Espionage porn

Reuters

The founder of the protest group Code Pink Medea Benjamin protests against U.S. President Obama and the NSA before his arrival at the Department of Justice in Washington, January 17, 2014. Obama banned U.S. eavesdropping on the leaders of close friends and allies and began reining in the vast collection of Americans' phone data in a series of reforms triggered by Edward Snowden's revelations.

Article Highlights

  • @marcthiessen Snowden has become the Larry Flynt of the intelligence world – a shameless espionage pornographer

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  • @marcthiessen As damaging as Snowden’s revelations have been, the real damage has come from how Obama has responded

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  • @marcthiessen Espionage porn has forced the commander in chief to buckle

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As President Obama prepared to address the nation on surveillance, the New York Times revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has developed the capability to access computers that are not connected to the Internet. According to the Times, based on classified documents obtained from Edward Snowden, the NSA uses “a covert channel of radio waves that can be transmitted from tiny circuit boards and USB cards inserted surreptitiously into . . . computers” or in some cases “a briefcase-size relay station that intelligence agencies can set up miles away from the target.”

Evidence of another NSA plot to spy on Americans? Not at all. The Times reports, “There is no evidence that the NSA has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States.” And the NSA confirmed that the “NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against — and only against — valid foreign intelligence targets.”

In other words, this (no longer) secret program poses precisely zero threat to American civil liberties.

So what is the redeeming social value of the Times’ story? What “abuse” is being revealed? Why is this something the public needs to know?

The answers are: None. None. And it isn’t.

Before this disclosure, terrorists believed that if they did not connect to the Internet, they were “off the grid” and out of range of NSA surveillance. Now they know that is not true. As a result they can take countermeasures — and stop using the offline computers the NSA was monitoring — which means we will lose access to vital streams of intelligence we needed to prevent an attack.

As one former senior intelligence official told me recently, stories like this are nothing more than “espionage porn.” They serve no greater social purpose other than to titillate.

And this is just one example. Consider: Snowden has exposed the fact that the NSA had infiltrated the computer networks of Tsinghua University in Beijing, which houses one of China’s six major backbone networks through which Internet data for millions of Chinese citizens pass. This activity has no implications for the civil liberties of Americans, but the revelation did enormous damage to our intelligence efforts in China.

Or take Snowden’s revelation that the NSA had intercepted the communications of then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and had discovered “a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted,” which they were exploiting to eavesdrop on the Kremlin. Again, this activity has no implications for the privacy of American citizens but enormous implications for U.S. national security.

Or take Snowden’s revelation that the NSA had been using data from Internet hubs in south and west Germany to monitor Internet traffic to Syria and Mali — two hotbeds of al-Qaeda activity — a revelation that tipped off our enemies to these vital U.S. intelligence operations.

Or take his exposure of the NSA’s Office of Tailored Access Operations (or TAO), which find ways to break into the computers of the United States’ adversaries and even intercepts the delivery of electronics to plant bugs in them. All these operations are focused on valid foreign intelligence targets, but no matter. The public needs to know.

None of these activities are illegal. As President Obama pointed out in his speech Friday, “The legal safeguards that restrict surveillance against U.S. persons without a warrant do not apply to foreign persons overseas.” None of these activities are targeted at Americans. All are vital to U.S. security. Yet thanks to Snowden, and the newspapers that published his illegal revelations, everyone now knows about them — including the terrorists who want to strike at our country again.

Snowden has become the Larry Flynt of the intelligence world – a shameless espionage pornographer. Except for one big difference: Most respectable publications would never publish pornography.

As damaging as Snowden’s revelations have been, the real damage has come from how Obama has chosen to respond to them. In his speech Friday, Obama declared that the men and women of the NSA are “not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your e-mails.” Their activities, Obama said, are lawful and important for national security — yet he is changing the NSA’s programs anyway to placate his critics. Now, for the first time in history, the United States will extend the same privacy protections enjoyed by U.S. citizens to all foreign people anywhere in the world — including terrorists.

In other words, espionage porn has forced the commander in chief to buckle.

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Marc A.
Thiessen

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