Elites Stick together against Us: Feinstein Slams NSA Merkel Tap

The Snowden revelations that the National Security Agency was scooping up hundreds of millions of American cell phone records that show who they call and where they are was met with a big yawn in official Washington, D.C. If you are a feudal lord, you want to know what the peasants are up to. The revelation of the Tempora program whereby the NSA and its partner, the British GCHQ, attached sniffers to trans-Atlantic fiber optic cables as they came up into the UK and scooped up billions of actual emails and telephone records (not just metadata as lazy journalists keep maintaining), didn’t even produce a yawn. No one in official Washington or in the US press seems even to know about or understand this program.

Then Brazilian President Dilma Roussef was outraged to discover that her personal communications were monitored by the NSA. Moreover, the US was clearly engaged in massive industrial espionage on the Brazilian energy sector. She canceled a state trip to Washington. She denounced the NSA at the United Nations. She threatened to create a Brazilian internet harder for the US to treat as a hacking playground. But President Roussef couldn’t get off page 17 of the newspapers (or of Google News).

But the news that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal cell phone was monitored by the NSA has finally made waves in Washington. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who vocally defended mass electronic surveillance of the American public and who wants to introduce legislation regularizing it, professes to find the Merkel tap unseemly. The courtier press in Washington said that she complained about spying on friendly countries. That is not true. She objected to monitoring friendly “presidents and prime ministers.” Unless, that is, there were an emergency of some sort. The US is always ultimately unconstrained. Feinstein’s comportment has raised questions about privilege and corruption.

This reaction shows the class and racial hierarchies that dominate thinking in Washington. It is all right to spy on ordinary American citizens in obvious contravention of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Because there is a Governmental Class that is typically wealthy and which, despite professing to be elected by and to represent the people, actually thinks of itself as lords over the people. Then there are the teeming hordes of the global South, and their leaders with unpronounceable names, who are also fair game.

But the German Chancellor is a European white person, a peer of the politicians in Washington, and it is not gentlemanly or ladylike to spy on their persons. (German industry or ordinary German citizens would be a different matter).

There is something almost medieval about the chivalry of Feinstein’s sentiments. The honor of another Lady or Parfait Knight must be upheld, if they are from another civilized kingdom. But the peasants, and the nobles of the pagans, are unworthy and may be trod underfoot.

Once you understand this class and racial code, American policy toward the Palestinians, whom Washington has repeatedly helped screw over, becomes perfectly understandable. Palestinians are the ultimate global South peasants, rendered stateless by Israeli and American policy (not so important since the standing of states in the global South isn’t much recognized).

But it should be remembered that working and middle class Americans don’t fall much higher in the hierarchy of worthiness than the other peasants. In a feudal system, there are no citizens, and the peasants have no real rights. There are subjects, who may at most be treated graciously by their overlords, but who may also be treated harshly if the Governmental Class is in a bad mood or feels threatened.

The NSA finally went too far. It treated an elite white member of the Governmental Class as a peasant, and for that must be mildly disciplined.

As for the rest of us, the message from Senator Feinstein is to move along, there is nothing to see here; and when so instructed, we are expected to bend over and assume the position. That Bill of Rights business was just a kind of dark joke.

48 Responses

  1. Mark Shields on PBS Newshour Oct 25, 2013:

    “Is that the kind of thing we did because we could do it? I mean, did anybody ask, should we do it, is it the right thing to do?

    I just think it’s — there is something — the technology is so fascinating, it kind of takes over and it leaves prudential judgments in the dust.”

    • Yes, small-minded people without other career options would leave “judgement in the dust…”

  2. What probably outrages Feinstein most is that it finally dawned on her that her calls are most likely being tapped, too. No one is immune. In the eyes of the NSA, she is no better that the lowliest peasant. In fact, she is probably being monitored more closely than the lowliest peasant, since her opinions actually count a little bit.

    Ouch! The hurts! Elites are supposed to be treated with kid gloves, not like common criminals!

    • John H,
      I think you give Diane too much credit for innocence.

      There are 8 members of Congress, 4 in the House and 4 in the Senate, who actually get briefed on the extent of NSA spying.
      They are the House Speaker and Minority Leader, and Chair and Ranking Member of the House Intel Committee, and their Senate counterparts.

