The highly secretive National Security Agency, subject of James Bamford’s latest book “The Spy Factory” was revealed for television viewers last night on the PBS documentary series, “Nova”, in a report with the same title as the book. Bamford is the preeminent journalist reporting on intelligence issues, and specifically on the NSA going back to his first book, “The Puzzle Palace: a Report on America’s Most Secret Agency” which was first published in 1982, and subsequent books published in 2001, 2002 and 2005.
The revelation of the extent of eavesdropping that the NSA has been engaged in was not in itself surprising, given everything that has come out in the media during the past year, however, the fact that the NSA and the CIA both refused to share pertinent information they had collected with the other duly constituted federal intelligence, counter-intelligence and law enforcement agencies was the most disturbing message in the “Nova” report.
It was quite clear, that had information collected by the NSA and CIA been shared with the FBI, and all agencies cooperated and worked together towards a common goal, that at least part of the 9/11 attacks could have been thwarted
In addition these other conclusions could clearly be drawn from the report:
- The NSA is conducting continuous, unrestrained by any courts or statutes, eavesdropping on all telephonic and data communications (whether email, text messaging, fax, etc.) occurring in or passing through the United States.
- The NSA is currently not capable of effectively managing or leveraging this data, it is too massive and current technology is not up to the task of intelligently “mining” the data for pertinent “grains” of information that would lead to completing the “puzzle” of information.
- Human analysts at the NSA in many cases are not adequately trained or equipped with the necessary foreign language skills and intelligence analysis techniques to extrapolate on the available data and increase our ability to leverage available intelligence data.
- Administrators at the NSA have not been forthcoming with sharing information with their counter-parts in other intelligence, law enforcement or defense agencies of the federal government. Conversely, neither has the CIA been collaborative in sharing the information they have developed.
- Despite the vast amount of data that has been and continues to be collected by the NSA, the agency operates like a “black hole”, much data is sucked up, the bulk of it perfectly legitimate communications by law abiding people, their personal lives and communications compromised by government agents, but little, if anything, of value to the defense and welfare of the American people comes out of the NSA.
It is going to be up to General Keith Alexander, the new Director of NSA to figure out how the NSA can do a better job of isolating and analyzing the data that is pertinent to national security, and it will be up to Dennis C. Blair, the new Director of National Intelligence to marshal all of his resources and getting them all “playing together” as an effective team. It will also be incumbent upon director Blair to open the lines of communication and collaboration with pertinent officials of the Justice Department and the FBI.
This is all too important to either compromise the constitutional protections of privacy for the American people or to drop the ball in protecting the security of the United States.
For more information on how Americans have lost their civil liberties over the years, in terms of personal privacy rights, the History Commons has a very enlightening chronology titled “Loss of US Civil Liberties”
at their web site.
To view the Nova report please go to the PBS web site where the program is available in five segements of streaming video.
“The Black Hole” NSA headquarters, Ft. Meade, Maryland: