Arlington VA June 8, 2013
Are we and 'Big Brother' on the same side?
This week's news has been replete with media source after media source rushing to make news themselves, after the Guardian (UK) Newspapers released leaked information, and a classified copy of a decision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) on wiretapping.
The document, actually a renewal of previous orders of the court, allows the Government, through the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect various kinds of data on telephone calls, in this case from Verizon, the largest of the phpone providers in the US.
The Administration rushed to contain the disclosure by saying that individual rights were not affected by this order ,or others which had been issued previously, since no personal information was being collected, and that most of the information involved calls from the US to overseas areas. The FISA Court specifically prohibited personal information, or transcripts of the calls from the collection process.
Following this disclosure, the Washington Post, the following day, released even more classified information, this time about a program known as PRISM, developed and managed by NSA, and used to collect and analyze information from Internet providers, and social media sites. Here again, the Administration was quick to point out that information was only being collected overseas.
James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, who only a short few days earlier had assured the Congressional Committees that no such collection of this type was occuring, now released a statement that the release of the information was an egregious breach of national security. he made no mention of his previous testimony--not even to 'walk back' and explain the apparent inconsistencies.
There are several problems here.
First, collecting information on calls to places where terrorists locate themselves is a perfectly good intelligence tool, as is the use of information collection on Internet sites to see what information is being passed around in the ethernet. I support the Government's efforts in that regard.
However, the concern lies in the seemingly pervasive effort, to prevent the American people from knowing how intrusive the actions of THEIR Government to cover up, and lie as necessary, while taking personal information without any indication of a crime, or possible crime, being committed. Congressman Rogers, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and one of the members of Congress who was briefed on the program, stated that at least one terrorist plot had been uncovered as a result of the monitoring. At 58 Billion calls a day, that is like declaring success for having found a needle near a haystack, while looking for something else.
Second, this appears to be yet another instance where senior members of the Administration come to the Congress, and provide sworn testimony, only to find out later that their statements were partially or wholly untrue.
Third, the sense the Administration is giving the public on the use of the data is itself falacious. Collecting streams of data does not provide you with actionable information. In order to make sense of the data, you have to have a perspective, and some benchmarks to relate the data. Now, the Administration, including the President himself, has stated no personal information is being collected. If that is the case, then how does the NSA relate a seemingly innocuous call, from a number whose owner is unknown, to a number in, let's say Karachi Pakistan, to a number whose owner is unknown? Of course, that is non-sensical. NSA knows everybody's phone number, and knows exactly whose numbers overseas they want to monitor. Why not just say so? Why lie, and obscure the real facts, especially now that they have come out anyway.
Perhaps in the next few days more information will come to light how the Government has really benefitted from this program. So far, it seems more to be an intrusion in civil liberties, justified by thinking it MIGHT find something, someday.
I support strongly the Government's efforts to keep us safe. I hope they dig until they find the person who released the classified information, and then prosecute him/her under that same Espionage Act they have been trying use on news reporters. And, by the way, I do wish the Administration would stop lying to the public, and to the Congress so frequently--it is making it even harder to believe anything they say.