Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Trust but verify

Defenders of the NSA surveillance programs draw a distinction between metadata mining and PRISM. On the one hand, the NSA maintains a universal phone log, but doesn’t normally eavesdrop on the content. On the other hand, PRISM does eavesdrop on the content, but that targets suspected terrorists, requiring a FISA warrant.

But there are several problems with this distinction in practice. To begin with, given the secrecy of the operations, what’s to keep the NSA from secretly breaking the law?

In addition, there’s a strident contradiction in the way NSA programs are defended. On the one hand, we’re giving assurances that the NSA will respect the legal distinction between metadata mining and PRISM. On the other hand, Edward Snowden is excoriated for compromising national security.

But in that event, Snowden is a vivid illustration of how the system breaks down. The defenders of the NSA programs are simultaneously critics of Snowden. They don’t think he could be trusted to safeguard NSA secrets. But if a flunky like Snowden can easily breach NSA protocols, then the NSA can’t be relied on to protect sensitive information about private citizens.

Keep in mind, moreover, that all we know about NSA is either based on leaks or what they tell us. They only tell us what they want us to know. And they lie. Take James Clapper’s lie to Congress.

Now, I don’t think it’s always wrong for officials to lie about counterintelligence. Eisenhower was caught in a lie about the U-2 incident. But even though some national security lies are justified, that still means you can’t automatically believe their promises.

And that’s even before we consider a thoroughly corrupt regime like the Obama administration, which has zero credibility going into the debate.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly, whether intentionally or not, they've been priming the population at large to accept invasive electronic surveillance as normal. We've been watching them do it in movies and on TV for years now. A handful of examples: The Bourne movies, Eagle Eye, Enemy of the State, NCIS, Criminal Minds.