Director of National Intelligence James Clapper spoke to a “defense and intelligence contractor trade group” on Tuesday. And he said something that I thought was very interesting about the Edward Snowden leaks, “I think it’s clear that some of the conversations this has generated, some of the debate, actually needed to happen.” From the reporter’s standpoint, that’s the money quote. But I think that’s being far too charitable and, to be blunt, naive.
Just on the most obvious level, what do you expect Clapper to say? He isn’t going to say that the leaks were the worst thing ever and that if we had any sense we’d fire him. Instead, he’s going to talk on all sides of the issue. After saying that we needed to have this discussion, he said that this doesn’t take away from just how horrible the Snowden revelations are. According to the article, “The ‘continuous stream of revelations’ that has appeared in U.S. and British newspapers has damaged national security, and is far from over, Clapper said.” All of this is standard surveillance state propaganda.
What bothers me a lot more if how Clapper implies that there is some kind of perfect leak. Snowden could have leaked documents that would have started the debate, but not ones that “damaged national security.” That is such a load of crap. It is just like Obama saying that we ought to have a debate before anyone knew who Snowden was. Sure: pretty words. But we weren’t having that debate. In fact, we couldn’t have that debate. It’s like having a discussion with your doctor about a health problem you have. If he refuses to tell you what the problem is, it is hard to have a real discussion. Is it an ingrown toenail or cancer? It really does matter.
So the government (it doesn’t matter what the administration is) wants us to have a conversation about our privacy. But they don’t want us to know that they are processing all of our electronic communications. That would damage national security! They don’t want us to know that the spying agencies screw up and infringe on citizens’ privacy all the time—including times where rogue agents spy on people for their own personal reasons. That would damage national security! They don’t want us to know that the high tech world has rolled over and allowed the agencies to put back doors in all their products. That would damage national security!
So what do they want? They want a very public conversation where people say, “We’re worried about our privacy and the acts of the government to infringe upon it.” And then they will say, “But we would never do that!” And the conversation would be over. There is no more to be said. The people couldn’t say, “Then why are you collecting all of our data?” Because the people wouldn’t know they were collecting all our data. And that’s the way the government wants it. They want us in the dark so that we will be compliant.
So when you hear James Clapper or anyone else in any administration talk about “welcoming debate,” just file it under “Yet More Government Bullshit.” All they want to do is cover their own asses and maintain what power and privilege they have.The more information we have, the less powerful they are. And that is not acceptable to them.
To be fair to these people, they think they are keeping us “safe.” And it is certainly true that it is safer for them to run an authoritarian state where no terror attacks happen than a free state where they do. But I’m not even sure that their authoritarian methods do make us safe. Every time there is a plot uncovered, it turns out to be nothing more than one agency or another manipulating vulnerable people into using fake weapons that the government provides to try to do something nasty. If the government really is stopping major plots, where are they? If they existed, they would be trotted out all the time. Instead, we get nothing. The surveillance state exists only to keep itself growing. And regardless of how people like James Clapper self-justify, they are still evil men.