Saturday, June 8, 2013

NSA Leaks - Analysis

As basic background, the wiretap program is designed to collate pattern activity from telephone calls. This action is pursued in order to try and establish intelligence insight into the identity and network formation of potential terrorist cells. The PRISM program is equally (if not more) significant - in simple terms, it allows US intelligence officers to intercept a wide variety of communications flowing across a wide variety of platforms.

I have a number of observations.

1) From my perspective, there are two core reasons why the public/media reaction has been so strong.

First, these leaks follow in the immediate footsteps of AP/IRS/Benghazi - they paint the picture of an increasingly authoritarian government (whether that understanding is fair or not is another matter!). As an extension to this point, perhaps the public anguish reflects our American sympathy for having things easy and palatable (see Matt Lewis) and maybe we prefer not to know the darker sides of governance?

Second, the leaks speak to a disconnect between the Presidential identity that Obama has sought to purvey (change, openness etc) and his political identity in reality (perhaps this distinction stems from the national security concerns that now arrive at Obama's desk?). Anyway, it will be interesting to see how these leaks affect perceptions of the Obama Administration going forwards. Certainly, the President is witnessing a rapid depreciation in standing among Democrats (see Al Gore) on the political left. We've also seen attempts by some Republicans to score political points on the issue.

2) Let's be clear, even before the leaks hit the news, anyone who knew anything about the US Intelligence Community assumed programs like these were in operation. For me, the striking points to take from these leaks are situated not with the leaks themselves, but the reaction that has followed their arrival. Aside from the evident public anguish as noted above, we're seeing a rapid renwal of civil libertarian politics in both Republican + Democratic circles. I wonder whether with ever more accessible technology, our easier ability to perceive perceived abuses is flowing into our greater scrutiny of power? That leads to another supposition - Perhaps government isn't growing more authoritarian, perhaps we're growing more skeptical?

3) There's an obvious utlity to these programs. Similar collection efforts allowed US intelligence to cripple insurgent networks in Iraq during the 2007-09 period. Related legislation is under consultation by the UK government. This isn't just the US - this is a global trend.

If your interested, check out these two relevant pieces that illustrate my position on this issue - why Government must be tough on leakers and relaxed on reporters.

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