‘It has had a material impact on our ability to generate insights as to what terrorist groups around the world are doing. Anyone who thinks this has not had an impact… doesn’t know what they are talking about.’
Or so says NSA Director Michael Rogers about Edward Snowden’s shocking NSA-busting leaks, arguing that ubiquitous mass surveillance of just about everybody in the world’s every phone or VoIP call, email, text, or IM conversation, plus web browsing history, is justified on the grounds that it protects US national security interests, and that by alerting the world to its methods, Mr Snowden has done major harm to the United States’ effort to combat terrorism.
The problem with any such claim, however, is that the NSA has steadfastly refused to back it up with any evidence whatsoever, arguing that doing so would damage America’s relations with its allies (if such revelations would be so shocking to the US’s supposed friends, this would strongly suggest that the NSA is behaving is a deeply unethical way), and that giving away details about its methods would compromise their effectiveness.
While this last point may have some validity, we would argue even using these methods (whatever they are!) requires not only very strong justification, but that this be backed up by solid evidence that such blanket assaults on the public’s liberty are actually effective, and that Mr Snowden’s actions have caused real damage by exposing them.
Now, in what is frankly a rather Kafkaesque turn of events, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by releasing a 141 report explaining the damage that Snowden has done… which sounds exactly what is needed, except… apart from some subheadings, all text on every page has been redacted!
It is difficult to know where to begin with this. It is clear that the NSA holds the FOIA and any form of public accountability in utter contempt. In fact, it is hard not to interpret releasing a 140+ page fully redacted report (rather than simply refusing the request) as a calculated ‘fuck you’ to those seeking greater transparency over its operations.
Mr Snowden’s actions alerted the world to the scale of the NSA’s flagrant abuses of power, but rather than talking openly about the role mass surveillance may have in modern society (if any), the NSA and politicians would much rather sweep the whole business back under the carpet where they feel it obviously belongs.
In a debate that is continually framed in terms of ‘getting the balance right between privacy and security,’ thanks to Mr Snowden we know for sure that our privacy is being seriously eroded, but have been presented with zero evidence (but many assertions) that this is compensated for by increased security.
If this assault on all our privacy is somehow justified by making us safer, then why is the US government (other governments are also guilty of similar offenses) so afraid to prove it?