The accusations of domestic spying by the National Security Agency are serious and disturbing. Most people realize the scope of the problem, and are not assuaged by a “trust me” attitude by the government. Frankly, with the Obama Administration, that is more understandable than ever. But in the case of NSA allegedly spying on American citizens, there are significant points that need discussion.
Consider what we know about Edward Snowden; his background, his curious movements before and after the leaks and, most importantly, his choice of refuge. Edward Snowden has told multiple lies in his interviews. He claims he had access to the name of every NSA employee and everyone in the US intelligence community as well as every foreign operation that the United States is now running and its purpose. Snowden was a contractor as part of Eagle Alliance, a consortium of companies hired by NSA to conduct “Non-Mission IT.” That means he did NOT have the accesses he claims. He lied. Might a liar also commit forgery? Espionage?
I will also reiterate a point made in Part 1; considering the hundreds of thousands of people who have worked for or with NSA or been privy to its operations in the last 61 years, why is it that so tiny a fraction of people have publicly “exposed” what they consider to be questionable practices? I can say with certainty it’s not because of political agenda or fear of reprisal. Those who have come forward do so under sketchy circumstances and/or have personal issues that make their claims questionable.
For years, China has been attacking U.S. computer systems: government, corporate, industrial and academic. That the Chinese have been waging cyber war against the United States and other western countries is not debatable. NSA, with its Director, General Keith Alexander leading the charge, has publicly warned Congress and American corporations about the very real damage China has been and will continue to inflict on our national information systems. As I also wrote in Part 1, “the People’s Republic of China fears the National Security Agency far more than they do our nuclear arsenal.“
What better way to marginalize the NSA threat to China’s cyber offensive than to create a domestic hostility for the agency? Using an “insider” to claim NSA is reading American’s emails and listening to their phone calls, a public backlash against NSA can be fashioned that would turn very shade of the political spectrum against it. That is precisely what has happened. Score for China.
The Right considers this another Obama grab for our freedom and the Left, well, the Left just hates anything related to intelligence and protecting the security of the country. Another score for China.
And Snowden’s revelations coming at the same time as President Obama’s summit with President Xi cannot be reasonably considered a coincidence. Three to nothing, Peoples Republic of China.
The resultant investigations, hearings, legislation, media bashing and general public suspicion could severely hamper the most powerful cyber force in the world. And if it meant the firing of or resignation by General Alexander, all the better. Since the position of Director of NSA, who is also Commander of U.S. Cyber Command, is nominated by the President of the United States, a gun-shy and administratively incompetent Barack Obama would no doubt select as Alexander’s replacement someone likely to lead the agency on an all-too cautious and ineffective path. Gooooooal China.
NSA AND THE LAW
Believing the current prevailing spin relies on an assumption that NSA violates an inbox full of laws. No matter what some may think, that doesn’t happen. There are very strict – VERY STRICT – procedures in place and enforced to prevent illegal actions. The sanctity of the Fourth Amendment is paramount at NSA. It is drilled into every employee from the first day on the job and repeatedly thereafter. NSAers are required to review legal procedures and protocols every year and reminders of the agency’s commitment to the law from the Director and other leaders are routine.
The law is not a cavalier concept nor is it paid lip service at the National Security Agency. But that assertion will not convince the conspiracy-minded or those with political or nefarious agendas.
THE CHARACTER OF THE CHARACTERS
On a personal note. I know the NSA Director, General Keith Alexander and Deputy Director Chris Inglis. These are men of the highest integrity and honesty. Neither they nor any of the decision-makers at NSA would consider, tolerate, propose or entertain any effort to break the spirit or the letter of the law. I am supremely confident that Alexander, Inglis and a host of other leaders at the agency would resign rather than accommodate any order, be it from the President, the Secretary of Defense or the Director of National Security that would compromise their principles or violate the law. I don’t expect many people to be persuaded by my characterization of the NSA leadership, but it is important to me to say it. It is equally necessary for the public to scrutinize who Edward Snowden is, what he has actually done and question his motives. And if character is to be taken into account, I choose that of Keith Alexander over Edward Snowden any time.
I will also offer that the NSA Office of the General Counsel is a strict disciplinarian organization. Nothing gets by the OGC. One of the senior attorneys in the OGC once told me it was his job “to keep the Director out of jail.” If PRISM or the cell phone metadata program came within a light year of General Alexander, the OGC would shut it down faster than Barack Obama could accept a campaign donation.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The intent of this article is not just to serve as a character witness for the National Security Agency, but to point out some of the stark realities of its mission and the environment in which it must perform that mission. NSA cannot defend itself without violating its own code of security. To prove, without question, the agency’s compliance with the spirit and the letter of the law would also reveal far too much information to our adversaries about intelligence collection. That sounds like an excuse, but it is the truth. So many people instantly believed Edward Snowden, my hope is they will take a breath, use some logic and think this through.
The National Security Agency is not listening to your phone calls or reading your email. It is doing its damnedest in a difficult and complicated digital world, to identify and marginalize people who wish to do us harm. There is neither value nor interest in what you say or do online or on the phone.
Intelligence is a contact sport. It cannot be accomplished with success if it is practiced with timidity. Adherence to the law is not timid and, although laws are, by design, restrictive, dynamic intelligence procedures can and do provide our national decision makers with valuable information.
No one is expecting carte blanche for any part of the intelligence community, nor do any of the agencies involved ask for it. NSA has been diligent about keeping Congress and its Executive Branch masters informed of its operations and the agency’s leadership is equally diligent about following the law. All it can ask the American public is that it be fair.