Another Reason The NSA Needs To Go: It's Been Doing What It Explicitly Was Told Not To Do

from the there-needs-to-be-a-response dept

One of the key things that people quickly realized after last week’s revelation about the NSA putting backdoors into encryption, was that this was exactly what the federal government had tried to do with the Clipper Chip back in the 90s, and after a public debate, it was rejected. The battle over the Clipper Chip was one of the key legal/tech battles of the 1990s.

And then the NSA went and did it anyway.

Jack Shafer, over at Reuters, points out that there’s this pattern of the NSA not taking no for an answer, discussing the attempts to stop PGP and also the infamous Total Information Awareness program:

Zimmerman and his allies eventually won the PGP showdown, as did privacy advocates in the mid-1990s, defeating the government’s proposal for the “Clipper chip,” which would allow easy surveillance of telephone and computer systems, and again after 9/11, when Congress cut funding for the Defense Department office in charge of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, a massive surveillance database containing oceans of vital information about everybody in the United States.

But the journalistic record proves we can’t trust government’s white flag of surrender. In the case of TIA, the government abandoned the program’s name but preserved the operation, as Shane Harris and others reported seven years ago, giving it new code names and concealing it in places like the NSA. The documents Snowden stole from the NSA show the government capturing and analyzing much of what TIA sought in the first place.

Basically, this suggests that even if the NSA is told to stop doing the various things it’s doing, it’s only a matter of time until they do them anyway. One response to this — which many are taking seriously — is to look into re-architecting the internet to see what can be built, ground-up with security in mind, specifically making sure that the NSA can’t weasel its way in.

But there’s a separate issue as well. How do we stop basic government overreach after it’s been made clear that they don’t have a mandate to do what they’re doing? Yes, government officials and NSA defenders like to pretend that they did have a mandate here, and will point to the FISA Court or other aspects to argue that it’s perfectly fine — but when they’re explicitly doing exactly what they were denied a decade or more ago, those arguments ring hollow. But, if they’re allowed to get away with it, without any response, then they’ll never stop. No matter what they’re told not to do, they’ll just keep doing anyway, because what’s the worst that happens? People complain about it?

So it seems that there needs to be a very different system in place — on that involves real oversight, not the pathetic joke that is the Intelligence Committees of both houses of Congress and the FISA Court. And, frankly, it should be over a new organization. It seems clear at this point that you can’t reform the NSA. It’s rotten to its core. Yes, signals intelligence and other intelligence activities can be important and necessary, but it really seems like we need to breakup the NSA, and restructure the whole thing such that it can be built in a manner where there’s actual oversight, rather than having it do whatever it wants and pretending everything is fine any time anyone accuses them of anything.

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Comments on “Another Reason The NSA Needs To Go: It's Been Doing What It Explicitly Was Told Not To Do”

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RyanNerd (profile) says:

NSA - Tyranny exercised for the good of its victims

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron?s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.”
? C. S. Lewis

Joe Dirt says:

Re: NSA - Tyranny exercised for the good of its victims

This can be said for any number of issues present today… from the militant left that espouses tolerance, but only if you think like they do… to the religious right that looks down on the unbelievers with condemnation from their self-perceived moral high ground.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: NSA - Tyranny exercised for the good of its victims

Damn straight, Joe Dirt.

What annoys me the most is when people from either side get annoyed when I refuse to be co-opted, as if I have an obligation to join either of them. I don’t.

Perhaps we moderates ought to stand up and be counted instead of allowing ourselves to be marginalized by the extremists.

blaktron (profile) says:

As a Canadian, I will be pressuring my Member of Parliament to drop relations with the US as far as is practical and improve our relations with BRIC. Honestly, some American’s are up in arms over the destruction and surveillance your government has exported over the last 60 years, but we put the blame firmly at your feet too.

The American people have consistently refused to pull back their government, and as such are complicit in these activities. The next decade had better show significant change in your society or your children will find themselves excluded and ostracized from the growing global community that, as of now, you are not welcome in.

silverscarcat (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The next decade had better show significant change in your society or your children will find themselves excluded and ostracized from the growing global community that, as of now, you are not welcome in.