      She has been briefed on the spying on Merkel since it started in 2002, as well as the monitoring of Supreme Court Justices, WH officials and fellow legislators.
      Either she has been concealing her anger and frustration over these excesses for 11 years, or she was OK with it.

      But she definitely didn’t just find out.

      • Actually I think she is upset that she was *not* briefed on the Merkel tap and has begun to realize that the NSA hasn’t told her a fraction of what it has been up to.

        • I hope yer right and I’m wrong,
          because to me she comes across as vindictive,
          and would clean house.

          That’s the only real protection you and I have from Big Brother –
          frequent turnover so that nobody gets too entrenched.
          Don’t look to the likes of the Senator to do her oversight job properly. Not when there’s so much money to be made.

          I’m thinkin of that scene in Will Smith’s movie “Enemy of the State,” where the Admiral in Charge at NSA throws the tracking device from the Congressman’s shoe on the table and tells all the Agency’s principals that he wants to know every stinkin’ detail of who ordered the device, who made the device, who authorized using it to track the Congressman.

          Of course, in the current situation, it’s the NSA Director himself who has gone rogue.
          As well as the Director, ONI.

  3. Even today, October 29, 2013, a day after Feinstein’s feigned shock over the Merkel cellphone surveillance, her committee is doing a mark-up of her bill to CONTINUE bulk surveillance of the American people.

    Feinstein is an enabler and uncritical lover of the NSA.

  4. This is very similar to what I’ve been feeling / thinking for some time, but you expressed it in a such a clear, articulate — and properly outraged — way. Thanks so much for saying what the mainstream media either ignore or distort!

  5. “Because there is a Governmental Class that is typically wealthy and which, despite professing to be elected by and to represent the people, actually thinks of itself as lords over the people.” -J. Cole

    The exchange on this video vividly illustrates this point.

    link to youtube.com

    And then the US citizen is forcibly removed from the hearing.

  6. There is a very big difference between working and middle class Americans and the peasants in the rest of the world. Working and middle class Americans vote and elect your mendacious and war mongering regime. You pay your taxes and you and your children are part of its military machine and global Stasi spy network. Working and middle class Americans cheered on the invasion of Iraq and protected war criminals in your ‘War on Terror’.

    The peasants outside your country do not have any legal or constitutional right under American law. Every conversation can be sucked up and drones can drop bombs anywhere at the whim of your elected leader.

    The perpetrators don’t belong with the victims.

    • Hear, hear.

      USans don’t realize how much hostility their government is creating worldwide. It’s one thing to throw your weight around via arcane institutions like the WTO; but it’s quite another to directly spy on private communications, many of which belong to well-informed and affluent foreigners.

    • In India, the peasant class is the most likely to vote in elections as they see it as a means of promoting their interests. I America the reverse is true.

      Look at the voter registration and voting rates among America’s poorer areas – it is pathetic.

      In Detroit, you will be lucky to see half of the voting age population actually vote in many precincts and very few citizens bother to register as precinct delegate candidates. Many precincts in Detroit the vote is over 90% Democratic and the nominated candidates heavily promoted by party machines.

      The quality of elected representatives in Detroit is notoriously poor and FBI investigations of public corruption at the city and county levels is routine. Ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick several days ago received a 28-year sentence for corruption – exactly the sentence requested by the U.S. Attorney. Dozens of more were indicted during the Kilpatrick FBI probe.

      In other more educated or affluent areas of Metro Detroit – such as Bloomfield Hills or Ann Arbor – voter registration rates and actual voting rates are high and, further, precinct delegate candidacies are rampant – I have seen eight electors file for four seats in a precinct.

      Citizen apathy is positively correlated with poverty in America.

    • This is the essence of our problem. If we are not destitute, then we are invested in the Wall Street-controlled globalized economy in many ways; our jobs, our pension funds, the value of our homes and the cost of our gasoline. I think at some level we sense that losing our military hegemony will cost us all of that. We certainly don’t mind spying on the global poor who refuse to conform to our capitalists’ needs, and we don’t mind spying on our own poor. So it is only fair that we don’t mind spying on ourselves as long as it lets us hold onto the *material* status quo for a few quarters longer.

