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Sunday, October 22, 2017

As the New Yorker’s Jeff Toobin asks, “What, one wonders, did Snowden think the NSA did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less NSA employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications.”

Secondly, NSA has no direct “PRISM” link into the servers of Google, Yahoo, and the rest. Upon detecting suspicious activity, it must seek a search warrant, whereupon the companies isolate the information sought and deliver it to an electronic “lockbox” for collection. The Guardian simply got this wrong, and was very slow correcting itself, while Greenwald himself made characteristically shrill attacks on everybody who questioned it.

It’s the difference between me leaving, say, my tax return in the mailbox and FBI agents covertly turning my home and office upside down in my absence. Day and night, legally speaking.

Anyway, let’s think this through. The New York Times’ estimable James Risen was absolutely correct on Meet the Press. “We haven’t had a full national debate about the creation of a massive surveillance state and surveillance infrastructure that if we had some radical change in our politics could lead to a police state.” [my italics]

However, the genie won’t fit back in the bottle. Like nuclear weapons, computer technology is here to stay. What with al Qaeda posting articles on its website teaching freelance jihadists like the Tsarnaev brothers to “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” and Chinese hackers stealing industrial and military secrets by the truckload, unilateral electronic disarmament would be folly. An unmonitored Internet would be a conspiracist’s playground.

For once, Thomas Friedman may be right: All that might be necessary to provoke a fear-based authoritarian political response in the US would be a couple of mass casualty terror strikes on the 9/11 scale.

So let’s definitely have that debate. Always mindful, however, of two things: First, the great enemy isn’t methodology, but lawlessness. When J. Edgar Hoover targeted Martin Luther King, he used not NSA computers but tape recorders the size of electric typewriters.

Two, cyber warfare beats the other kind hands down.

AP Photo/The Guardian

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