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Article posted Jun 11 2013, 12:38 PM Category: Big Brother/Orwellian Source: Techdirt Print

How Can NSA Surveillance Leaks Both Be No Big Deal *And* Put Us All In Danger?

by Mike Masnick

As the NSA and the administration continue to seek to spin the fallout from the leaks that revealed some of the overreaching surveillance efforts of the NSA, what's incredible is how self-contradictory the statements are, even when coming from the same source. The go-to defender of the program has been Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has tried arguing both that the leaks and these programs are no big deal and that they present a grave danger to intelligence operations. It's incredible.

First, there's playing it down as no big deal:
In a statement issued Saturday, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. described PRISM as “an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information from electronic communication service providers under court supervision.”

“PRISM is not an undisclosed collection or data mining program,” the statement said.
Hmm. So if it's no big deal, and all they're doing is facilitating statutorily authorized collection of data, why all the secrecy? Why not be transparent about all of that? And, also, if it's just keeping track of all the legally obtained stuff, why then would he also say the following:
“For me, it is literally – not figuratively – literally gut-wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities,” Clapper told NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell.
And later, he claimed that the leaker (this was before Snowden revealed himself) had "chosen to violate a sacred trust for this country" and that the leaks "affects the safety and security of this country."

I can't see any way to put together the earlier statements with the later statements that makes any sense at all. If all they were doing is analyzing statutorily authorized data, then there shouldn't be any concern. We'd expect the NSA to have a computer system to do exactly that, right? So... um... why is it damaging to the nation and putting us all at risk? It seems more likely that the truth is that what was revealed wasn't just a simple system for collecting data, as we can see, but rather just how much information the NSA is gathering up into its huge databases. Furthermore, the idea that this puts us in danger is, frankly, insulting. Most folks involved in terrorist activity already assume their phone calls are being tracked, so it's not like this is going to change their tactics.

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