In The Name Of National Security
Over the course of the last year, it has come to the attention of the public that the National Security Agency has been spying on U.S. citizens indiscriminately for the better part of a decade, and in doing so, has broken a number of laws intended to keep our government balanced and fair.
In early June of last year, The Guardian broke what turned out to be the biggest story of the year—a court document authorizing the FBI and the NSA to secretly collect Verizon customer phone records without a warrant or authorization of any kind.
The Washington Post followed up with an even bigger story—a leaked presentation stating that the NSA is “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies” to collect user information.
These documents were leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who had previously worked as a contractor for the NSA.
The companies in question were quick to refute the claims, and each of them did so with uncannily similar statements. I particularly enjoyed Andrea Peterson’s analysis:
Comparing denials from tech companies, a clear pattern emerges: Apple denied ever hearing of the program and notes they “do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers and any agency requesting customer data must get a court order;” Facebook claimed they “do not provide any government organisation with direct access to Facebook servers;” Google said it “does not have a ‘back door’ for the government to access private user data”; And Yahoo said they “do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network.” Most also note that they only release user information as the law compels them to.
Direct access, direct access, direct access.
Denials from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Larry Page shot themselves in the foot, sitting below a headline that asserted that these companies had not only been working with the NSA, but also finding ways to make data transfers more efficient.
All in the name of national security.
Only forty years after the blackmail-filled reign of J. Edgar Hoover, the NSA is developing an image that implies the agency is collecting more than enough incriminating phone records, emails, and text messages to politically threaten any congressman, should that congressman step out of line.
And here’s the thing: for all the discomfort intelligence officials express about new disclosures, those disclosures illustrate the sheer size and scope of government surveillance. That doesn’t weaken the NSA—in fact, it politically strengthens the agency by constantly reminding lawmakers that the NSA a) probably has everything on them, and b) could use that stuff against them.
All in the name of national security.
Two months later, in December, the first discussions in the mainstream media began to emerge. And—to the surprise of no one—those discussions were skewed massively in the NSA’s favor.
Indeed, as if 60 Minutes hadn’t already lost all credibility to well-read viewers, they ran a report about how the NSA had been misunderstood and is a really good guy. Oh, and Edward Snowden is Satan. In a podcast, I half-jokingly said the segment was written by the NSA’s PR department. What saddens me about this is that the average American household isn’t studying every new disclosure that comes out, so 60 Minutes is the entire basis for their opinion.
On January 26, Edward Snowden gave an interview with German television network ARD, where he discussed the motivations behind his actions and the ways the government of the United States is infringing upon the rights of its people. It was an interesting discussion, but perhaps more interesting was that not a single major U.S. media outlet reported on the story. Not one.
VentureBreak was among a handful of outlets that ran the story, and even we didn’t get to it until February 18. Keep in mind that this was a major political event everywhere else in the world, but somehow it was blacked out in the United States.
We live in a country where it’s acceptable for our Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, to directly lie under oath to Congress. Where individual NSA workers have the ability to wiretap any human being on the planet without a warrant, and with no recourse in cases of abuse. Where every email you send, everything you do online, and everywhere you go with a GPS-enabled device is subject to government snooping. Where the government can black out media stories it doesn’t want you to see. Where the NSA is no longer bound by the Constitution, the very foundation of our democracy.
That’s because we are no longer living in a democracy. The United States is, by definition, a police state.
But don’t worry—it’s all in the name of national security.