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Who do the watchmen watch?

What are the odds that the NSA, GCHQ, etc. do not spy on the elected officials that oversee them?

What prevents subsequent blackmail of said officials by said agencies, other than policies that would be utterly trivial for agency officials to violate at whim?

31 comments to Who do the watchmen watch?

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Hey, it worked for J. Edgar Hoover.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Hoover had far less capability than now is at the fingertips of his successors. One wonders what he might have been able to accomplish if only his sources had not been so limited.

  • Mr Ed

    Well the POTUS could declare a blackmailer an enemy combatant, or an IRS inquiry might arise, perhaps the Parks Police, a Federal Agency, will find you after you breach an obscure Federal regulation by eating a picnic or something in Yellowstone.

    Is there any solid evidence that Hoover blackmailed anyone?

    The Soviets had a small but powerful secret police organisation, the Rabkrin, or the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate, also called the Peoples’ Control, which enabled the Party bosses to keep control of the Checka/NKVD/KGB along with the balance of the Army v KGB etc. Lenin put Stalin in charge of it, and he used it to the full. it all worked for over 70 years.

  • Derek Buxton

    But who watchers the watchers?

  • Paul Marks

    I would guess that watchmen watch everyone.

    I certainly did when I was a security guard – from strangers to the Managing Director of a company (or the partners in a law firm). “You mean you even watch the person who is giving you orders?” YES – and you listen to them also (it is astonishing what people say in front of security guards, as if security guards had no ears to hear or minds to understand the various cheats and scumbags who run so many major companies).

    I very much doubt that electronic watchmen are any different – I would guess that the NSA and GCHQ are like magpies gathering every scrap of information (on anyone)that they can.

    This gives rise to two questions….

    The first is “who watches the watchmen?”.

    This is the Rand Paul question – with his demand that just as Mr Snowden should be in prison (for going to Mr Putin and the FSB – Mr Snowden should NOT be sent to prison if he had followed the law and gone to Congress, not to the enemies of the West such as the FSB) so should Mr Clapper of the NSA be sent to prison (for lying to the Senate committee) – indeed they should both be in the “same cell”.

    Congressional oversight does not work if watchmen are allowed to lie to Congress.

    The second question is not often asked – but it SHOULD BE asked.

    This question is really a demand…..


    The “Chinese walls” between intelligence agencies (and their own obsession with sitting on information) prevented the dots being joined together and 9/11 prevented.

    But it is also political information.

    Every year the German internal intelligence service (the Office for the Defence of the Constitution) publishes a book of information on people with totalitarian links – including would-be political leaders.

    If you want to vote for an evil person O.K. I think you should be able to (so I would challenge the German restrictions on who can stand for office) but you should KNOW THEY ARE EVIL before you vote for them (not afterwards).

    American elections are conducted on IMAGE – hardly anyone who voted for Barack Obama knew anything about him (for example his totalitarian links – going back over his entire adult life). Even his Columbia thesis was a secret (sorry “private”) and I think it still is.

    So people voted for a smiling person who the media said was wonderful – knowing basically NOTHING about him. Not his beliefs, not his background associations, nothing.

    It is not possible that the NSA (and FBI) did not have detailed files on Mr Obama (most likely now destroyed), but what is the point of such files if THE VOTERS NEVER GET TO SEE THEM?

    I am reminded of J. Edgar Hoover’s behaviour.

    For example, leading Senator McCarthy to attack people as Communists (and THEY WERE COMMUNISTS) and then letting Senator McCarthy be hung out to dry because he (Hoover) would not release any hard information (he just sat on it – for decades “we must not let the Soviets know we have broken their codes, if we use the information they will know we have broken their electronic codes”).

    It was the same in the late 1960s – with a certain person that we all have to worship as a saint (or be called racists).

    In reality the man was not a saint – he was a drug abusing, skirt chaser (some “holy man”), but rather more seriously he was actively cooperating with the enemies of the United States in time of war.

    Indeed the investigation into the “saint” originally had nothing to do with his serial adultery and so on (that was found out by accident – a bug does not just pick up political information) the investigation was ordered because it was suspected that the saint was actively cooperating with Communists – and he was (the “saint” was GUILTY).

