Skip to comments.Breaking Up The NSA
Posted on 03/15/2014 11:54:34 AM PDT by zeugma
The NSA has become too big and too powerful. What was supposed to be a single agency with a dual mission -- protecting the security of U.S. communications and eavesdropping on the communications of our enemies -- has become unbalanced in the post-Cold War, all-terrorism-all-the-time era.
Putting the U.S. Cyber Command, the military's cyberwar wing, in the same location and under the same commander, expanded the NSA's power. The result is an agency that prioritizes intelligence gathering over security, and that's increasingly putting us all at risk. It's time we thought about breaking up the National Security Agency.
Broadly speaking, three types of NSA surveillance programs were exposed by the documents released by Edward Snowden. And while the media tends to lump them together, understanding their differences is critical to understanding how to divide up the NSA's missions.
The first is targeted surveillance.
This is best illustrated by the work of the NSA's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) group, including its catalog of hardware and software "implants" designed to be surreptitiously installed onto the enemy's computers. This sort of thing represents the best of the NSA and is exactly what we want it to do. That the United States has these capabilities, as scary as they might be, is cause for gratification.
The second is bulk surveillance, the NSA's collection of everything it can obtain on every communications channel to which it can get access. This includes things such as the NSA's bulk collection of call records, location data, e-mail messages and text messages.
This is where the NSA overreaches: collecting data on innocent Americans either incidentally or deliberately, and data on foreign citizens indiscriminately. It doesn't make us any safer, and it is liable to be abused. Even the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, acknowledged that the collection and storage of data was kept a secret for too long.
The third is the deliberate sabotaging of security. The primary example we have of this is the NSA's BULLRUN program, which tries to "insert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems, IT systems, networks and endpoint communication devices." This is the worst of the NSA's excesses, because it destroys our trust in the Internet, weakens the security all of us rely on and makes us more vulnerable to attackers worldwide.
That's the three: good, bad, very bad. Reorganizing the U.S. intelligence apparatus so it concentrates on our enemies requires breaking up the NSA along those functions.
First, TAO and its targeted surveillance mission should be moved under the control of U.S. Cyber Command, and Cyber Command should be completely separated from the NSA. Actively attacking enemy networks is an offensive military operation, and should be part of an offensive military unit.
Whatever rules of engagement Cyber Command operates under should apply equally to active operations such as sabotaging the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in Iran and hacking a Belgian telephone company. If we're going to attack the infrastructure of a foreign nation, let it be a clear military operation.
Second, all surveillance of Americans should be moved to the FBI.
The FBI is charged with counterterrorism in the United States, and it needs to play that role. Any operations focused against U.S. citizens need to be subject to U.S. law, and the FBI is the best place to apply that law. That the NSA can, in the view of many, do an end-run around congressional oversight, legal due process and domestic laws is an affront to our Constitution and a danger to our society. The NSA's mission should be focused outside the United States -- for real, not just for show.
And third, the remainder of the NSA needs to be rebalanced so COMSEC (communications security) has priority over SIGINT (signals intelligence). Instead of working to deliberately weaken security for everyone, the NSA should work to improve security for everyone.
Computer and network security is hard, and we need the NSA's expertise to secure our social networks, business systems, computers, phones and critical infrastructure. Just recall the recent incidents of hacked accounts -- from Target to Kickstarter. What once seemed occasional now seems routine. Any NSA work to secure our networks and infrastructure can be done openly -- no secrecy required.
This is a radical solution, but the NSA's many harms require radical thinking. It's not far off from what the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, charged with evaluating the NSA's current programs, recommended. Its 24th recommendation was to put the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command under different generals, and the 29th recommendation was to put encryption ahead of exploitation.
I have no illusions that anything like this will happen anytime soon, but it might be the only way to tame the enormous beast that the NSA has become.
This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.
The NSA is putting us at risk:
TAO catalog of hardware and software "implants":
NSA's bulk collection of call records:
NSA's bulk collection of location data:
NSA's bulk collection of e-mail messages:
NSA's bulk collection of text messages:
Hacking the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility:
Hacking the Belgian telephone company:
Hacker News thread:
Miss Romney yet?
I agree, we need an NSA. Obviously. They just need to be barred from domestic spying.
