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Ira Winkler
Ira Winkler
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NSAs Big Surprise: Govt Agency Is Actually Doing Its Job

When people claimed after 9/11 that the NSA was ill equipped to deal with a changing world, I wonder what they expected to happen.

As I read all of the stories about the NSA, they come across as if this is somehow surprising. You can search back to the early 2000s and find stories that state how the NSA was behind the technology curve, and was woefully unprepared to deal with the ever-growing Internet and new technologies.

The Sept. 11 attacks seemed to further highlight how the NSA was unable to do its job, because it was focused on Cold War enemies and ill equipped to handle the new terrorist threat.

Well, it now appears that the NSA has made up for lost time.

People want to portray it as an ominous entity that operates independently from all control, but the fact is that the NSA only does what it has been asked to do. It takes direction from the executive branch of the government. Requirements for NSA operations come through the director of national intelligence. All programs are funded through Congress, despite the selective amnesia of many prominent senators and congressmen. Despite any disdain people may have for the FISA court, programs go through that court when required. The NSA is not a rogue agency that operates without oversight.

The leaks resulting from Edward Snowden's treason demonstrate that the NSA is making inroads where everyone previously doubted its capability and said it was failing at its mission. When people claimed that it was ill equipped to deal with a changing world, I wonder what they expected to happen. Did they expect Congress to just dissolve the NSA? Did they expect it just to accept its current technology capability? No, the NSA found a smart group of people and started using its money to work on its supposed shortcomings.

If you don't like what it is doing, you can't really protest the NSA itself. It just found a way to do what people said it couldn't do but was supposed to do. It is only doing exactly what it has been tasked to do.

Easy target? Talk to Congress
Yes, people like to have something to embody their frustration (and the NSA makes an easy target). But if you have a complaint, talk to your representatives in Congress. The NSA director, and actually the incredibly small number of staff members who work on the programs in question, are doing what they believe to be in the best interests of the country, as well as what is morally and legally right. If you think otherwise, then find the people who allocate the funding for the NSA, and deal with them.

As for the protesters who focus their attention on the NSA, they ignore the people who are actively harming hundreds of millions of people. When they criticize the NSA, they ignore the fact that Snowden first ran to China, which has hundreds of political dissidents in jail. China is monitoring its citizens on a scale well beyond anything the NSA is accused of doing -- and that isn't even up for debate. Likewise, they ignore China's supposed wide-scale hacking of the accounts of US citizens and companies.

I actually don't begrudge China for doing what it is doing in theory. The people doing the work are only doing what they believe is in the best interests of their country. The only difference that people should consider is that, at least in the US, there is a public conversation about it. Nor does there seem to be any public outrage toward the criminals who stole the credit cards from Target or who committed similar thefts of personal information or caused financial loss to hundreds of millions of people.

I guess that people just like to go after an entity that appears to actually care about what they think, despite the actual damage caused.

Ira Winkler is president of Secure Mentem and author of Advanced Persistent Security.
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User Rank: Moderator
4/4/2014 | 8:26:14 AM
Not Doing the Job You Think
Your argument falls flat when one looks at the Boston Marathon bombing. There was an abundance of evidence to raise enough red flags on the perps. The NSA didn't see them for one simple reason - that's not who they're looking for.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/4/2014 | 10:03:38 AM
False dichotomy
>Nor does there seem to be any public outrage toward the criminals

>who stole the credit cards from Target or who committed similar thefts...

This is an example of several logical fallacies.  The first is FALSE DICHOTOMY-- what you are presenting is not an either/or choice.  The worse one, though, "ARGUMENT BY IRRELEVANCY" (commonly known as "Red Herring").  Basically, you're trying to distract people from their quite reasonable objections to the NSA by bringing up a completely different subject.  Your argument boils down to "look, here's something else!  Squirrel!"

