January 17, 2014

"In the Civil War, Union balloons’ reconnaissance tracked the size of Confederate armies by counting the number of campfires."

My favorite sentence in the transcript of Obama's speech about reforming the NSA.

52 comments:

Nonapod said...

I indicated in a speech at the National Defense University last May that we needed a more robust public discussion about the balance between security and liberty.

I've always found weird the way Obama frames issues as a "discussion" when in reality it's more often him talking at us and government doing stuff to us.

khesanh0802 said...

And they often were not very accurate. Certainly Pinkerton,and McLellan had a hard time with the math usually estimating that Lee had two to three times as many troops as he did. "We're from the government…etc."

PS: Grant didn't care.

Larry J said...

Yes, but in the Civil War, the Union didn't use balloons to spy on American citizens. They confined their efforts at spying on the enemy. That's been the traditional activity of US intelligence agencies throughout our history.

madAsHell said...

There you see!! Lincoln did it too!!

Rusty said...

The Confederate Army, knowing they were being watched by the Union baloonists, built more fires than were needed in order to fool the Union spies.

RecChief said...

didn't he make fun of Romney talking about outdated military hardware?

RecChief said...

@nonapod
What a leftist means by "discussion" is lecture.

Also, there can be no security without liberty.

Quayle said...

RecChief, yes.

The cold war - uhm, I mean the civil war - has been over for 135 years, Mr. Romney, I mean Mr. Obama.

Hagar said...

We are not talking about the Civil War or WWII; we are talking about "Brave New World" and "1984."

Christian said...

So Obama sees civilians who use phone, cell, email, text, as a bunch of slave owning confederates then that need to be tracked?

exhelodrvr1 said...

More balloons, fewer aircraft carriers!!

EDH said...

Why do I get the feeling Obama watch the same F-Troop episodes as a kid that I did?

"It is balloon!!!

...Well, not just stand there, sound evil spirit alarm! "

The Drill SGT said...

Having worked for NSA, they have an important mission that gives us a tremendous edge on potential adversaries.

Having said that, the public and politicians need to distinguish between:

- collection against overseas targets
- collections against US persons
- collections against non-US persons who may interact with US Persons

These days the volume of info swept up is so great that real people don't listen to any of it (or read it) on a first pass. It gets analyzed by machine to filter down to possible useful intercepts and traffic patterns.

CWJ said...

Campfires?? I've read lots of references to the Union's use of balloons, but I've never read anything about their being used at night.

Fen said...

Are you questioning Our Dear Leader's grasp of history? Racist!

Fen said...

Soon to be: Sexist!

Old RPM Daddy said...

Tangential note: I read that in WWII, U.S. forces noticed that the Japanese often failed to conceal latrines at their island outposts. By counting latrines and consulting Japanese regulations governing latrines-to-troops ratios, the Americans were able to estimate the number of Japanese in the area.

The Drill SGT said...

CWJ said...
Campfires?? I've read lots of references to the Union's use of balloons, but I've never read anything about their being used at night.


among other things, the normal commo to the ground was signal flags...

CWJ said...

Fen,

LOL.

Yeah, I'm expecting the midnight knock on the door. But in my case, its more likely to be for my typos and misspellings. Will they have a campfire or a balloon?

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

Couldn't they send balloons up in the dark, count the fires and bring the balloons back down? I don't see that as being a huge problem.

CWJ said...

Bill,

Could they? But did they.

Strange things happen at night, particularly when surrounded by tens of thousands of poorly trained but armed farmboys and city dwellers.

For example, just ask Stonewall Jackson.

AJ Lynch said...


"Are you questioning Our Dear Leader's grasp of history? Racist!

1/17/14, 3:33 PM

Fen said...
Soon to be: Sexist!"


Good ones Fen! LMAO!

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

From Wiki:

At closer altitudes a series of prepared flag signals, hand signals, or even a megaphone could be used to communicate with the ground. At night either the telegraph or lamps could be used.

It looks like Obama may be right but who cares? It is such a stupid analogy and textbook Obama lightweightedness.

Peter said...

"In the Civil War, Union balloons’ reconnaissance tracked the size of Confederate armies by counting the number of campfires."

They also deduced whether an army was preparing to retreat or being re-supplied from the relative speed of the supply wagons on their way to the army, and on their way from it based on the assumption that a heavy wagon would move more slowly.

Until recently, data analysis involved getting as much info as possible from small data samples. What NSA (and Google, Amazon, et al) are up to is just the opposite- extracting useful nuggets from torrential data flows.

