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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Prisoner of Zembla 

We cannot divulge the appalling details in toto lest we scuttle the plethora of book-slash-movie-slash-new media offers our Imperial Agent-Slash-Manager assures us are forthcoming, but we are of course most grateful to those of you who inquired after our wellbeing and whereabouts during the recent attempted palace coup by our half-brother, the self-styled "populist" and "friend of the peasant" Black Hugo. Of our imprisonment in that lamentable pretender's dismal oubliette, where the toilet paper was single-ply, the televisions 4:3, and the wine cellar stocked exclusively with California Chardnonnays, the less said the better; we will mention only that, thanks to good luck, crack timing, and -- if we do say so -- our own mad skillz with the shillelagh, our "sentence" was radically truncated, and we emerged from captivity to resume our rightful place on the Zemblan throne with body, soul, and sanity intact. Black Hugo, alas, can make no such boast. His head now adorns the left gatepost at the entrance to the Zemblan Royal Sports Arena and Community Playground, while that of his vainglorious partner in treachery, the dapper lothario Rupert of Hoboken, sits in a pleasing symmetry atop the right. You are cordially invited to view both gentlemen as they indulge in their final recreation, that of feeding the birds, from now until Saturday the 22nd at 10 AM ZDT, when their thoroughly-flensed noggins will be removed from public display and put to good use by the talented youth of the junior Mayan-soccer league (12-and-under division).

Especial thanks are due to our distant illegitimate lookalike cousin Sammy Sassendyll, whose astonishing resemblance to Yr. Mst. Bnvlnt. Dspt. (and to Jude Law, for whom he is often mistaken) enabled him to impersonate the King at official functions, not only defusing a host of potential diplomatic crises but forestalling the mass panic that would surely have ensued had news of our kidnapping reached the loyal populace of Zembla. It goes without saying that many if not all of our patriotic subjects noticed, and were deeply troubled by, the dearth of blog entries during the brief reign of Cousin Sammy. He had initially hoped to post the occasional polemic, the odd satirical riff, but as it turned out neither he nor the skilled adepts of the palace technical staff were able to penetrate the notorious complexities of the Blogger interface -- a stroke of good fortune in our estimation, for what pasticheur could capture the biting acumen, the acidulous wit, the saucy insouciance of Yr. Mst. Hmbl. Mnrch.'s inimitable prose? Better to invite the most dire speculation than to publish a shoddy, inferior burlesque of the blog you have come to know and love, and thereby give the game away.

That said, our most trusted advisers assure us that in all matters unrelated to blogging, Mr. Sassendyll executed his faux-kingly duties both ably and admirably, though not so ably, or so admirably, they hastened to add, as to quell their longing for the one true sovereign's return. And since that glorious day there has been, as you might imagine, much rejoicing throughout the land (although honesty compels us to admit that the Queen of Zembla has been in an inexplicably foul mood ever since we came home. We find ourselves asking, with Dr. Freud, what does a woman want? -- a good King, or a good faux-King? Go figure!)

But onward. We have learned, in sifting through our vast backlog of unanswered e-mail, that several important stories developed in our absence. The third most important (after #1, our kidnapping, and #2, our subsequent escape) would be the revelation, by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, that Mr. Bush et al are contemplating a nuclear first strike against Iran, the sort of development that might lead us to root for Burt Lancaster the next time we watch Seven Days in May. Fourth most important would be the admission by President Bush ("If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is" -- 9/30/03) that he, ahem, secretly declassified certain portions of the National Intelligence Estimate -- specifically, allegations undermined or debunked elsewhere in the document -- and instructed Scooter Libby to leak them to the press for what we might call purposes of partisan propaganda.

Both of these stories have received enormous play in the blogosphere, but there's another (one we noticed at Americablog) that's attracted barely a mention. You are probably aware that AG Alberto Gonzales, in his testimony last Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, suggested "for the first time that the president might have the legal authority to order wiretapping without a warrant on communications between Americans that occur exclusively within the United States." We have a sneaking hunch that Mr. Gonzales has stumbled across yet another of those apparently numberless executive powers that have to be vigorously (and retroactively) asserted whenever the President is caught breaking the law again:
AT&T provided National Security Agency eavesdroppers with full access to its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the company.

Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician, submitted an affidavit in support of the EFF's lawsuit this week. That class action lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco last January, alleges that AT&T violated federal and state laws by surreptitiously allowing the government to monitor phone and internet communications of AT&T customers without warrants . . . .

Klein's job eventually included connecting internet circuits to a splitting cabinet that led to the secret room. During the course of that work, he learned from a co-worker that similar cabinets were being installed in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego . . . .

The split circuits included traffic from peering links connecting to other internet backbone providers, meaning that AT&T was also diverting traffic routed from its network to or from other domestic and international providers, according to Klein's statement.

The secret room also included data-mining equipment called a Narus STA 6400, "known to be used particularly by government intelligence agencies because of its ability to sift through large amounts of data looking for preprogrammed targets," according to Klein's statement . . . .

"Despite what we are hearing, and considering the public track record of this administration, I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA's spying program is really limited to foreign communications or is otherwise consistent with the NSA's charter or with FISA," Klein's wrote. "And unlike the controversy over targeted wiretaps of individuals' phone calls, this potential spying appears to be applied wholesale to all sorts of internet communications of countless citizens."
On second thought maybe the dungeon wasn't so bad after all. At least the NSA couldn't read the notes we scrawled on toilet paper and shoved through the rathole.

Or . . . could they???

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