Bruce Schneier has yet another interesting article over at The Atlantic, in which he notes that the only real way for the NSA to regain trust is to get in front of the coming leaks by finally opening up
. He makes a compelling case. First off, every time the NSA has tried to defend various leaks, its defenses have been shown to be lies or, at the very least, misleading, just days later. This is, in large part, because it still doesn't seem to have any idea what Snowden took
. And in its usual fashion, it seems to hope that if it just keeps lying, or redefining words, that it will be able to get away with keeping stuff hidden. But that's clearly not working, and the public has pretty much lost all trust. The only real way to deal with that is to finally be honest for once. That doesn't mean making everything public
, but having someone who can look through everything and see what's really going on.
It's time to start cleaning up this mess. We need a special prosecutor, one not tied to the military, the corporations complicit in these programs, or the current political leadership, whether Democrat or Republican. This prosecutor needs free rein to go through the NSA's files and discover the full extent of what the agency is doing, as well as enough technical staff who have the capability to understand it. He needs the power to subpoena government officials and take their sworn testimony. He needs the ability to bring criminal indictments where appropriate. And, of course, he needs the requisite security clearance to see it all.
We also need something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where both government and corporate employees can come forward and tell their stories about NSA eavesdropping without fear of reprisal.
Now, obviously, some will claim that there's so much the NSA does that needs to be kept secret -- and, that's true. Except for one little tidbit: Ed Snowden already walked out the door with much of this stuff and gave it to reporters. Meaning that most of it isn't likely to be kept secret very long. And that's why this is the only reasonable course of action, even if it goes against the NSA's general DNA.
Yes, this will overturn the paradigm of keeping everything the NSA does secret, but Snowden and the reporters he's shared documents with have already done that. The secrets are going to come out, and the journalists doing the outing are not going to be sympathetic to the NSA. If the agency were smart, it'd realize that the best thing it could do would be to get ahead of the leaks.
The result needs to be a public report about the NSA's abuses, detailed enough that public watchdog groups can be convinced that everything is known. Only then can our country go about cleaning up the mess: shutting down programs, reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act system, and reforming surveillance law to make it absolutely clear that even the NSA cannot eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant.
In many ways, this is like the difference between real security and security by obscurity. If the NSA is confident in what it's doing and why it's necessary, it should be able to come out and show what's really happening, and the public can take an educated position on whether or not it's appropriate.