a slice of surveillance history, all in the family corruption ginni and justice thomas

Kölnische Zeitung, Pressa, Cologne 1928. Gelatin silver print on paper. Werner Mantz (1901-1983)

Kölnische Zeitung, Pressa (newspaper office), Cologne 1928. Gelatin silver print on paper. Werner Mantz (1901-1983). Besides being a great photo the building is a wonderful example of art deco.


Via some odd coincidence I happen to know who James Bamford is. Some years ago just as I was surfing through cable channels i caught him promoting his books. He is interesting, but eccentric. The latter quality might be why it is mostly national intelligence or spy buffs take him seriously. Even his straight writing reads and has the pace of a spy thriller. This new piece – They Know Much More Than You Think –  from The New York Review of Books is worth a read for those interested in the history of the U.S. government spying on it’s own citizens, including the latest episode with the NSA. I’m not going to do any commentary as there is just too much territory covered. I did like this bit about some early government spying,

Looking back, the NSA and its predecessors have been gaining secret, illegal access to the communications of Americans for nearly a century. On July 1, 1920, a slim balding man in his early thirties moved into a four-story townhouse at 141 East 37th Street in Manhattan. This was the birth of the Black Chamber, the NSA’s earliest predecessor, and it would be hidden in the nondescript brownstone. But its chief, Herbert O. Yardley, had a problem. To gather intelligence for Woodrow Wilson’s government, he needed access to the telegrams entering, leaving, and passing through the country, but because of an early version of the Radio Communications Act, such access was illegal. With the shake of a hand, however, Yardley convinced Newcomb Carlton, the president of Western Union, to grant the Black Chamber secret access on a daily basis to the private messages passing over his wires—the Internet of the day.

Yardley and the Black Chamber sold like something from early pulp fiction thrillers, but they really did exist. Some of Yardley’s work was legitimate and did provide real help during the war effort.

1952 portrait d’une jeune indienne by Fernando Botero

1952 portrait d’une jeune indienne by Fernando Botero Angulo (born 19 April 1932). Botero may be the only living artist with a school or style of painting named after him, “Boterismo”. This is my favorite painting by him, but is not typical. Most of his figures and even inanimate objects have a kind of puffed up appearance.

Is Ginni Thomas’ Expanding Activism a Problem for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas?

Thomas founded the political advocacy group Liberty Central, which would later become a fierce player in the opposition to health care form. Detractors pointed out that Liberty Central was a potential vehicle for people with interests before the Supreme Court to make anonymous donations that might influence her husband.

The group was formed with a $500,000 anonymous donation that came as the Supreme Court was considering Citizens United, a case that ultimately resulted in loosening the restrictions on corporate giving to political campaigns. The anonymous donor was later revealed to be Harlan Crow, the Texas real estate developer. Crow was also a friend of Clarence Thomas’, and he was later linked to a scandal involving the justice’s failure to publicly disclose gifts from the developer and trips aboard his private jet. (It didn’t help that Justice Thomas had also failed to include his wife’s $150,000*  annual salary from Liberty Central on his financial disclosure forms…

In the movie Parker, played by Jason Statham, he says at one point, everybody steals. Perhaps a little bit of an overstatement, but it is easy to get the impression that corruption runs deep in the USA. If your local county tax assessor or beat cop takes fifty dollar bribe, they’ll likely loose their job, maybe see some jail time. Yet we can have a bought and paid for judge on the SCOTUS and nada happens. Complainers will be accused of criminalizing political views or being commie subversives or whatever shrill idiocy from the Right, and the corruption will continue under the guise of free political expression. The ideal, one that the USA has struggled with from day one, was that we were an egalitarian society, one certainly in which no one was supposed to be above the law and accountability.

*This is called wing-nut welfare. In no year of her life has Ginni Thomas done $150k worth of legitimate work.