Can President Obama Reform the Culture of the NSA?
By Roger Caldwell | 1/17/2014, noon
In an interview with the Washington Post, Edward Snowden said, “I don’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
Everyone in the country has an opinion on whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a criminal, who should be tried for treason in federal courts. Most Americans agree that Mr. Snowden is a whistleblower, and he has exposed some of our country’s darkest secrets. Snowden does not believe that he has been disloyal, and he is forcing America to take a hard look at itself.
The effects of Snowden’s revelations have been evident in the courts, Congress, Silicon Valley and capitals around the world. Our allies are extremely angry with reports that the National Security Agency has been monitoring their leaders’ cell phones, and millions of Americans phone conversations. Snowden’s disclosures have forced President Obama to put together a handpicked fact finding group.
The review group consisted of former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, former counterterrorism adviser, Richard Clarke, former Obama administration official Cass Sunstein, privacy law expert Peter Swire, and University of Chicago law professor, Geoffrey Stone. The purpose of the review group was to help restore Americans confidence in US intelligence, and strike a balance between the rights of privacy and the need to protect the nation from terrorist attacks.
The group offered 46 recommendations on what could be done, and the president will outline proposed changes to government surveillance policies in a speech January 17, 2014. At this time many of the recommendations are considered top secret and President Obama has had meetings with lawmakers, privacy advocates, law enforcement officials, and members of the intelligence-gathering community.
Many of the president’s guests have criticized the NSA and its surveillance policies. They believe that the NSA has overstepped its regulations and violated the privacy rights of Americans in the name of fighting terrorism. It is clear that the president and his administration are wrestling on what is the right plan for surveillance policies.
On one side of the president’s mouth he is defending the NSA‘s programs, and they are keeping the country safe. But, on the other side of his mouth, it is saying that the NSA is abusing its powers and they are breaking the law. Last week a federal judge declared the NSA’s collection program probably was unconstitutional.
To many Americans this comes as a surprise, but most of this crazy surveillance was started after 911. After 911, various dangers or national security risk were created, and America is permanently at war. The NSA is headed by a four-star Army General, Gen. Keith Alexander, and the heads spend the majority of the time thinking war. The new strategy is cyberspace military and the general is the head of Cyber Command that the NSA is responsible for.
Trying to reform the NSA will be extremely difficult because all the different spy agencies are inter-related. It is easy for the president to criticized NSA because their abuses were blatant and conspicuous. But it is dangerous to open up a can of worms, when the president does not know what other spy agencies have secret connections to NSA databases and information.
Surveillance information is top secret information, which should not be exposed to the public. Trying to strike a balance between surveillance reform and personal privacy may not be possible. Sometimes it is better to trust the organizations and agencies that have been trained to keep us safe, and stay out of their way.