There's been a basic paradigm shift- does our President understand that? Data is everywhere, and it's going to be used- by everyone.


AJ Lynch said...

How many days til someone spills the beans that Obama's NSA listened to Romney's campaign?

CWJ said...

Bill,

Well there you go. I did not know that. Was there a cite to go with that?

Beldar said...

Both sides actively and creatively employed deception and disinformation in the Civil War. A good summary of the Rebs' tricks is here.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

@CWJ

Its from the wiki on Union Army Balloon Corps. Who knows how accurate it is but it was a fascinating read.

You were right about the dangers It did say that one of the Union balloonist was shotdown by Union troops and treated "harshly".

traditionalguy said...

Marxist Obama sees himself as a war time President leading half of Americans at war with the other half of Americans. A Civil War.

He needs an armed to the teeth Federal Government ready to Redistribute the enemy's IRAs and Pensions.

Christy said...

343 B.C.E. the Samnites brought their entire army to Suessula. Hearing this the Roman Consul force marched his legions to the area, leaving behind baggage and camp followers. Samnites, seeing such a small Roman camp, sent most of their men out foraging and left behind but a small force to defend their camp. Romans seized the opportunity to capture the Samnite camp and easily defeat the scattered troops. The Consul got his Triumph and Carthage sent a 25 pound gold crown in congratulations.

Of course Livy might have made the whole thing up, much as the NYTs does for Obama.

CWJ said...

Bill,

Thanks. I'll give it a read. I agree with you it was a stupid example. Campfire deception is literally as old as fire and organized human conflict.

There were many shotcomings to balloon intelligence without relying on a shortcoming that equally applied to the pre-balloon age. What exactly was the President trying to accomplish by invoking Union balloons. (You'd think he would avoid anything that showed unions in a negative light.)

Revenant said...

The question of whether what the NSA does is useful in fighting Muslim terrorism is not, in my opinion, relevant.

It would help us fight terrorism if we summarily rounded up every Muslim in the country and shot them. So, should we do that? Oh, what's that? Something about human rights and immoral government behavior? Huh. Apparently "hey, it worked" *doesn't* justify anything and everything the government wants to do.

Tradeoffs of rights for security are sometimes justified. But before they can be justified, both sides of the equation must be known. The government's current position is "The threat is a secret, the effectiveness is a secret, what we're doing is a secret, but trust us, spying on you is essential to that". I call bullshit.

Defenders of the spying inevitably say "well we can't tell you because it would give the terrorists too much information". Really? They already know you're listening to their phone calls. They've seen the Internet.

But sure, ok, maybe knowing about recent finds would tip our hand too much. But you expect me to believe that revealing the details of plots foiled five or ten years ago would give them too much information? What a load of hooey.

CWJ said...

I had not clicked through to the transcript as my comments were based on the idea if a nocturnal balloon ascent in wartime. But now that I have .......

OMG! I thought Obama was using campfire counting as a caution. I now see he was using the oldest trick in the military book as an exemplar!! He and/or his speechwriters really are that stupid. Upon reading or hearing this, any Major who went to the staff college at Leavenworth must have a bruise on their forehead from the facepalm.

James said...

These days the volume of info swept up is so great that real people don't listen to any of it (or read it) on a first pass

Hmmmm... the NSA itself admits that some of its analysts don't always comply with the laws/rules.

So when Obama says "these agents are our neighbors and friends" I'm even more alarmed because its exactly your neighbors and friends who are more likely to be cusious about you to dig into your personal information.


NSA Officers Spy on Love Interests

WASHINGTON—National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests, U.S. officials said.

The practice isn’t frequent — one official estimated a handful of cases in the last decade — but it’s common enough to garner its own spycraft label: LOVEINT.

Spy agencies often refer to their various types of intelligence collection with the suffix of “INT,” such as “SIGINT” for collecting signals intelligence, or communications; and “HUMINT” for human intelligence, or spying.

The “LOVEINT” examples constitute most episodes of willful misconduct by NSA employees, officials said.

David said...

"I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling Camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and Damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring Lamps;
His day is marching on."

--Who be this Him person, Barack?

CWJ said...

David,

I see what you did there.

mccullough said...

And did the Union reconnaissance team allow access to their information to some half-baked employee of a government contractor?

I can't decide what's worse? The NSA collecting all this info on U.S. citizens or allowing a dude like Snowden to access it all.

gadfly said...

The Union had exactly three aeronauts capable of flying balloons. They lasted from April 1861 into the summer of 1863 because the Union generals found them to be largely worthless.

