Lee Hamilton is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and currently directs the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This op-ed was originally published at The Times Herald.
Lee Hamilton: NSA spy technology is placing our privacy rights in jeopardy
We keep learning one more way government’s expanded surveillance powers intrude upon our privacy and civil liberties.
The National Security Agency’s surveillance and monitoring abilities are unprecedented and seem unlimited. So we face the crucial question of how we can we prevent abuse of the capabilities the NSA has been given. Our challenge is to put into place a permanent system to oversee that power.
The agency gained its capabilities over the course of at least a decade with the full knowledge of some members of Congress and the judiciary, and of the White House. This is perplexing. At a time of rising public suspicion of government, did those in the know really believe no public policy debate was necessary?
Gary Hart served as US Senator of Colorado from 1975-1987 and is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Security Is the New Oil
The confused debate, such as it is, over the struggle between privacy and security in the era of Snowden reveals again even greater confusion over our attitudes about government. The conservative anti-government party seems more comfortable (or perhaps less uncomfortable) with intelligence agencies listening to their phone calls than the progressive pro-government party which deplores government surveillance.
Put another way, conservatives seem more willing to sacrifice privacy for security than progressives. But this was true in other ways during the Cold War and War on Terrorism eras. Those outraged by government spending did not believe that expensive weapons systems, however questionable, involved government spending. And conservatives came to strongly support entitlement programs from which they benefitted. Though unspoken, the government spending to which they were opposed were by and large public assistance to the poor and unemployed, a relative small portion of the federal budget compared to defense and entitlements.
But the principal conundrum involves defining the “government” which we either support or oppose. The government composed of a vast defense and intelligence network (and “intelligence” broadly defined is now costing more than $70 billion a year–including the controversial telephone monitoring system) receives little criticism, even for its massive surveillance of American citizens, from those who oppose big government. And those who support public assistance to the poor, elderly, and unemployed by and large oppose government intrusion into their lives.
A notable exception to these confused attitudes toward government is represented by many libertarians who have emerged in the age of Snowden to decry NSA intrusion in their lives. Unlike modern conservatives and liberals who support those government activities they like and oppose those government programs they oppose, libertarians usually demonstrate more intellectual integrity. Big government is bad whatever it is up to. With few exceptions, institutions such as the Cato Institute have deserved respect over the years for this consistency.
Which is the point of this commentary: let’s all be more consistent. Either we are against government spending and bureaucracy in all its forms, including surveillance programs, or we are for some and against others. Consistency in this regard at least has the therapeutic affect of revealing radio talk show rhetoric for what it is…pure rhetoric.
So what can be done to reconcile privacy and security? Require Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) courts to hear privacy advocates, not just security lawyers, before issuing a warrant for surveillance as required by the Fourth Amendment. Require NSA and other intelligence collectors to be more honest with Congressional oversight committees and those committees to be more vigilant in doing their jobs. Require presidents and their administrations to exercise more control over the intelligence collection services. (Will we ever know whether President Obama himself knew of the vast collection being carried out by NSA before the Snowden revelations?) And finally, require applications to FISA courts for surveillance warrants to identify specific targets with specific, but renewable, time limits and very specific showings of probable cause for suspecting those targets.
In the wireless age, cell phone users must understand that their conversations are being broadcast and thus subject to off-the-shelf Radio Shack technology intercepts. One suspects that al Qaeda operatives have figured this out some time ago. Though it seems confusing at best, there is and will be less privacy in wireless communications than those on more secure land lines.
Which points to an ugly truth: government intelligence services are not the only ones hacking our conversations and communications. There is a vast underground network of private hackers intruding on our privacy in massive ways. Shut down the NSA and you have still not secured your privacy. Welcome to the 21st century.
The age of communications, mass social media, ubiquitous technology, and of mass interception (and thus of Snowden) is a new world…and not an especially brave one. Advocates and policy makers on both sides–security and privacy–are staking out their positions and the balance required for an advanced 21st century democracy has yet to be struck. Expect the as-yet not very productive debate to continue. Out of the polarized pro-surveillance/anti-surveillance struggle some new rules will eventually emerge. And hopefully they will work…at least for a while.
But then, some years down the line, there will be a new threat, a new technology, possibly a new government agency, and the cycle will begin again. Security is the new oil. Remember the closing scene in Three Days of the Condor. The CIA man (Cliff Robertson) tells Robert Redford’s Joe Turner that of course the renegade CIA unit was pursuing oil: “The American people want oil and they want us to get it for them. They don’t care how we get it. They just want us to get it.”