  7. Well said. When I was younger, I used to believe that language like this was hyperbole. However, after the past 20 years, I don’t know how you come to another conclusion about the so-called American elite. They are never hesitant to bring down the power of the national security state or the penal system on those without wealth and power. Eric Holder is mighty tough on internet activists, minority teenagers caught with weed or disillusioned Muslim boys entrapped by the FBI. Of course, when it comes to Jaime Dimon, his bravery recedes more quickly than a Democrat caving in on entitlement reform. Subsidies and credits and deductions for corporate America and cuts for the safety net. On literally every topic, the decision-makers in this country favor their donor class.

    Just a disgraceful group of people, exemplified by the execrable Dianne Feinstein. Well said, Professor.

  8. Feinstein is what she is because she has now remained self-centered and politically untouchable for decades. She’s out of reach and out of touch, a vile and corrupt offspring of vast political corruption.

  9. Good perspective, Professor.
    The disHonourable senator doesn’t attend her own committees’ meetings.
    She doesn’t represent Calif.
    Senate hearings are photoOps with witnesses speaking to empty chairs!

    Stop The Immoral and Illegal Wars!

  10. Watching DIane Feinstein’s creepy orations confirms the prescience of the film “They Live”.

  11. Very well put Dr. Cole!

    It is class war and we need a Snowden that outs the inner workings of the global plutocrats, not just their puppets.

  12. But, as Glenn Greenwald noted, Chancellor Merkel is just as hypocritical as Feinstein:

    “First, note how leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted. That reaction gives potent insight into the true mindset of many western leaders” link to theguardian.com

    • Excellent post. Gives me hope for the future. Thanks!

  13. With the likes of Dianne Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi in Congress how can anyone claim the San Francisco Bay Area is a liberal bastion?

    • Because what a “liberal” is depends on what a “conservative” is. As long as the media forces everything American into those two boxes, what do you do when a “conservative” elected figure can support any of the following:
      1. proclaiming a giant conspiracy of Commie scientists to destroy capitalism by showing the physical harm it causes
      2. insinuating that the President is secretly a Moslem terrorist sympathizer, no matter how many of them he blows up
      3. demanding that the right to secession and nullification was not settled by the small matter of a Civil War
      4. claiming that the Founding Fathers required the US to be a Christian nation despite boundless evidence to the contrary and that we have no right to amend this ever
      5. restoring a tradition of voting laws designed to deter or intimidate blacks, the poor and women
      6. believing that no action of business can be harmful enough to be regulated, whatsoever
      7. believing that women who are raped don’t need abortions because their bodies can magically reject enemy sperm

      These are all common positions now. 1/3 of Mississippi Republicans told pollsters that they believed Obama was the Antichrist. 2/3 of Republicans believe in demonic possession. In fact, many Christian evangelicals now hold views on religious law, witchcraft and demons far to the right of the slaveowners of the Confederacy… with all their other views to follow as the corporate media normalizes them as patriotic conservatism.

      So that makes Teddy Roosevelt so far to the left that Glenn Beck posthumously drummed him out of the Republican Party. Don’t you think Feinstein is still a liberal by that standard?

      We’re going to have a civil war, and these are the sides you’ve got. Are you going to pout, or are you going to get an army big enough to win?

    • Her base is latte’ liberals, perrier populists, silk and satin socialists, etc.

      Her base was just fine with “Impeachment is off the table.”

  14. Yes. It really has come to this.

    An economy of billionaire thieves, who create nothing but trillion dollar frauds, backed by the most corrupt government in the world (thanks to billions in annual campaign donations and a corrupt billionaire-owned media) which has not arrested one single senior Wall Street bankster for their multi-trillion dollar looting spree. Instead of prosecuting the 0.1%, our shambles of a governing class spend all their time spying on the 99.9%.

    OK, so I exaggerate slightly – it’s true they also spend lots of time destroying the public schools via charterization and high-stakes testing, razing public services to reward real estate swindlers, subsidizing health insurance vampires, and throwing $1 trillion each year at a completely useless military-industrial complex.

