Brennan: NSA has poor record on answering phone

By TOM BRENNAN

You have to wonder what the National Security Agency will do with the millions of phone calls it is tracking when it has such a poor record of listening when its own phone rings.

Take for instance the call from the Russians warning Washington that two American crackpots were meeting with Russian terrorist bad guys. The Russians said we might want to keep an eye on those two, the brothers Tsarnaev; they could be trouble.

The warning was ignored and the two Americans went on to bomb last spring’s Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264.

U.S. authorities blew off the Russians and blood spilled in Boston, marring a marathon that represents one of the nation’s great traditional running events.

Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the brother who survived a gunfight with Boston police, said he and his late brother Tamerlan had bigger plans after Boston. They planned to go on to New York City, where they hoped to set off lethal explosions in Times Square.

And then take the case of the Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood, Texas, who was flagged by his fellow officers – and Army evaluators – as having a screw loose and potentially dangerous.

Nothing was done about Major Nidal Malik Hasan so in 2009 he pulled a pistol in a crowd of unarmed soldiers, shouted “Allahu Akbar” and opened fire. He killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others.

Currently on trial for the murderous rampage, Hasan had ties to various terrorist groups. Just days after the shootings, it came out that a Joint Terrorism Task Force was aware of emails between Hasan and a cleric in Yemen considered a serious security risk.

Gives you a lot of confidence in the capabilities of our spy outfits, doesn’t it? So why are they tracking millions of phone calls when real warnings fall in their lap and they don’t take them seriously?

*  *  *

The battle between the City of Wasilla and Matanuska Electric Association brings up a sore subject in Anchorage.

MEA wants to string a high-voltage transmission line up the Parks Highway – with the requisite massive towers along the way – to carry electricity from a new power plant going online at Eklutna to connect with existing lines in Wasilla.

(The view of the mountains surrounding Wasilla is breathtaking, as long as you don’t look down to the budding urban sprawl on the land below.)

The new lines themselves would impact the incredible mountain views along the Parks Highway, and the installation would involve erection of 80- to 100-foot towers to elevate the lines.

MEA General Manager Joe Griffith says eliminating the view damage by burying the lines would quadruple the project cost – boosting it from $10 million to $40 million.

That is a problem to ponder, and it reminds many Anchorage people of an unkept promise dating back 25 years or more. That’s when the City of Anchorage promised residents that the overhead web-work of utility wires in older parts of the city would be buried.

It was to be done over a period of years as the municipal budget allowed.

Overhead telephone and electric wires are unavoidably ugly and mar the view of this city’s incredible surroundings.

They are not generally a problem in newer parts of the city, where the rules for new subdivisions have long called for burying utility wires. (Though it has been so long since much housing construction went on here that young children ask their parents: “What are new subdivisions?”)

But the city’s promise was that overhead wires and cables in older parts of the city would gradually be undergrounded. In the quarter century or so since that promise was made only a few feet – if any – have been buried.

Instead the older parts of the city still have a network of wires dangling overhead, visible whenever you look up.

With municipal budgets growing ever tighter and production from the North Slope oilfields falling steadily – threatening future state revenues — it makes one wonder if that promise will ever be kept.

Those who track the economy say the state’s finances are still in good shape, but unless Alaska’s oil output is somehow rejuvenated the future looks rather unpromising.

Having ugly wires hanging over our heads could be the least of our problems.

*  *  *

Overheard in Washington:

President Barack Obama getting tough with Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Now, listen up, Vladimir. Sit up straight. Stop slouching. And sneering. And send that Snowden kid back here.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

For information, sizing, and rates of banner advertising space we have available, please e-mail Mark Hopkin at markh@porcaro.me, or call him at (907) 276-4262.