    However, Hoover just sat on the information (like the magpie he was – hoarding everything) and so everyone has to celebrate a public holiday every year in the United States to someone who was giving aid-and-comfort to the enemies of the United States in time of war.

    What is the point of “watchmen” who just watch-and-listen – who do not then publish the information so that the people (the voters) know the truth?

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Never mind the politicians, they are apparently watching everyone.

    Of note is the following quote:

    It further notes that “under GCHQ’s offensive material policy, the dissemination of offensive material is a disciplinary offence”.

    Not only were they stealing photos of your private parts, the fact that this needed to be said implies they were passing them around the coffee room of GCHQ and sniggering at them, and what’s more they appear to have to be told that this behaviour is wrong!

  • RRS

    In this kind of issue we should examine the concept of blackmail.

    For it to be effective there must be two parts: (1) conduct that is classified as black (wrongful, scurrilous, ridiculous, etc.) in some context; and (2) and addressee or audience (often as small as one person, a spouse, an employer, etc.) to whom the conduct has significance; at least sufficient significance that some adverse action may occur.

    The audience for the effectiveness of blackmail diminishes with the passage of time and the changes in the significance of the forms of conduct.

    So, to the extent that there is any black conduct that may be of significance to a public audience, the benefits of surveillance may outweigh the detriments.

    To the extent that black conduct has lost its significance to the public audience, the surveillance may simply add weight to its detriments.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Interesting item at Bloomberg, citing officials saying that Snowden could have been thwarted had better encryption been employed.

  • bloke in spain

    It’s part of a larger reality about power.
    King, dictator or president. You only get to keep the job by staying the right side of the guard on the palace gate’s mum.

  • Paul Marks

    On blackmail – one would have thought that it would be used more often.

    “We will not tell the people about your plagiarism (your writing of a doctorate on German theologians when you can not even read German and they did not write in English – and, oddly enough, your theses is exactly the same as this one published a few years before), your drug abuse, your serial adultery, even your TREASON – if you direct your Civil Rights movement in the way we want you to…..”

    But people like Director Hoover do not seem to think in those terms (unlike how they are presented in Hollywood films and so on), they seem to collect information for the sake of collecting it.

    Then they hoard it in vast files, and gloat over it (a bit like Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” “oh my precious….”) – but never actually USE it.

    I suspect the NSA is much the same as the FBI.

  • Perry M,

    What prevents subsequent blackmail of said officials by said agencies, other than policies that would be utterly trivial for agency officials to violate at whim?

    Well, nothing really prevents any person from being able to do anything except his ability to do it – based on the limits both of his capacity and of the circumstances. Whether a person does choose to do something depends on whether he thinks he should do it. Yes, there are opportunity costs but lets dig deeper.

    Human nature being what it is, people tend to do bad things. The only – ONLY – two things that prevent people from deciding to do bad things when they have the ability and fortuitous circumstances to do them are belief (blind dogma that one should not do bad thing) and submission (wanting to avoid the threat of force). As Maistre teaches us:

    Government is a true religion; it has its dogmas, its mysteries, its priests; to submit it to individual discussion is to destroy it; it has life only through the national mind…What is patriotism? It is this national mind of which I am speaking; it is individual abnegation. Faith and patriotism are the two great thaumaturges of the world…Do not talk to them of scrutiny, choice, discussion, for they will say that you blaspheme. They know only two words, submission and belief; with these two levers, they raise the world.

    Whereas divine right monarchy is elevated by belief sufficiently so as to render the act of submission less frequent and severe, democracies with alleged separation of church and state, attributing no right of rule to belief, experience all right of rule by submission, which means sovereignty must be acquired by actions that warrant obedience instead of by beings that warrant obedience. This is not very orderly, which is why the less foolish recognize politics as war by other means!

