To hear the NSA tell it, their interception of phone calls and emails of 300 million people was done to protect the security of the United States; what they did will prevent future 911′s and keep our utilities from being sabotaged. In fact, NSA claims, this blanket surveillance frustrated a dozen terrorist attacks. But no details on that are available. It’s secret. National security.
The people of the United States have a choice: they can live by the rules made up (secretly) by the NSA, or they can live in a Constitutional republic.
The Catch-22 is that if you choose the NSA rules, you are told you are safe, but you can’t know how that works. National security. You can’t even know what it has accomplished. Again, national security.
If you choose to live in a Constitutional republic, you need to know how things work and why things are done. The secrets are few and far between and are secret only for short periods of time. Transparency, not secrecy is the rule.
The world of the NSA is the world of Dr Strangelove and James Bond. There is always a villain out there with a powerful laser that will be used to enslave the world. We need to be protected from this villain by secret facilities costing billions of dollars which we are never allowed to know about or monitor.
When we stumble across information about the secret NSA programs and questions are asked, as in the recent congressional hearings, the head of the NSA lies and says that the phone and email messages of millions of U.S. citizens were not monitored.
What is frightening is that Clapper, who denies he lied, probably believes he needed to lie to protect the security of the United States.
According to James Bamford, “The Secret War,” Wired, 6/12/13, General Keith Alexander runs the NSA’s cyberwar facilities:
“We jokingly referred to him as Emperor Alexander—with good cause, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets,” says one former senior CIA official who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “We would sit back literally in awe of what he was able to get from Congress, from the White House, and at the expense of everybody else.”
He is able to get whatever he wants, including 4.7 billion dollars currently pending, because he has convinced everyone that we are at risk from the internet and we need his secret operation to save us:
“Alexander runs . . . an empire he has built over the past eight years by insisting that the US’s inherent vulnerability to digital attacks requires him to amass more and more authority over the data zipping around the globe. In his telling, the threat is so mind-bogglingly huge that the nation has little option but to eventually put the entire civilian Internet under his protection, requiring tweets and emails to pass through his filters, and putting the kill switch under the government’s forefinger. “What we see is an increasing level of activity on the networks,” he said at a recent security conference in Canada. “I am concerned that this is going to break a threshold where the private sector can no longer handle it and the government is going to have to step in.”
The government will step in? It seems that has already happened.
So here’s what we have: a secret operation that monitors every US citizen in secret ways that will never be revealed costing at least 4.7 billion dollars every year. If questioned about the existence of this program, those in control will lie.
Here’s what we need: a transparent operation that tells the world what we are monitoring and what we are doing generally without going into the details of how it is done. Further, this program needs to be subject to actual – not fake – oversight. The American people might decide that they do not want every email monitored and they might, for example, instruct NSA to monitor only those emails belonging to people suspected of terrorist ties.
Much is made of the need for secrecy. Implied is that the continued existence of the nation depends on this secrecy.
How much secrecy can there be if 4.5 million people have top security clearance? In all probability, one or two of those 4.5 million people have already sold out to our enemies and, unlike Snowden, have leaked valuable information, not vague generalities and, again unlike Snowden, they do it for money.
During the cold war, it is almost certain that the Soviet Union knew our nuclear capability and we knew theirs. No disasters happened. We need a strong defense but we don’t need secrecy of the sort that is being insisted on. For raising this debate, if nothing else, for lifting this veil, Snowden is a national hero. We don’t need and, in fact, we cannot survive the secrecy that has been promulgated.
Another thing we don’t need is emperors. But if you were Alexander or Clapper you wouldn’t be arguing for transparency. Empires thrive on secrecy and the claim that such secrecy is needed for our continued existence. Actually, it’s needed for their continued existence.
What has happened here is that the form of government we thought we had has been taken from us by people we never heard of, operating in secret.