CIA Veteran: Snowden Did Everything Wrong And The Government Respects Your Privacy

from the government-issue-rose-tinted-blinders dept

Another article has arrived defending the poor, misunderstood intelligence agencies from the hateful actions of a single contractor. Fortunately, it’s all spelled out in the headline: “What did Edward Snowden get wrong? Everything

Missing period notwithstanding, former CIA agent Andrew Liepman dives into his defense of intelligence agencies by attempting to cast these agencies as sympathetic entities. Not a simple task considering the recent developments, but Liepman tries.

First, he points out that these agencies couldn’t care less about your trivial online activities.

[T]he U.S. government truly does make strenuous efforts not to violate privacy, not just because it respects privacy (which it does), but because it simply doesn’t have the time to read irrelevant emails or listen in on conversations unconnected to possible plots against American civilians.

First: trying to find something the agency deems “irrelevant” is an exercise in futility. Seemingly unconnected web detritus is swept up along with the actually relevant (as in the OED definition, not the NSA’s definition) data. The NSA may not have any interest in 99.9% of it, but it stores it anyway. Just. In. Case. Liepman even offers his admiration for the agencies’ ability to stack hay, but honestly, that talking point has been exhausted.

Second: while agents may be mainly interested in “possible plots,” evidence exists that they take time out of their busy schedules to listen to irrelevant phone calls and read irrelevant emails.

That’s why I find the Snowden controversy so frustrating. I realize many Americans don’t trust their government. I wish I could change that. I wish I could tell people the amazing things I witnessed during my 30 years in the CIA, that I’ve never seen people work harder or more selflessly, that for little money and long hours, people took it for granted that their flaws would be scrutinized and their successes ignored. But I’ve been around long enough to know that deep-rooted distrust of government is immune to stories from people like me. The conspiracy buffs are too busy howling in protest at the thought that their government could uncover how long they spent on the phone with their dear aunt.

Realizing people don’t trust the government is great, I suppose, but the problem remains that the government has rarely shown interest in rebuilding this trust. I’m sure the CIA has its share of hardworking, trustworthy employees just like any other corporation. (Former NSA director Michael Hayden made the same sort of claim in his interview with CNN — “The people working at the NSA have the same concerns as the American people.”) But like any other corporation, it’s also going to have its share of less-than-stellar employees, only these under-performers have access to a hell of a lot of data. Telling the public that some people do a damn good job won’t change anything, as Liepman notes. But he’s still going to try.

But once he’s through trying to humanize the intelligence agencies, Liepman falls right back into the same rhetorical trap so many other defenders have: belittling the public for its concerns. Instead of making any attempt to portray American citizens’ concerns about broad, non-targeted data harvesting as legitimate, Liepman downplays the opposition’s credibility by referring to them as “howling conspiracy buffs” concerned about the government listening to “phone calls to their aunts.”

Insulting the opposition will do very little to rebuild trust. This is how the intelligence agencies view those concerned about their privacy and constitutional rights: as social misfits prone to conspiracy theories and wild exaggerations about these agencies’ capabilities. All this indicates is that those running these agencies have very little interest in addressing the public’s concerns. In their minds, these people should be marginalized and mocked, rather than taken seriously.

Liepman repeatedly asserts that the CIA, NSA, etc. aren’t interested in anything other than the activities of terrorists, not the activities of non-terrorist Americans, but evidence continues to mount that shows this assertion JUST ISN’T TRUE.

Two stories, just from this morning, show the CIA is surveilling Americans with no links to terrorism. A FOIA request managed to pry loose enough info to force the CIA to admit that it spied on MIT professor Noam Chomsky for several years [caution: registration wall; disable javascript to read], tracking his anti-war activities. Evidence has also surfaced via a hacked Stratfor email account that CIA Director John Brennan was the point man on the administration’s “witch hunts” of American investigative journalists. That’s just from this morning.

The history of the CIA is long and awful and includes many more instances of the agency deploying its tactics against American citizens, this despite the fact that it’s supposed to limit itself entirely to foreign intelligence work. Two well-known domestic surveillance programs, Project Merrimac and Project Resistance, surveilled American citizens, keeping an eye on anti-war protestors and other “radicals.” The CIA also ran a domestic mail opening program for two decades in four major American cities according to the Church Committee report.

