OPINION: The sequel is here — 2013: An NSA Odyssey

Travis Kelly
Free Press Opinion Columnist

I might be accused of beating a dead horse here, except that it’s really a wild bronco, still snorting, kicking, battering down the corral of constitutional government and now — even worse by American standards — hurting business.

A recent study by the Technology & Innovation Foundation estimates that the American cloud-computing industry stands to lose between $21 and $35 billion during the next three years as foreign customers are frightened off by the privacy violations of massive NSA data mining. And even domestic corporations are starting to reconsider their options.

“Cloud computing” is the hosting of software, files and databases on servers owned by Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other providers — rather than storing software and files on your local computer. The international market is calculated to be close to $150 billion dollars in 2014.

We now know that the NSA has been vacuuming up avalanches of private data from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc., (with their forced cooperation) even though its supposed overseer, the FISA court, has itself ruled this unconstitutional (the other supposed overseers, the two intelligence committees, kept this secret from the rest of Congress). Meanwhile, the overstuffed NSA has been regurgitating a Nixonesque series of exposed lies and evasions about what it’s been doing.

Most businesses must keep their communications, trade secrets, patents and marketing strategies confidential. With an estimated 80% of state and federal governments’ surveillance/intelligence budgets contracted out to hundreds of private firms, the potential for compromise and corruption is huge.

The executives of Google, Microsoft and other firms held a private meeting with President Obama a few weeks ago to express their discomfort, and this, more than all the squealings of civil libertarians and other humble peons, may force the NSA back into its constitutional cage. Money talks.

While the spook complex is hobbling one of America’s leading industries, it is also hoovering up vast sums of federal revenue to protect us from a threat that kills fewer Americans than bathtub accidents annually. According to the Washington Post’s “Top Secret America” exposé in 2010, there are 1,271 governmental organizations, 1,931 private contractors, 33 new building complexes totaling 17 million square feet (equivalent to 22 U.S. Capitol buildings), and 854,000 personnel with top-secret security clearances engaged in homeland security and counterintelligence at a cost of $75 billion annually. All looking for a needle or two in continents of haystacks.

Some level of intelligence gathering is necessary, but the bloat above suggests one vast boondoggle at taxpayer expense, kept humming along with heavy doses of hyped-up fear mongering — plots hatched and guided along by FBI sting operations and media frenzies like the spectacularly timely “Embassy Closure” plot — caught in the nick of time by our beleaguered heroes in the NSA! With the very tools you’re trying to pry away from us!

Guess what, boys — the really organized terrorists figured it out as far back as Carnivore, Echelon and Stellar Wind, and reverted to encryption, carriers, pigeons, dead drops, microdots, and other means of underground craft. They may wear head towels, but they’re not as stupid as you think.

About 80% of this paranoid data-mining wouldn’t be necessary if we stopped kicking the hornets’ nests in the Middle East. Pakistan now says only 2% of all drone strike casualties in their country have been al-Qaida militants — the rest mothers, brothers and children blown to bits. The figure may be exaggerated, but not by much. This in a culture where revenge is widely celebrated and practiced. Yet we continue the remote-control carnage as we fund the bloodbath in Egypt.

I’m reminded of a case a few years ago about a series of arson fires on public lands in Arizona, I believe. I can’t recall the details. Turns out it was actually a firefighter experiencing financial problems setting the blazes to get overtime pay.

And there you have the model for our never-ending, ravenously expensive “War on Terror.” The military/surveillance complex desperately needs enemies to stay in business — real, imagined, fertilized or manufactured. And like HAL, the mutinous computer in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” this complex, if it lip reads any hint at cutting its funds, is ready to turn its claws around.

Travis Kelly is a web/graphic designer, writer and cartoonist in Grand Junction. See his work or contact him at

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