Despite Growing Evidence of NSA's Omnipresence, State Dept. Hands Off 'Anti-Surveillance' Tech To Syrian Rebels
from the it's-the-thought-that-counts,-I-guess... dept
The government, at least some part of it, is out there trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, a very powerful and influential part of the government is currently entangled in a few decades’ worth of doing the wrong thing. DJ Pangburn, writing for Vice, details the “stark irony” of the government (namely, the State Dept.) handing off “anti-surveillance” technology to Syrian rebels, as if completely unaware of the NSA’s globetrotting surveillance efforts and attacks on anything that might keep data out of its hands.
Now, the US State Department, through the Office of Syrian Opposition Support (OSOS), is once again publicly touting its delivery of hardware and software solutions to Syrian rebels. In total, $25 million is being dumped into the Syrian revolution for this purpose via the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization. State Department Internet Freedom Grants are also doled out to software developers interested in helping dissidents worldwide. And, according to Time magazine, the US is even teaching dissidents communication security by way of non-profits such as the Institute for War & Peace Reporting and Freedom House…
The irony of the US government’s anti-surveillance efforts in Syria, as it defends its NSA surveillance programs in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks, should not be lost on anyone. But, hell, maybe we should be encouraged that at least some of the world’s population should be free of Big Brother’s prying eyes.
The government is too cursed with a career bureaucrat’s lack of self-awareness to recognize the irony of its efforts. All that matters is that the paperwork’s in order. “Snoop-proof” tech is being requisitioned with the left hand while the right hand installs backdoors before it’s boxed up and shipped. The dissonance of this act would be jarring, except for the fact that the president himself claims he’s getting most of his NSA info secondhand — from the press rather than from security briefings. The government strives to be all things to all people but is prevented from rising above “useless” by the counterproductive desires of its internal masters.
The State Dept. wants to help but it’s handing off equipment that may prevent the rebels’ opposition from listening in, but won’t keep the NSA out. That’s the price you pay for foreign government handouts — you’re now allies and being friends means doing lots and lots of sharing. The US government wants those it supports to stay alive and healthy, and that means handing out technology that can’t be easily subverted by its enemies. But if our intelligence agencies have left open holes to sneak their tendrils in (zero day exploits, for instance), then no technology is truly secure — what can be exploited by us can be exploited by others.
Beyond these sharp contrasts lies a question that needs to at least be asked, never mind answered.
The main issue here is one of principle. How can the US government so publicly support anti-surveillance technologies abroad, while carrying out programs like the NSA’s PRISM on a global scale?
No one wants to answer this question. No one who has sincerely offered anti-surveillance tech in the past wants to hear the answer. The answer means the efforts were meaningless.
The government can publicly support anti-surveillance abroad because it’s listening to everyone. We’re Good Guy America, handing out anti-snooping tech to our “allies,” a relatively meaningless word as regime changes and shifting allegiances continually blur the line between friends and enemies. We’re not completely evil. We want our guys to win.
And so we give them pre-compromised tech and a hearty thumbs-up. If one warring faction can keep another locked out of the communication loop, good for them. It’s a small victory for that group in that location, entirely limited to that particular instance. Overall, it’s a loss. Those we support can thwart their enemies, but not us. Not if we’re handing out the tech. And if we listen in on our allies, who could blame us? After all, we set them up with tools, training and technology. The least they can do is allow us to pick up on the party line.