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Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

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  • Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

    Larry/Lawrence Wright, freelance journalist and author of several books on the clash between Islam and America, published a recent article in the New Yorker this past week on Mike McConnell, the U.S. director of national intelligence. Strangely, the article was not re-printed on the New Yorker's website, so I could not post a link to it. I've found it reprinted elsewhere, so here is my post.

    If you are interested in the current affairs of U.S. intelligence operations this is a must read. It contains insightful and first-hand discussions on the politics of intelligence and intelligence gathering, the torture question, and the congressional battles over revisions to the FISA (wiretapping) law, its uses and impacts. There is also an honest discussion on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda as well as Iran's nuclear ambitions. Wright may be deeper in on some of these subjects than McConnell, so the discussions are pretty full.

    Excerpts on FISA and NSA wiretaps:
    "There's no spying on Americans," he had told me. "The issue was if a known bad guy, somebody associated with Al Qaeda, calls into the United States, the President authorized the community to monitor that call. If you have a different political point of view, you turn that into 'spying on Americans.' "

    "Let me make a disclosure," I said. "I have been monitored." I told him that, while I was researching "The Looming Tower," a book about Al Qaeda, the F.B.I. had come to my house, in Austin, Texas, to ask about some calls that I had made from my home office. I also said that a source in the intelligence community had read a summary of a telephone conversation that I had from my home with a source in Egypt.

    "I'm not surprised at that," McConnell said. "Because you were getting a phone call from some telephone number that's associated with some known outfit -- O.K., that's monitored. In my view, it should be." Actually, I had placed the call.
    I then told him about the F.B.I. officials who visited my house. "They were members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force," I said. They wanted to know about phone calls made to a solicitor in England who represented several jihadis I had interviewed for my book. "The actual calls involved her telling me, 'Please don't talk to my clients,' " I said.

    "Now if you ever became a target tor surveillance, they would go get a warrant and tap your telephone," McConnell said. "But they would have to have probable cause to do that." 'What bothers me is that my daughter's name came up in this," I said. The agents had told me they believed that she was the one making the calls. That was ridiculous, hut it placed her on the F.B.I.'s link chart as an Al Qaeda connection. "Her name is not on any of our phones," I continued. "So how did her name arise;

    "I don't know," McConnell admitted. "Maybe you mentioned her name."

    "That troubles me," I said.

    "It may be troublesome, it may not be," McConnell said. "You don't know."
    Complete article:
    http://cryptome.org/spymaster.htm

    New Yorker Audio commentary/interview with Lawrence Wright:
    http://www.newyorker.com/online/2008...n_audio_wright
    Last edited by Mosely; 01-22-2008, 03:56 PM.

  • #2
    Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

    This guy talks to jihadists all the time in his work and it surprises and troubles him that the FBI knows all about him? I wonder what one would have to do in this version of reality to justify the FBI getting into someone's grill. If making phone calls to jihadists doesn't do the trick would wearing a sandwich board that says "I am building an Al Qaeda cell and we plan to blow up the Sears Tower at 9:23 AM on June 3rd, 2009" justify it?

    Sorry for the hyperbole, but jebus! If we were to describe the conditions that should trigger a full investigation wouldn't making repeated calls to jihadists do the trick?

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

      Originally posted by leejo View Post
      This guy talks to jihadists all the time in his work and it surprises and troubles him that the FBI knows all about him? I wonder what one would have to do in this version of reality to justify the FBI getting into someone's grill. If making phone calls to jihadists doesn't do the trick would wearing a sandwich board that says "I am building an Al Qaeda cell and we plan to blow up the Sears Tower at 9:23 AM on June 3rd, 2009" justify it?

      Sorry for the hyperbole, but jebus! If we were to describe the conditions that should trigger a full investigation wouldn't making repeated calls to jihadists do the trick?
      I don't think that is the point here. It doesn't surprise him that his calls were monitored, in fact to some extent he already knew they were - read the full context of what I quoted (which was actually two pieces - there is additional text inbetween). What surprised him is that on one hand he has officials telling him (officially) that outbound calls from American citizens are not being monitored. That is apparently false. In addition, the identities of American citizens are (by FISA law) required to be kept anonymous. This is also proven false. The government is not playing by its own rules when it comes to surveillance on American citizens - that's is the surprising (or unsettling) part.