    While a King could eliminate the NSA by a mere pen stroke by virtue of his very being, a President not only cannot but is incentivized not to do so. In other words, Perry, our plight is the plight of all that have the misfortune of being rules by ordinance instead of law, as Maistre informs:

    Law is only truly sanctioned, and properly law, when assumed to emanate from a higher will, so that its essential quality is to be not the will of all [la volonte de tous]. Otherwise, laws would be mere ordinances. As the author just quoted states, “those who were free to make these conventions have not deprived themselves of the power of revocation, and their descendants, with no share in making these regulations, are bound even less to observe them.”[Bergier, op. cit.] This is the reason that primitive common sense, which, fortunately, is anterior to sophism, has always sought the sanction of laws in a superhuman power, whether recognizing that sovereignty comes from God or in worshiping certain unwritten laws as given by Him.

  • I wish I had the money to buy up a ton of Blackphones when they come out, and then head to Washington D.C. I do actually think the NSA and friends are mainly engaged in eavesdropping on D.C. It just makes economic sense. If they paid attention to me, they’d be wasting their time; if they pay attention to Congress, they can manipulate the situation to improve their lot. Indeed, there are even a lot of useful idiots in D.C. who they could set up if need be, to prove they are somehow ‘saving America.’

    But, in addition to any actual spying, the denizens of D.C. are incredibly arrogant. It should be very easy to sell them on an encrypted phone because every single one of them probably had some stupid plan that they thought was brilliant, and when it failed, their minds absolutely refused to accept the idea that the plan was dumb. Like they are not going to admit fooling with Ukraine was dumb. But I can sell them a phone, which they will probably mainly use to keep their trysts secret, by selling them an excuse for past failures- hey, the NSA screwed up your plans, not you.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    It has been asked whether J. Edgar Hoover ever blackmailed public officials using the data the FBI gathered.

    The answer is most certainly yes.

    I direct anyone who wishes to the numerous biographies available for evidence.

  • Is Satoshi Nakamoto's Cat the famous Maru?

    Then they hoard it in vast files, and gloat over it (a bit like Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” “oh my precious….”) – but never actually USE it. I suspect the NSA is much the same as the FBI.

    Well that’s a relief! Nothing to worry about after all! And there was that silly Mr. Snowden getting us all het up over nothing!

    I feel better already, now that I know that OF COURSE they’d never actually USE that information! I mean, they’re the GOOD GUYS, right?

  • JohnB

    To a substantial extent people achieve what they want to achieve.
    If the (real) powers-that-were (such as we are saying was J Edgar) had information on a serious and dangerous enemy of the state, and chose not to use it, one can only assume that that was their desired course of action.
    And if such a course of action does not fit in with one’s perceptions of what they were apparently trying achieve, then one can only assume there was another agenda in play.
    Same applies now.

  • thefrollickingmole

    Then theres the obvious “workaround” for the American agencies of having their “partners” (Oz, UK etc)gather the info they want for them, neatly bypassing their own constitutional legalities.

    Got a US citizen you want spied on, outsource it to Oz and read the info as presented by your “partners”.. All perfectly ‘legal”.

    Paul Marks
    I know the chap you mean, a little like that innocent Rosa Parks, who was just a poor black woman with no political ties at all until a series of co-incidences made her a cause clebe.

    Yes her cause (desegregation) may have been just, but the men controlling the black “side” were using it as a destabilizing tool, not a real issue.

    I wonder what would happen if a, say 1930-1970 American “Mitrokhin Archive” were to surface how many events would look very different?

  • Mr Ed

    Just how would one blackmail Bill Clinton, or Ron Paul for that matter?

    ‘…Dr Paul, we see that you’ve been reading some illicit material, the Constitution, we mean….’

  • Runcie Balspune

    Who needs the NSA, CIA or FBI when you’ve got the IRS to do your dirty work for you?

  • dustydog

    You can’t blackmail a democrat. What are you going to air? What could you say about Obama and HRClinton that is worse than the truth?

  • mike

    “Who do the watchmen watch?”

    Themselves I would imagine – not just politicians or would-be private individuals.

  • Paul Marks

    No – J. Edgar Hoover was a typical security “magpie”, collecting endless information and gloating over it (rather than using it effectively and, horror of horrors, taking personal risks).

