Thursday, October 31, 2013

Terrorism Could Never Threaten American Values—the 'War on Terror' Does

1. Terrorism Could Never Threaten American Values—the 'War on Terror' Does. (2013 October 30) The Atlantic.

2. Category of problem: National security

3. Level of problem: National level

4. The article concerns: Recent reports revealing the NSA's unlawful conduct including spying on foreign governments and hacking into Google and Yahoo's cloud computing mainframes, and the role of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the NSA's behavior.

5. Why this is important: The importance of this issue is twofold. (1) Because the NSA's behavior has come to light, the American government has damaged a basic trusting relationship with the rest of the world and with American businesses whom were subject to spying, and (2) it is critical to dissect the relationship between the September 11th attacks, the NSA's conduct, and American values relating to freedom and privacy in order to analyze our nation and our government's behavior.

6. My views on this issue/policy: I agree with certain aspects of the article and not with others. I agree that at a critical time of national vulnerability and patriotism, the government's initiatives to encourage consumerism and declare war (both physically and figuratively) were inopportune and woefully irresponsible. I also agree that we are experiencing the harmful consequences of those decisions to this day. However, I disagree that the NSA's conduct is closely tied to the September 11th attacks.

Various records hold that the NSA (or similar government groups) have been spying on foreign governments (and domestic citizens) long prior to 2001. In the 1920's a military group of code breakers referred to as "Black Chamber" actively monitored international telegraphs with express permission from Western Union personnel. In 1952 the NSA was established from SHAMROCK, a military operative which monitored international communication during WWII. In 1959 a law was passed which provided the NSA with the ability to, "function without the disclosure of information which would endanger the accomplishment of its functions." Since then, whistle blowing has brought to light decades of illicit spying conducted by the NSA, from the MINARET project in the 1960's to today's global network of computers, ECHELON, being used to data mine millions of domestic phone calls and e-mails.

I think it's important to point out that the September 11th attacks are not a cause (or excuse) for the NSA's behavior and to belittle the issue of government spying to a desperate and fearful response to a recent event completely ignores the existence of a deeper problem which is the US government's habit of spying, and the legislation which perpetuates it (such as the recent Patriot Act). Today's reports of the NSA's spying should lead to a conversation about the US' history of spying, and how we can increase government transparency and promote a system of global checks and balances. The War on Terror is still, and always will be, a red herring. 

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