  15. The thing is, there *are* tools that most of us can access that well protects our commsec. For whatever one might want to do in a web like environment there is TOR, for accessing computers directly and securely there is PuTTY, through which one can port almost anything. We need to use these tools just as ‘regular folks’ with ‘nothing to hide’. What this will accomplish is increasing the overall encrypted traffic which then causes less attention to be drawn towards users of strong encryption. The parallel issue is transaction analysis, that ‘meta data’ the talking heads keep going on about, the gleaning of information from knowing the who, where, when of communications events even if the content was not recorded or obscured, may well be best addressed by that Dinosaur of internet protocols, USENET.

  16. “……German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal cell phone was monitored by the NSA….”

    Cell phones emit radio waves that are not subject to protections under the United States Constitution’s Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment. I am not sure how those protections are in Germany or how or where the NSA intercepted her cell phone communications.

    Anyone who uses a cell phone is foolish to do so if they may reasonably expected to be targeted for surveillance for national security or law enforcement purposes. President Obama had to dispose of his beloved Blackberry on the advice of his security advisers.

    In reality, there is very little accountability over any perceived ethical transgressions by the NSA in these regards. No one will go to jail or even be criminally prosecuted – it is unlikely any federal judge will find against the NSA in any monetary damage or injunction claim.

    The only “sanction” is embarassment once the media discloses invasions of privacy of an ally in the international community.

  17. It is likely that I don’t follow the Snowden Affair as closely as Juan Cole and some of the regulars here but hyperbole is hyperbole no matter what your opinions of American politics are.

    The collection and use of meta data is an issue that should be debated long and hard in judiciary committee hearings; not the shrouded and ineffectual Inteligence committees. I might even support meta data collection if its use was strictly controlled with the federal courts issuing warrants when cause is demonstrated.

    Further, I expect that the British, Chinese, French, Germans, Israelis, and Russians all vacuum up data in ways not dissimilar to what the NSA does.

    Collecting anything more than meta data on Americans by American law enforcement or military officials should require cause and a warrant issued by a federal court (not the FISA court).

    The leap from meta data to Brazil to Germany are large enough without linking it to the longterm treatment of the Palestinians.

    The fact that we almost totally ignored the Palestinians from 1981 to 2009 does not speak well for our foreign policy. We may have a horrible history of American corporate imperialism but that does not prove racism.

    • But, and it’s a big BUT, as you do note, “we” do indeed have a “horrible history of American corporate imperialism,” a big part of which is the whole “War is nothing but a racket” theme that actually people seem to be starting to recognize as a pretty good descriptor of the whole Milo Minderbinder Enterprise. Where “everyone has a share” of the costs, and a tiny set has the assets and income of the whole. And where, as with our corporate War Machine that happily sells weapons and the other toys of war to pretty much anyone all over the planet, the “syndicate” will happily bomb its own troops for cost plus 15% (plus unauditable “other expenses…”)

      Does that the moral vacuum and horror of all that other stuff get erased because in your estimation ignoring the Palestinians (and so many others, or actively abusing them) “does not prove racism”? (For all you charming “Call of Duty” freaks, here’s a nice entry point for some Really Cool Video of Action! ™ Wonder how many GIs with combat experience tune in to “Call of Duty” and similar obscenities?)

    • I would imagine the British, Chinese, French, Germans, Israelis, and Russians do the same spying – to their enemies. Eavesdropping is a hostile act.

      Go ahead with what the rest of the world regard as illegal intrusions on our sovereignty – we can’t stop you. Just don’t expect co-operation from the rest of us when you next are pushing yet another half-baked foreign policy and don’t whine about anti-Americanism when we say we think.

    • Looking at the facts long enough, and the pattern is more than clear. It is obvious. The great white north believes it is entitled to rule the rest of the Earth. If you think racism isn’t an integral part of that, then you don’t know what racism is. You look the other way, James, for some indeterminate reason.

      • “The Great White North.”

        Does “The Great White North” include those racists living in the Northern Hemisphere such as the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Mongolians? Are you sure you know what contstitutes “The North,” much less what constitutes “racism”? Racism? Have you ever looked into the immigration policies of the above-cited nations? Do you think Japan and China encourage immigration from countries that would dilute their homogeneity?