    For example he could have destroyed Johnson (in the 1964 election campaign)by making public some of Johnson’s previous misdeeds – such as the rigging of the 1948 U.S. Senate election where some Johnson “voters” even voted in alphabetical order), but no that would have meant taking personal risks…. (risking the future of Mr J. Edgar Hoover).

    Hoover did not like Johnson (who bullied him without mercy) but fight back? Oh no too risky. So he let Johnson’s people (in the media and so on) paint Barry Goldwater as Adolf Hitler (oh yes the “H” word was used) and Goldwater Republicans as Nazis. And he (Hoover) did nothing.

    He did not even go public with Kennedy’s Addison’s disease in 1960 – he did not want Kennedy to win, but he would not take any risks to prevent it.

    “Blackmail”? – that is in the same sort of “biography” that claims that Hoover was a homosexual – silliness.

    I think the key to Hoover’s personality is his sheltered life – no military service and no experience of the real world, an entire life spent in Washington D.C.

    A bureaucrat and (under the bluster) a TIMID one. Whisper information – certainly (that is easy). Go PUBLIC when there might a big risk to Mr J. Edgar Hoover – errr no.

    The top British Cong hunter (Special Branch – NOT MI5 or MI6, both of which were infiltrated)was rather different.

    Ferguson Smith was burned pulling other people out of danger in a burning Lancaster bomber over Berlin during World War II.

    Smith did not care who he arrested (as long as they were guilty) – no matter how “respectable” they were.

    And he did not whisper information to people and then let them down (let them be hung out to dry) when they needed to be backed up.

  • Paul Marks

    Watchmen watching THEMSELVES – good point Mike.

    Goes back to the words written on the Temple of Apollo.

    “know thyself” – know that one is but a mortal (no one’s limitations).

    Do not believe (for example) that by piling up information into a big “Dragon’s hoard” and sometimes whispering about it, you can safeguard the Republic.

    If you are not prepared to take risks with your own life (if you do not have some old fashioned grit when in a tight place) you are not fit for the position.

  • guy herbert

    Though the intelligence agencies do lie cheat and blackmail all the time, and are so arrogant that they lie inconsistently to parliament, I have always assumed they don’t blackmail ministers and other key people directly. That would be too dangerous, because a victim could reveal it, and that sort of victim has resources. (See what happened when police casually tried to frame a government minister (Mitchell) who had annoyed them. It may have destroyed his career but it unravelled eventually.)

    What I do think they do is this: 1. Under the name of ensuring security against blackmail and instability, they control nomination of WHO is appointed to positions they deem sensitive, and coopt the Prime Minister of the day to such a process (just incidentally giving him the power to blackmail colleagues, which he need never use to feel how valuable and important they are). And 2. they select secret information put before such pre-selected people, which encourages those people to think “correctly” about the subject of intelligence and its importance.


    Lord Blencathra (Joint committee on the :

    Some of us, who have around a long time, have heard almost those exact words
    whilst serving on the RIPA committee in 2000, where the, where we were dealing with the big 4 on the face of the Bill, I think, and then the Minister let slip that there were some other public authorities that could be added as well

    Under questioning, he then produced a letter to the whole committee, which showed that when the Bill was completed, there about 32 public authorities added. 12 months later we ended with 500 and we’ve got 650 So I wonder, was I lied to then or are we being conned now ?

  • guy herbert

    The “eg … ” at the end I failed to edit out before posting was going to be a footnote: an illustration of inconsistent lies to parliament. Source is proceedings of the Joint Committee on the Communications Data Bill.

  • Paul Marks

    On lying.

    Mr Clapper,the head of the NSA. blatantly lied (and stupidly lied – because he could have used all sorts of forms of words to avoid actually lying) to Congress.

    As Senator Rand Paul pointed out, just as Mr Snowden committed a crime (and going to Mr Putin and the FSB is actually a very serious crime) so Mr Clapper, head of the NSA, has also a committed a crime (the very serious crime of lying to Congress). Therefore if Mr Snowden is ever arrested Mr Clapper must also be arrested – and both men should be held “IN THE SAME CELL” (i.e. no soft treatment for Mr Clapper in comparison to Mr Snowden).

    The fact that the idea of arresting Mr Clapper (who is clearly guilty) is considered outrageous, shows there is a serious problem.

