Even during the summertime, political Washington, DC is abuzz with something or other. This summer it has mostly been the National Security Agency (NSA) leaks. It is process like Chinese water torture. One drip, one leak at a time, until the entire dam breaks. There will be political consequences. It is only a question of when and who.
Today the Wall Street Journal reports that the NSA, with the cooperation of the private sector, has the capacity to spy on close to 80% of U.S. internet and e-mail traffic. And what about phone calls? Let’s just say it is the primary reason I do not Skype with my clients. Ever.
Paranoid? No, just common sense. Even if the government has no capacity to hone in on every call or e-mail in the United States, that does not mean that third parties outside the government are not trying. The attorney-client privilege is sacrosanct and I’m not about to test its limits with unsecured Skype phone calls. Anyhow, I digress.
There are some very serious civil liberty, legal, and public policy equities at play with this NSA story that go well beyond the NSA and Snowden. The news reporting and oversight investigations have barely scratched the proverbial political surface. It is long overdue. The anti-national security types are out here trying to make this a vendetta play. If cooler heads fail to contain this tempest, U.S. national security and homeland preparedness will be harmed.
The National Security Act of 1947 was not intended to create a bureaucracy that has sprawled out of control the way it has during the course of the last decade. The issues are not new. After the terrorist attacks of 09.11.01 the Congress and White House implemented an IC reform that was needed, but may have gone too far in other respects with such as thing as creating a new bureacruacy to oversee the IC. The 1947 law dealt with the issue; people in the know chose to ignore it.
Unlike 2001, the American people upset at the government, not the terrorists. Can the government be trusted with meta data? Should the government be able to purchase credit cards records from American Express or Visa and what is the government doing with it? For that matter, What are Visa and American Express doing with this information? To compound matters senior U.S. officials have lied to Congress and there have been no repercussions for doing so. Of course, a subject for another post, there also is a large percentage of folks who just don’t care.
The recent NSA leak scandal has political legs. Long ones. Folks who know better appear to be playing politics with it to advance agendas (e.g., as in 2001 with the ODNI). Then there are those who should know better do not appear to be focusing on the bigger picture. In 2001, the American people were willing to grant the federal, state, and local government wide latitude on these issues.
What is taking place now is not going to work. Trying to scapegoat the NSA or CIA does not get to the heart of the matter (for effect, I’ve added a Star Wars video clip below). Democrats and Republicans need to step up re-take this issue from those that seek to do us harm and weaken the United States.