By Christopher B. Daly
Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who divulged the secret surveillance that the agency conducts on innocent American civilians, made a good point in his recent “public appearance.” Still stuck in Russia, Snowden spoke to the SxSW conference, via teleconference, thanks to multiple encrypted relays to disguise his actual location.
The Times chose to put its story in the Business section (which was unfortunate, I think) on the apparent grounds that Snowden’s big pitch was aimed at U.S. tech and social-media companies, telling them that they need to step up their privacy. They already knew that, so I am not sure what the news value was there.
Of greater interest was the theme developed by the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima. She emphasized Snowden’s view that the NSA is so swamped with big data from its indiscriminate surveillance that it is not doing a very good job of tracking individual bad guys (which is, after all, what we want them to do).
‘‘We’ve actually had a tremendous intelligence failure because . . . we’re monitoring everybody’s communications instead of suspects’ communications’’ — a situation, he asserts, that has ‘‘caused us to miss’’ intelligence.
Come to think of it, for all the money that we spend on the intelligence community as a whole, and for all the compromises we make with the Constitution and our liberties, how great is the return? Where are the answers to these questions:
–Did anyone know that Putin would seize Crimea? Did anyone tell President Obama?
–Did anyone predict the Boston Marathon bombing?
–Did anyone predict the uprising that toppled Mubarak in Egypt?
–Can anyone tell us how to get rid of Assad in Syria?
–Did anyone know what was coming in Benghazi?
–What about 9/11? What about the fall of the Berlin Wall?
Basically, we need to ask: why do all the big, important things seem to come as such a surprise (to our presidents as well as to the average informed citizen)?
Whenever you don’t find something, doesn’t that tell you that you’re looking in the wrong places?