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<nettime> Valerie Plame Wilson, Joe Wilson on 'the NSA's metastasised in
Patrice Riemens on Wed, 26 Jun 2013 11:01:42 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Valerie Plame Wilson, Joe Wilson on 'the NSA's metastasised intelligence-industrial complex' (Guardian)

original to:

The NSA's metastasised intelligence-industrial complex is ripe for abuse

Where oversight and accountability have failed, Snowden's leaks have
opened up a vital public debate on our rights and privacy

by Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson
Sunday 23 June 2013

Let's be absolutely clear about the news that the NSA collects massive
amounts of information on US citizens ? from emails, to telephone calls,
to videos, under the Prism program and other Fisa court orders: this story
has nothing to do with Edward Snowden. As interesting as his flight to
Hong Kong might be, the pole-dancing girlfriend, and interviews from
undisclosed locations, his fate is just a sideshow to the essential issues
of national security versus constitutional guarantees of privacy, which
his disclosures have surfaced in sharp relief.

Snowden will be hunted relentlessly and, when finally found, with glee,
brought back to the US in handcuffs and severely punished. (If Private
Bradley Manning's obscene conditions while incarcerated are any
indication, it won't be pleasant for Snowden either, even while awaiting
trial.) Snowden has already been the object of scorn and derision from the
Washington establishment and mainstream media, but, once again, the focus
is misplaced on the transiently shiny object. The relevant issue should
be: what exactly is the US government doing in the people's name to "keep
us safe" from terrorists?

Prism and other NSA data-mining programs might indeed be very effective in
hunting and capturing actual terrorists, but we don't have enough
information as a society to make that decision. Despite laudable efforts
led by Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall to bring this to the public's
attention that were continually thwarted by the administration because
everything about this program was deemed "too secret", Congress could not
even exercise its oversight responsibilities. The intelligence community
and their friends on the Hill do not have a right to interpret our rights
absent such a discussion.

The shock and surprise that Snowden exposed these secrets is hard to
understand when over 1.4 million Americans hold "top secret" security
clearances. When that many have access to sensitive information, is it
really so difficult to envision a leak?

We are now dealing with a vast intelligence-industrial complex that is
largely unaccountable to its citizens. This alarming, unchecked growth of
the intelligence sector and the increasingly heavy reliance on
subcontractors to carry out core intelligence tasks ? now estimated to
account for approximately 60% of the intelligence budget ? have
intensified since the 9/11 attacks and what was, arguably, our regrettable
over-reaction to them.

The roots of this trend go back at least as far as the Reagan era, when
the political right became obsessed with limiting government and
denigrating those who worked for the public sector. It began a wave of
privatization ? because everything was held to be more "cost-efficient"
when done by the private sector ? and that only deepened with the
political polarization following the election of 2000. As it turns out,
the promises of cheaper, more efficient services were hollow, but inertia
carried the day.

Today, the intelligence sector is so immense that no one person can
manage, or even comprehend, its reach. When an operation in the field goes
south, who would we prefer to try and correct the damage: a government
employee whose loyalty belongs to his country (despite a modest salary),
or the subcontractor who wants to ensure that his much fatter paycheck
keeps coming?

Early polls of Americans about their privacy concerns that the government
might be collecting metadata from phone calls and emails indicates that
there is little alarm; there appears to be, in fact, an acceptance of or
resignation to these practices. To date, there is no proof that the
government has used this information to pursue and harass US citizens
based on their political views. There are no J Edgar Hoover-like "enemy
lists" ? yet. But it is not so difficult to envision a scenario where any
of us has a link, via a friend of a friend, to someone on the terrorist
watchlist. What then? You may have no idea who this person is, but a
supercomputer in Fort Meade (or, soon, at the Utah Data Center near Salt
Lake City) will have made this connection. And then you could have some
explaining to do to an over-zealous prosecutor.

On this spying business, officials from Director of National Intelligence
James Clapper to self-important senators are, in effect, telling Americans
not to worry: it's not that big a deal, and "trust us" because they're
keeping US citizens safe. This position must be turned on its head and
opened up to a genuine discussion about the necessary, dynamic tension
between security and privacy. As it now stands, these programs are ripe
for abuse unless we establish ground rules and barriers between authentic
national security interests and potential political chicanery.

The irony of former Vice-President Dick Cheney wringing his hands over the
release of classified information is hard to watch. Cheney calls Snowden a
traitor. Snowden may not be a hero, but the fact is that we owe him a debt
of gratitude for finally bringing this question into the public square for
the robust discussion it deserves.

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