    • These caveats are asinine. Imperialism IS racism. Racial supremacy is the justification for empires past and present. There is no need to “prove” racism – America is racist to the core, public and private sectors. The US did not “ignore” the palestinians. It funded and directly supported the slow genocide being commited upon them by the Israelis, who are themselves European imperialists with an ideology of racial superiority.

      Even collecting metadata should just illegal without a warrant. If they want to know our movements there needs to a record of them surveilling us by traditional police methods.

      • “Imperialism IS racism. Racial supremacy is the justification for empires past and present.”

        I assume that you would apply your above-cited statement to the Muslim empire created by the Arab-Muslim conquest of the Near East, North Africa, Sicily, and Spain during the seventh and eighth centuries as well?

  18. Spot on, Professor.

    If only editorials in mainstream media were so informed and so honest.

  19. If Feinstein found that the NSA had suddenly cut off Israel from data-sharing, that would get her good and indignant.

  20. lol. Feinstein and the rest of Congress are open to blackmail by teh very monster they helped create, or so we can hope. it is ironic to see Merkel’s sense of outrage, when no such outrage exist for the average German or American. power is all that matter to these people. and the wealth and status that this power brings.

    that one commenter suggest Americans would care about the rest of the world shows how ignorant this person is about Americans. We are exceptional. our weather maps stop at our borders, unless you live near the border that is. America is a self absorbed pearl in our own oyster/world.

    care about the rest of the World. oh please. outside of Israel, The World is just a place to secure oil and raw materials to feed the Consumerist Society our Corporatocracy has created. we are self absorbed and need look only within. America Military might, Economic might, aka the American Empire has for many years imposed Our WAY on the World.

    the Ugly American was written many years ago about the blindness and smugness of what America Society and America power exuded. this is beginning to crack, the self smugness, due to various factors, but America still refuse to acknowledge there are other peoples who lives matter. just watch the UN for the last 40 years, and especially the way the Israelis have aparthieded the Palestinians in their own land.

    Americans really are special, they just don’t know how, and the Elites like to keep them that way. for so many years it has worked so well, so long.

    to think American care about the rest of the world, is well, ignorance. at least from a practical view. where’s the money in caring about the rest of the world, when we are willing to throw our own poor out in the streets, take away food stamps from the poor, cut Social Security, empty mental hospitals, outsources jobs for profit and create a Walmat type society which taxpayers subsidize working people so Business won’t have to pay them living wages.

    yes Americans are truly exceptional, and it shows. the NSA is just one small part of what America has become. and it ain’t pretty, but then again America never cared what others thought about America did. The American Way. well that’s just who we are.

  21. I hope it’s widely understood that what you wrote is not radical at all, but that the reality you describe is what is completely radical, and outrageous.

  22. The only question left to ask is not whether or not this is happening but rather, when will the chickens come home to roost.

    • Agreed. Cases will work their way to the Supreme Court. Those politicized justices can hopefully resolve the conflict between the Patriot Act’s broad cover to collect info vs the 4th Amendment’s precedence that private conversations are to remain private. Congress certainly wont enter those waters.

  23. I more or less agree with the sentiments expressed here but I think there is another way to look at this sorry affair which is that politicians respond to people who can threaten them. The U.S. public has not responded so far when the government acts contrary to their interests and so the politicians don’t give them much consideration. Germany, on the other hand, can cause trouble for the U.S.

  24. These characteristics are exactly what will make it almost impossible to to deal with global warming as a world problem, to be solved for the benefit of all people.

    The rich will flock to the temperate archipelago wherever is happens to be at the time. Poor countries will be scolded for not helping themselves, while we frack and burn carbon at deliciously low cost.

    Of course NSA will do its part to track, monitor, and digitize any party that appears to want more benefits or help than we intend to allocate to that party.

  25. You have summed the situation up perfectly.

    The rules are that you deserve to be spied upon for not being important enough and/or a foreign national. So it is apparently right to monitor German citizens in Germany. Merkel is in the grey area as she is foreign (fair game) but a VIP. In these circumstance she is spied upon just in case.

    This approach will not help the standing of the US with citizens of the world.

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