Michael Hayden on the Effects of Snowden's Whistleblowing
Former NSA director Michael Hayden lists three effects of the Snowden documents:
- “…the undeniable operational effect of informing adversaries of American intelligence’s tactics, techniques and procedures.”
- “…the undeniable economic punishment that will be inflicted on American businesses for simply complying with American law.”
- “…the erosion of confidence in the ability of the United States to do anything discreetly or keep anything secret.”
It’s an interesting list, and one that you’d expect from a NSA person. Actually, the whole essay is about what you’d expect from a former NSA person.
- This, I agree, is actual damage. From what I can tell, Snowden has done his best to minimize it. And both the Guardian and the Washington Post refused to publish materials he provided, out of concern for US national security. Hayden believes that both the Chinese and the Russians have Snowden’s entire trove of documents, but I’m less convinced. Everyone is acting under the assumption that the NSA has compromised everything, which is probably a good assumption.
- Hayden has it backwards—this is good. I hope that companies that have cooperated with the NSA are penalized in the market. If we are to expect the market to solve any of this, we need the cost of cooperating to be greater than the cost of fighting. If we as consumers punish companies that have complied with the NSA, they’ll be less likely to roll over next time.
- In the long run, this might turn out to be a good thing, too. In the Internet age, secrecy is a lot harder to maintain. The countries that figure this out first will be the countries that do well in the coming decades.
And, of course, Hayden lists his “costs” without discussing the benefits. Exposing secret government overreach, a secret agency gone rogue, and a secret court that’s failing in its duties are enormously beneficial. Snowden has blown a whistle that long needed blowing—it’s the only way can ever hope to fix this. And Hayden completely ignores the very real question as to whether these enormous NSA data-collection programs provide any real benefits.
I’m also tired of this argument:
But it takes a special kind of arrogance for this young man to believe that his moral judgment on the dilemma suddenly trumps that of two (incredibly different) presidents, both houses of the U.S. Congress, both political parties, the U.S. court system and more than 30,000 of his co-workers.
It’s like President Obama claiming that the NSA programs are “transparent” because they were cleared by a secret court that only ever sees one side of the argument, or that Congress has provided oversight because a few legislators were allowed to know some of what was going on but forbidden from talking to anyone about it.