Opinion

The Great Debate

Why the NSA undermines national security

Questions about the legitimacy and efficacy of the mass-surveillance techniques used by the National Security Agency continue to swirl around the globe. The debate in the United States has mostly focused on a misleading trade-off between security and privacy.

“If you don’t have anything to hide,” goes the refrain, “you shouldn’t mind if the government collects information to prevent another terrorist attack.” In this trade-off, security will always trump privacy, especially when political leaders rightly see preventing terrorist acts as their top national security responsibility.

But this zero-sum framework ignores the significant damage that the NSA’s practices have done to U.S. national security. In a global digital world, national security depends on many factors beyond surveillance capacities, and over-reliance on global data collection can create unintended security vulnerabilities.

There’s a better framework than security-versus-privacy for evaluating the national security implications of mass-surveillance practices. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “smart power.”

Her idea acknowledges that as global political power has become more diffuse, U.S. interests and security increasingly depend on our ability to persuade partners to join us on important global security actions. But how do we motivate disparate groups of people and nations to join us? We exercise smart power by inspiring trust and building credibility in the global community.

Reagan’s true legacy: The Tea Party

 

Challenging the status quo is the correct condition of American conservatism.

At the end of the American Revolution, Benjamin Rush, who had signed the Declaration of Independence, vowed that though the war with Great Britain was over, the Revolution would go on.

The stirrings of original American conservatism were found in such sentiments. For the proper state of American conservatism — from Thomas Paine to Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln — is to be in a perpetual struggle for intellectual revolution.

Ronald Reagan, whose 103rd birthday would have been Thursday, exemplified this. No surprise the Gipper regularly quoted all three men.

Drones: From bad habit to terrible policy

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently lambasted legislation that may prevent the White House from transferring the lethal drone program from the CIA to the Defense Department. The provision is in a classified part of the bill, so the public may never know what it says.

This culture of secrecy underscores the reality that real drone reform is on the verge of conclusively failing to launch. Despite months of political fury and negative press, the drone program and its worst impulse — to kill without accountability for who is killed and why — are poised to become a permanent part of the way the United States conducts counterterrorism.

If there is to be any real reform on drone strikes, it must come this year — while the revelations over National Security Agency surveillance are keeping heat on the White House. Secrecy is the common denominator of the criticism the White House faces on both issues. President Barack Obama’s rhetoric on transparency and reform will always trigger cynicism so long as his administration’s practices of official secrecy continue.

On NSA, Obama still says ‘trust me’

President Barack Obama’s speech on Friday on intelligence reform marked a bullish shift in his approach to the National Security Agency.

The president dropped the pretense that there was “nothing to see here” — which his administration has offered since former government contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the NSA.’s expanding surveillance. Obama now acknowledges that there are problems to be solved. Yet his reforms boiled down to “trust me.”

While Obama did announce several new ways to increase accountability at the NSA, most were limited to executive actions. So the president basically changed his mind about the limits that he wants to place on his own powers. That means he can just as easily change his mind again and reverse course. So can the next president.

Will Snowden’s disclosures finally rein in the NSA?

The National Security Agency, most secretive of the government’s 16 intelligence arms, is unaccustomed to the glare of publicity. But fierce public attention has been focused on the eavesdropping agency since the startling revelations from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor now granted temporary asylum in Moscow.

These disclosures are not the first time the NSA, often known as “No Such Agency,” has been caught surreptitiously reading Americans’ private communications. The agency, however, has largely been able to  evade serious consequences or restrictions after the earlier revelations. In fact, the NSA’s surveillance of Americans has increased exponentially.

During the mid-1970s, a special Senate committee headed by Senator Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat, focused a spotlight on NSA abuses. But those disclosures were overshadowed by the panel’s investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency, which revealed decades of assassination attempts, illegal activities and misadventures.

NSA revelations: Fallout can serve our nation

The fallout from the Edward Snowden revelations continues to snowball. With each disclosure, allies, businesses and influential authors call for reform. There is ever growing pressure on the Obama administration to respond and quell these concerns before permanent damage is done.

As the crisis grows, many in Congress and the executive branch now focus on explaining why these programs are critical to countering terrorist threats and securing the country. President Barack Obama’s meeting with technology leaders Tuesday marks an early signal of willingness to engage in open dialogue. But until Washington fully addresses the concerns of these various groups through tangible government reform, the fallout will likely worsen.

Trust has been the principal casualty in this unfortunate affair. The American public, our nation’s allies, leading businesses and Internet users around the world are losing faith in the U.S. government’s role as the leading proponent of a free, open and integrated global Internet.

from David Rohde:

For Obama, a contradiction too many

President Barack Obama will have to deliver one of the finest speeches of his presidency next Tuesday if he hopes to win Congressional support for a strike against Syria. Out of nowhere, the Syria vote has emerged as one of the defining moments of Obama’s second term.

With three years remaining in office, the vote will either revive his presidency or leave Obama severely weakened at home and abroad.

There are legitimate criticisms of Obama's initial response to the Syrian government’s barbaric August 21st gas attack outside Damascus. The president should have demanded that Congress be called back from recess immediately. He should also have immediately made a far more personal and passionate case for strikes.

NSA: Listening to everyone — except oversight

ILLUSTRATION: Matt Mahurin

For 35 years the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has been the judicial equivalent of a stellar black hole — everything goes in but nothing is allowed to escape.

Last week, however, for the first time since its creation, the Obama administration declassified and made public large portions of an 85-page top-secret ruling by the court that had been the subject of a Freedom of Information lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The surveillance court was created in 1978, designed to act as a safeguard to protect the public from the National Security Agency’s ever-expanding eavesdropping capabilities, and its long history of widespread illegal spying. For three decades leading up to 1975, for example, the agency had been secretly reading, without a warrant, millions of telegrams to and from Americans as they passed over the wires of Western Union and other telegraph companies — the Internet of the day. That was supposed to come to a halt with the creation of the court.

The Navy’s underwater eavesdropper

No, the U.S. Navy is probably not using a multi-billion dollar submarine to listen in on your phone calls and emails on behalf of the National Security Agency.

But it could.

A long line of secretive Navy spy submarines, most recently a nuclear-powered behemoth named USS Jimmy Carter, have for decades infiltrated remote waters to gather intelligence on rival states’ militaries, insurgents and terrorists on behalf of the NSA and other agencies using a range of sophisticated devices, including special equipment for tapping undersea communications cables

Before NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the agency’s phone and Internet monitoring programs targeting U.S. and European citizens, the mainstream press paid little attention to the elusive, subsurface warship. But following Snowden’s disclosures last month, several publications including the Huffington Post and the German Der Spiegel speculated that the Jimmy Carter was aiding the NSA’s surveillance of citizens’ communications in the U.S. and Europe.

NSA as ‘Big Brother’? Not even close

Reader holding a copy of George Orwell’s 1984, June 9, 2013.  REUTERS/Toby Melville

When the Guardian and the Washington Post revealed details about the National Security Agency collecting phone data from telecommunications companies and U.S. government programs pulling in emails and photographs from internet businesses, suddenly “George Orwell” was leading the news.

The British essayist predicted it all, commentators asserted, and the United States now seems straight out of 1984, Orwell’s novel about a dystopian future. “Big Brother” had arrived.

  •