Source: The Guardian Unlimited
Intelligence agencies will always seek to collect more data. But the courts that oversee them must be as concerned about due process as they are with secrets
The US intelligence community is in a very poor position to be trusted with protecting civil liberties while engaging in intelligence work. When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail; when you’re a skilled intelligence professional, everything looks like a vital source for collection.
Members of the intelligence community are, it’s true, under immense stress to prevent a devastating national catastrophe. I understand a little of how that feels: while working as an analyst in Iraq, thousands of military personnel, contractors and local civilians were dependent on our ability to effectively understand the threats we were facing, and to explain them to US military commanders, the commanders of Iraqi forces and the civilian leadership of both nations.
General Keith Alexander, the former director of the National Security, frequently pushed very hard to “collect it all”; during my time as an intelligence analyst, I completely agreed with his mantra. So it’s not surprising that today’s intelligence community – as well as law enforcement at all levels of government – aggressively pursue an increasingly large and sophisticated wish list of intelligence tools regardless of whether appropriate oversight mechanisms are in place.
Given the immense pressure to guard against the unknown or even unknowable, it’s plausible that the US intelligence community doesn’t seek to deliberately violate civil liberties and privacy on a grand scale. Rather, its myriad civil liberties and privacy violations may just be the inevitable result of scrutiny, oversight and transparency failures.
Besides which, what the intelligence community – including the NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and the military branches – will always fail to accept is that simply having more tools for the collection, analysis and timely dissemination of actionable intelligence is not the same thing as having the tools necessary to perform such functions effectively.
And, finally, assembling vast troves of raw surveillance information – whether voluntarily in the case of the recent proposed “cybersecurity” bills before the US Congress, or involuntarily under unilateral subpoenas called “national security letters” or secret court orders – is an inherently awful idea from a civil liberties and privacy perspective.