Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Thoughts on NSA Betrayal

“I trust the minions of the NSA not to commit treason.  I do not trust them not to commit fraud.”  --Robert H. Courtney, Jr. circa 1975

Like Bruce Schneier, I am not surprised about the kind or nature of NSA activity.   However,  I do not see it so much as a betrayal of the Internet as of the public trust.

I am surprised by the scale.  I am disappointed by the scale of silent, industry cooperation, whether coerced, immunized, or otherwise.

I recall that, when trying to get an export license for Lotus Notes Messaging, IBM negotiated a (reasonable?) compromise and then went before the RSA conference and disclosed and defended what they had done.  Said another way, if the activity is a legitimate response to a legitimate government need, then it can be done in a transparent and accountable manner.  (Admittedly not without cost.  The Lotus Notes compromise is widely criticized outside the US, styled as capitulation (a Yankee word for surrender), and IBM has lost hundreds of millions in international sales as a result.  The government has lost whatever advantage might have accrued to it from the use of a weakened Lotus Notes instead of stronger options.)

That brings us back to the arguments made against CLIPPER, i.e., back-doors inserted for the legitimate use of the government will inevitably be abused by  government and exploited by rogues.  (The thing that distinguishes Edward Snowden among NSA rogues is that he went public; god only knows what the others are doing.) Back-doors weaken the structure and the necessary trust in it. 

These back-doors have been put in by the same administration that has tried to create commercial advantage for US products by suggesting that the PLA has put back-doors in Chinese products.  Did they really believe that they could booby-trap US products and get away with it?   As with bragging about Stuxnet, as with unilateral recourse to armed force,  they have ceded the moral high ground. 

After 9/11 we loosed the intelligence community, always a dangerous thing to do.  It  has been zealous in doing what we asked it to do.  It now has the bit in its teeth, it is going to be difficult to reign it in.  I believe that Directors Clapper and Alexander, are great Americans, motivated by patriotism; we should be grateful for their service.  However, they have been corrupted by the power and secrecy in which they have cloaked themselves.  They have systematically  deceived the American people, lied to Congress,  subverted the courts, and corrupted American industry.  Like Snowden and others, they appeal for justification to a higher value.  However, they seem to have confused "national security" with their oath to defend the Constitution.  They can now serve best by retiring and making way for reform.  

The necessary reform, transparency, and accountability will require new leadership, new leaders who will put the Constitution ahead of "national security."

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