What @Edward Snowden Told Me About NSA’s Cyber Weapons
James Bamford, who is well-known in intelligence circles; and, who has written flatteringly of Edward Snowden in WIRED.com, has an online article in the September 29, 2015 edition of Foreign Policy with the title above. Mr. Bamford goes on to describe an ongoing construction project “adjacent to NSA’s headquarters at Ft Meade, Maryland — code-named Site M. Scheduled to be completed in 2016, is the future home of U.S. Cyber Command, an NSA-affiliated organization created six years ago, to direct the United States’ digital wars. It will host a mammoth cyber-brain, a 600,000 sq. ft., $896.5M supercomputer facility called the — High Performance Computing Center 2.” Mr. Bamford was able to piece together this background with “restricted documents and blueprints,” associated with the Howard County Maryland’s Bureau of Utilities and a water project related to the ongoing Cyber Command facilities construction.
Mr. Bamford writes that this commitment demonstrates the significance that cyber warfare has attained as threat to our way of life here at home. “Cyber weapons crossed the ‘kinetic’ threshold with the U.S.-Israeli Stuxnet digital strike on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in 2010, progressing from erasing hard drives, and stealing data, to disrupting and/or, destroying physical objects.”
With that back drop on the cyber threat, Mr. Bamford argues that “people should know what digital arms America owns, how they are used, and the rules that govern them. The same openness that has long allowed the public to gain an understanding of the risks and benefits of nuclear weapons should apply as well.”
Mr. Bamford goes on to cite conversations he has had with Edward Snowden, who Mr. Bamford said told him: “Cyber Command itself has always been branded in a sort of misleading way from its very inception. It’s an attack agency…..If you ask anybody at USCYBERCOM; or, look at any of the job listings for openings for their positions, you’ll see that the one thing they don’t prioritize is computer network defense. It’s all about computer network-attack; and, computer-network exploitation at USCYBERCOM.”
Then, Mr. Bamford proceeds to claim that “NSA has a Top Secret Program designed to track every person on the planet — who is connected to the Internet,” via a laptop, mobile device, etc. And, that the agency has another program or initiative to “implant malware in computer systems worldwide.”
I get it. I understand that an all-powerful government agency with the kind of capabilities that Mr. Bamford claims — needs to have vigorous and persistent oversight. Who is watching the watchers — is not a trivial matter. Having said that, it is the height of irresponsibility to insist on total transparency — regarding the cyber weapons we might, or might not have, and — the rules-of-engagement for an offensive digital strike. You cannot vanquish your enemies by telegraphing your punches. These programs are classified for a reason. And, it is up to the Congress to ensure that these kind of programs get the kind of vigorous oversight that is required to ensure that NSA does not go too far in its pursuit of intelligence collection — at the expense of an undue infringement of civil liberty. It is an age-old debate, that does not have clear distinctions. But, disarming our veil of protection behind classified ‘walls’ will not make us safer. Indeed, it would put us at much greater risk. Something Mr. Bamford should know full well; and, something Edward Snowden lacks the capacity to understand and appreciate. No one ever suggested that these kind of decisions and efforts would be easy to justify and conduct. But, advocating a reckless disregard for the need to keep many of these programs highly classified is just plain dangerous; and, Mr. Bamford knows better. It is a naïve, simplistic, and dangerous view of what is required to keep us safe and our critical infrastructure running.
It was Winston Churchill who once said that “the truth is so precious that she must be protected by a bodyguard of lies.” Denial and deception were key ingredients in the Allied success for the Normandy invasion; and, the ultimate defeat of Nazi Germany. I hazard to think what that outcome might have been — if someone like Mr. Bamford and Mr. Snowden had been in charge. As someone long ago said, “the greatest hindrance to progress is not ignorance; but, the illusion of knowledge.” V/R, RCP