Hard to enforce that on a secret agency though.
There is a legitimate purpose for foreign espionage. This is not what a majority of what the NSA does is though. They are actively working on making the internet more insecure. With our tax dollars no less. If we have to "throw out some babies", then it's past time to do so.
If a war breaks out with Russia over the Ukraine then all this talk of breaking up the NSA, and rights and liberties will fall to the way side. There will be plenty of folks here on Free Republic that will smear anyone that complains as a Commie Puntinist.
The writer fails to mention NSA’s #1 mission - crypto - the breaking of codes.
Crypto is what happens after SIGINT is collected, as well as supplying the mil with better cypher system codes.
The writer would have SIGINT demoted, ie less resources/funding, and thereby put our mil at risk of having their codes busted by other States like Russia and China.
Snowden revealed not just an overview of NSA’s secret programs, which was all he needed to do to cause the current uproar, but he also revealed Methods and Means which greatly harmed US security and our mil. And may have had something to do with the Russians capturing our drone the other day.
This is why the Russians love him so much. They now can adjust their ops to avoid detection and eliminate (kill) those of our operatives revealed by Snowden, the traitor.
It is vital that nobody assume that the NSA is the *only* government agency abusing its authority in gathering intelligence. The US has 17 MAJOR intelligence agencies, and the NSA is just one of them.
But wait! There’s more!
The Washington Post reported in 2010 that there were 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in 10,000 locations in the United States that are working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence, and that the intelligence community as a whole includes 854,000 people holding top-secret clearances.
According to a 2008 study by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, private contractors make up 29% of the workforce in the U.S. intelligence community and cost the equivalent of 49% of their personnel budgets.
So the NSA can track all of us so where is the missing airliner?
Not really. If it is made illegal, and enough people who break the law get put in jail, they'll get the message.
So it’s really a government jobs program then? Actually “countering terrorism” is not what they’re really about.
Breaking it up will only mean it’s harder to close it down.
Back in the USSR! You don’t know how lucky you are, Back in the USSR!
They are just like any other government agency, ones that just cannot be satisfied doing what their original intent was by the congress. Just like a drug user, they cannot say “enough” and they will not be satisfied until they even know when we all go to the bathroom. 1984 was just a primer.
“The NSA has become too big and too powerful.” There is the understatement of the century. I agree it likely needs to be shut down.
Airliners are not as interesting apparently, as your iPhone data.
You and I are the 'enemies' that the government is focusing on.
Your faith on our government is touching, but misplaced.
The U.S. government hates the restraints of the Constitution more than they do any foreign power.
The NSA and other feral agencies have shown they can't be trusted with power, and they won't submit to any meaningful oversight.
It is far more insidious as a problem than just a jobs program.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in our constitution is that, while it created numerous balances in our government (which have been unbalanced by the 17th Amendment), the emphasis was always on limiting the growth of government. They did not include a mechanism to prune growth after it had come about.
So what has happened in what can now be called the “Military-Intelligence-Police-Industrial-Largess Complex” is that government has continued to grow far beyond any efficiency, to the point where it is inhibiting the proper function of our nation.
That it, like a metastatic cancer, with out of control growth, it is starving the body to death, while not producing cells that do what they are supposed to do.
This is not unique to our government, either. The one thing in human history that determined if a government survived or fell was a simple ratio of efficiency: what the government promised to do vs. what it delivered.
Oddly enough, it depends less on *what* government promises than that it delivers on those promises. But with unrestrained growth, there is no possible way that the US government can deliver.
If things continue in this way, government will fall apart from its own bulk. And I strongly suspect that large parts of the government itself realize this to their horror.
Like a horrifically obese person, they either lose weight or they are going to die. The horribly fat man may be intensely paranoid about foreign and domestic threats, but his worst enemy is himself.
But they cannot stop themselves from gorging more and more resources, while begging others to stop feeding them so much, to return them to the sanity of a reasonable mission and purpose.
I agree with you wholeheartedly about the 17th amendment. I would also include the 16th (income tax). Right up there with those two amendments, I would include the 1943 legislation known as the “current payment tax act,” aka “withholding.”
In my considered opinion, the tax act was perhaps the most damaging of all.
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