      This article is about a lot more than FISA though - and in fact this aspect of the article is the only part that ventures into analysis. The majority of it is just dialogue, which I think is pretty fascinating. Read the whole thing.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

        Is he coming to the conclusions that these laws are being violated because of the fact that his outbound calls were monitored and his daughter's name was known? It sounds to me like someone got a warrant and read up on our writer, and I think they should have. I don't see what the problem is here.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

          The interesting thing about that quote is that the guy he's interviewing, the guy you used for the headline of your topic, is completely irrelevant. Mike McConnell didn't have anything to contribute to the discussion of L. Wright's experience being monitored, so it's basically just Mr. Wright complaining to the audience. And as Leejo has already pointed out, a man in his position shouldn't find being monitored surprising at all -- if we aren't going to monitor those who frequently talk with jihadists, who exactly are we going to monitor?

          Got any more salient excerpts that might convince me the article is worth reading?

          (Also, if you're going to cut out text in the middle of your quote, at least add a "..." to let us know there's something missing.)

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

            Originally posted by Kerostasis View Post
            The interesting thing about that quote is that the guy he's interviewing, the guy you used for the headline of your topic, is completely irrelevant. Mike McConnell didn't have anything to contribute to the discussion of L. Wright's experience being monitored, so it's basically just Mr. Wright complaining to the audience. And as Leejo has already pointed out, a man in his position shouldn't find being monitored surprising at all -- if we aren't going to monitor those who frequently talk with jihadists, who exactly are we going to monitor?
            That's incorrect. Read the entire conversation.

            Originally posted by Kerostasis
            Got any more salient excerpts that might convince me the article is worth reading?
            Sure, this one probably has more generic appeal:

            One afternoon, as McConnell and I were walking back to his office from the cafeteria, in the basement, we passed the security room, where a pair of guards monitored half a dozen screens displaying a video of the building's grounds. The setup was, by Hollywood standards, disappointingly low-tech. I asked McConnell if he'd seen "The Bourne Ultimatum," in which Matt Damon's character is pursued by C.I.A. officers with instant global access to surveillance cameras, banking transactions, and passport controls. "Yeah, we can't do that," McConnell admitted. "That's all horse pucky,"

            Originally posted by Kerostasis
            (Also, if you're going to cut out text in the middle of your quote, at least add a "..." to let us know there's something missing.)
            Done.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

              Originally posted by leejo View Post
              Is he coming to the conclusions that these laws are being violated because of the fact that his outbound calls were monitored and his daughter's name was known? It sounds to me like someone got a warrant and read up on our writer, and I think they should have. I don't see what the problem is here.
              There was no warrant other than a FISA warrant, which carries certain stipulations, as specified in the article (outbound only and protection of citizen ID). The problem is that the stipulations were apparently not followed, and I don't find McConnell's reaction very reassuring.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

                One afternoon, as McConnell and I were walking back to his office from the cafeteria, in the basement, we passed the security room, where a pair of guards monitored half a dozen screens displaying a video of the building's grounds. The setup was, by Hollywood standards, disappointingly low-tech. I asked McConnell if he'd seen "The Bourne Ultimatum," in which Matt Damon's character is pursued by C.I.A. officers with instant global access to surveillance cameras, banking transactions, and passport controls. "Yeah, we can't do that," McConnell admitted. "That's all horse pucky,"
                No one seriously believes that they would announce to the world that they do have that capability, IF they did.

                If I could do that, I would keep it a secret. But they're too stupid, rather than answering they should've been like like "yeah, we're not at liberty to disclose our capabilities!" If anyone mentally unstable was intending to do something and didn't yet, solely because they watched the bourne ultimatum, then the CIA just screwed themselves with a pneumatic drill.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

                  Who said there was no warrant other than a FISA warrant?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

                    There either was none or it was only FISA warrant because McConnell remarks "if you ever became a target tor surveillance, they would go get a warrant and tap your telephone," McConnell said. "But they would have to have probable cause to do that." Wright also would have known about the warrant, and would have mentioned it. Instead all he presents is the FBI visit and the tip from an informant in the bureau.

                    Regardless, the FISA stuff actually interests me less than some of the other content. I regret even posting any excerpts now. Just read the article.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

                      Originally posted by AMosely View Post
                      Wright also would have known about the warrant, and would have mentioned it.
                      This is actually a very strange assertion to make. Doesn't the case in question support Mr. Wright's point of view much more strongly if he doesn't mention the existence of a warrant? Even if you assume that he would know about the warrant, what possible justification would there be for him to mention it while complaining about warrantless tapping?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Mike McConnell : The Spymaster

                        I had a New Yorker subscription for about 15 years until it stopped being a great literary magazine and started becoming a political rant magazine. Still has the best reviews around, but I couldn't care less about what Mr. Wright or Seymour Hersch have to say about much of anything.

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