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  • Keith Otis Edwards "Keith Otis Edwards" - The Leaky Military-Surveillance Complex

    Before I forget, let me start by complaining that this book's index is inadequate. Try picking out a name (or acronym) from a random page and see if it's listed in the index.

    As of this writing, the big news story has been the release of classified and sensitive information by WikiLeaks. I confess that I have not read all the documents posted at the WikiLeaks site, but in all the articles I have read and all the news reports I have heard, the latest trove of information is generally banal opinions by incompetent diplomats. For instance, you certainly have read someone's opinion that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is "risk averse and rarely creative." A report by Canadian Broadcasting (CBC) news said that the spy in Canada obviously watches a lot of television (why can't I get such a job?), because his secret dispatch provides the revelation that several Canadian TV shows portray visitors from the US as greedy and corrupt. (That's news?)

    Accusations have been made that WikiLeaks has endangered American lives by identifying specific vulnerable targets in the USA that would profit terrorists to attack. Among those mentioned were the junction centers where foreign fiberoptic cables emerge from the ocean to connect with domestic fiberoptic cables and thus form the Internet. (These centers are also where the NSA is intercepting traffic.) It seems to me that terrorists would prefer to attack targets crowded with infidels (such as the Super Bowl) instead of an automated AT&T switching facility, but if I am wrong, terrorists can find detailed information about these buildings (including specific addresses and descriptions of each edifice) here in James Bamford's "The Shadow Factory." There is an abundance of precise information in this book, it's all wheat and no chaff, so I don't understand the brouhaha over WikiLeaks. I express no opinion as to whether WikiLeaks or James Bamford is doing a disservice and endangering lives by providing such information, but it's all here. (Should I suffer government harassment by pointing this out?)

    I can recall the alarm raised by the liberal media in 2002 when word got out that the United States of America has a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also referred to as the FISA Court), but if I understand this book, the NSA is ignoring any and all judicial oversight (secret or not), and everything, all private communication, is being monitored, and the Agency's advanced algorithms are discovering pertinent information -- meaning anything that the NSA has decided may be of interest to them. According to this book's introduction, the NSA is awash in data, and subsequent chapters reveal that eavesdropping has become the primary growth industry in the nation. So many text messages and conversations are being monitored, that half the citizenry will eventually be employed to report on what the other half is saying. We can expect that the USA will eventually have many more informants than ever existed in the late East Germany.

    It's a pity that there has been no revised edition of "The Shadow Factory," because at the book's end in 2008, the fight over government eavesdropping was just beginning. In December, 2010, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, in Warshak v. United States, that the government's seizure of E-mail without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment and federal privacy statutes, as well as the Justice Department's own surveillance manual. The impression that I get from this book is that the massive government security complex, the NSA, its ancillary agencies and its myriad of private contractors, will ignore all rulings and continue to monitor everything. They may not reveal that they're monitoring everything and everyone, but they're still monitoring everything and everyone.

    Is this a good thing or bad? Bamford is remarkably sympathetic to Michael Hayden, former Director of the National Security Agency and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as most of the other people (both named and unnamed) who have supplied (i.e., leaked) information to him, probably because he doesn't wish to alienate his sources, but he remains generally reticent about the ethics of the fact that any expectation of privacy in the USA has largely evaporated. At no point does he specifically ask the basic question as to whether such a sacrifice is worthwhile. Are we being protected or oppressed by constant government monitoring?

    After reading this book, the basic question you need to ask yourself is whether you are willing to sacrifice privacy for national security. Are you? I certainly am. I don't care if the government listens to my telephone conversations, if it means that another 9/11 attack will be prevented. They can have copies of my every text message if it means that the airliner I'm riding in will not be blown-up over Milwaukee. Such a sacrifice seems necessary, and I am willing to make it. Are you?

