A Wednesday morning headline in Russia Today, “NSA Whistleblower: ‘Everyone in US Under Virtual Surveillance,’” led me to this incredible video. That, in turn, led me to think, “Here we go with the rantings and ravings of the ‘Big Brother is watching’ crowd.” Believe me, I am part of that crowd. I don’t want Big Government or Big Brother in my life any more than it already is.
But when it comes to the safety and security of me, my children and my country, I — wait for it — break with my conservative Republican-ness and could care less if the government reads my emails, listens to my phone calls and saves my text messages in the name of national security. Honestly. I have no problem with intelligence agencies intruding in my private life. Wait, what’s private? Emails, texts, Facebook, Twitter? So not private. We knowingly and willingly share our private lives and personal thoughts and opinions via social media with the whole world. As soon as we hit a “send” or “share” button, all right to privacy we think we had just got blasted into cyberspace.
Russia Today recently interviewed William Binney, a former National Security Agency mathematician and code breaker who resigned in protest in 2001 over the NSA’s domestic spying policy. Binney said that under the “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” the NSA is collecting and storing every email, from every U.S. citizen, and has been doing so since Sept.11, 2001. These trillions of emails are stored in bulk, Binney said, and will be housed in the new, super-secret, data storage facility being built in Bluffdale, Utah.
The problem, Binney told Russia Today, is that the FBI has access to the data. He said if a U.S. citizen “becomes a target for whatever reason – they are targeted by the government, the government can go in, or the FBI, or other agencies of the government, they can go into their database, pull all that data collected on them over the years, and we analyze it all.” Binney said it was this — the government engaging in data mining, turning the United States into a “surveillance state” — that led to his resignation.
Russia Today asked Binney about the FBI gaining access to the personal emails of U.S. Gens. David Petraeus and John Allen:
RT: In the case of General Petraeus one would argue that there could have been security breaches. Something like that. But with General Allen – I don’t quite understand, because what they were looking into were his private emails to this woman.
WB: That’s the whole point. I am not sure what the internal politics is… That’s part of the problem. This government doesn’t want things in the public. It’s not a transparent government. Whatever the reason or the motivation was, I don’t really know, but I certainly think that there was something going on in the background that made them target those fellows. Otherwise why would they be doing it? There is no crime there.
Binney responded next to the very question I would have asked, the very reason I have no issue with any agency collecting and storing my data: What of the people who aren’t committing crimes, those who have nothing to hide? According to Russia Today, Binney responded:
The problem is if they think they are not doing anything that’s wrong, they don’t get to define that. The central government does, the central government defines what is right and wrong and whether or not they target you. So, it’s not up to the individuals. Even if they think they aren’t doing something wrong, if their position on something is against what the administration has, then they could easily become a target.
OK, I get that. But we still are a nation of law and order. We live under a criminal justice system that requires, at a minimum, probable cause-based search warrants to find evidence on a “target.”
I grew up reading the masters of espionage, Tom Clancy, John le Carré, Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, watched “James Bond” and “24,” and realized the world forever changed after 9/11. There are and always will be bad guys who want to kill us. That’s why we need to find them first. So, I believe when it comes to tracking and finding people who want to attack my country and kill me and mine, intelligence agencies should do whatever it takes, even if it means giving up some personal freedoms. I fear terrorist sleeper cells in America more than I fear the NSA reading the turkey brine recipe I emailed my mother.
Here’s a must-watch segment from an upcoming documentary with Binney and filmmaker Laura Poitras: