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The Reason You're Mad at the NSA

cpwill

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This seemed like a fairly good discussion of some of the background issue

"What's really going on here?" That's the question I typically ask students to kick-start a discussion about some aspect of American intelligence at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where I teach a graduate course on the subject....

Why are we so fascinated with this case? Why are some Americans outraged at the government while others are outraged at the leaker? Why do so many of us have such firm and passionate views about all of this?...

The bottom line is that intelligence, as a profession, still does not sit comfortably in our polity. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, the essential qualities of good intelligence inevitably clash with the underlying values of an open, pluralistic, and free society such as ours. The effectiveness of our democracy depends on an informed citizenry; effective intelligence depends on withholding and protecting information deemed sensitive. As citizens, Americans cherish their privacy; intelligence officers, subject to frequent background checks, polygraphs, and intrusive financial disclosure, are accustomed to giving it up... So as the curtain is pulled back on the NSA's surveillance program, many of us instinctively recoil -- and even some supporters wince a little. Meanwhile, prurient interest in the details skyrockets.

Second, we are a "young" intelligence nation, and intelligence is still the most novel tool in our foreign policy kit. The United States was the last major country to organize intelligence at the national level...

In other countries, intelligence still holds plenty of fascination for the public, but many older nations, unlike the United States, have domestic intelligence services and have integrated the profession more comfortably into their cultures. Besides, they do not "leak" intelligence at anywhere near the frequency that we do, so material with the potential to shock or startle is much less plentiful....

The surprise and shock provoked by this latest revelation is matched only by one little-appreciated irony: The United States is by far the world's most transparent nation on intelligence matters, and its spy services are without question the most closely and thoroughly overseen. Any adversary studying the frequent open congressional testimonies by intelligence officials, our daily press stories, our declassified intelligence publications, and our endless stream of leaks, would have to be hopelessly dim to not understand our priorities and deduce many of our methods.

For example, theannual threat assessment that the director of national intelligence must present publicly to Congress -- I have presented it myself -- is a serious and detailed document that gives away no actual secrets but is certainly a reliable guide to our intelligence priorities and the main lines of our analytic thinking, as are annual unclassified reports to Congress on subjects like the foreign ballistic missile threat. Foreign intelligence officials, who do not have such requirements, endlessly ask me: Why, in heavens name, do you Americans do this?....

Another aspect of American life laid bare by the current controversy is the wide gulf between intelligence professionals and those who ask why a leak like this does damage. To an experienced intelligence officer, it's the ultimate "duh" question -- a bit like asking if a flashlight might be helpful on a dark night. Sure, adversaries assume we do some of this, but they don't know how we do it or how effective we are. The typical intelligence officer asks: Why should we give any detail or confirmation to people trying to kill us when they volunteer nothing and rely on secrecy as their most effective asymmetric tool against our superior power? In the intelligence game, we succeed as much by fostering ambiguity and uncertainty as by our technical ingenuity...

So the controversy over surveillance reveals much about us as a nation and about the cultural divide between the intelligence profession and those with a different focus. Where does it go from here? A prediction: The surveillance program will be endlessly and publicly debated, investigated, eviscerated, and digested. In the end, we will all get comfortable with some not-so-very different version of it, perhaps buttressed by a more consensus-based legal foundation. In the process, we will have created a public guidebook to how we do this type of intelligence, and our citizens will be much more educated and sophisticated about our intelligence methods.

But so will those who want to know all of this even more desperately than we do. There is no having it both ways.
 

Darrell

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Hmm, I am not mad at the NSA. Yes, you can quote Benjamin Franklin, but I truly don't care. Is it surprising that a/an Intelligence Agency actually spies? No, not at all. Is it surprising that they spy on their own citizens? No, I would be surprised if they didn't.
 

humbolt

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Hmm, I am not mad at the NSA. Yes, you can quote Benjamin Franklin, but I truly don't care. Is it surprising that a/an Intelligence Agency actually spies? No, not at all. Is it surprising that they spy on their own citizens? No, I would be surprised if they didn't.
I'm all for the NSA spying on you. I'd prefer they didn't spy on me. I'm no threat. I'm not so sure about you, though. That's how it works.
 

Darrell

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I'm all for the NSA spying on you. I'd prefer they didn't spy on me. I'm no threat. I'm not so sure about you, though. That's how it works.

Do you know how the programs work? If you did, then you wouldn't really be worrying as much.
 

humbolt

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Do you know how the programs work? If you did, then you wouldn't really be worrying as much.
No, I don't - nor do I need to in any great detail. I'm not worried about this program in our country as it stands. I have been rather thoroughly investigated by the federal government, so they already know nearly everything of consequence about me. I'm simply attempting to point out the concerns of those who believe their privacy is sacrosanct. That idea is comfortable, but largely an illusion. I've done my bit for the feds in the past, and now I'd like to believe that my life is mine to live without undue federal intrusion. I think much of what they're attempting to do is a waste of time and undermines the trust of the public that they truly need in order to do their jobs effectively. Snowden has done us no favors.
 

American

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So the NSA has a fiber optic line running directly into Verizon's computer system, and everyone is okay with that because we'll all be safer in the end? And if you're not an intelligence professional and don't know all about it, you should shutup and sit down...........because there's nothing to see here.
 

Darrell

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No, I don't - nor do I need to in any great detail. I'm not worried about this program in our country as it stands. I have been rather thoroughly investigated by the federal government, so they already know nearly everything of consequence about me. I'm simply attempting to point out the concerns of those who believe their privacy is sacrosanct. That idea is comfortable, but largely an illusion. I've done my bit for the feds in the past, and now I'd like to believe that my life is mine to live without undue federal intrusion. I think much of what they're attempting to do is a waste of time and undermines the trust of the public that they truly need in order to do their jobs effectively. Snowden has done us no favors.

Yeah, I agree.
 

Oceandan

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Do you know how the programs work? If you did, then you wouldn't really be worrying as much.

Do you know how the IRS works????? I guess you're not a TEA party member. Your statement is an intellectual LIE. Now it would be acceptable if you said do you know how the program was INTENDED to work. Even with that statement I still have challenges with PRISM. People keep saying it's only "metadata" or "do you know how the program works". Let me be perfectly clear. We DO NOT NEED a government organization blanket collecting metadata in order to combat terrorism. PERIOD.
 

rathi

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The article is pompous bull****. The NSA is filled with individuals who are as incompetent and corruptible as every other human being who walks on the earth. Giving someone the power to spy on people without oversight inevitably to leads to abuse. I am aware that transparency makes it harder for the intelligence community to do their jobs, however that is small price to pay to limit the potential corruption of power.

The dangers of unaccountable spying has been clearly demonstrated not only in places like the USSR, but even in the U.S. with Hoover's FBI. Lets not repeat history for once.
 

minnie616

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Data is being collected all of the time.
Even or maybe I should say especially on the phone, on the internet , in emails and of course on message boards.

Most data collections is just random data, without names, addresses etc.

Data collectors are looking for unusually patterns etc.
 

cpwill

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The NSA is filled with individuals who are as incompetent and corruptible as every other human being who walks on the earth. Giving someone the power to spy on people without oversight inevitably to leads to abuse. I am aware that transparency makes it harder for the intelligence community to do their jobs, however that is small price to pay to limit the potential corruption of power.

Agreed. Wholeheartedly. Do you have any indications - other than Snowden's increasingly suspect claims that he himself did so - of oversight failing to catch systemic abuse of the information the NSA collects? Say, even on a scale of the IRS scandal? Who was given the power to spy on people without oversight?

The dangers of unaccountable spying has been clearly demonstrated not only in places like the USSR, but even in the U.S. with Hoover's FBI. Lets not repeat history for once.

This program was overseen by the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial branch. You don't get much less "unaccountable" spying than that.
 

head of joaquin

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The article is pompous bull****. The NSA is filled with individuals who are as incompetent and corruptible as every other human being who walks on the earth. Giving someone the power to spy on people without oversight inevitably to leads to abuse. I am aware that transparency makes it harder for the intelligence community to do their jobs, however that is small price to pay to limit the potential corruption of power.

The dangers of unaccountable spying has been clearly demonstrated not only in places like the USSR, but even in the U.S. with Hoover's FBI. Lets not repeat history for once.

Yeah, why did Bush and his conservative demagogues get the Patriot Act passed, with not a peep of protest from conservatives. Indeed, they claimed that if anybody was against the Patriot Act, they were "pro-terrorist."

Only now, at the end, do conservatives understand that demagoguing political issues is bad -- but of course they don't
 

Sarcogito

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I’m not angry at the NSA. I am angry at the government for ALLOWING the NSA to operate like that domestically.
 

Visbek

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I'm shocked -- shocked, I say! that a former acting/deputy director of the CIA is not happy about Snowden. ;)

Privacy and security have always had their tensions. There is no single bright shining line that strikes a perfect balance between the two. When we lean a little too much towards "security," some get upset. When we lean too much towards "privacy," others are riddled with fear.

Americans have also long had a profound skepticism of government. Finding out about massive secret surveillance programs from a whistleblower doesn't foster a lot of faith. Nor do I, for one, buy the idea that intelligence is a "new thing" -- the CIA dates back to World War II... and even George Washington had his spies during the Revolutionary War.

I also find it somewhat hard to believe that the US has the most transparent intelligence services in the world. Briefing Congress once a year? Getting a FISA rubber stamp? That's transparency?


Agreed. Wholeheartedly. Do you have any indications - other than Snowden's increasingly suspect claims that he himself did so - of oversight failing to catch systemic abuse of the information the NSA collects?
The problem is that we have no idea what the NSA is doing, or who is actually doing oversight.


This program was overseen by the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial branch. You don't get much less "unaccountable" spying than that.
The Executive branch runs it, not oversees it. The Judicial branch rubber-stamps it. It's not clear what Congress really knows.

We also have no idea if anyone has actually ever reined in the NSA on anything, or if the NSA is in fact effective. How can we evaluate something that we don't know exists in the first place?

On a more basic level, IMO many Americans just do not want to live in an GDR-like police state. Are you really comfortable knowing that the NSA has a record of every person you've called, a copy of every email you've written and VOIP call you've ever made?
 

OldWorldOrder

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Giving someone the power to spy on people without oversight inevitably to leads to abuse.

They have tons of oversight, though, so all this complaining does seem kinda silly.
 

OldWorldOrder

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The problem is that we have no idea what the NSA is doing, or who is actually doing oversight.

That's the point: if everyone knew, it would defeat the purpose.
 

minnie616

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Are you really comfortable knowing that the NSA has a record of every person you've called, a copy of every email you've written and VOIP call you've ever made?

Actually it would not bother me one little bit.
Of course I might think they really could have spent time, money and resources on something a little less BORING than my phone calls, emails and Internet postings.
 

cpwill

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The problem is that we have no idea what the NSA is doing, or who is actually doing oversight.

Well, that is not accurate. We have a fairly good description of what the NSA does, and we know who the statutory and EO oversight authorities are. We also (now) know that this particular program had Congressional, Executive, and Judicial branch oversight over it. There isn't exactly another branch of government we could bring in to make it "extra more oversight-ed".

We also have no idea if anyone has actually ever reined in the NSA on anything, or if the NSA is in fact effective. How can we evaluate something that we don't know exists in the first place?

well, it's not our job to evaluate its' effectiveness. In fact, making it available to you to evaluate it, destroys its' effectiveness. That is why we elect representatives, to govern on our behalf.

Are you really comfortable knowing that the NSA has a record of every person you've called, a copy of every email you've written and VOIP call you've ever made?

Given that that data has been collected our entire lives?
 

Visbek

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Well, that is not accurate. We have a fairly good description of what the NSA does....
We do? Where are the NSA's programs listed? Who is telling us what the NSA does? Who is making sure that individual NSA agents aren't abusing access?

What are the implications for foreign relations? Most of the world's Internet traffic passes through the US at some point -- so not only is the NSA sucking up all of our data, they're doing the same to large numbers of foreigners. Who is held accountable to their rights?


We also (now) know that this particular program had Congressional, Executive, and Judicial branch oversight over it.
Uh, yeah. Because of the actions of whistleblowers.

And again: The Executive does NOT have "oversight," they are the ones operating the program. The judiciary has direct oversight (FISA courts), the legislature has a removed step (briefings, which don't seem to be very complete). The NSA is not an independent branch of government, it is part of the executive.


There isn't exactly another branch of government we could bring in to make it "extra more oversight-ed".
The American people have been completely left out of the loop. I'd regard that as an eentsy oversight on someone's part.

Plus, exactly which oversight mechanisms are in place? (We don't know.) What stops individual agents from potentially abusing access? (We don't know.) What stops the NSA from engaging in the same abuses as Hoover, COINTEL, and earlier instances of domestic spying? It isn't the FISA courts -- they only give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down (almost exclusively "up") to requests. As far as we know, Congress doesn't have an independent agency supervising the NSA. In fact, the courts and Congress apparently only know what the NSA wants them to know. That's just grand.


well, it's not our job to evaluate its' effectiveness.
So basically, your argument boils down to "trust the government"?

Government should ultimately be accountable to the public, not to itself.


In fact, making it available to you to evaluate it, destroys its' effectiveness. That is why we elect representatives, to govern on our behalf.
I don't need to access the actual databases. I do want to know what information the government is collecting on millions of citizens, who ought to have a say in the matter.


Given that that data has been collected our entire lives?
Comments like that are really not helping your position.

Obviously some things need to be done in secret. That doesn't justify turning the US into a surveillance state, and it doesn't justify completely eliminating privacy rights for hundreds of millions of people.
 

sangha

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Data is being collected all of the time.
Even or maybe I should say especially on the phone, on the internet , in emails and of course on message boards.

Most data collections is just random data, without names, addresses etc.

Data collectors are looking for unusually patterns etc.

I'm more concerned about private businesses collecting that data and what *they* are doing with it

At least with the govt, we can vote those bastards out of office if they abuse it. What do we do when Experian screws us over?
 

Heebie Jeebie

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Do you know how the programs work? If you did, then you wouldn't really be worrying as much.

Maybe I'm missing something but how does NSA knowing who I order pizza from help make the country more secure?
 

cpwill

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We do? Where are the NSA's programs listed? Who is telling us what the NSA does? Who is making sure that individual NSA agents aren't abusing access?

The Inspector General, CounterIntelligence, multiple layers of oversight within the NSA, the Congress, and the Judiciary. The NSA does not and should not publicly list its' programs for the simple enough reason that doing so would be abysmally stupid, however, funding for those programs is overseen by the Director of National Intelligence, who himself reports to both the President and the Intelligence Oversight Committees of both Chambers of Congress.

What are the implications for foreign relations? Most of the world's Internet traffic passes through the US at some point -- so not only is the NSA sucking up all of our data, they're doing the same to large numbers of foreigners. Who is held accountable to their rights?

They are foreigners. They are not protected by EO 12333, nor the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. We can collect whatever we like on them, just as they do on us.

Uh, yeah. Because of the actions of whistleblowers.

Yes. Which, however, does not obviate the fact that prior to Snowden the Congress and the Judiciary still had oversight over these programs.

And again: The Executive does NOT have "oversight," they are the ones operating the program.

:lol: you think the Executive is a single Entity :)

No. EO12333 is a form of oversight over the Intelligence Community :)

The judiciary has direct oversight (FISA courts),

Yup.

the legislature has a removed step (briefings, which don't seem to be very complete)

Well, Congresscritters were told that they would have to do the reading themselves rather than have aides who no clearance do the work for them. It turns out that with the exception of the Intelligence Committee members, none of them were interested.

The American people have been completely left out of the loop. I'd regard that as an eentsy oversight on someone's part.

Then you have no idea what you are talking about, and should go google the words "Classified" as well as "Clandestine". You may also wish to look up "Intelligence".

Plus, exactly which oversight mechanisms are in place? (We don't know.) What stops individual agents from potentially abusing access? (We don't know.)

Actually we can probably extrapolate some particulars and we do know the broad outlines. FISA courts (we have known this for some time) are required for oversight for collection on US Persons. Congressional approval was required to set this program up, and is required on an annual basis for it's continued line of funding. Within the program itself, NSA (in fact, all government) employees are monitored on all government systems - every action, every keystroke is recorded. Every time you sign on to a government computer you click on the little "yes I agree" button next to the "by the way be advised everything you do on this computer is being recorded in case you do something you shouldn't" warning. Individuals can definitely abuse their power, just as an individual cop could choose to pull out his gun and start shooting civilians. In both instances there are backups and failsafes to detect and stop them once they begin doing so.

What stops the NSA from engaging in the same abuses as Hoover, COINTEL, and earlier instances of domestic spying?

:roll: What stops the President from ordering the Army to take over America? At some point you are going to have to accept that we have representatives who govern on our behalf, and we grant them the power to do so; choosing to grant that power in such a way as to have faction check and balance faction.

So basically, your argument boils down to "trust the government"?

No, my argument boils down to "advertising your collection programs in the open makes them completely inneffective, and your agency incapable of performing its' congressionally mandated task of protecting American lives and interests. Your argument seems to boil down to not a critique of this program, but a critique of the existence of an intelligence community. Hey, guess what? You don't know what the CIA, the DIA, any of the military branch intelligence services, the NRO, the Treasury Department, the FBI, or any of the other portions of the Intelligence Community are doing either!!! Because it's a national secret, and the price for lost secrets is paid in the currency of American bodies.

I don't need to access the actual databases. I do want to know what information the government is collecting on millions of citizens, who ought to have a say in the matter.

:doh exposing a collection system, a set of collection requirements, or sources and methods is to deeply damage a collection program. If we broadcast to the bad guys "hey, if you post your stuff on Facebook we'll catch you, but not if you post your stuff on twitter", well, guess what? Bad guys will use twitter, collection will be useless, planning efforts will be successful.

Comments like that are really not helping your position.

Think about every old law court show you've ever seen. Matlock walks up to the guy and asks him "So, isn't it true that you claim to have had no contact with the deceased on the night of the murder?" and the guy says "that's correct". Then Matlock says "But isn't it true that records show that you made 5 10 minute phone calls to the deceased's phone on that very night?!?" and dramatic music plays and the jury looks shocked and the guy looks guilty and Matlocks client looks relieved.....

where the hell did you think Matlock was getting that information? Do you think that the police have been making phone records up for the past several decades? All this information has been collected and stored since you've had a telephone number.

Obviously some things need to be done in secret.

That's a fascinating statement from someone who just a few lines above insisted that the entire American populace needs to be read-in the each collection program for purposes of "oversight".
 

cpwill

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Maybe I'm missing something but how does NSA knowing who I order pizza from help make the country more secure?

It doesn't. It is scanning large data swaths to see who is ordering "nuclear hot pizza" from "Dominos in Pakistsan".
 
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