People have good reason to be upset with our government about the NSA. I’m one of those people, and the list of sharp sicks in the American eye are equally obvious and repulsive.
But we’re not having the whole conversation.
We’re only having the obvious part—the easy part. If someone comes up to you and says,
Gee, I think it’s bad when the government does things that violate the American spirit and trust…
What do you say to that other than, “Duh.” Back to the kids table for you. That isn’t substantive. It does nothing. Especially since most of the people creating these vapid word combinations don’t even know who their congressperson is. They talk about “the problem” with pseudo-authority without realizing that by failing to participate in their democracy they actually ARE the problem.
But whatever. That’s another essay.
My issue here is that there are ACTUAL security problems in this country that require powerful surveillance programs to combat.
Read that again.
I’m a pro-privacy and anti-government-abuse person, against the NSA behavior, who thinks we need major surveillance/security programs to help our security in the U.S.
These two things are not mutually exclusive. Or, at least, they don’t have to be.
The need for security
Most people don’t know how much danger our country is in day today. They’re unaware that some terror group spending $2,000 to set of homemade bombs in 10 malls would cause mass hysteria in this country, and probably hurt our economy to the degree of BILLIONS of dollars.
One thousand dollars to do this damage.
And that’s not anything really dangerous (other than to the economy and unemployment and all that livelihood stuff). No, the real dangerous stuff, which is without question being worked on, is stuff like small nuclear devices, dirty bombs, chemical attacks, and maybe even bio.
This isn’t “Oh my god what if!?” No, stuff is:
- Natural, logical anticipation of tactics that are fully approachable given today’s technology, and
- Likely to be actively pursued by MULTIPLE groups given their own repeatedly and clearly articulated goals
Ignoring these threats isn’t something you do because you’re smart and you’re seeing through our government scare tactics (unfortunately those two look rather the same), it’s something you do when you’re not educated about the dedication, training, and poisonous belief systems of those actually planning to launch these types of attacks.
It’s real, in other words. People are actually trying to do these things.
So, that is where we start.
We now know two things:
- The NSA have horribly violated our trust by spying on Americans in a way that’s, well…anti-American and largely opaque to oversight. That’s bad.
- There are groups out there who are legitimately trying to kill millions of Americans, on our soil, which will destroy our economy (and basically our country) for 1-2 decades. That’s bad.
A better conversation
So what do we do with this information?
For one, we don’t ignore the problems at the NSA. That’s clear enough. But we also don’t pretend the threat from #2 isn’t real. That’s equally dumb.
What we need to do is change the conversation about the NSA away from THIS SHOULD NOT BE DONE, into:
- Your program lacks transparency, control, and oversight
- Your program is INEFFECTIVE
If we’re going to address the REAL threats to our country, we can’t do it through an ineffective program. A program that turns into an Orwellian internal watcher group, or some sort of corporate intelligence apparatus, instead of keeping the purpose in focus.
The conversation needs to be around the ineffectiveness of the program, and the fact that there isn’t enough oversight and transparency.
But stop doing the analysis? Stop doing the surveillance? When our country is no-doubt full of people waiting to strike?
And nobody is more pleased right now at the government mishandling of these programs than the actual people who want to hurt us. The NSA basically neutered themselves by changing the conversation away from any GOOD goals they had towards the OBVIOUSLY POOR handling of their program.
So what needs to actually happen? Tangibly?
First, the narrative needs to change to include the actual threat. Then we need to switch the focus on the NSA from evil to incompetence. If there is evil there then it should be removed as well, but I tend to doubt the evil aspect is nearly as prevalent as the waste and lack of focus.
We need a new statement to be made, by someone new, who hasn’t already ruined their reputation. Here’s what I would say:
We messed up. We wasted your trust. We’re fixing it. We’re doing x, y, and z to give you far more visibility into what we do. And our focus is absolutely NOT your personal lives, your affairs, your finances, or anything like that. It’s true that we can sometimes see that stuff, and we apologize for ever pretending that wasn’t true. But that is NOT our focus. Our focus is on the people inside of our country that wish to harm us. They are there. We don’t like to talk about it because it’s unpleasant, and we want you to carry on without worry, but there are likely hundreds or thousands of people in our country who would like nothing more than to destroy the United States forever. They’d like to destroy a city, kill millions of people, etc. And they will try to do this. We intend to stop them. But we can’t do so by lying to the American people. By spying on ourselves (we’re American too) and looking into political affiliations and corporate information and personal preferences, etc. That’s illegal, it’s immoral, it’s anti-American, and it should not be tolerated. We outright apologize for it, and I am fixing it. Simultaneously, we are refocusing our efforts on the actual enemy, so they should know that America just became much harder to attack. I thank you for this gut-check. It’s something America needed, and we’re better for it.
I wrote that in 90 seconds, so you’d have to clean it up, but that’s what needs to be said.
In sum, ignoring the violations is not acceptable, but neither is ignoring the threats that these organizations are there to combat. We can, and must, address both.