Thursday, October 31, 2013

BBC: NSA Pathetic Giant That Can't Keep a Secret

I found it interesting that National Security Agency spymasters pleaded ignorance in front of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, saying they didn't understand their agency's activities well enough to precisely describe them to the judges, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Since Edward Snowden -- who I would call a traitor not a whistle-blower -- escaped with the digital equivalent of truckloads of NSA secrets, the agency has seemed more feeble than omnipotent.

 "I cannot help wondering if the NSA is as powerful as its critics have claimed, why has it been so useless at protecting its secrets," writes Mark Urban, the diplomatic and defense editor for the BBC's Newsnight program.

Good point.

Despite its global eavesdropping capabilities the NSA is apparently helpless in silencing Snowden and his confederates.

No worm viruses have been unleashed against the computer systems of newspapers that have revealed U.S. secrets. No applications for court orders have been filed to block further disclosures. And – as far as is known – no missions have been launched to retrieve the stolen material or silence their owners, Urban writes.

Reaction comes only after the damage is done: Bradley Manning being prosecuted and sentenced to a long period of incarceration for providing classified material to Wikileaks, for example. In contrast, according to Urban, British intelligence has been more robust in its response to the exposure of secrets – watching as journalists destroyed computers at London's Guardian newspaper, and searching  the partner of Glenn Greenwald – one of Snowden key enablers – at Heathrow Airport.

British newspapers have widely ignored a "D-Notice" or Defense Advisory issued to restrain publication of the Snowden material. American authorities have not even bothered to try. "There have been no US legal attempts to force journalists to destroy or turn over what they have," according to Urban.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif), one of NSA's most consistent defenders on Capitol Hill, appears to have lost patience with the agency and is calling for a "major review into all intelligence-collection programs," according to the Journal.
"We're really screwed now," one NSA official told Foreign Policy magazine. "You know things are bad when the few friends you've got disappear without a trace in the dead of night and leave no forwarding address."

I'm not suggesting that the US security establishment does not need civilian oversight. And I am not convinced the Obama administration is managerially capable of providing that oversight. At the same time, friends of democracy need to be more careful in their criticism.

You don't want to go to the opposite extreme and make it impossible for the intelligence community to do what needs to be done. 

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