When the captain of the Titanic learned five compartments of its hull had been breached by the iceberg, he knew what was going to happen next. When thinking about the scope of Snowden’s disclosed documents (e.g., NSA’s ANT Division Catalog of Exploits), it seems to me one could come to a pretty quick conclusion about what happens next: Game over for business as usual for the US intelligence community. It is time to reboot the US intelligence community – doing this will require big, creative, wild ideas.
From the 80,000 foot view I can foresee so many second and third order effects in the future – it’s quite mind numbing. Sure, we now have a bigger chunk of the US population that does not trust our government; a growing concern over the erosion of our 4th Amendment in the name of national security; and a global outcry saying ”foul.” Important debates around these things are happening now. But this is not even remotely half the problem for the US intelligence community.
Foreign manufacturers of information and communications technology (ICT) are surely going to use these revelations to undermine US products in their sales pitches. US industry is at risk of losing billions in business over coming years, whether they were called out in the Snowden documents or not.
Foreign intelligence organizations may look upon these documents as roadmaps and best practices. If these organizations point these new capabilities inward, especially in less democratic countries, the citizens of these countries will be subject to unprecedented levels of government surveillance. So the US becomes more transparent and our 300 million US citizens benefit from less wholesale surveillance all the while several billion people experience exactly the opposite. Unremedied, we, the US, will bear responsibility for this.
On the current trajectory, trust at home and abroad is going to shake the rafters, economically and otherwise. All the while our intelligence apparatus is going to see ever-shrinking yields on the money we spend. Said another way, on the current heading, given the vessel, current weather and coming forecast, the risk to the crew (our democracy) is unacceptably high while at the same time the previous well-traveled route will now prove to be an epic waste of energy.
While the recent recommendations by the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies cover a wide range of things worth considering and/or fixing, these are incremental tweaks (e.g., where the metadata lives). Even if all of these recommendations are followed, a major ‘methods of operations’ reboot is still in order. From my point of view, making incremental tweaks at this point is akin to the Titanic captain proposing to preserve ship power by re-wiring the electrical system, while the vessel will still, no matter what, be going nose-down.
Radical reinvention of US intelligence community is in order. What we need now are big, creative, wild ideas as we re-create our next generation, world-class, trusted, hyper-efficient, and globally admired intelligence apparatus.
I plan on posting some of my own wild ideas soon.
I encourage you to propose your own wild ideas too – use the #SpyReboot #WildIdeas hash tags so folks can find them.