One of their last intelligence reports was of Confederate troops moving from Fredericksburg, Virginia, toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, the opening movements of a campaign that would lead to the decisive battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

That didn't forestall the battle nor ameliorate the awful casualty count - and a balloon over the rolling countryside monitoring troop movements would have been valuable in setting battle plans. Instead, the rogue cavalry units within the Union force spent their time burning out horses in order to find what the enemy was doing.

BTW, this article doesn't say a word about counting Confederate campfires.

coinsutc said...

The cold war - uhm, I mean the civil war - has been over for 135 years, Mr. Romney, I mean Mr. Obama.
Fut Coins

jr565 said...

LarryJ wrote:
Yes, but in the Civil War, the Union didn't use balloons to spy on American citizens. They confined their efforts at spying on the enemy. That's been the traditional activity of US intelligence agencies throughout our history.


The enemy were American citizens.

jr565 said...

I think libertarians are making too strong a case on this. Yes, it sounds like Obama's administration is using the NSA too broadly, but the libertarians seem to be suggesting that any monitoring of American citizens is de facto big brotherism.
The next president should appoint a watchdog group that oversees NSA activity and appoint judge Napolitano and Rand Paul as members. Let them get some idea of what the NSA is actually doing, what legal hurdles the NSA is going through to get the info, and the reason behind the need to monitor. And then let them tell the American people that such monitoring is not worth it, or maybe, Change their tune and realize that if not being abused said tools are absolutely worthwhile.

jr565 said...

Coinsutc wrote:
The cold war - uhm, I mean the civil war - has been over for 135 years, Mr. Romney, I mean Mr. Obama.


I think the point was that even prior to the Internet and modern technology the country was, in certain cases, using tools to monitor enemies, and in the civil war, enemies who were actually citizens.

Maybe we've always been living in a police state.

jr565 said...

James mentioned the NSA spying on love interests.
From the article he cited:
"The LOVEINT violations involved overseas communications, officials said, such as spying on a partner or spouse. In each instance, the employee was punished either with an administrative action or termination."

is that the NSA doing this, or is that an individual in the NSA using tools improperly for their own nefarious ends?
I work in IT, and admins in IT have a lot of,tools at their disposal that COULD be used for nefarious purposes. Is that an indictment of all IT? Or the individuals using those tools improperly.
Is the potential for the abuse of said technology, not offset by the value of use of said technology?
When it comes to guns and drugs, libertarians would of course argue the latter. It's not the gun that's the problem, its the person using the gun.

Rusty said...

"These people are your neighbors and friends"

Knowing this administration's track record of duplicity, anyone else take that as a threat?

revenant.

What did Franklin say about freedom vs security?
Oh. Yeah.
I'll take freedom, thank you very much.

jr565 said...

The problem, to me, is not the collection of the data, its how the data is used. The data is already collected. This is simply a more efficient means for the NSA to have the data on hand when they need to perform a search.
The Supreme Court already said it was ok to have a warrant that allows police to gather phone numbers en masse, so long as they aren't listening to the calls themselves.
So its not the collection of data that's at issue. Its if the NSA is using said data to target enemies of the administration. And so far at any rate, it doesn't sound like they aren't. But more oversight, sure.

jr565 said...

Rusty wrote:
What did Franklin say about freedom vs security?
Oh. Yeah.
I'll take freedom, thank you very much.

so, in franklins time there was absolute freedom and absolutely no security?
Even George Washington had a spy ring.

jr565 said...

If you get robbed and so put bars on your windows, that's giving up some degree of liberty for some potential safety. And you think that you would deserve neither liberty or freedom because you took a common sensical safety measure?
Do you have no locks on your doors? no passwords on your accounts?

Rusty said...


so, in franklins time there was absolute freedom and absolutely no security?
Even George Washington had a spy ring.

He was spying on the colonists?

Blogger jr565 said...
If you get robbed and so put bars on your windows, that's giving up some degree of liberty for some potential safety.

You don't see the difference in a specific threat and yor government reading your mail wholesale?

Wear your chains lightly.

Boy. Have things changed. I remember all the hand wringing over the Patriot Act and the FISA courts, but put a progg in the White House and things are OK again.

Jason said...

More balloons! More balloons! More balloons!!!

jr565 said...

Rusty wrote:
You don't see the difference in a specific threat and yor government reading your mail wholesale.

just because they're collecting it doesn't mean that they are reading all of it.

jr565 said...

Rusty wrote:
He was spying on the colonists?

was Benedict Arnold a colonist?

jr565 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.