Last night I went to see NSA representative Anne Neuberger at the Long Now Foundation seminar in San Francisco, with my friend Joey Tuttle.
It’s clear that Anne was carefully chosen as a spokesperson for the NSA. As much as I believe in her proclaimed personal desire to reach out to the public, the public relations choreography was Disneyesque in proportions. She began by explaining how much she valued freedom and privacy, as a first generation American whose relatives had known the oppressive regimes of Soviet satellites and Nazi Germany, but that other relatives had been on a plane that was hijacked by terrorists, an episode which they miraculously survived. Hence illustrating her understanding of the need to balance security with privacy. Which is nice to hear, about this one individual.
She also waxed maudlin when talking of those who “died in silence” protecting our country. OK, I get it. The work can be thankless and dangerous, and necessary even.
But that still doesn’t address the burning questions of the day, particularly revelations from Snowden which proved that James Clapper had committed perjury, a felony for which he has experienced no serious consequences. And that the NSA persists in engaging in dubious practices that continue still to compromise the privacy and security of millions of innocent Americans. And it doesn’t let the government off the hook for so vengefully pursuing heroic whistleblowers who have laid their lives on the line to defend the American principles of liberty and freedom.
By ‘compromised security,’ I refer to the fact that the NSA has intentionally weakened encryption standards, and given themselves back doors into the computers and devices of innocent Americans. Back doors which could potentially be discovered and exploited by malevolent individuals other than the NSA, if not voyeurs at the NSA itself.
When this question came up, Anne gave a non-answer, saying she was not at liberty to discuss specific programs.
For me, the best moment was when she was attempting to defend ‘transparency,’ and advised us that we could simply use a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request if we wanted to know something. The remark was greeted with a long and well-deserved round of laughter from the whole audience.
As an employee of Thomson-Reuters, the first I heard of Wikileaks was when I received an email from Tom Glocer, who was then a higher-up at Reuters, explaining that now we knew what had happened to the Reuters reporter who had disappeared in Iraq. That would be, my co-worker. The FOIA request had languished unanswered for many months by the Obama administration, as many such FOIA requests do. Had it not been for the heroism of Bradley Manning, we might never have known the answer.
I concluded after watching that disturbing footage, as most people would, that it had been withheld, NOT in order to protect national security, but because it was an embarrassment to the administration that innocent civilians were being slaughtered in such a cavalier manner.
In summary, thanks to Anne for showing up, but this is a tiny dewdrop in a very large bucket. It’s true that we need security (which includes not making so many enemies abroad) and that it needs to be balanced with the need for liberties. And I approve of her idea of finding ways in which these goals can be in harmony.
But to suggest that we’re even close to a healthy balance right now is ludicrous.
While I would very much like to see open dialogue between the NSA and the people, I’m not holding my breath that anything short of embarrassing whistleblower recommendations will yield any results.
As for the general population, they’ll probably either forget about the issue of trust when the news cycle switches to the latest on Miley Cyrus, or continue to wallow in conspiracy theories about chemtrails and Area 51 as they would in any case.
here are a couple of links on the presentation: