Former NSA Boss: Mass Surveillance Is Very Important, But Perhaps NSA Should Stop Lying About It

from the baby-steps dept

The Guardian has an interesting interview with former NSA boss Bobby Ray Inman, who argues in favor of broad NSA surveillance efforts, but does feel that perhaps the federal government should, you know, stop lying about it:

In an extensive interview, Inman, a legendary NSA director, strongly defended the agency’s bulk surveillance of phone records and internet communications, and criticized members of Congress who want to restrict it as ignorant of the way the programs operate.

But he also warned that intelligence officials have an obligation to tell the truth about surveillance in their public statements.

Well, as they say: baby steps, right? Yes, let’s start by telling the truth, and then perhaps we can have an honest and open debate about what’s going on.

Of course, some of Inman’s claims just come across as silly:

“I would urge that if you’re going to do that, [you have to] look at privacy issues in the private sector, not just the government. I personally find it offensive that it’s fine for X corporation to have everything on you but not the government to know. That’s a basic don’t-trust-your-government argument, which I think erodes democracy.”

There are some pretty big differences. When you share information with a corporation, that’s your choice, not the government’s — and it often involves an exchange of values. You provide some attention, information or data, and they give you information or something else of value in response. It’s an exchange. A voluntary one. When the government swoops in and just collects all that data it’s quite different.

Oh yeah, also, there’s this: the companies don’t have a police force and an army with guns, nor prisons in which to lock you up. The government does. That kind of makes a big difference.

As for “don’t trust your government,” well, it would be a hell of a lot easier if the government actually deserved our trust. Yes, it erodes democracy when we can’t trust our government, but there’s a reason we can’t trust our government, and it’s not because “X corporation” doesn’t want to share its users’ information with the government.

Inman also insists that Congress has the ability to understand what’s going on with the NSA, totally ignoring the fact that House Intelligence Committee boss specifically has blocked access to information from those who requested it and, much worse, chose to withhold pertinent information from Congress prior to a vote on re-approving the FISA Amendments Act, despite the strong urging from the White House that the information be widely shared with elected officials. Inman pretends none of that happened:

Inman criticized legislative skeptics of the bulk surveillance – who came close in the House of Representatives in July to ending NSA’s bulk collection of American phone records – as intentionally and self-servingly ignorant.

“The current process would allow the doubters within the government, those who are members of Congress, to know what’s what. They don’t want to spend the time,” Inman said.

While Inman said he had “enormous admiration for Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers,” the intelligence committee leaders in the Senate and House, both of whom strongly support the bulk surveillance, he said he had “no sympathy for any member of Congress who says they’re uninformed or didn’t understand.

He has no sympathy even when information was deliberately withheld from them? And when they did seek it out they were denied? Really?

All in all the interview is pretty weak, but at least he’s willing to admit that lying to Congress is a mistake.

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Comments on “Former NSA Boss: Mass Surveillance Is Very Important, But Perhaps NSA Should Stop Lying About It”

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28 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Problem, meet reason:

‘That’s a basic don’t-trust-your-government argument, which I think erodes democracy.”

So he’s worried that people don’t trust the government and what it says, wonder why that could be?

‘But he also warned that intelligence officials have an obligation to tell the truth about surveillance in their public statements.

Oh, right.

When government agencies see nothing wrong with lying to the people who are supposed to oversee them and make sure they don’t get out of hand, and such thinking is found throughout the government, kinda hard to trust anything they say.

silverscarcat (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The NSA could argue that they give you something of value in exchange – security.

The “security” that the NSA offers is the same level of security as a mob boss offers to a store owner.

In fact, I think I’d feel safer with the mob boss. At least they won’t wreck your store if you pay. The NSA gets paid and they still wreck your stuff.

Anonymous Coward says:

“There are some pretty big differences. When you share information with a corporation, that’s your choice, not the government’s… A voluntary one. When the government swoops in and just collects all that data it’s quite different.”

