If You Have Nothing To Hide

Earlier this week, Reuters reported that certain information collected by the National Security Agency is shared with the Drug Enforcement Agency, allowing the DEA to arrest people on drug charges. Furthermore, in order to keep the source of the NSA information secret, the DEA commonly invents a “parallel construction”, i.e. an alternative history that can be presented as evidence in court. DEA agents claim that they discovered the subject criminal activity using ordinary methods, not information from the NSA.

That’s commonly called “lying” or “perjury”. 

From the Reuters article:

The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred. 

There hasn’t been much reaction to this story so far. But it does raise some interesting questions. For example, is the NSA sharing information with other government agencies? Are other agencies, not just the DEA, using the NSA to keep an eye on people they have an interest in, like supposed tax evaders, members of organized crime, political activists and troublesome journalists? 

More generally, how much government surveillance should be permitted in a democracy, especially one as flawed as ours?

(Not that there’s anything wrong with secret, widespread government surveillance. Whatever the government is doing is perfectly fine with me. Keep up the good work, guys! I’ve got nothing to hide, so no complaints here. You can trust me. Really! But you should check out those odd people across the street.) 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/05/us-dea-sod-idUSBRE97409R20130805

The Social Security Administration Shoots to Kill

A right-wing website recently reported that the Social Security Administration is purchasing 174,000 hollow point bullets, an indication of troubled times ahead:

“It’s not outlandish to suggest that the Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest. Social security welfare is estimated to keep around 40 per cent of senior citizens out of poverty. Should the tap run dry in the aftermath of an economic collapse, which the Federal Reserve has already told top banks to prepare for, domestic disorder could ensue if people are refused their benefits.”

http://www.infowars.com/social-security-administration-to-purchase-174-thousand-rounds-of-hollow-point-bullets/ (Visit this site at your own risk.)

Actually, it is outlandish. Would the clerks, accountants and actuaries who work for the SSA be expected to strap on firearms and man the barricades? Are the Social Security trust funds likely to evaporate? Probably not.

In response to the uproar that developed on the internet, the SSA explained that it employs 295 law enforcement officers (who knew?), most of whom investigate attempts to defraud the government:

“Our office has criminal investigators, or special agents, who are responsible for investigating violations of the laws that govern SSA’s programs. Currently, about 295 special agents and supervisory special agents work in 66 offices across the United States.  These investigators have full law enforcement authority, including executing search warrants and making arrests. Our investigators are similar to your State or local police officers. They use traditional investigative techniques, and they are armed when on official duty.”

http://oig.ssa.gov/newsroom/blog/2012/08/social-securitys-oig-responds-concerns-over-ammunition-procurement

Hollow point bullets are standard issue for law enforcement officers, because they tend to disable someone who is shot, without injuring innocent bystanders. 

But why are so many people on the right so terribly afraid? Why are many of our fellow citizens suffering from political paranoia? I think it’s a mass case of psychological projection:

“Projection is a form of defense in which unwanted feelings are displaced onto another person, where they then appear as a threat from the external world. A common form of projection occurs when an individual, threatened by his own angry feelings, accuses another of harbouring hostile thoughts.”

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/478472/projection