    That's a trick question. I would gladly make such a sacrifice if it actually did bring security to the land, and so should you, but the real lesson to be gained from "The Shadow Factory" is that the type of people who run the spy agencies, men such as Michael Hayden or Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr. (who, in 2010, was appointed as Director of National Intelligence by President Obama) are incapable of providing you with any benefit, because they are squares. They are the guys who, while in college, avoided the pot party down the hall and instead hit the books. They didn't sleep 'til noon in the arms of a newly-met lover, because they rose at 0600, shined their shoes, and attended worship. (According to the book, Hayden rose even earlier.) They got where they are not because of superior intelligence, but because they followed all rules and clicked their heels, and not only the military but the entire government is infested with such squeaky-cleans. One of the most disturbing pieces of information in this book (pg.106) is how frequently and how severely all intelligence agents are subjected to polygraph interrogation, and not merely to weed out someone who may have sampled cannabis at one time, but to eliminate cynics, the depressed, and anyone who is not wearing a big, yellow smiley face. Being "disgruntled" is cause for virtual imprisonment or exile. That alone should drive anyone with any enlightened values away, but if, by some remote chance, someone who is the slightest bit hip manages to become an insider, he (John O'Neill) or she (Valerie Plame) will become the subject of a smear campaign and be forced out, shunned, stabbed in the back. Another typical example is the disgraced captain of the USS Enterprise, Captain Owen Honors. Has he a sense of humor? Then he must be publicly humiliated! Take him to the pillory!

    This is not to say that military men, puritans, and those who walk the straight-and-narrow are wholly incompetent. Their skills and talents are irreplaceable in certain circumstances. For instance, such steadfast and optimistic men as Sir Douglas Haig were essential for organizing the Battle of the Somme and giving the order for troops to climb out of the trenches, and when the Bonus Marchers became a nuisance in Washington in 1932, it took a great patriot such as General Douglas MacArthur to restore order by using tanks and poison gas on the demonstrators and their wives and children and pets.

    In fact, men and women of an orthodox mind have but one solution for all problems, be they political, diplomatic or social: GET TOUGH ON 'EM! CRACK DOWN! NO MORE MOLLYCODDLING! ZERO TOLERANCE! Did young Americans develop a fondness for vegetable intoxicants during the Nixon administration? Then the obvious solution was to order a crackdown, a War on Drugs; get tough on the dopers and impose draconian sentences on dealers; spray suspected crops with paraquat. Were there similarly rebellious youths in the 1950? The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency found that comic books were to blame, and a subsequent crackdown forced publishers such as EC to abandon much of their business. The best example of all is, of course, the solution to the fondness men have for saloons and America's chronic drunkenness. Feminists, puritans all, had the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution ratified at their behest, and when its enforcement proved troublesome, a super-crackdown with even-stricter laws was enacted to get tougher yet on the nation's boozers.

    We see how effective draconian measures have been in solving our past problems, but now we are faced with the most dire threat against America ever. A large number of people from all over the world, including some within our borders, want to destroy our society and murder us infidels. They were clever enough to exploit the weakest link in our security, airline travel, and kill thousands of us. As always, the reaction of our leaders has been to order a crackdown. It must be understood that when such implements as eyelash curlers were banned from flights, no one seriously thought that they could be used as weapons; the idea is that the more authority flexes its muscles, the safer we'll all be. They might just as well have ordered a ban on powder puffs, because regardless of its practicality, the crackdown itself will be effective in combating terrorism, and we'll obviously be safer if we march in lockstep. That's the thinking.

    Did such strict crackdown measures result in airlines that are free from terrorists? Did it stop Richard Reed, the shoe bomber? Did it thwart the efforts of Umar Farouk Abdulmutalla? In August 2009, there was an attempt to murder the Saudi Arabian Deputy Minister of the Interior, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, by suicide bomber Abdullah Hassan al Asiri who had the explosive PETN hidden in his rectum (known to dopers as "The Keyster Stash"), so we may expect future jihadists to evade airport scanners and patdowns by following his example. In response, the Department of Fatherland Scrutiny will likely order all air passengers to be given full body-cavity searches (searches which are not infrequently carried out at borders today). (Employees of the NSA, CIA, FBI and their relatives will of course be exempt.)

    But the biggest crackdown and government-authority-on-a-get-tough-rampage is, if "The Shadow Factory" can be believed, unlimited wiretapping and electronic surveillance, and its effectiveness has likewise been predictable. Monitoring all visits to jihadi Web sites has been an efficient means of entrapping simpletons who posed no serious threat on their own, but did it save people at Fort Hood from Army Major Nidal Hassan or detect the activities of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber? It took authorities 53 hours to arrest him after his defective bomb was discovered, and we have apparently been protected more by the ineptitude of bombers than we have by the NSA's universal eavesdropping.

    James Bamford is a reporter, and the purpose of this book is not to assess how effectual the NSA's activities have been, but the question nevertheless needs to be asked: we're giving them billions and surrendering our privacy without a whimper -- is it keeping us safe? Does it work? Have sterner measures and government intrusion *ever* benefitted anyone . . . anyone other than the inquisitors and snouters?

