National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell – the nation’s top spy – wants
a new policy in place that gives the government expansive surveillance powers
over web searches, internet activity, and e-mail.
Speaking in an interview and profile with The New Yorker’s Larry
Wright, McConnell called the current rules on intelligence gathering “crazy”
and outdated, and accused them of failing to properly take into account
technological changes such as the Internet and e-mail. The article, titled “The
Spymaster, ” appeared in the January 21 print
edition of The New Yorker, and chronicles the history and
motivations behind the “apolitical” man appointed in 2007 to unify the nation’s
myriad intelligence agencies.
FISA – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – is the biggest obstacle,
argues McConnell, with its outdated rules creating absurd situations that
needlessly hamstring intelligence efforts. Worse, U.S. lawmakers are
continually dragging their feet, and he thinks that the policy of tweaking
30-year-old laws is insufficient. “If we don’t update FISA, the nation is
significantly at risk,” said McConnell. He noted that the NSA’s monitoring
capabilities dropped by 70 percent when federal judges entered a secret ruling
that required warrants for intercepting traffic that “incidentally flowed” into
domestic computer systems.
McConnell used the specific case of three captured U.S. soldiers, whose
lives were endangered because intelligence analysts ran into the aforementioned
limitations; analysts’ wiretapping efforts required a warrant because their
communications “might pass electronically through U.S. circuits.”
McConnell thinks that recent efforts, like the stopgap Protect
America Act of 2007, are merely lukewarm. Instead, McConnell thinks that
the nation needs a new intelligence policy, one that takes present and future
technology into account and lets intelligence agencies do their job. The costs
will be high, however, as he fully believes that Americans are going to have to
accept living under increased surveillance and curtail their expectations of
privacy; “We have a saying in this business: ‘Privacy and security are a
zero-sum game,’” said McConnell.
Fully aware of the intense resistance that his ideas will face, McConnell is
undaunted. The current privacy/security debate is a “walk in the park”
compared to his new plan, and he fully expects lawmakers to “screw around with
this until something horrendous happens.”
Facing accusations of directly monitoring the actions of American citizens
without a warrant, McConnell called them “totally untrue!” Wright noted that
critics found a loophole that allowed intelligence agents to “reverse-target”
Americans that “happened to be making international calls but had nothing to do
with terrorism,” to which McConnell claimed would never happen: “That’s a
violation of the constitution … we can’t do that, wouldn’t do that.” When
innocent people are caught in the government’s dragnet – a point which he
conceded as possible – agents are ordered to “destroy” the gathered intel.
Paradoxically, McConnell appears to carry a strong belief against spying on
American citizens, despite his plans that would inadvertently force the
contrary. The solution, he said, requires the restoration of government
trustworthiness – and that in the current climate Congress has all the reason
to be “wary of the intelligence community’s intentions.” (The NSA currently stands
of ordering communications carriers to secretly tap
into the U.S. internet backbone and make
copies of all traffic for analysis.)
In addition to broadened surveillance powers, McConnell is pushing hard to
tighten the government’s computer networks, which he said are dangerously
vulnerable to attack. One of his biggest initiatives involves reducing the
surface area available for attack: of the gateways separating government
networks from the public internet, McConnell wants the current count – around
2,000 different access points – reduced to 50. He pointed out that the
intelligence community’s culture is perpetually stuck in the past, and Wright
noted that government agencies lag far behind the commercial sector in terms of
technological prowess – a regression from the days of World War II, where many
attribute the Allies’ victory to the embrace of a technological spirit that
intelligence community now seems to reject.
When asked about whether the intelligence community’s infrastructure allowed
for the kind of capability seen in movies like The Bourne Ultimatum –
where CIA agents tracked the protagonist’s activities with instantaneous access
to satellite feeds, surveillance cameras, passport controls, and other
high-tech wizardry – McConnell called the “disappointingly low-tech” reality
“horse pucky” compared to Hollywood’s imagination.
McConnell considers himself nonpartisan, claiming that he’s “not a
Republican or a Democrat;” rather, his worry is “good government.” He admires
President Lincoln, “who lead under intense political pressure,” particularly
when he suspended habeas corpus
during the Civil War to prevent Washington D.C. from becoming surrounded by enemy
territory. “There are a lot of parallels,” said McConnell, “the current
administration stands accused of spying on Americans. And I’m right in the
middle of that.”
quote: Iraq, Iran, Korea, Vietnam
quote: I will sacrafice a little security to know that 50 years from now my RIGHT to privacy from government is still in place.
quote: against unreasonable searches and seizures
quote: Government needs to butt out of a few areas that they are too entrenched in today.... and really, government protect no one from being killed, raped or otherwise injured.
quote: Your definition of "unreasonable" is different than mine. To me, monitoring information sources that are a possible threat is perfectly reasonable.
quote: Any smart person doesn't wait until a burglar is in their home. They shoot the bastard as they attempt to break in.
quote: Haven't you heard that statement by Benjamin Franklin that "He who gives up privacy for security, deserves neither!"
quote: Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. quote:
quote: he fully believes that Americans are going to have to accept living under increased surveillance and curtail their expectations of privacy
quote: In any other case, military jets would approach the plane, and in ALL PRIOR CASES, force it to land, or in an extreme case, shoot it down.
quote: He noted that the NSA’s monitoring capabilities dropped by 70 percent when federal judges entered a secret ruling that required warrants for intercepting traffic that “incidentally flowed” into domestic computer systems.