As an American, I honestly hope so.

It might quell the egos that the older generation “that knows better” has.

High Horse Kicker says:

Re: Response to: blaktron on Sep 10th, 2013 @ 9:43am

Canadian government is complicit as well. Think that border doesn’t have a fence for a reason? The Germans are in on it. British are too. So are the French, Kiwis, and Australians. Placing blame on one country just reveals your ignorance and fear – if people like you continue to think your country is a safe haven, that’s one more complacent good for nothing the global community does’t need.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve been saying on and off here that the NSA needs de-funding, it’s head senior staff removed, looked at for criminal charges, and independent investor called in (and not a feel good one either) to go over it with a fine toothed comb, and then see if there is anything worth salvaging from this mess.

It’s already a given that you are not going to get the truth out of those in charge. They’ve had too many opportunities to show they simply will not do it. There is no oversight and no control effective nor possible under these conditions. There is nothing to rein in the run-a-way train of the NSA. There’s no such animal as a no. Something they can not do by law. This has become more and more evident as time has gone by in all the exposures and revelations.

It’s simply time to remove this branch along with the TSA and possibly the HS branch. Total branches of government made mainly to spy and feel up the public in the guise of a security theater. Neither the TSA nor HS have yet to produce a real honest terrorist found inside the borders of the US on their own and have flubbed every chance at it they have gotten. They are boondoggles and nothing more.

Anonymous Coward says:

What a great system. They do what we don’t want. They are not arrested because they are above the law. We can’t sue them because we don’t have standing. We can’t fire them because they don’t actually work for us. We can’t elect them out of office because they are not elected in the first place and the politicians who are elected to represent our will are the ones who created the problem.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re:

Bismarck distrusted democracy and ruled through a strong, well-trained bureaucracy with power in the hands of a Junker elite representing the landed aristocracy in the east. –

Bismarck’s “answer” caused more problems than it solved. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Government should be by the people for the people, not by the landed aristocracy for an oligarchy, using war to keep the masses in a jingoistic fervor that stops them from thinking for themselves and questioning the status quo.

Bismarck’s answer is, “We have always been at war with East Asia.”

No thanks.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

…and while you’re at it, SHOW ME where in the constitution it says we can’t shove a red-hot poker in someone’s nostrils ! ! !

SPECIFICALLY, not some namby-pampy general proscription against torture or something,

NO, Red. Hot. Pokers. In. Your. Nose.
doesn’t say they can’t, does it ?
so that means they can…
check and mate…
ha ha ha

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Joe Dirt says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s right after the part about having too much money. You see, when you have too much money, it turns you into an evil person out to destroy or enslave everyone else. Unfortunately, they forgot to define what ‘too much’ is. Therefore anyone with more money that you is evil and must have their money ‘re-distributed’ for the good of all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The terrorists have won...

As of 9/11, we now have useless security at airports, unneeded inspections at border crossings, and now our own government is spying on us.

Yes, because that’s exactly what they set out to do, cause us some inconvenience and longer wait times… mustn’t forget only being allowed 100ml of liquids in my hand language. The end of civilization as we know it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They won't stop until something bites back.

A truly mass scale Occupy movement. It needs to get the average person involved, not just your hardcore protestors. Again, not just the US, but every single country that is involved in this, including the UK.

The movement can’t just fizzle out though, it needs to continue until true action has been taken.

Not that they will listen even if something like this did happen though… dictatorships never do…

Joseph Young says:

The dark, undemocratic heart

The intelligence services are the dark, undemocratic heart of every nation state. We might have thought that they behaved differently in a democratic country than in an undemocratic one, but the Snowden documents have shown that they are identical. It?s like the discovery that there?s a super-massive black hole at the heart of nearly every galaxy, even our own.

The difference in a democratic country is that that democracy acts as a containment vessel. It constrains the worst excesses. The intelligence services don?t routinely make the lives of vast swathes of the population a misery. They can do, and have done in other countries, in other times. We know that the containment isn?t perfect. For example, even in a democracy, law enforcement may use ?parallel (re)construction? of intelligence service evidence.

I?m sure many in the intelligence services will say that, just like those super-massive black holes, they are absolutely vital. That the nation state wouldn?t and couldn?t function unless they carry on just as they always have done. But, I agree with Mike that they need a complete restructuring.

In the past, society was regulated by a mixture of the collective sentiment of the village and extreme violence. This has been slowly replaced by the formal laws that we know today. Similarly, many countries have transitioned from autocracy to democracy. Although here you get a similar push back. Just as there are those who would claim that more openness is bad because it will result in a weaker intelligence service, there are those that claim that more democracy is bad because it results in a weaker government.

We need a final, third transition that reforms the intelligence and security services.

Anonymous Coward says:

and probably what it has been condemning others that have been doing the same thing, but not sharing results!
i dont think there is a single security agency that does what it is told it can do under the law, but then goes kicking and screaming into the dock when caught out! why is it that they have this opinion that they can do what they like, ignore what laws they like but then make such a big thing when someone else is caught doing the same thing? i know trying to deflect the blame can be self-preserving, but not for ever!!

Dave (profile) says:

Follow the Money

This situation bears all the earmarks of the cold-war era weapons programs. Somebody wants a bunch of money and convinces the Government to fund them on a development program. After a few successful demos, they get a contract for Billions.

Now someone wants a bunch of cash and convinces the Government we need to spy on everyone in the world. So they do a little research, devise a plan, and get the government to fund it. After a few successful demos, they get a contract for Billions to build many high-tech facilities. Problem is, eventually contracts get completed, the money tap turns off, and people start wanting another go at the trough. SO, they come up with ever more complicated and improbable scenarios to justify the spending that they have caused to happen by paying off the congresscritters that vote for it.

It may take a while, but eventually, perhaps with the assistance of folks like Snowden, the general public WILL wake up and put a stop to it. In the mean time, several corporations have raked in hundreds of billions building facilities and supplying equipment, which will, of course, become obsolete and need replacement – not to mention maintenance and personnel.

Who are these companies? How much have they taken in so far? How much have they paid out in “campaign contributions” and to whom? All of this should be public knowledge. Why are we not seeing the records? Answer these questions and we can start to get to the bottom of all of these boondoggles.

The only reason I can see for the lying and cheating is that too many people are making too much money to even think about stopping. Inquiring minds want to know.

Anon says:

“How do we stop basic government overreach after it’s been made clear that they don’t have a mandate to do what they’re doing?”

You reduce the size of government: Across the board!

First thing you have to do is cut the purse strings, no more direct taxation (IRS, individual income taxes, and 16th Amendment GONE). This would force the federal govt. to get back to its original mandate: International Trade, Treaties, and Defense.

No more overreaching federal programs that interfere with the individual or the state (that whole 10th Amendment thing).

Once you cut out the black morass that is the govt. funding it becomes much more accountable and transparent. Until you do that, govt will always find a way to ignore the will of the people.

People need to understand that the majority of those seeking power do so out of ego, they think they are above the law, that the end justifies the means. Any time you grant any measure of power to the govt. you better damn well be sure you have enough oversight into their activities to make sure they stay the course of original intent. Otherwise, they will do what all govts and corrupt authority has done since time began… consolidate power.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Simple solutions won't work.

You reduce the size of government: Across the board!

The notion that we are not capable of preserving a non-corrupt centralized government is at odds with the need to protect ourselves against organized military forces.

Allow for the taxation for the military and peacekeeping, and we will be ruled by the military and peacekeeping, and end up back in feudal rule, which is prone to corruption.

Disallow for the creation of centralized military, and we’ll be conquered by those nations who do, or by the elements, as a lack of social floor drives people to despair and crime.

What we’re seeing is a situation far more complicated than can be solved by the miniaturization (or dissolution) of government, just as it is too complicated to be solved by simply financing an agency to solve the problem.

This is going to take a more sophisticated answer than anarchist or 18th-century small government ideology.

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