For all of Liepman’s claims that the government simply doesn’t care about your aunt unless she talks to terrorists (or is one), the facts simply don’t bear that out. These surveillance programs aren’t strictly limited to countering terrorist activity. They’re also being used to track American citizens that are either too noisy about their beliefs or are sticking their noses into places various administrations don’t want them to.

After haranguing Snowden for his careless exposure of the NSA’s internal workings, Liepman continues to believe the real issue is the government’s inability to control the narrative, although he phrases it a bit differently.

[T]he intelligence community — always a less sympathetic protagonist than a self-styled whistle-blower — actually has a good story to tell about how seriously the government takes privacy issues. We should tell it.

Go ahead. Tell it. But stop leaving out all the parts that undercut your narrative of good, honest spies protecting the nation and respecting the privacy of Americans. Frankly, the government doesn’t care about privacy issues until it’s forced to, and even then, it can barely work up the energy to address the concerns, much less right the wrongs.

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Comments on “CIA Veteran: Snowden Did Everything Wrong And The Government Respects Your Privacy”

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Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: No, he's RIGHT: "U.S. government" doesn't, but corporations DO!

Google tries to track everyone’s every click.

Oh for Pete’s sake, Blue. Give it a rest.

If it’s freaking you out so much that you need to yap and ankle-bite at every single article about this, power down your fucking computer forever and you’ll no longer have to worry about it.

Otherwise, pipe down please, because the grown-ups are trying to have discussion here.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: It bears repeating

The CIA was created through the Truman era.

The FBI was created around the time of Wilson.

The NSA also comes out of the Cold War era.

Quite frankly, we’ve gotten J. Edgar Hoover, Allen Dulles, Keith Alexander, and people like Hunt out of the deal.

They haven’t earned trust. They’ve targeted civilians for wanting a democracy.

I think it’s time to end all three.

Anonymous Coward says:

The thing about insulting the opposition is that it isn’t just a poor way to rebuild trust.

It’s an ad hominem logical fallacy. It’s attacking the person instead of their argument. That doesn’t fly in debate club. It doesn’t even fly on most of the internet. We label the people that engage in it flamers and trolls. In other words, they’re engaging in the sort of behavior that routinely gets people banned from internet forums. Yet somehow they expect us to take them seriously.

Lord Binky says:

The intelligence community is just like the security community in that possibilities take priority over probabilities.

Possibilities mindset: It could happen, do something about it.
Probabilities mindset: That is unlikely to happen, you don’t have to do anything about it.

It is very obvious they change to a probabilities mentality when it comes to the public they say they are protecting, which is just insulting. Their argument of ‘It is possible to catch terrorists doing this’ and ‘While it is possible the data could be used against anyone, it’s unlikely something bad will happen to anyone.’

How is anyone supposed to believe they are being protected when their protector puts them in more danger while protecting their self?

Anonymous Coward says:

Have another ‘click’ ootb for once again being off topic and trolling with another of your little pet peeves. Maybe one day you grow up and learn what topics are actually for.

The government is now suffering from that lack of trust it could not be bothered with addressing over the years. Face it, the only ones supporting the continued spying operations have vested interests in it continuing.

Hindsight is wonderfully 20/20. In this the citizens would probably have accepted the government’s word on how good spying was for you provided they had built up a bank of good trust to use. That’s not happened and the result is the more these people defend it, the more fishy it looks. It’s reached the point that you can believe nothing coming out in support. Everything looks like the nail to be hit with the one tool you have; the hammer.

Anonymous Coward says:

I certainly believe there are a lot of good people who work CIA, DoD, etc. There is not doubt in my mind.

The problem lies with the rogues who lack the oversight to prevent them doing whatever the hell they want.

Sadly your stark history of the CIA’s domestic activities doesn’t tell half the horrifying story of what bad men with authority but no oversight can do and have done.

DCX2 says:

Re: Re:

It’s not even the rogues that scare me. Rogues can be caught by audits.

