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12/16/2005: "Why the NSA Disclosures are a Big Deal"

The year-delayed spilling of the beans by the NY Times of an expanding role for the National Security Agency NSA (37k image) is of particular interest to this journalist, considering that I worked for that fine institution for a number of years. (Frequent readers of these musings will note that I donít normally actually spell out its name, considering that there are likely automatic parsers out there looking for internet (TCP/IP) packets with those character strings. However, given the press theyíre getting today, exposure thatís doubtless driving them absolutely bonkers, weíll err today on the side of being explicit. The thing thatís striking about the newly unveiled insights is the breach of the wall preventing the NSA from monitoring within the US. When everything was set up after WWII, the theory was that we needed to have the very most powerful foreign espionage capabilities that money could buy. With the explosion in technical capability over the last 50 years, it became apparent that money could buy a lot of spying capability. Foreign intelligence is much simpler than domestic intelligence in one important aspect: the only impediments are those presented by the laws of physics. In particular, there are no pesky warrants required. Thatís why domestic monitoring was given to the FBI, an organization properly chartered to deal with the limits imposed by the Constitution. This has freed the NSA to be a truly state-of-the-art snooping agency. Giving the NSA a domestic mission is a huge, huge change. Itís akin to employing attack-trained security Dobermans as seeing eye dogs. Itís not what they were bred to do, and it would be small wonder if things turned out badly.

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