This week’s interview with Matthew Olsen, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) by PBS’s Charlie Rose, revealed a wealth of behind-the-scenes self-searching on the part of intelligence agencies. And the outcome was telling.
On July 1, 2011, President Barack Obama nominated Olsen for NCTC director. The center is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks. It was designed to provide terrorism information to the intelligence community. It was not set up to spy on American citizens through a network of mass surveillance of everything we say and do.
In my book, I not only detail the entire whistleblower incident, I also cover Snowden’s intentions and his personal thoughts on why he did what he did and why it should matter to us all. Millennials get it. Now, the government is getting it, too.
The NSA, and the intelligence community in general, is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible, and it believes on the grounds of sort of a self-certification that they serve the national interest. Originally, we saw that focused very narrowly… as foreign intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it’s happening domestically. And to do that, they… the NSA specifically… target the communications of everyone.
I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any more safe, we need to push back…
– Edward Snowden
In Rose’s interview, Olsen revealed that disclosures made by Snowden have mandated the agency to rethink its practices. The disclosures are finally beginning to have their desired effect.
According to Olsen, President Obama has given the word these mass surveillances must stop. And Olsen admits Congress’s and the general public’s outrage of such practices was what forced Obama’s hand. Add to that the intelligence agencies’ covert spying on America’s closest allies–Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, for one–which severely harmed our government’s relations with those countries and just about everyone else.
There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying… and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever… These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.
Even the president now agrees our surveillance programs are going too far gathering massive amounts of private records on ordinary Americans who have never been suspected of any crime. This violates our constitutional protections against unlawful searches and seizure. Collecting phone and email records [of] every American is a waste of money, time and human resources that could be better spent pursuing those the government has reason to suspect are a serious threat.
These programs don’t make us more safe. They hurt our economy, they hurt our country, they limit our ability to speak and think and live and be creative, [to] have relationships, associate freely… It doesn’t make us more safe… it puts us in conflict with our own government…
We’re monitoring… everybody’s communications instead of [the] suspects. That lack of focus [has] caused us to miss news we should have had, i.e., Tamerlan Tsarnaev… [one of] the Boston Bombers. The Russians… warned us about it but we did a very poor job investigating [it]. We didn’t have the resources… and we had people working on other things. If we [had] followed the traditional model, we might have caught that…
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Underwear Bomber, same thing. His father walked into a US embassy [and told] a CIA officer [that his] son [was] dangerous. ‘Don’t let him go to your country. Get him help.’ We didn’t follow up… We didn’t actually investigate this guy. We didn’t get a dedicated team to figure [out] what was going on because we spent all of this money [and] time hacking into Google and Facebook to look at their data center[s]. What did we get out of that? We got nothing. And there are two White House investigations that confirm [this].
And why privacy matters:
Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person. A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be…
I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things (surveillance on its citizens)… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded… My sole motive is to inform the public to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.
For a truly provocative read, check out Saints and Dragons, Edward Snowden in His Own Words.