A third, somewhat more subtle logic flaw here is categorization error (commonly called "apples and oranges.")  The Target Hackers don't claim to be working for the government that (in principle) I elected, nor do they claim to be doing their bad things with a claim that they are benefitting me, nor are they subject to public pressure.  They are criminals. Are you are putting forth the premise the NSA are criminals, and thus the NSA and the Target Hackers are in a common category, but the Target Hackers are WORSE criminals? 
User Rank: Apprentice
4/4/2014 | 10:23:09 AM
Missing the obvious
In addition to the excellent points already posted, you've overlooked the obvious.  People who are upset with Target have protested by not buying from Target.  Target revenue is down some 40% since the credit card theft.  When people vote with their money, the effect is immediate.  People cannot quit buying from NSA, so there is no alternative but to protest and contact their government representatives as the author suggests.  When people vote at the polling place, or contact their senator/representative, they do not get immediate action, partly because they don't have enough money individually to influence congress. Their influence is very small unless the congressman is flooded with millions of phone calls and emails.  This requires massive organization, which most individuals do not have time for.  Even with a massive campaign that influenced members of congress, change would take months or years.  The only group who could have an immediate effect on congress is the large corporations who donate huge sums of money to finance congressional election campaigns.  If  big business was really upset, they could easlily and rapidly initiate change in NSA policy by threatening to withhold election campaign funds or threaten to suppport another candidate.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/4/2014 | 11:14:27 AM
George III
No doubt there were colonists who believed that King George III was "doing what [he] believed to be in the best interests of the country, as well as what is morally and legally right." 

But they were wrong too.
Marilyn Cohodas
Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
4/4/2014 | 11:23:34 AM
Re: Missing the obvious
"When people vote at the polling place, or contact their senator/representative, they do not get immediate action, partly because they don't have enough money individually to influence congress. Their influence is very small unless the congressman is flooded with millions of phone calls and emails."

Can't argue with your point that the political process is cumbersome and painfully slow. But in today's day of instant email and social media, it's pretty easy to commnicate how we feel about a government policy to the elected officials who have Constitutional oversight over national security practices.

The old adage (attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville in the 19th century) "We get the government we deserve" has never been more relevant. If we expect the NSA to be accountable, we need to elect public officials who are knowledgeable about the underlying technology, and capable of the rigorous monitoring we need to preseve our civil liberties while protecting our national security.
User Rank: Strategist
4/4/2014 | 12:28:12 PM
Re: Not Doing the Job You Think
People are willing to surrender their believed right to privacy for a sense of security. While this may piss off those in other countries, people unjustly on security monitoring lists or people with a heightened sense of civil liberties (present poster included), the NSA dragnets will carry on -- in secret or otherwise -- until their incompetence outweighs some sense of accomplishment. The Boston Marathon bombing brought up by "geriatric" is a great example. I think only when the NSA doing its job turns into "doing its job poorly" will we see true outrage and change.
Randy Naramore
Randy Naramore,
User Rank: Ninja
4/4/2014 | 3:17:02 PM
Re: Missing the obvious
Excellent point, in the private sector the amount of money you spend will usually affect the retailers actions but unless you are in an election year the politicians do really care about your opinions. Politicians must understand that there is a fine line between privacy and monitoring security and if the rights of citizens are being violated then it is their job to uphold the constitution and protect our rights.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/4/2014 | 4:26:46 PM
NSA is doing its Job
The NSA's job is one that is always behind the scenes doing their job.  It's a silent but critical one that needs to be done for the country.  Being a "do gooder " didn't get the USA to be the strongest and best in the world.  There has always been spying of some form ocurring by different governments in the world on each other. I've been around DoD since 1971 and can tell you stories of evasdropping from back then that has kept us informed of situations that could've become explosive.  

Maybe its because I come from the older generation who supports our government and know that we cannot be "liliy white" to survive in this vicious world of ours.  I was brought up with a different set of values and patriotism for my country.  The younger generation has been pampered and spoiled thinking that they know better that us old folks.  

Its sad that my grandchildren may end up seeing another World War because of what "do gooders" like Snowden and Wiki-Leaks have done.  I'll be dead and gone with others having to fight the conflict.

What Snowden has done is committed treason and given the enemies of the US an upper hand as to what our technology is and how it was being used to gather information. It will takes years to correct all the damage that he has done to the US and untold amount of lives that will be lost because of him.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Ninja
4/4/2014 | 4:55:38 PM
Define The NSA's Job
From the NSA website:

"Each employee takes a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

The NSA cannot both defend and violate the Constitution. If it's violating the Constitution, it's not doing its job.
User Rank: Ninja
4/5/2014 | 8:48:44 AM
Re: Not Doing the Job You Think
The Intelligence activities are necessary to protect Homeland security from attacks of any type, but NSA has abused of its technologies to spy on allies and failed to keep the activities secret. Now US enterprises will pay a great price, lost of trust means business failure and reputation damage.

In Europe, and far east, many companies are no more interested to security solutions proposed by Us companies.
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