Keith Alexander: We Need More Spying In The Future Because All Of Our Previous Spying Has Only Increased The Number Of Terrorist Attacks
from the No-Such-Agency:-no-such-thing-as-'too-much-surveillance' dept
The New Yorker has published excerpts of a lengthy interview with retired NSA head Gen. Keith Alexander. Along with the usual defenses of the surveillance apparatus he ran for eight years (with his fiery "collect it all" attitude), Alexander makes the case for continued pervasive surveillance while admitting the last decade-plus of spying hasn't made the US -- or the world -- any safer.
[T]hink about how secure our nation has been since 9/11. We take great pride in it. It’s not because of me. It’s because of those people who are working, not just at N.S.A. but in the rest of the intelligence community, the military, and law enforcement, all to keep this country safe. But they have to have tools. With the number of attacks that are coming, the probability, it’s growing—Alexander says the world is less safe despite the NSA's nearly completely unchecked programs, but he still insists more spying will make us more safe. This follows shortly after Alexander rehashed the same, provably-wrong story that the nation's surveillance and investigative agencies simply didn't have enough "tools" to prevent the 9/11 attacks.
- I’m sorry, could you say that once more?
The probability of an attack getting through to the United States, just based on the sheer numbers, from 2012 to 2013, that I gave you—look at the statistics. If you go from just eleven thousand to twenty thousand, what does that tell you? That’s more. That’s fair, right?
- I don’t know. I think it depends what the twenty thousand—
—deaths. People killed. From terrorist attacks. These aren’t my stats. The University of Maryland does it for the State Department.
- I’ll look at them. I will. So you’re saying that the probability of an attack is growing.
The probability is growing. What I saw at N.S.A. is that there is a lot more coming our way. Just as someone is revealing all the tools and the capabilities we have. What that tells me is we’re at greater risk. I can’t measure it. You can’t say, Well, is that enough to get through? I don’t know.
And as for those ultra-scary terrorist attack numbers, a little context goes a long way. Marcy Wheeler at Emptywheel notes that these rising numbers are concentrated in the areas of the world where terrorist attacks are simply part of everyday life.
Although terrorist attacks occurred in 93 different countries, they were heavily concentrated geographically. More than half of all attacks (57%), fatalities (66%), and injuries (73%) occurred in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. By wide margin, the highest number of fatalities (6,378), attacks (2,495) and injuries (14,956) took place in Iraq.This isn't the US becoming less safe thanks to increasing terrorism. This is about areas of the world where the US has inserted itself -- via concentrated surveillance efforts, military intervention, drone strikes, etc. -- and managed to make the situation worse for the residents of those countries.
What Alexander points to as evidence that spying should continue unabated is actually an implicit admission that the War on Terror has been lost. This has been the nation's primary focus since 2001 and the number of violent acts only continues to increase. But Alexander feels these numbers point to a "failure" on the NSA's part -- but that "failure" is chalked up to a lack of "tools," rather than an admission that mass, untargeted spying is rarely useful.
Alexander bemoans the "harm" done by the Snowden leaks while simultaneously laying bare the failure of the US government to do anything more than exacerbate existing problems. He seems to think we're due for another attack. If the past is any indication, all the spying in the world won't prevent it. It didn't prevent the 2001 attack. And having every program in place, combined with a decade of technological advancements, didn't prevent the Boston Bombing.
If this seems worrying coming from someone who just exited the Head Spy job, just think about what this mindset means for Alexander's future endeavors. Here's Wheeler:
We shouldn’t be surprised that we’re losing a war fighting which Alexander was one of the longest tenured generals (though I don’t think he bears primary responsibility for the policy decisions that have led to this state). After all, last year, Alexander said that also under his watch, we had been plundered like a colony via cyberattacks. He seems to think he lost both the war on terror and on cyberattacks.
Which, if you’re invested in Wall Street, ought to alarm you. Because that’s where Keith Alexander is headed to wage war next.