When I was a kid, Mad Magazine ran a regular feature called "Spy v. Spy." Two pointy nosed guys - one all black and one all white - vied with one another with hilarious results. The comic strip was a put up of the CIA and the KGB, and the Cold War in general.
The CIA was easy to lampoon. Its widely publicized, inept efforts to assassinate Castro - exploding cigars, a wet suit lined with poison, even a defoliant to cause his beard to drop out (killing his persona, if not him) - seemed absurd.
The agency's inept handling of the Bay of Pigs debacle did nothing to burnish its image. What amazes me is that, to this very day, millions of Americans believe the CIA killed Kennedy.
Aw, c'mon. These guys failed to predict the Chinese entry into the Korean War. They later missed the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989-90 and the 9/11 attacks of 2001.
Their counter-intelligence chief for most of the Cold War, James Jesus Angleton, was by all reliable accounts a paranoid cuckoo who wrongly discredited significant Soviet defectors and ruined uncounted careers in a failed witch hunt for a non-existent mole. They killed JFK and kept it quiet? Get serious!
Now, the media have their underwear, and ours, all in a bundle over revelations by the traitor Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency tracks phone and Internet traffic for patterns that indicate terrorist activities. Apparently, we should all be wringing our hands over violations of our privacy rights.
Never mind that tens of millions of us are voluntarily telling the entire world our personal business on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and their lesser social-media cousins. These free-enterprise corporate giants in turn are making millions (billions?) by manipulating and/or selling our personal data.
That's why, when I Google a term, the first screen of "hits" that I see will not be quite the same as your opening screen, if you Google the same phrase. Corporate America has dossiers on us all.
The latest "hot" topic is that the FBI uses drones for surveillance purposes. You know what, folks? The stakeout is as old as police work itself. Does it make such a difference that the modern version takes place from high in the sky instead of from a rented apartment across the street from the target? I can't see why.
But for those of you who see this differently, recent Supreme Court decisions should help put you at ease. In one, the Supremes held that putting a GPS on a suspect's car, so the cops could keep track of his movements, was a search requiring a warrant. In another, even more recent ruling just this spring, the Justices said that allowing drug sniffing dogs up on a suspect's front porch was, likewise, a search that required probable cause and a search warrant.
How silly do these privacy worries get? A very bright acquaintance of mine recently speculated that, if you order a lot a take-out filoffal from your local Mid-East Restaurant and the owner turns out to be a terrorist, you might be on your way to Guantanamo. He was only half joking, I think.
With all their sophisticated technology and their vast budgets, our counter-intel agencies missed the Boston Marathon Bombers. How many might they miss if deprived of their tools? I don't want to imagine. I'd rather worry about what Google's got on me.
I recently saw Sofia Coppola's new film, "The Bling Ring." If you're not familiar, the plot is based on the real robberies of celebrity homes that occurred between 2008 and 2009, perpetrated by a bunch of teenagers in California. The burglaries resulted in approximately $3 million in stolen cash and belongings from the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, and other celebrities.
But the kicker is how they got into those homes: simply by following the celebrities closely on social media to see when they would be out of the house. After that, a quick Google search yielded the address of the celebrity home, and, surprisingly (or not?), most of the houses had an unlocked back door or a key under the mat. Robbing has never been so easy as in the 21st century - and it's our own faults.
Most of us practically live online these days. Or, at the very least, we document our lives - our accomplishments, our friendships, pictures of our food, for goodness sakes - so closely that complete strangers can easily discover intimate details, from where we hang out daily to our addresses.
Teenagers were able to break into the homes of high-profile celebs precisely because we live in a culture that revels in documenting the minute-to-minute details of celebrity life.
Our biggest mistake is thinking of ourselves as celebrities, as well, and providing that same kind of documentation online. Luckily, no one yet seems to care what I've eaten for lunch, or where I ate it.
If the government does ever decide to take an interest in any of us common folk, however, I don't think the FBI has much on us that "The Bling Ring" hasn't already exposed and exploited.