In light of the newest leak I fail to see any difference…

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/02/nsa-dea-at-t-call-records-access

The gov’t takes what they want from the corporations anyway, with some (AT&T) offering it for a price. I NEVER volunteered for that… and if they’re holding onto data for 25 years I think it’s time for a data retention law, don’t you? Is anyone here the same person they were 25 years ago?

Anonymous Coward says:

“I personally find it offensive that it’s fine for X corporation to have everything on you but not the government to know. That’s a basic don’t-trust-your-government argument, which I think erodes democracy”

Democracy is about having the choice whether you want to share your information with the government. When they just take it, that’s fascism.

Nicholas Weaver (profile) says:

He IS right on private surveilance...

The private company surveillance is out of control. Facebook and Google record almost every web page you visit (Yes, Facebook LIKEs your taste in porn) thanks to those ubiquitous trackers and advertisers. Data brokers collect information, resell it, repackage it, data mine it, and do all sorts of other skivvy things with it.

The private spying is ALMOST as out of control as what the NSA is doing, and also needs to stop.

out_of_the_blue says:

Whatever you "share" with a corporation the gov't gets LEGALLY!

Corporatist Mike still doesn’t grasp this point even though his precious Google emphasized it in court. Why would you NOT object to corporate spying that will be sold to the gov’t?

Note Mike’s concern that “good” spying by corporations not be lumped in with “bad” spying by gov’t. Actually there’s no separation between the entiites, but Mike tries…

Mike trots out the hackneyed lie that corporations only get information when you voluntarily give it. That’s trivially not true: for instance, you can’t avoid Google’s spying, its code is all over the web, including right here on Mike’s page to gather identifying info and plant tracking cookies.

Inman’s notions are also consistent with the whole Snowden flap being a limited hangout psyop: this is just more of the accustoming, as if we’ll be less controlled if the NSA will only be honest that they’re tracking all we do.


The phony deal that evil people (and gullible fools) try to force on us: You can’t have the benefits of technology unless give up all privacy.

ottermaton (profile) says:

Re: Whatever you "share" with a corporation the gov't gets LEGALLY!

Note Mike’s concern that “good” spying by corporations not be lumped in with “bad” spying by gov’t. Actually there’s no separation between the entiites, but Mike tries…

Actually, you just fail to comprehend (as usual):

… the companies don’t have a police force and an army with guns, nor prisons in which to lock you up. The government does. That kind of makes a big difference.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Whatever you "share" with a corporation the gov't gets LEGALLY!

Needless to say, supporting copyright overreach isn’t corporatist at all, even though only corporations really benefit from it, as they get the money before the creator does. Even then, the creator only makes a good amount of money if their work is popular. If not, it’s not much use to them.

John says:

Democracy demands that you don’t trust the government.

Complete and utter trust will ensure that nothing ever changes, and that elected officials will be given free reign to do the very things we see them doing, eroding citizen rights. All under the mantra, “If you’ve got nothing to hide.”

If you trust your elected official completely, why ever question the need to elect someone else?

Society then enters a state of status quo where nothing ever changes.

Jim D (profile) says:

This is (somewhat) the view I have had on this form the beginning– a view that I don’t hear that often, perhaps because out 30-second soundbite news culture doesn’t handle nuance very well… In any case:

I don’t mind the actual data-mining– techniques that require large amounts of data to implement– and many of the specific programs we have read about. However, what I find horrifying is the deep-state secrecy and deception. Secret laws, secret courts, secret interpretations to known laws, along with lies about all of this when it comes out, lies to (and by) the congressional members who are tasked with oversight, and so on.

Further, I recognize that mine is not the only opinion. That many other people have differing views on the propriety of these programs, and that implementation of these programs should therefore be subject to the deliberative process of congressional approval and judicial adjudication. And finally, if approved at all, subject to strong & independent oversight. None of which has happened.

Shon Gale (profile) says:

The more you spy on me the more I will speak in code and only to friends that know the code. Everyone else will be an enemy and will be treated as such. With hostility. I promise to curse at my government daily through my phone, they will hear me. I promise to call those that are listening nasty names to their faces. Or in other words. I also promise to curse AT&T daily for the traitors they are. Strike a blow to freedom, cancel AT&T.

