Some of the most ardent defenders of our nation's
Skynet surveillance programs and other forms of cyber-overreach have one thing in common: they continue to belittle their opponents as a loose confederation of basement-dwelling loners who exist solely on The Internet. I'm sure this form of disparagement plays well with like-minded people who take comfort in belittling things they don't understand (anyone more than 5 years younger than them; The Internet; bitcoin exchange rates; bronies*).
[*TBH, I don't really understand the last two either. But I have yet to attack them purely out of naivete.]
Mike Rogers, best friend to intelligence agencies everywhere, has done this on more than one occasion. The first one he fired off during his impassioned defense of the indefensible CISPA bill, in which he referred to opponents of the bill (including the ACLU and EFF) as "14-year-olds in their basement clicking around on the internet."
In his recent impassioned defense of not cutting off funding to some of the NSA's surveillance efforts, Rogers returned to his favorite target.
Are we so small that we can only look at our Facebook likes today in this Chamber? Or are we going to stand up and find out how many lives we can save?
Now, it's former NSA director Michael Hayden's turn to call opposition to NSA spying nothing more than bunch of internet malcontents
. In his speech to the Bipartisan Policy Center, Hayden speculated that apprehending Ed Snowden could result in retaliatory attacks from "hackers and transparency groups."
"If and when our government grabs Edward Snowden, and brings him back here to the United States for trial, what does this group do?" said retired air force general Michael Hayden, who from 1999 to 2009 ran the NSA and then the CIA, referring to "nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven't talked to the opposite sex in five or six years".
Setting aside the point that transparency groups like the ACLU and EFF aren't comprised of malicious hackers, the insinuation that the opposition is largely comprised of sexless young adults is nothing short of insulting. It's this sort of attitude fosters the "us vs. them" antagonism so prevalent in these agencies dealings with the public. The NSA (along with the FBI, DEA and CIA) continually declares the law is on its side and portrays its opponents as ridiculous dreamers who believe safety doesn't come with a price.
By characterizing the opposition as social misfits, the NSA's supporters hope to sway public opinion back to its side. After all, who would Joe Public find better company: anarchist twenty-somethings, most of them desperately single, or the intelligence community, which may occasionally, inadvertently
overstep its bounds in its tireless quest to keep America safe?
Opposition properly belittled, Hayden went on to practically dare hackers to attack military sites -- and to equate their activities with terrorism.
"They may want to come after the US government, but frankly, you know, the dot-mil stuff is about the hardest target in the United States," Hayden said, using a shorthand for US military networks. "So if they can't create great harm to dot-mil, who are they going after? Who for them are the World Trade Centers? The World Trade Centers, as they were for al-Qaida..."
Hayden said that the loose coalition of hacker groups and activists were "less capable" of inflicting actual harm on either US networks or physical infrastructure, but they grow technologically more sophisticated. Echoing years of rhetoric that has described terrorists, Hayden added that their "demands may be unsatisfiable".
At this point, Hayden goes beyond insulting and into possibly dangerous territory by directly comparing "transparency groups" and "hackers" to al-Qaida terrorists. The best thing about this speech is knowing Hayden is still only a "former" head of the NSA. No doubt his words carry weight, but they're less likely to have a direct impact.
Reading Hayden's statements makes you wonder if those currently in the positions he formerly held also
believe "transparency groups" and "activists" are "terrorists." Hayden attempted to portray his discussion of possible cyber-attacks as "purely speculative" but by couching it in "activists=terrorists" rhetoric, he simply exposed how intelligence agencies view those who actively oppose their tactics.
The War on Terror is ridiculous enough without the specious addition of opponents of domestic surveillance and supporters of Snowden's whistleblowing to the "enemies" list. Hayden's mindset indicates there's an underlying tension that encourages intelligence agencies to view millions of Americans as latent threats simply waiting for something
to trigger their "terrorist" actions.