It’s been a rough couple of weeks to be the National Security Agency. First, the Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald had the gall to publish a highly personal SECRET ruling from the deeply shy Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court ordering Verizon to hand over a daily log of phone metadata for all telephone calls.
Dick move, Glenn.
Intelligence agencies don’t deserve to have their court communiqués pawed through by every Hal and Nance across the country.
Greenwald didn’t even allow the egg on the NSA’s face to dry before ganging up again, jointly revealing with the Washington Post that the NSA’s PRISM program had negotiated direct access to data from Internet giants like Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple. If Glenn hadn’t ruined the fun, PRISM was going to start sucking up Dropbox data, too, in the next few months.
The President, the NSA, and every member of Congress (who were all reportedly briefed on both programs) were just waiting to tell us about PRISM on April 12, 2038, when the whole thing would have been declassified anyway.
But Glenn and WaPo, apparently, don’t have fifteen years to wait to open our top-secret presents.
So now many leaders in Washington, DC are understandably frustrated by the leak, which Director of National Intelligence James Clapper bravely pouted was “reprehensible.” Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, reminded reporters at a Thursday press conference that what so many of her constituents were incorrectly pronouncing as “domestic surveillance” is properly “called ‘protecting America.’”
Unused to so much feedback and oversight, the NSA is struggling to combat such vicious rumors based in nothing other than its own internal documents.
Things have gotten so bad that the agency’s spokesperson, Judith Emmel, has called for a timeout to cool off:
“The continued publication of these allegations about highly classified issues, and other information taken out of context, makes it impossible to conduct a reasonable discussion on the merits of these programs.”
How in the name of all that is holy and nationally secure are we supposed to have a measured, even-keel discussion now that more facts are out on the table?
Greenwald and his fellow malcontents in the adversarial press have taken what was previously a tidy, monochrome debate and mucked it all up with their grayscale disclosures.
Why can’t we all just get back to the simple days, like, say March 12, 2013? When directly asked “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” while under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee, NSA Director Clapper answered:
“No, sir. Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, but no, not wittingly.”
Well there we had it, reasonable discussion complete, because the program doesn’t exist! So far as we knew—with the sworn assurance of the head of the NSA himself—there was no shit to sully our fans. As the President himself reminded us, our country absolutely has to make tradeoffs between liberty and security. And the only viable way any advanced representative democracy can hope to make those kinds of calls is to perjure that confidently pretend the issue doesn’t exist at all, then let leaders do the tough decision-making without the mess of public scrutiny.
So uniform was the public’s agreement that such surveillance by the NSA was A-OK that, to Senator Saxby Chambliss’s knowledge, “there has not been any citizen who has registered a complaint” about phone record collection arrangements like Verizon’s. Seven years without a single complaint!
It’s as if it were all happening without the public’s knowledge.
To be fair, Glenn Greenwald isn’t the first or only person to take aim at the NSA’s tactics. Nor is Edward Snowden the first to former employee to go public with indiscriminate truthhoods about the agency. People have been picking on the NSA this way for years, micro-critiquing total non-issues like billions of dollars wasted on bogus data-mining software. We can only hope that the Prez ruins Mr. Snowden’s life in the same way his DOJ brought hellfire down on Thomas Drake, whose Espionage Act prosecution (one of just four such trials ever) came after Mr. Drake tried a mere three years to use official whistleblower channels to voice concerns about NSA actions.
Naughty Edward, on the other hand, didn’t even try using these same complaint channels before skipping off to Hong Kong for a lifetime (or shorter) of looking over his shoulder and begging Iceland for asylum.
Just because these whistleblower mechanisms and protections failed such a high-ranking executive as Mr. Drake, a lowly NSA Technical Director who testified before Congress on these matters, doesn’t excuse Edward’s impatience to reap the intense personal gains of lifetime isolation and a global manhunt.
Cooler, nicer heads agree: we should cut the NSA a break. Even still, curmudgeons like Drake are saying the NSA is still lying, and that the agency’s new superdatabase in Utah will be filled with unfathomable volumes of data on virtually all Americans. Pish posh!
With the harrowing, hellish time the NSA and its leaders have faced lately, I, for one, see no reason not to give them all the benefit of every doubt.