Sunday, July 14, 2013

Distorted Picture: NSA Surveillance Powers Expand as Data Escapes with Edward Snowden

Is NSA surveillance expanding to an increasingly wider range of personal data just to see it turned over to foreign intelligence agencies by the likes of Edward Snowden?

As reported in a New York Times article on July 6:

“The nation’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has quietly created a secret body of law expanding the National Security Agency’s power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in espionage and cyberattacks.”

On the one hand, it might look like the FISA court is allowing more personal surveillance for the sake of national security. But does this kind of rationalization make sense when we look at the massive data misappropriation by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden?

A quick recap: thousands of NSA documents were reportedly whisked from a secure NSA facility in Hawaii when Snowden worked for Booz Allen. Even though only a recent hire, Snowden was granted special system access privileges that allowed him to download top-secret NSA information. Snowden then feigned illness and took leave, then fled to Hong Kong with sensitive computer equipment and at least one removable storage drive in his possession.

It’s been widely assumed by the U.S. intelligence community that the Chinese took advantage of his laptops during his stay to take more than a peek at the data he had brought with him.

Though I almost hate to say this, if Snowden can accomplish this feat so readily, is it really a stretch to wonder if other NSA employees might be doing the same, selling intelligence booty to a foreign intelligence service rather than going on British television? No, a stretch it is not.

So where does this twisted path leave us?

Unfortunately for our national security, it leaves us here:

Why is it such personal surveillance information supposedly so valuable that its need to be gathered cannot be revealed, but the gathered data itself is not valuable enough to protect?

Incensed yet? Read it a second time.

Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, was non-committal when pressed at a Senate hearing in June to make public at least some version of the FISA court’s decisions: “I don’t want to jeopardize the security of Americans by making a mistake in saying, ‘Yes, we’re going to do all that.’”

So Gen. Alexander can’t – or won’t – speak. But Edward Snowden can – and will. And ironically, both men possess information enabled by the same secret court process.

The NSA is stomping its feet because Snowden has their information. But whose fault is it that the information was compromised in the first place?

Given this picture, does it really make sense for NSA surveillance efforts to expand to include yet more of our personal data? You decide.


("No Signal" image: Keattikorn/

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