinating that H.B. 2272 doesn’t directly target the NSA, but instead targets state government, by prohibiting the state and its subdivisions and contractors from cooperating or assisting the NSA. That means no food deliveries, no electricity, no water. A new use for an ancient form of civil war.

Trebuchet, anyone?

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  1. theaveeditor #

    The obvious answer> Off shore the NSA! We could subc9ntract it to the Russians!