    The most disturbing thing about this book is that we're asking the wrong people to solve the problem. (If anything, US foreign policy and the CIA's machinations were midwives to the jihadi movement's birth.) Such people lack the imagination to devise anything clever and effective, because they know only getting tough and cracking down on everyone. Another book, SuperFreakonomics: . . . Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, has shown what can be done by creative people, but it's too little, too late. "The Shadow Factory" makes it clear that the Military-Intelligence Complex has already expanded beyond a critical mass, and it's now out of control. Nothing will stop it until it destroys itself and takes with it the United States of America.

  • Anthony Sindoni - Best bang for your buck

    I bought this online with faith in the reviews I've read online.
    After having poor luck with the G Grip, and being terribly underwhelmed by the mini Jawbone, and Beats Pill, I decided I'd throw the money down on this, knowing I'd be able to return it if unsatisfied. Let me say before continuing, I'm not an audiophile purist per say, but I find audio quality to be more important than say visuals in a video game. What you see is one thing, but you need to feel immersed with audio. Needless to say, I'm nitpicky about audio quality.

    Pro's

    -Build quality is unrivaled by anything that isnt well over 300 bucks. Definitely top notch. All at the tune of $160 at time of purchase.

    -The lighted soft rubber touch buttons on the top really give it a premium feeling as much as the super sturdy chassis, and the color choice for each button, as well as the fading volume button lights is a very nice choice.

    -Audio quality is stellar for a unit of this size, as well as price. The Beats Pill gets loud, but it loses depth quickly. The jawbone simply isnt as loud as either, and the audio is 'lifeless' in comparison.. From Rock, to blues, to hip hop/rap, techno, heavy metal, to country these sound great. Bass response is very nice, and the mids and highs are very full and bright in most cases. The audio is definitely room filling. I was testing it in the garage while having a smoke, playing music over the A33, and at about 75% volume I would say I could still enjoy the music from the neighbors property (standard middle class neighborhood, so not extravagantly large yards, but still) across the street.

    -As I'm writing this review, I'm jamming with it sitting on a shelf. The acoustics are great with it on a table, but it really comes to life when on a shelf, in a box, or really anything that'll let the notes amplify off of the surfaces surrounding.

    -USB port for charging your device while playing music, movies, games, whatever. Only a 1 amp port, but hey, unless you're doing heavy gaming or movie watching, I'm sure the charging port will keep up just fine.

    -The kickstand on the bottom does help a fair bit in getting cleaner, more full audio into your ear holes.

    -Bluetooth pairing is seamless and easy as can be. Havent had any issues as of yet. Quality loss from bluetooth streaming is very minimal, if even noticeable. Sometimes I get confused as to whether there's noise in the signal, or it's simply so clear that it's a detail in the song I've never noticed before. Almost all the time, it's thankfully the latter.

    -Aux support is nice, but I probably plan to have it synced via bluetooth. Ya know, that was kind of the point of this device, but at least it's there if I dont have a charger for my phone and want to conserve battery life.

    - Battery life is a solid 5-6 hours depending on volume level.
    Cons

    -Would be an even better buy if cheaper of course, but dont count this, as the price isnt unjustified, it's cheaper than the Jawbone by around 20USD, and the Pill by about 40USD.

    -As good as the build quality is, the little rubber/foam pads on the bottom, that reduce vibrations as well as helping grip to surfaces, feel a bit on the cheap side, and could be 'stickier'. But it's definitely no deal breaker.

    -Could have come with a nice little carry case, even if for five bucks more or something. I'd rather not simply throw it in a backpack uncovered or whatever. It's too nice to me mistreat.

    -Even though I said Heavy metal sounded great in the pro's up top, I want to reiterate that some heavy metal like Dethklok in particular get a little noisy, but it might be due to EQ settings used on my phone.

    -After continual use it does get fairly warm, but nothing that will burn your hand, and not even as hot as my LG Optimus G gets under heavy gaming with the quad core unleashed.

    -After reading the materials enclosed in the packaging while it was charging the first time I noticed something bizarre, and a little irritating. On the warranty information slip, not even trying to hide this from anyone, it clearly says the USA gets a 1 year warranty, and that European customers get a 2 year warranty. I cant fathom the reason for this, but I dont like it. However, not a deal breaker.

    Realistically, I dont find anything in the con's area to be a deal breaker, for the money, you really wont find anything better, in my opinion.
    In the future if anything changes, I'll edit this review, but in the mean time I'm very satisfied with my purchase. Can definitely recommend for the money.