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Forbes Writer Smears Snowden, Misses the Boat: The NSA's Programs Aren't About Stopping Terrorism

Friday, November 21, 2014 By Bill Blunden, SpeakOut | Op-Ed
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Recently John Tamny over at Forbes penned a review of the movie Citizenfour. As one might expect, being an establishment columnist, he launches his sophomoric diatribe with a snarky ad hominem attack:

"To watch Cizenfour is to witness an overly paranoid crank. Snowden went through all sorts of hurdles to contact the documentarian in Poitras without being detected by US intelligence, clearly traveled to Hong Kong (where Poitras and Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald interviewed him) under deep cover, but not explained enough was why?"

Paranoid crank? Has Mr. Tamny ever worked as a technical specialist for US intelligence? Should readers genuinely accept that Tamny is a voice of authority on spy tradecraft? Anyone who calls Snowden's behavior paranoid clearly hasn't had a sufficient look at leaked NSA documents. There's an entire catalogue devoted to the kind of tools that literally keep chief security officers up at night. Bridging air gap has been honed to a fine art by US spies as Stuxnet demonstrated. The NSA has capabilities that former STASI officers could only dream of and not even heads of state are immune from them.

Caution is Snowden's case was actually well advised. Recall how officials went so far as to force Bolivia's President to land his jet for inspection? Viewing this sort of power on display, if you're not paranoid, then you're not paying attention.

Tamny then goes on to claim that the government's surveillance apparatus is a complete failure. That it can't possibly protect the public from terrorists because NSA employees are a bunch of incompetent pretenders who couldn't find work in the private sector. There's no way such people could derive anything "actionable" from their runaway projects:

"Does anyone really believe that the NSA is the exception to the general rule? Do they once again want to believe that someone with an amazing head for numbers would toil for the relatively meager pay that defines government work?.....

"Tracking trillions of communications signals a lack of a strategy, not a serious one meant to find those who mean us harm. To gather trillions of internet searches, e-mails and calls is to gather none. It's presumably impossible to unearth actionable items amid all the information gathered."

While it's true that a larger haystack can make it more difficult to find a needle, there's a fundamental flaw with this train of thought. Not only is the NSA's global surveillance apparatus the product of analytically gifted minds, more importantly it isn't about stopping terrorist attacks. That's merely a pretext. As Snowden himself stated in an open letter to Brazil, the NSA's litany of codenamed programs are geared towards economic espionage, diplomatic manipulation, and social control. They're about power. That and channeling trillions of dollars to the defense industry. The global panopticon is one facet of the Deep State's campaign for perpetual war. In this sense, if you asked a former NSA official like Keith Alexander in confidence, they'd probably smile and tell you that the NSA's mass interception programs have been a tremendous success.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Bill Blunden

Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal, and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.

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Forbes Writer Smears Snowden, Misses the Boat: The NSA's Programs Aren't About Stopping Terrorism

Friday, November 21, 2014 By Bill Blunden, SpeakOut | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Recently John Tamny over at Forbes penned a review of the movie Citizenfour. As one might expect, being an establishment columnist, he launches his sophomoric diatribe with a snarky ad hominem attack:

"To watch Cizenfour is to witness an overly paranoid crank. Snowden went through all sorts of hurdles to contact the documentarian in Poitras without being detected by US intelligence, clearly traveled to Hong Kong (where Poitras and Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald interviewed him) under deep cover, but not explained enough was why?"

Paranoid crank? Has Mr. Tamny ever worked as a technical specialist for US intelligence? Should readers genuinely accept that Tamny is a voice of authority on spy tradecraft? Anyone who calls Snowden's behavior paranoid clearly hasn't had a sufficient look at leaked NSA documents. There's an entire catalogue devoted to the kind of tools that literally keep chief security officers up at night. Bridging air gap has been honed to a fine art by US spies as Stuxnet demonstrated. The NSA has capabilities that former STASI officers could only dream of and not even heads of state are immune from them.

Caution is Snowden's case was actually well advised. Recall how officials went so far as to force Bolivia's President to land his jet for inspection? Viewing this sort of power on display, if you're not paranoid, then you're not paying attention.

Tamny then goes on to claim that the government's surveillance apparatus is a complete failure. That it can't possibly protect the public from terrorists because NSA employees are a bunch of incompetent pretenders who couldn't find work in the private sector. There's no way such people could derive anything "actionable" from their runaway projects:

"Does anyone really believe that the NSA is the exception to the general rule? Do they once again want to believe that someone with an amazing head for numbers would toil for the relatively meager pay that defines government work?.....

"Tracking trillions of communications signals a lack of a strategy, not a serious one meant to find those who mean us harm. To gather trillions of internet searches, e-mails and calls is to gather none. It's presumably impossible to unearth actionable items amid all the information gathered."

While it's true that a larger haystack can make it more difficult to find a needle, there's a fundamental flaw with this train of thought. Not only is the NSA's global surveillance apparatus the product of analytically gifted minds, more importantly it isn't about stopping terrorist attacks. That's merely a pretext. As Snowden himself stated in an open letter to Brazil, the NSA's litany of codenamed programs are geared towards economic espionage, diplomatic manipulation, and social control. They're about power. That and channeling trillions of dollars to the defense industry. The global panopticon is one facet of the Deep State's campaign for perpetual war. In this sense, if you asked a former NSA official like Keith Alexander in confidence, they'd probably smile and tell you that the NSA's mass interception programs have been a tremendous success.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Bill Blunden

Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal, and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.