What really scares me is the President bypassing the chain of command to find a low-level sycophant to do his bidding, bypassing that sycophant’s superiors. Because what good little worker bee wouldn’t love to get praise from the President himself for taking on a task so secret not even his superiors can know about it…

You know, like George Bush did to John Yoo in order to legalize torture. I’m sure any President could find some good little analyst who will push the buttons to give him what he wants (like, say, dirt on political opponents)

Anonymous Coward says:

any bets on what he has running through the middle? if you were to cut him open, i’ll bet it has something like ‘NSA’ or ‘Security’, maybe even ‘Obama’ in every slice. this type of person is so pathetic it’s unbelievable! they are also the first ones normally to grizzle when they learn that that everything said in the latest mail or message sent was noted for future reference!

crade (profile) says:

“Liepman repeatedly asserts that the CIA, NSA, etc. aren’t interested in anything other than the activities of terrorists, not the activities of non-terrorist Americans, but evidence continues to mount that shows this assertion JUST ISN’T TRUE. “

It’s the methods that are the problem anyway, not the goal. I believe they probably mostly only care about getting the terrorists, but when they are nuking your city to do it it’s kinda small comfort.

DCX2 says:

For little money?

Ha! Snowden was HIRED at $122,000 salary. That puts him in the 85th percentile of households all by himself. He’s about the 93rd percentile of individuals, in terms of income.

Please, Mr. Liepman, spare me the sob story about the poor little CIA spy who by himself only makes over 2x the median household income in the United States.

McCrea (profile) says:

They don't care about stupid shit?

I look at a lot of this from a viewpoint of precedence (IANAL)

What if they are only doing all this to fight terrorism? (which we know is false). Once terrorism is handled, they will move on to other matters to investigate.

What if they are only doing this to fight terrorism and drug trafficing? Once that subsides they’ll move on to other matters.

What if they are only doing this to fight terrorism, drugs, and crimes? After that’s tamed, they’ll move on to other matters.

Yea, now they report findings to DEA. And they’ll be finding stuff to report to IRS.

And if that doesn’t keep em busy, they’ll hop back to busting pokersites that allow American players. Or people exchanging music & videos. Or if an app logs us as “speeding”, maybe they can automate traffic tickets there to. (remember they used tom tom data to place speed traps.)

Yeah, we all cut corners and they’re going to fuck us over for whatever reason they can, sooner or later.

Sorry this wasn’t well written, but it’s not a rant.

Beech says:

I don't want Superman reading my emails.

I wasn’t going to comment on this post, but I figured out what was REALLY bugging me about it, so here I am. What really bugs me is this dude’s attitude. It is equal parts hubris and condescension.

And I’m not even talking about the ad homs. This guy believes, way deep down, that the American people are a bunch of babies to be guarded, and the only ones fit for the job are those brave, smart, handsome heroes of our government. This guy is SO convinced of what they are doing he finds it totally inconceivable that the children placed under his care could possibly take issue with his methods. Those that do are either rabble rousing possible-terrorists who are just totally unable to understand the way the world works, or those who really do agree with him, but they have been misled by the former group and all they need to see the light is to hear a pretty story from their protectors that glosses over all that nasty business.

So here is our hero and guardian, to sing us a soothing lullaby. Hush, children, there is nothing to see here. You can ignore the man behind the curtain, Sweetie. Go back to pretending that you didn’t hear how your every electronic communication is being combed through, just focus on how warm and SAFE your bed is.

Well, you know what? I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR VERSION OF THE STORY. The problem isn’t that the “narrative” has been hijacked by malcontents, the problem is that the narrative has to do with YOU IGNORING THE CONSTITUTION AND SPYING ON EVERYBODY. And it doesn’t matter how well-intentioned/ /highly intelligent/dedicated your group of under-paid working class heroes is, I wouldn’t want Superman to read my email, and I don’t want them to either.