    There appears to be an idea of “benefit of clergy” – i.e. if one is in a special agency, the normal laws do not apply.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    That’s actually the law Paul. The 10th Ammendment (I think it’s the tenth) was written to protect states from vexatious litigants from out of state, but since the 19th century has been interpreted to give federal employees carte blanche whenever they are on the clock. This is the so-called doctrine of sovereign immunity which means that a government employee cannot be prosecuted for doing their job, even if they broke the law.

    It’s what was used to exonerate the sniper who put a bullet through Randy Weaver’s wife’s head at Ruby Ridge, while she was holding her toddler no less. The same man was present at Waco, and may have even fired the first shots that kicked the whole thing off.

    The government is quite happy with protecting a psychpath, providing he’s their psychopath.

  • Paul Marks

    JV – the Tenth Amendment limits the power of the Federal government to those powers formally listed by the text of the Constitution.

    There is no Amendment protecting either State or Federal government officials from being prosecuted for actual crimes.

    However, the courts have long ruled that the President himself may not be sued whilst in office (but that is over civil matters – not criminal prosecutions over crimes, hence the plot of a Clint Eastwood film where the President is guilty of a murder, a President has no legal defence of “I am the President” over such a charge).

    So the sniper you mention (who was not even the President – he was just a Federal government employee) should have been arrested and tried for his alleged. There is no Constitutional Amendment defending him.

    By the way the real problem is ignorance of the Constitution,

    For example most people have not a clue what the Tenth Amendment says – so what you say (and whoever told you that) sounds plausible to them.

    Sometimes I think that utter uselessness of government schools is not just a matter of government being useless – it is a deliberate policy (to keep the people ignorant).

    By the way…..

    You may be thinking of the 11th Amendment.

    This is a technical Amendment that a citizen of one State may not sue (civil cases) another State – in the Federal courts.

    Nor may a citizen of another country do so.

    (otherwise the Federal courts would be totally overwhelmed).

    However, the 11th Amendment does NOT include forbidding a citizen of (say) South Carolina suing South Carolina itself in the Federal courts.

    Hence such things as the “Brown” case of 1954 – where citizens of Kansas sued the State of Kansas in the Federal courts.

    The 14th Amendment (passed after the Civil War) opened the flood gates to this sort of litigation.

  • Paul Marks

    For the record.

    The Tenth Amendment says….

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”.

    In short – the vast majority of Federal government spending and regulations are unconstitutional.

    The “defence” relies on ignorance of the Constitution – it trots out a non-existent “general welfare spending power”.

    The “common defence and general welfare” are, of course, the PURPOSE of the specific powers then listed in Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution – there is no “general welfare spending power” (not even Hamilton claimed there was).

    However, the ignorance of the population is so extreme (they have been taught to stand in awe of the “priestcraft” of the Supreme Court) that the government gets away with it.

    Remember Ben Franklin’s words – “A Republic IF YOU CAN KEEP IT”.

    The Supreme Court (by allowing the gold grabbing to happen in 1935) showed that it did not care about a Constitutional Republic (although if the Chief Justice had voted with the “Four Horsemen” history would have been very different).

    And the people (by re electing Franklin Roosevelt by 60% in 1936) showed that they did not care either.

  • Jaded Voluntaryist

    Paul you’re right, I was thinking of the 11th. I know that it says nothing about protecting federal employees from prosecution generally, but nonetheless, that is how it is applied these days and it was indeed used to excuse the Ruby Ridge sniper. The net effect is it is almost impossible to prosecute federal agents who kill people, even if it can be shown to be murder.

    See here:


  • Paul Marks

    The 11th Amendment says…

    “The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by the citizens of another State, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign State”.

    It is nothing whatever to do with a Federal government employee (or anyone else) shooting a women in the head in Idaho.

    “But Paul you do not understand – people do not read the TEXT of the Constitution any more, they have not done that since the Harvard Law School starting discouraging this (concentrating on the text – and the written intentions of those who wrote it) more than a century ago”.

    Acutally I do know – but it angers me.

  • This issue has already blown up in Ireland over the Garda Commissioners and Ombudsman