The Costs And Benefits Of The NSA
The data-collection debate we need to have is not about civil liberties.
By Reuel Marc Gerecht
Weekly Standard, June 24, 2013
Should Americans fear the possible abuse of the intercept power of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland? Absolutely. In the midst of the unfolding scandal at the IRS, we understand that bureaucracies are callous creatures, capable of manipulation. In addition to deliberate misuse, closed intelligence agencies can make mistakes in surveilling legitimate targets, causing mountains of trouble. Consider Muslim names. Because of their commonness and the lack of standardized transliteration, they can befuddle scholars, let alone intelligence analysts, who seldom have fluency in Islamic languages. Although one is hard pressed to think of a case since 9/11 in which mistaken identity, or a willful or unintentional leak of intercept intelligence, immiserated an American citizen, these things can happen. NSA civilian employees, soldiers, FBI agents, CIA case officers, prosecutors, and our elected officials are not always angels. Even though encryption is mathematically easier to accomplish than decryption, the potential for abuse of digital communication is always there—all the more since few Americans resort to encryption of their everyday emails.
But fearing the NSA, which has been a staple of Hollywood for decades, requires you to believe that hundreds, if not thousands, of American employees in the organization are in on a conspiracy. In the Edward Snowden-is-a-legitimate-NSA-whistleblower narrative, it also requires that very liberal senators and congressmen are complicit in propagating a civil-rights-chewing national surveillance system.
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