Former NSA Director On Privacy Vs. Security Balance: Would 'Shave Points' Off Effectiveness For 'Public Comfort'
from the meeting-the-public-halfway...-to-a-couple-of-percentage-points dept
The administration, various members of Congress and heads of security agencies all agree: there must be a balance between security and privacy. The defenders of the NSA's actions all seem to agree the balance should swing heavily in the favor of 'security.' Obviously, many of our nation's citizens (and now, many citizens of our allies' nations) disagree.
Obama has said that he "welcomes the debate" on these issues, but so far has done little to dispel the notion that "debate" is just administration-specific slang for "regurgitate talking points and safety v. privacy platitudes."
Does the NSA welcome this debate? It's highly doubtful it even considers there to be room for argument, much less be willing to cede ground to privacy concerns. Every bit of data harvesting and surveillance makes everyone that much "safer," according to its claims. Surely the security of the American people (and the agencies themselves) is more important than the comfort level of the public.
Former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden certainly believes it is. But unlike the current head of the NSA, Hayden is willing to tweak the all-important balance if that will make everyone a tiny bit happier.
Today on Face the Nation, former CIA and National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden was talking to Bob Schieffer about the most recent round of surveillance revelations. Schieffer said it sounded like Hayden thought maybe the government should go public with at least some of the information it’s been keeping secret. Hayden’s reply:Perhaps Hayden's more willing to "shave points" now that he's no longer in the position to make that call. Anyone can cede anything in a hypothetical situation. It's rather telling that so little is being hypothetically ceded, post facto.
"Here’s how I do the math. I’m willing to shave points off of my operational effectiveness in order to make the American people a bit more comfortable about what it is that we’re doing."
Hayden had much more to say in his Face the Nation interview, most of which sounds like he'd rather still be in the thick of it at the NSA and CIA. He addresses the European reaction to news that the US has been surveilling our overseas allies by deflecting the argument in two different directions.
"Any European who wants to go out and rend their garments with regard to international espionage should look first and find out what their own governments are doing," Hayden said. "Let's keep in mind that in a global telecommunications infrastructure, geography doesn't mean what it used to mean. ...The Internet lacks geography, so I wouldn't draw any immediate conclusions with regard to some of those numbers that have been put out there as to who's being targeted and who isn't."1. It's OK because everyone else is doing it.
2. It's OK because technology has rendered borders and other geographic designations meaningless.
First, even if everyone else is spying on everyone else, it still doesn't make it acceptable. It just makes everyone look equally bad. And while it may be commonplace behavior for the world's spy agencies, it's hardly going to help smooth things over for the NSA, or the USA, for that matter. As for the second deflection, Hayden seems to be saying that the NSA's actions occur neither at home nor abroad since it relies heavily on internet and telephone surveillance. This allows the terms "domestic" and "foreign" to be used interchangably at the agency's convenience.
Unsurprisingly, Hayden also feels Snowden isn't being pursued aggressively enough.
"The president is trying to limit diplomatic, and perhaps even political, damage. But the leadership of the American intelligence community has caused damage from these leaks so far - and it's very clear there's going to be some more here - so far have been significant and irreversible. That's a big deal."I have no doubt the damage is "significant and irreversible" but I'm pretty sure Hayden and I would disagree on what's been damaged. If it's the reputation of these agencies, the administration and the US in general, then yes, the damage is significant and irreversible. If it's our safety/security/anti-terrorism efforts, then I have my doubts, especially as many of these leaks indicate the NSA's actions are nothing more than wholescale surveillance deployed whenever and wherever possible. There's very little that indicates a targeted approach to fighting terrorism.
Some may construe Hayden's point shaving as a gesture (albeit meaningless in his position) towards openness, but it simply follows the administration's attitude towards transparency: make big promises, deliver next to nothing, and when it comes to privacy vs. security, give the public an inch while the agencies roll up the miles.