“And as what was once private becomes public and our freedoms are slowly supplanted for the sake of national security, the engorged NSA will grow fatter until our entire system of ideas buckles beneath its unyielding weight, leaving in its wake a more intrusive, oppressive state with no shortage of enemies.”
- Corey Stephens
Editorial by Corey Stephens
Illustration by Drew Panckeri
Corey Stephens is an art critic and talented writer who is eager to offer his opinions on the economy, creativity, and global relations. He contributes insightful, and entertaining editorials to Paradigm’s website regularly.
The NSA is the country’s most powerful and well-sourced tool in a global race to snatch up information. Just what kind of information and how much it has access to has put the NSA at the center of a debate that has turned the world’s attention on an agency whose very existence depends upon the upmost secrecy. In the wake of the Wikileaks firestorm, the emergence of whistleblower Edward J Snowden, and revelations of spying on private citizens and foreign allies, the public is demanding greater transparency, putting this den of spies under the microscope on a scale not seen in the sixty years since its creation.
Following the attacks on September the 11th, the NSA has steadily risen to become an intelligence gobbling behemoth whose budget and capabilities dwarf those of its counterparts around the globe. Its seemingly limitless access to information and the controversial means by which it acquires it has sparked outcry across the political spectrum.
In a world with threats from enemies at home and abroad ever looming are the NSA’s actions justifiable? Is gaining the tactical and diplomatic advantage in the name of protecting our national interests worth putting our civil liberties and our standing in the global political arena at risk? More importantly, if the NSA is allowed to continue on its present course what will be the ramifications for the rest of us when the government allows itself to access every piece of our personal information, from our bank statements to our dinner reservations, at a moment’s notice?
The sheer quantity of information at the NSA’s disposal is incalculable, a veritable goldmine of data. Much of it will never be used. The rest of it is squirreled away for any number of “just in case” scenarios. It is this behavior that has drawn the rabble of civil liberties groups and private citizens. Many of whom share a similar fear; which is, what happens when the NSA cashes in on this intelligence nest egg? In a time when one’s dirty laundry can be aired around the globe in a matter of seconds, who is really safe?
The NSA functions below the radar of popular opinion allowing it to circumvent or even reshape the law to accommodate its activities under the auspice of national security. Secret courts like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) charged with overseeing the agency’s activities abroad, grant the NSA far-reaching powers like the ability to tap the phones of foreign leaders.
Despite outrage and protests, the Obama Administration asserts that the NSA is keeping up the good fight, keeping the boogie man under the bed where he belongs, but just how can we be sure that our best interest are being served? We can’t be, but we are expected to trust in our government and assume that we are safer for what they do even if it costs us the trust of our allies and puts our own freedoms at risk. Moreover, leaving our standing as a global beacon for justice and democracy in question. This seems counterintuitive to maintaining our political, economic and tactical advantages over our enemies and competitors, which is what the NSA purports to do.
The NSA seems unstoppable, and if this is the case, what recourse do we private citizens have when it comes to protecting our rights? At the moment it seems, very little. Though, that hasn’t stopped the most vocal of us from demanding that the NSA’s handlers be all but dragged to the guillotine. Words like transparency and accountability get tossed around the media, but in the end are merely words with little power to slow the super-spying machine. Still we are somewhat safer. For the most part, the NSA has succeeded in carrying out its mission to protect us from outside threats and local ones too, but it has failed to protect us from a moral and ethical onslaught that will, if left unaddressed, do irrevocable damage to our place in the pantheon of great democracies.
With there being no end in sight to the long list of enemies that want nothing more than to see the painful and ruinous demise of our democracy, nor to the depths of the NSA’s pockets, it appears that there will be no end to the NSA’s activities. Likewise, as the tactics of our enemies grow more sophisticated we have adapted in-kind spurring a technological revolution goes beyond the scope of conventional information to utilize tools only read about in science-fiction novels. Already, the NSA and its affiliate CYBERCOM (Cyber Command) has access to programs like the one codenamed MUSCULAR, that copies the flow of traffic between Google and Yahoo. With these resources in hand what’s stopping the NSA from invading every aspect our lives, and sharing this information with the IRS or the local PTA?
With these capabilities, what’s next, the random cancellation of medical insurance based on how many times we visited McDonalds in the last month, or the preemptive imprisonment of private citizens? If the NSA continues unchecked, the effects on our way of life will be disastrous, leaving us to fend for ourselves in a kind of dystopian society where Big-Brother has the ability to access our lives with the push of a button.
Sadly, whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re accelerating the dismantlement of our free society with every new Facebook status, re-Tweet, and hash-tag. We are aiding and abetting the government’s insatiable pursuit for information and ironically signing our own doom.
As the unimpeachable NSA acts with impunity in its mass harvesting of what has become the government’s number one cash-crop — information, the average citizen is reduced to a head of cattle, fanatically milked of the precious terabytes of our lives by a pair of invisible hands in the sky. And as what was once private becomes public and our freedoms are slowly supplanted for the sake of national security, the engorged NSA will grow fatter until our entire system of ideas buckles beneath its unyielding weight, leaving in its wake a more intrusive, oppressive state with no shortage of enemies. The very kind the NSA says its protecting us from.