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Samizdata quote of the day

No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies… There were no mistakes like that at all.

General Keith Alexander

This is either delusion of omniscience and infallibility, or psychopathic contempt for truth and for the ‘little people’ who are imagined to believe whatever the great and powerful Oz says. Either way, it makes him a candidate for a straitjacket, not running an uncontrolled global para-state.

22 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Paul Marks


  • No, he’s right.

    They aren’t mistakes.

  • “what we’ve done is we’ve put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing,” Right, machines don’t blow whistles.

  • rfichoke

    This quote reminds me of the Solzhenitsyn story, We Never Make Mistakes. There’s a sad parallel here.

  • Sam Duncan

    “No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law”

    When the law is this (from Lavabit’s pre-shutdown “About” page, found on a forum post):

    The key element of the PATRIOT Act is that it allows the FBI to issue National Security Letters (NSLs). NSLs are used to force an Internet Service Provider, like Lavabit, to surrender all private information related to a particular user. The problem is that NSLs come without the oversight of a court and can be issued in secret. Issuing an NSL in secret effectively denies the accused an opportunity to defend himself in court.

    … who needs to disobey?

  • The American security state has laws that sanction what they do… the problem is these laws are also manifest violations of the Fourth Amendment and therefore illegal in the USA. But then what does that matter? This surveillance infrastructure is the tool of tyrants and what the law says about it matters not a damn in the end, as it all comes down to who can use force more effectively: the people who support such tyranny or the people opposed to it, because what are laws if not the threat of force? And it was ever thus.

  • RRS

    There is another issue:

    He says “the law” (meaning legislation -not LAW).

    But, he does not specify which “law,” nor does he say ANY “law.”

    And – laws have been intentionally and willfully broken as prescribed in the IRS and DEA manuals for more than two years back.

    Create and report to prosecutors, defense counsel, and courts false “sources” for probable cause, not NSA shared surveillance.

    We are about to see some turmoil from those violations!

  • Laird

    Agreed, RRS, we are indeed about to see some turmoil. At a minimum, for starters we’re going to see defense counsel routinely asking the arresting officers and their superiors whether the NSA was the source of any of the information leading to the arrest. Force them to lie under oath. That way, if it is later learned that the NSA was a source, the way has been paved for both a criminal perjury case and the dismissal of all charges against the defendant. That ups the stakes considerably. Now that we know this is happening, and has been for some time, no criminal defense attorney worth his salt is going to miss that opportunity.

  • That way, if it is later learned that the NSA was a source, the way has been paved for both a criminal perjury case


    Sorry to laugh at you like that, Laird. But you do you really think prosecutors are going to try cops who lie under oath?

    As we’d say over at the reason blog, the spying is legal under the law’s “Fuck You, That’s Why” clause.

  • RRS

    Ted S.


    When they lie to prosecutors and cause them grief.
    [That’s what the IRS and DEA manuals instructed]

    And then, there are the Judges (courts to you).

    Some of those folks take those things personally, even when the “technical” issues might seem trivial.


    Ah! You have been listening!(as usual)

  • RRS


    You are quite right, the LAW is a substitute for force in the social order; to the extent that it fails or is frustrated as a substitute it becomes an instrument of force.

    However, the “laws” of which you speak are not LAW but legislation, the Rules of Policy, which are distinct from LAW. Rules of Policy describe, define and delineate desired order and relationships. LAW describes and defines (but does not necessarily delineate) perceived order and relationships.

    The issues will turn on whose desired order and relationships will prevail and whence comes the strength for prevalence.

  • Laird

    Ted S, you’re probably right about perjury charges, unfortunately, but if it subsequently came to light that the NSA was the source of information and that was lied about in court, the conviction would almost certainly be overturned and the way paved for a civil perjury claim. Winning monetary damages against a lying police officer isn’t all bad. And who knows, occasionally there might be a prosecutor who would bring such a charge, or a sufficiently annoyed judge who would demand it. Stranger things have happened.

  • Julie near Chicago

    One little point — Mr. Alexander said “we,” meaning specifically the NSA, I imagine, from the full quote read in context (follow the link). Nor is he a proper spokesman for them. So comments about other agencies, the DEA, IRS, so forth, are not on point.

    Also, I daresay that he would understand “the law” to mean the entire conglomeration of existing or formerly existing statutes and regulations. At any rate, that’s what I’d mean if I were in his shoes.

    Do not take this as backpedalling on my surveillance paranoia; I’ll put my creds in that department up against those of anybody here. (I’m dead serious about that. It’s one reason why we sometimes use substitute terms around here, and why I use cash for all except utility bills and online purchases.) But it’s important to understand with what was actually said, before we get to analyzing its truth or falsity.

    . . .

    Now, with all that out of the way, one wonders if Mr. Alexander had trouble keeping a straight face while uttering this.

    . . .

    Machines can whistleblow off their own hook, so to speak, when backdoors are built into the software or the hardware. Also, (1) they can certainly be hacked, and (2) there has been much moaning over the increased absence of “humint” as opposed to purely mechanical surveillance and analysis. There are real costs to cutting out analysts.

    That is not to say the analysts shouldn’t be cut; but it’s like cutting taxes but not spending. The analysts should be cut because the amount of stuff the NSA is mandated to collect and analyze is drastically reduced.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Minor correction to forgoing: Not “we” in the quote, but “no one here.” I.e., here at the NSA, I’d think, as above.

    Whence, Guy’s original observation on the choice between barefaced lie and a “delusion of omniscience and infallibility.” (Also my “straight face” crack.)

  • jdgalt

    I suppose if they did it on purpose, and are beyond the reach of any law that might forbid any of it, then from their point of view, it wasn’t a mistake.

  • RRS

    For some:

    It might be well to review the conviction John Mitchell in 1975 for actions whilst he was U S Attorney general – which included conspiracy[?], obstruction of justice (there’s a sink-hole)and perjury (which actually involves “moral turpitude”).

  • Julie, I guess I should have made my quip more clear by adding ‘they think that…’. And they would be right, to an extent: machines are still more “loyal” than human employees.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alisa, true (“more loyal”), and I did get the joke and a grin from it. I was just “being technical.” :>)

  • Andrew Duffin

    “No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law”

    I am sure he’s telling the truth, because I am equally sure that the law (which they write) permits them to do whatever it is they want to do.

    Your so-called protections are always hedged about with statements like “except in cases of National Security…”, leaving a loophole quite large enough for anything at all the any state satrap feels like doing.

  • Paul Marks

    Andrew – interestingly the American Constitution (the Bill of Rights and so on) contain no such “except in cases of National Security” or other such tapdance (as the European and World Conventions and Declarations do).

    Therefore the American courts should damn the “national security state” straight to Hell – of course they do NOT, because of who appoints the judges.

  • Paul Marks

    Private prosecutions (with no sabotage about who has legal “standing”) before randomly selected Citizen Constitutional Juries, would be one solution to this problem.

    Surely blatantly violating the Constitution is what in England and Wales would be called “misconduct in a public office” – a criminal offense.