And for the love of God, and all that is holy, please stop repeating the “We’re not looking” load of shit. “Oh yeah, we’re collecting every trace of every action you preform, but it’s ok, odds are good we aren’t going to care enough to look at it. The point is you have it in the first place. How would you feel if I was Professor X in Cerebro, easily able to kill or mind-read anyone on the planet at my whim (and also Cerebro has been modified to save everything that’s going on in case I need to take a better look later)? Would you feel warm and snuggly-secure in the fact that odds are I would NEVER take an interest in you, or would you be weirded the fuck out and demand it shut down?

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Excuses, Excuses

So now they’re going to try to work on the sob story angle: “We’re just ordinary people doing our jobs. You should see what we have to deal with!”

Yeah-right..I’m not going to feel sorry for a pack of office trolls telling each other “You should have read what I did….it was wicked cool..and nobody knows we were reading it!”

Sympathy is in very short supply for them. Tar and feathers are right around the corner. Between the lies, obfuscation and outright blame seeking, it’s getting very disgusting that these people are working on our dime.

In my part of the world I’d have been fired for being such an idiot.

Bill (profile) says:

we're supposed to be skeptical of the government

Quite a leap for this dude, who is part of a huge National Security machine to be arrogant enough to think he’s speaking for the integrity of the whole entity. Having seen what the IRS was just doing to targeted citizens (forget the party affiliation for the moment, they were _citizens_ vs. the Federal govt), and the NSA giving info to the DEA, that’s all that needs to be said. Today and maybe forever they don’t care about your call to Aunt Ethyl. But maybe Aunt Ethyl is in the Tea Party, or she’s in Detroit, 2x degrees of separation from a Kuwaiti “person of interest” in her neighborhood. Suddenly you and she are a few notches higher on the “pay attention to” scale, no longer about metadata, but the whole enchilada.

we’re only a ~250 yr old country and we’re already forgetting where we came from. We’re supposed to remain skeptical of our government and it is supposed to know and EXPECT that, as it is made up of…us. It would be nice to see that recognition from the govt and rather than saying “trust us”, say, “your skepticism is the best thing about this debate and the govt needs to back off a bit”.

Postulator (profile) says:

What’s really interesting about this whole NSA debacle is the bedfellows it brings together. The people who spend most of their time complaining about “big government” and decrying the state (Fox et al) are suddenly all “this is patriotic and is saving our country”.

Seriously, Fox – don’t drink that Koolaid (most of them won’t even get the reference).

It’s just incredible that anyone could believe the current protestations of innocence from NSA and friends – especially when you spend most of your time saying how terrible the guv’ment is, how its employees are all useless and how it wastes so much money.

This Guy says:

Pointing at the boogie man, and tweeting all about it

How wonderful it is to point at the big bad government and scream about shutting down the intelligence agencies. While we’re at it, we should probably shutdown the military as well. The military includes intelligence components.

Heck, while we’re at it let’s stop making GPS satellites because they can track where you are! Oh the boogy man is out there and he’s going to track where you go and who you talk to. Far more than the everyday tracking that takes place from commercial vendors right now. Cookie tracking in your browsers, GPS tracking on your phones, every word combed through by every free service you use (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc).

I find it hilarious that people will stand up and shout at the government but turn a completely blind eye to the same thing taking place by their “Free!” web service providers. One party is acting on a global scale to protect our way of life, the other is trying to profile everything about you and who you talk to find ways to make you buy their stuff better.

To those that would dismiss this argument because “we already accept that this happens”. Then I say, you’re a hypocrite, who is scared of what could be and is turning a blind eye to what is.

lays (user link) says:

I don't understand.

I don’t understand a lot of you; you wouldn’t want to be safe? I think this man has given us reliable and trust worthy information. Because our society is democratic I believe that Snowden?s actions were justifiable, yet inadequate. Though the government should not have concealed that they were viewing social devices and networks, I think Snowden?s release of the government?s misuse and abuse of it?s power is an acceptable thing to do. However, I do believe he released it in a dangerous manner. I also believe that what the government is doing is perfectly okay. It may be implied in the fourth amendment that that is not justifiable, but there is also the Patriot Act.(Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism). Which after 9/11 I think we can all agree we need to be more alert for these tragic events. They aren’t going through every email and text message. Besides, even if they were, if you have done nothing wrong, why should you worry?

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