There is arguably no greater responsibility for the federal government than protecting the safety of Americans in general and the homeland in particular. But don’t tell that to the multitude of vociferous critics of the National Security Agency.
On Sunday, the latest sensational article about the NSA appeared on the front page of the Washington Post regarding online surveillance of foreign terrorist threats.
The article was among a string of stories by the Post outing the NSA’s highly classified domestic and foreign surveillance methods. The top-secret information surfaced via media leaks by infamous fugitive Edward Snowden, whom some Americans accuse of treason.
The NSA’s stated mission in layperson’s terms is, “To help protect national security by providing policy makers and military commanders with the intelligence information they need to do their jobs…”
But how can the NSA effectively do its job with swirling myths, fears and stereotypes about its secretive work, which is perpetuated and sensationalized by the global news media and some privacy advocates?
Despite the Post’s mostly one-sided reporting, the Sunday article does confirm some of the NSA’s successes. For example:
- “Months of tracking communications across more than 50 alias accounts, the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. At the request of CIA officials, The Post is withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations.”
Moreover, as the Post points out toward the end of the lengthy article:
- “The NSA shows scrupulous care in protecting the privacy of U.S. nationals and, by policy, those of its four closest intelligence allies — Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.”
Therefore, it’s a bit ironic and unsettling that so many citizens whom the NSA protects are crying foul over alleged privacy violations – claims which may hold no legal or constitutional merit.
Some proponents of the NSA argue that such purported privacy violations are merely theoretical, as not one U.S. citizen has proven egregious harm suffered due to NSA surveillance.
Privacy vs. National Security
The controversial debate over national security vs. privacy won’t end anytime soon.
Yet it’s somewhat perplexing for citizens to unequivocally embrace today’s cutting edge high-tech advancements on one hand, while whining over questionable privacy violations on the other hand – whether its against the government or Internet giants like Google and Facebook, for example.
Unfortunately, it appears that too many Americans have been too quick to forget the horrific lessons of 9/11 and its aftermath. It’s also worth repeating that countless terrorist plots have reportedly been foiled by the intelligence community behind the scenes.
Moreover, real terrorist threats have not receded. To the contrary, anti-American terrorist sentiment is reportedly ramping up due to current events in the Middle East. That’s why the TSA just imposed new travel rules on flights to the United States from some foreign countries.
What We Don’t Know
As former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to point out: We don’t know what we don’t know. Additionally, he spoke of national security threats falling into three distinct categories: 1) the knowns, 2) the unknowns, and 3) the unknown-unknowns (for more on this check out his recent book, “Rumsfeld’s Rules”).
What ordinary citizens don’t know can indeed harm us, as well as what some “experts” and analysts mistakenly believe we already know.
What we do know, however, is that NSA surveillance has played an instrumental role in safeguarding America from another cataclysmic terrorist attack on the homeland.
- That’s why critics of the NSA need to get out of the way and let the intelligence agency do its job.
These ongoing illegal media leaks of highly classified national security information have dangerous and unanticipated consequences for U.S. interests, according to intelligence officials and some members of Congress.
World Privacy Board Weighs In
Interestingly, just days before the Post article appeared, the New York Times ran a story headlined, World Privacy Board Backs NSA Program that Taps Internet in U.S.
According to the Times:
- “The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board” concluded the NSA’s foreign surveillance program “is largely in compliance with both the Constitution and a surveillance law that Congress passed six years ago.”
It’s also important to reiterate that the NSA’s actions have been authorized by both the former and current President under the USA Patriot Act and related Congressional actions. Further, the NSA is subjected to stringent oversight by Congress and the so-called Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA).
Nevertheless, the NSA’s detractors have failed to learn a vital lesson more than a decade after 9/11 and more recent terrorist plots on U.S. soil. The bottom line is that proactive prevention by the NSA foils terrorism and saves lives.
And that should garner the support of all Americans.
Note: All photos courtesy of the NSA.
*** All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public sector or private sector employer, organization or political entity.
David Grinberg is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.