NSA, Zuckerberg, Brazil

Words of wisdom from former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden:  “‘Morally arrogant’ Snowden will probably become an alcoholic.” It’s as though he’s trying to distract the public from something, such as his own culpability in the NSA’s mass surveillance of Americans, for instance.

Hayden acknowledged that the Snowden leaks had prompted robust public debate about the extent of government snooping. But he claimed the dialogue was “pushed into the public domain by advocates.”

I’m not sure what “advocates” have to do with this. It was national security insiders (Snowden, Manning) who pushed the debate to the public (via journalists).

“Greenwald [prominent journalist] has long had a serious issue with what he calls the American surveillance state,” Hayden said. He also complained about the way American press outlets have reported on the revelations, calling coverage “agenda-ed.” While he said that The Post has been balanced in its national security reporting in recent years, he believes Gellman “pushed things out in a way that is prejudgmental.”

Translation:  journalists have opinions, and if they disagree with mine, they are “prejudgmental.” And furthermore: I don’t want to talk about what I did at the NSA, so I’m going to blame journalists for covering this story.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg joins others in suing US government (FISA court). More info here.

[Zuckerberg] elaborated, too, on a comment he made last week: that “the government blew it” — particularly when it came to communicating about the revealed PRISM program to the public. “Some of the government’s statements have been particularly unhelpful,” Zuckerberg told Bennet. “Like, oh, we only spy on non-Americans.” (Facebook, of course, is a global brand.)

US tech companies suddenly care about privacy and liberty, not out of altruism though. Their former buddies in government are now massive liabilities to their very existence and dominance in tech and social media. This is a business decision, not a philosophical one.

This Guardian editorial puts it bluntly:

The American body politic is suffering a severe case of auto-immune disease: our defense system is attacking other critical systems of our body.

Spy agencies lie to us:  “The repeated misrepresentations suggest that the intelligence establishment has come to see its civilian bosses as adversaries to be managed through denial and deception.”

They subvert us:  “…we learned that the NSA’s strategy to enhance its surveillance capabilities was to weaken internet security in general… [The] NSA combined persuasion and legal coercion to compromise the commercial systems and standards that offer the most basic security systems on which the entire internet runs.”

The question is asked:  “How much of what we have is really necessary and effective, and how much is bureaucratic bloat resulting in the all-to-familiar dynamics of organizational self-aggrandizement and expansionism?”

The answer is:

Not so much. Court documents released this week show that after its first three years of operation, the best the intelligence establishment could show the judge overseeing the program was that it had led to opening “three new preliminary investigations”.

From a nationalistic standpoint, Brazil is leading the way.

Brazil plans to divorce itself from the U.S.-centric Internet over Washington’s widespread online spying, a move that many experts fear will be a potentially dangerous first step toward fracturing a global network built with minimal interference by governments.

Brazil’s leader also canceled a planned state dinner, in which she was to be honored.

While the possibility of “balkanization” of the internet would indeed be a seriously negative outcome, I don’t predict that will happen. The stakes and the pressure are high, and this is a good thing. US tech companies now face greater expense operating within Brazil and possibly lost business regardless. Money talks, and Brazil’s bluff is the best way to get American businesses on board.

The US spy regime has shot itself in the foot repeatedly. They failed to get in front of this issue and come clean; they attempted to distract everyone by talking about Manning and Snowden rather than the actual content of the leaked documents; and they are dragging the reputation of both the US government and the entire US tech sector into the mud.

Pressure from American citizens, US and international businesses, and various world governments will be helpful rather than hurtful, even if some of the bluffing is meaningless (a national Brazilian email service won’t crush Gmail; undersea cables directly from Brazil to Europe won’t stop US spies from listening in; etc). Nonetheless, this harsh treatment from Brazil is a good development.

Meinrath and others argue that what’s needed instead are strong international laws that hold nations accountable for guaranteeing online privacy.

I agree; the important step is transparent rule of law, not jingoism or internet balkanization. With any luck, the threat of the latter will lead to the former. That’s what I’m banking on at this point.

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