Lee Hamilton is co-chair of PSA’s Advisory Board and Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article was originally posted in the Detroit News.
Balancing liberty and security
Every few days, we learn yet one more way in which government’s expanded surveillance powers intrude upon our privacy and civil liberties.
Last week, it was the revelation that spy agencies in the U.S. and Britain have been snagging personal data from the users of mobile phone apps.
Before that came news that the National Security Agency was tracking our social connections and delving into our contact lists.
It appears the agency can do anything it wants when it comes to collecting information on pretty much anyone it wants.
We can take pride in this technological virtuosity, but it has propelled an expansion of government power unlike anything I’ve seen since I joined Congress 50 years ago.
So we face the crucial question of what to do about it. How can we prevent abuse of the capabilities the NSA has been given?
The author, Jamie Metzl, is Co-Chair of PSA’s Board of Directors. This article originally appeared on Project Syndicate. Metzl is a former member of President Clinton’s National Security Council team and a current Senior Fellow of the Asia Society.
Reinvigorating the US-Japan Alliance
NEW YORK – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s current visit to the United States provides an ideal opportunity to reinvigorate the long-standing US-Japan bilateral alliance in the face of an increasingly aggressive China and persistent tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
For a half-century, the US-Japan alliance has been a cornerstone of Asian and global peace, security, and stability – and Japan has been an outstanding global citizen. Japan developed the economic-growth model that other Asian countries later emulated so successfully; actively contributed to global economic development; participated in the United Nations and other multilateral institutions (including paying a disproportionately high percentage of UN costs); and has helped to set a global standard for environmental protection and sustainable development.
As Abe arrives in Washington, DC, Japan and the US are both facing significant internal and external challenges, including rising tensions in Asia. In recent months, Chinese aircraft have repeatedly violated Japanese airspace over the East China Sea, and a Chinese naval vessel locked its weapons-targeting radar on a Japanese destroyer and helicopter.
Likewise, a Chinese military intelligence unit in Shanghai has reportedly hacked – and stolen from – a multitude of US businesses. And North Korea conducted its third nuclear test earlier this month, sending shock waves through the region.
This article was written by two Fall 2011 Fellows in PSA’s Congressional Fellowship Program. All CFP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Fellows that were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
Cyber-based threats against information infrastructures in the United States have generated an increasing concern for national security. According to a Congressional Research Service report, these emerging threats consist of cyber terrorism, debilitating U.S. command over the electromagnetic spectrum, facilitation of terrorist operations, cyber crimes involving theft of intellectual property, patent violations, or copyright laws, and identity theft. These threats also involve unauthorized probing of tests that target a computer’s configuration and its system defenses and, in some instances, the unauthorized viewing, copying, and extraction of data files. The low expense of access to the internet combined with the ability to operate anonymously, are strong key factors that make information operations enticing for those who are unable to combat the U.S. in conventional warfare. Understanding these real threats against our nation enforces the need for a shift in prioritization and funding to address any future cyber security threats in all capacities.
Advisory Board Member and former Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, discusses his recommendations for U.S. Policy in Iran. His recommendations include greater cooperation with the United Nations, collaboration with regional partners, and intelligence sharing in addition to many other points of leverage and influence the United States could use. The article originally appeared here on CNN.
Washington (CNN) — Longtime observers of the Middle East are baffled by allegations that high-ranking officials in the Iranian government approved a plan to assassinate Saudi Arabia Ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, and blow up the Saudi and Israeli embassies in Washington. Commentators have described the plan as “brazen,” but “bizarre” and ‘bone-headed” might be more appropriate adjectives.
It’s difficult to comprehend either the motives or the means selected to carry out the plan outlined by the Justice Department in its criminal indictment of Manssor Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are not new, but Iran has been both cautious and clever enough to restrain its ambitions for regional dominance.
If the allegations of the assassination and bombing plot are true, and the covert operation had proved successful, Iran’s leaders would have invited retaliation on a scale far more vigorous than any they might have contemplated. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that the Iranian landscape would likely have been substantially altered.
