Related Stories

  • RSA Conference 2014: Microsoft Does Not Put Backdoors in its Products says Charney
    In his keynote at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, February 25 2014, Scott Charney, VP of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing Group, insisted that Microsoft has not compromised its principles in order to work with the NSA
  • RSA 2014: Art Coviello Addresses RSA/NSA Controversy in Keynote
    In the opening keynote at the RSA Conference 2014 in San Francisco, Art Coviello, Executive Chairman of RSA, gave his first public comments about RSA’s relationship with the NSA.
  • CSA Summit 2014: NSA Surveillance a Pre-cursor to Police State, Says Former US Cyber Czar
    The CSA Summit at this year’s RSA Conference kicked off with a keynote by Richard Clarke, former presidential advisor. Discussing the recent NSA surveillance controversy, the counter-terrorism and cybersecurity expert declared technology is currently available for the US government, and other nations around the world, “to create a ubiquitous, omniscient police surveillance state.”
  • Australia Offered Economic Espionage Results to the NSA
    Details from a newly disclosed document from the cache of Edward Snowden leaks demonstrates that the Australian spy agency (one of the Five Eyes) was monitoring a US law firm advising the Indonesian government on a trade dispute with the US in 2013 in a clear breach of attorney/client confidentiality – and offered that information to the NSA.
  • Merkel and Hollande Propose a European Internet
    News outlets, such as the BBC, are reporting that Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel "is proposing building up a European communications network to help improve data protection" and prevent European emails and other data passing through the United States where it can be, and has been, harvested by the NSA.

Top 5 Stories


RSA Conference 2014: Intelligence Heavyweights Engage in Friendly Europe Bashing

25 February 2014

The US is not unique among nations when it comes to its intelligence gathering abilities. “We are just better” at it than most countries, according to Richard Clarke, the former presidential counter-terrorism adviser.

“Americans are not better at everything; I can give you a long list of things we are not better at”, Clarke added. “But at this stuff – intelligence gathering – we are much, much better than everyone else when we are on the offense, but not neccesarily on the defense.”

Clarke, currently the CEO of Good Harbor consulting, sat on a panel today at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, where he was joined by former CIA and NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden (ret.), and James Lewis, former State Department veteran and currently director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The panel unanimously agreed that the 9/11 terrorist attacks have had a profound effect on the current surveillance apparatus in the US, but some of the programs, namely FISA, predate the 2001 incident.

“Snowden is effect, not cause in this case”, asserted Hayden when speaking about public reaction to the NSA leaks.

“There is nothing unlawful going on here, there are may things that are unwise but not unlawful when viewed in the light of the social contract we brought out of the 1970s”, Clarke observed. The intelligence programs have been authorized by multiple presidents and reviewed and overseen by the judicial branch, with oversight by the Congress.

“This is Madisonian government at its finest, with all three branches having an input”, Hayden added in agreement.

Lewis then said he was surprised by people’s reaction to the Snowden revelations. “I assumed people knew this, and that was a mistake. My conversations with people in other governments confirmed they knew we were doing this”, but many among the general public, worldwide, did not.

“Other nations knew we were doing this.” Their outrage, Clarke asserted, is full of hypocrisy, as he specifically singled out reactions by those in the French and German governments. “The French criticized us for collecting intelligence on foreign leaders. But every time Obama picks up his BlackBerry the French are trying to access it”, he said.

“It’s true that in Washington, if you are on a phone call, there are seven or eight other people on the line. You just have to get used to it”, Lewis said in agreement. “The European intelligence agencies knew what we were up to, so there was no surprise.” The European public’s reaction, however, is entirely different he maintained, as they largely had no idea about the extent of the surveillance being conducted by the NSA.

“I never found a country that did not do internal surveillance”, Lewis remarked, and then asked the panel what can be done to assuage the trust concerns of foreign governments and their citizens.

“Foreign governments should have the same oversight we do: courts, parliamentary, review boards, and the like. The problem here is not oversight”, Clarke responded. “This is”, he said of the US efforts, “the most transparent intelligence community on the planet.”

“European parliamentarians know more about American espionage efforts than they do about their own – and it’s not even close”, Hayden chimed in. He then hinted that outraged politicians in Europe should take a look at what’s going on in their own countries before pointing a finger at the US intelligence programs.

“I don’t think the American people have a problem with their government doing things in secret, as long as they have a general idea that its going on”, Clarke insisted. “But you need to be able to explain to the people what is going on.” Somewhere along the line there, he added, there was a disconnect between what information the government needed to collect and what it was actually collecting.

“Just because we can collect certain information, that doesn’t mean we should or need to”, he insisted. “We were collecting a lot of shit we didn’t need to, and that we shouldn’t be collecting.”

The problem, as Clarke outlined, was that policy makers did not specify the type of information they wanted collected. “The policy community – and not just the Obama administration, but the last several administrations – did not take the time to learn about the intelligence community, and have proper oversight of it.” Clarke also reminded the audience that while the NSA does not engage in political surveillance, much like the FBI did throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the technology to do so is readily available.

“Once you have a police surveillance state, you can’t turn it off because the surveillance state will prevent anyone from organizing against it”, Clarke observed. “We don’t have a police surveillance state now, but the technology is there to do it. We need more roadblocks to prevent this now, before that surveillance state gets turned on. We have oversight on our surveillance apparatus now, but not much in the way of transparency.”

“In the future”, Clarke then warned, “once you give up your civil liberties, you may never get them back.”

Lewis then added that he worries about the “chilling effect of an intrusive oversight process” and what impact it might have on the American government’s ability to collect intelligence.

“When our citizenry feels unsafe, we get criticized for not doing enough”, said Hayden, former NSA/CIA chief. “As soon as we make our citizenry feel safe again, we get criticized for doing too much. If we curb our ability to collect intelligence”, he maintained, “then our government will be largely unaware of what’s going on” among the terrorist actors. “When you have lawful tools, be careful about taking them off the table”, Hayden cautioned, adding that it’s dangerous to live inside the box if you are looking to maintain national security.

This article is featured in:
Compliance and Policy  •  Industry News  •  Internet and Network Security  •  Public Sector  •  Wireless and Mobile Security



galactus says:

26 February 2014
European governments are not so transparent and are even in denial to everybody when it comes to domestic and international intelligence ( espionage).
So far i agree with the observations as Richard Clarke mentions and quoted in this article. Althaugh I feel a slight tendency to defend the information gathering the US is doing is to protect it against terrorism, well we know that this assumption can't be farther from the current reality.

See the snowden revelations ( documents) alone and you can confirm that terrorism is not really the reason today or has been ever!

Note: The majority of comments posted are created by members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those Elsevier Ltd. We are not responsible for any content posted by members of the public or content of any third party sites that are accessible through this site. Any links to third party websites from this website do not amount to any endorsement of that site by the Elsevier Ltd and any use of that site by you is at your own risk. For further information, please refer to our Terms & Conditions.

Comment on this article

You must be registered and logged in to leave a comment about this article.

We use cookies to operate this website and to improve its usability. Full details of what cookies are, why we use them and how you can manage them can be found by reading our Privacy & Cookies page. Please note that by using this site you are consenting to the use of cookies. ×