Monday, July 22, 2013

NSA -- Bigger Than the Pentagon

You think Edward Snowden's a problem?
Gimme a break.
He's a symptom, not the problem.

Twelve years later, the cranes and earthmovers around the National Security Agency are still at work, tearing up pavement and uprooting trees to make room for a larger workforce and more powerful computers. Already bigger than the Pentagon in square footage, the NSA’s footprint will grow by an additional 50 percent when construction is complete in a decade.

And that’s just at its headquarters at Fort Meade, Md.

The nation’s technical spying agency has enlarged all its major domestic sites — in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas and Utah — as well as those in Australia and Britain.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, its civilian and military workforce has grown by one-third, to about 33,000, according to the NSA. Its budget has roughly doubled, and the number of private companies it depends on has more than tripled, from 150 to close to 500, according to a 2010 Washington Post count.

The hiring, construction and contracting boom is symbolic of the hidden fact that in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the NSA became the single most important intelligence agency in finding al-Qaeda and other enemies overseas, according to current and former counterterrorism officials and experts. “We Track ’Em, You Whack ’Em” became a motto for one NSA unit, a former senior agency official said.

The story of the NSA’s growth, obscured by the agency’s extreme secrecy, is directly tied to the insatiable demand for its work product by the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, military units and the FBI.


When my wife and I had our drivers licenses renewed this year we learned that Georgia is now among the states now coming into compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005. Wikipedia has a long, link-filled entry for this fascinating piece of Congressional sausage. The implications are far more significant than anything contemplated by Obamacare or the usual immigration arguments, but more people have paneezinawad over L'affaire Snowden than REAL ID, the unprecedented growth of the National Security Agency and the rest of the fallout from the attack on the World Trade Center.  

The REAL ID Act of 2005, Pub.L. 109–13, 119 Stat. 302, enacted May 11, 2005, was an Act of Congress that modified U.S. federal law pertaining to security, authentication, and issuance procedures standards for the state driver's licenses and identification (ID) cards, as well as various immigration issues pertaining to terrorism. 
The law set forth certain requirements for state driver's licenses and ID cards to be accepted by the federal government for "official purposes", as defined by the Secretary of Homeland Security. The Secretary of Homeland Security has currently defined "official purposes" as presenting state driver's licenses and identification cards for boarding commercially operated airline flights and entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants. 
The REAL ID Act implements the following:
  • Title II of the act establishes new federal standards for state-issued driver licenses and non-driver identification cards. 
  • Changing visa limits for temporary workers, nurses, and Australian citizens. 
  • Funding some reports and pilot projects related to border security. 
  • Introducing rules covering "delivery bonds" (similar to bail bonds but for aliens who have been released pending hearings). 
  • Updating and tightening the laws on application for asylum and deportation of aliens for terrorist activity. 
  • Waiving laws that interfere with construction of physical barriers at the borders.
Our passports have expired, so certified, state-issued birth certificates were required (and of course our existing, valid Georgia drivers licenses were of no further value, not having been issued in compliance with the new requirements) and my wife also had to furnish a copy of our marriage certificate because her name was not the same as that which appears on her birth certificate.

Further down the Wikipedia article I discovered that among various challenges and objections to the law is a proposal termed PASS ID, intended to lift some of the more burdensome requirements of the original law.

But since that proposal has fingerprints of the Obama administration on it... well, need I say more?

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