Just a few years ago, conventional wisdom held that Google would be the vanguard of Internet freedom in China, transforming the way information flows throughout the historically closed society. But while the rapid expansion of the Internet in China has indeed served as a vital medium for political activism, Beijing has essentially kept pace with its extensive surveillance network to silence “cyber dissidents” and with its use of the Web as a pro-government propaganda machine to steer public opinion. At first glance, it appears that China’s censorship practices warrant a strong U.S. policy and a thorough condemnation from the Obama administration. But as Emily Parker, the Arthur Ross Fellow at the Asia Society, explains, U.S. technological innovation – not U.S. policy – is likely the most capable, effective, and politically sensible tool for chipping away at China’s Great Firewall.
Since Google’s departure, the Chinese government has taken action to tighten its grip on the Internet. Earlier this month, China quietly acknowledged the creation of a new “Internet news coordination bureau,” officially responsible for “guidance, coordination and other work related to the construction and management of Web culture.” And just this week, China’s legislature proposed an amendment to the Law on Guarding State Secrets that would require telecommunications companies to “detect, report and delete” leaks of “state secrets,” broadly defined by the government as “information concerning national security and interests that, if released, would harm the country’s security and interests.” These measures are just the latest pieces fastened to a massive regulatory system, much to the chagrin of the international human rights community and many of China’s 400 million Internet users. (more…)
As we continue to hurtle through the Information Age at breakneck speeds, a glance back at the early 1990s makes it ever clearer that everything we thought we knew about the way our world works has changed. Every day, millions of people ascend into a dimension of human interaction that did not exist – at least not at all the way it does today – just 15 years ago. Cyberspace, as this dimension has come to be known, is a transformative realm, transcending the traditional domains of air, land, and sea because it simply knows no boundaries. It breaks down physical barriers, blurs the borders of nations, and ignores the intrinsic concept of spatial separation. The social networking phenomenon has given rise to a global conversation unprecedented in human history. “For the first time,” Peter Daou writes, “we are thinking aloud unfettered and unfiltered by mass media gatekeepers . . . pouring the content of hundreds of millions of minds onto a global cyber-canvass, the commixture becoming something new and unpredictable.” Most significantly, information no longer flows linearly – it leaps randomly from one mind to the next and from one side of the globe to the other. One could say that the global exchange of ideas occurs in a purer way than ever before.
But there is a flipside to this coin. Our collective security is now in more danger than ever for the very same reason the cyber revolution is such an amazing achievement – we are all interconnected. Virtually every aspect of our lives has an uninterruptable link to the cyber world. Our electricity, water, oil, telecommunications, banking, public transportation, air traffic control, and defense systems all rely on computer networks. “For all these reasons,” President Obama has said, “it’s now clear this cyber threat is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face as a nation.” (more…)
Although President Obama may have found a way to keep his BlackBerry, he will not be able to use it while executing his new job. He might eventually be able to move to a phone-PDA certified by the National Security Agency to handle Top Secret voice, email, and website communications, but at the moment, the government is understandably wary of using handhelds for storing and transmitting classified information.
The threat of hackers and cyber thieves is very real and can be extremely dangerous. If a “Group” (terrorist organization, nation, state, non-state actors-pick your poison) could coordinate a cyber attack with some type of physical intrusion or ground offensive, the “Group” could do some serious damage. An example of such a scenario would be the controversy surrounding Russia’s invasion of Georgia last August. Georgia had been experiencing distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks targeting its government websites before and during the hostilities. These attacks disrupted Georgia’s communications, but no direct evidence links the Russian government to having orchestrated the attacks. It is also worth noting that a similar cyber attack happened in Estonia last year during tensions between Moscow and the Baltic state. Czech Business Weekly states, “while no one is pointing fingers openly at Russia, all heads are turned in that direction.” But, like the cyberattack on Georgia, no conclusive evidence points to the Russian Government. In the case of Estonia, no ground offensive was necessary to effectively shutdown servers and major infrastructure-including the banking industry-setting off massive panic and a “cyber-riot” that plunged the tech-savvy country in the cyber dark for over two weeks.
Although this scenario is unlikely to happen in the United States, America is certainly not immune to cyber attacks. America’s information systems have been targeted for decades. In 2007, the Pentagon’s systems were hacked. Although China was “blamed” for the attack via indirect channels, there is no conclusive evidence that they where behind the breach. Obama and McCain’s Campaign computers were hacked mid-summer 2008 by “a foreign government or organization” looking for proposed policy information. In November 2008, the Department of Defense acknowledged their systems had been infected by a virus and, subsequently, banned the use of all thumb drives. Just think: electricity, water, transportation, all major infrastructures, are run by computer. A well placed virus can cause a system to malfunction quickly.
Is this making anyone else a bit nervous?
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.