Jim D (profile) says:

This is (somewhat) the view I have had on this form the beginning– a view that I don’t hear that often, perhaps because out 30-second soundbite news culture doesn’t handle nuance very well… In any case:

I don’t mind the actual data-mining– techniques that require large amounts of data to implement– and many of the specific programs we have read about. However, what I find horrifying is the deep-state secrecy and deception. Secret laws, secret courts, secret interpretations to known laws, along with lies about all of this when it comes out, lies to (and by) the congressional members who are tasked with oversight, and so on.

Further, I recognize that mine is not the only opinion. That many other people have differing views on the propriety of these programs, and that implementation of these programs should therefore be subject to the deliberative process of congressional approval and judicial adjudication. And finally, if approved at all, subject to strong & independent oversight. None of which has happened.

Someone Who Cant Choose says:

I actually disagree with Mike on this on. I don’t think we rewlly have much of a choice when companies want to gather data on us online. Internet usage and social media are increasingly neccessary in the work environment. Many companies actively use things like twitter and facebook, and many interview processess look at how socially connected people are. Its getting (gotten?) to the point that you cant just avoid giving out information about yourself somehow and still be considered a good hire. It’s not really a ‘choice’ anymore for a great many people.

Anonymous Coward says:

So someone in the high end of security has finally figured out that lying to the public has totally undercut any and all trust the public had that the government is doing. That enough cause has been raised and enough questions remain that haven’t been answered and have totally been given lies about that now there is a good chance that congress is under pressure to end funding.

They are not worried about anything other than their precious programs and their own hides.

Sorry this is much, much, too little much much too late for damage recovery. I’m pissed, just like Senator Udall said the public would be. I don’t want to see this mass spying trimmed back on the public. I want to see it is ended. Period. This rabid Neo Con inspired and continued spying all out of proportion to what was ever needed has to come to an end. It’s over and there is no excuse good enough to cover what they have been doing.

There is no coverup sufficient to make it better. There is no need of any more lying. The public gets. No truth is ever going to come from the security side and none is going to come from the executive branch. Nothing can be believed including make believe feel good investigations. Since the truth is known that they will all lie, nothing coming from that end will ever now be understood to be anything other than lies.

End it. Yesterday would have been a good day to do it.

Anonymous Coward says:

“When you share information with a corporation, that’s your choice, not the government’s.”

No, it isn’t, most of the time. Where do all the records on my credit report come from? I didn’t volunteer that info to the credit reporting agencies. Sometimes companies resell that information for their own benefit and not mine.

I don’t volunteer data to Google or Amazon on my browsing history. In fact I try my damnest to keep info from them, and they still get it.

What we need is the EU’s data privacy directive.

JTReyn (profile) says:

Soon on video: "SPIES GONE WILD"

Inman thinks if NSA stops lying to America, then it’s OK to collect private data on US citizens. After all, “We’re hunting terrorists. We don’t need no stinking 4th Amendment.”

This is all about “SPIES GONE WILD.” But don’t wait for the video. We’ve got take matters into our own hands to protect what little of our privacy remains. Start using encryption for browsing, text messages and phone calls. Then take everything off DropBox, Instagram, iCloud, etc and stash it all in a Cloudlocker (www.cloudlocker.it) which works just the same but stays in the house where they still need a warrant to get inside.

MikeW_CA (profile) says:

Strong oversight needed

A shark doesn’t eat people because it’s evil, a shark eats people because it’s a shark. The head of a secret surveillance agency doesn’t destroy constitutional liberties because he’s evil, he destroys our constitutional liberties because he’s leading a secret surveillance agency.

This interview proves it. They’re all the same. NSA people believe it’s their job to spy, and they’re going to do their job with efficiency and enthusiasm. They CANNOT regulate or restrain themselves, we have to put strict mechanisms in place to make sure the law and the Constitution are obeyed, and we must make sure there are sufficient consequences when they are not AT EVERY LEVEL.

We should have an independent National Security Oversight Commission to perform this function, since our corrupt, revolving-door Congress has proven itself incapable of doing it on its own.

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