Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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You Might Have Missed: NSA Reforms, CIA Drone Strikes, and Benghazi

by Micah Zenko
January 17, 2014

President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency from the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters) President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency from the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-28: Signals Intelligence Activities,” White House, January 17, 2014.

When the United States collects nonpublicly available signals intelligence in bulk, it shall use that data only for the purposes of detecting and countering: (1) espionage and other threats and activities directed by foreign powers or their intelligence services against the United States and its interests; (2) threats to the United States and its interests from terrorism; (3) threats to the United States and its interests from the development, possession, proliferation, or use of weapons of mass destruction; (4) cybersecurity threats; (5) threats to U.S. or allied Armed Forces or other U.S. or allied personnel; and (6) transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion related to the other purposes named in this section. (page 4)

(3PA: Does anyone really believe that the NSA will only gather nonpublic signals intelligence on behalf of six missions?)


Loveday Morris, “Interview with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki,” Washington Post, January 16, 2014.

What support is Iraq receiving from the U.S. and what more would they like to see?

To build the Iraqi army and protect Iraqi sovereignty we need heavy weapons, fighter jets, helicopters, air defenses, this is in the long term. But right now, to defeat al-Qaeda, we need medium weapons, and we need intelligence cooperation. We need drones to scan the desert, and right now that’s gradually happening with America.

Can you give specific details? Has the U.S. pledged more support?

We’ve received only Hellfire missiles, which are being used to fight al-Qaeda. We’ve received one wave and have been promised another. The other weapons we have requested we have not received yet. The surveillance drones we have used them once or twice in the desert. There is intelligence collaboration which is very important for us.

What kind of intelligence is shared?

It’s tapping al-Qaeda communications, finding their camps and places on the ground, observing their routes over the borders. We work together on that field but we need more cooperation. We have many agreements with other countries to share information, but on the U.S. side we have the Status of Forces Agreement, under that framework we are exchanging more information than with most countries.

(3PA: What specific missions are U.S. drones being used to support?)


Eric Schmitt, “Congress Restricts Drones Program Shift,” New York Times, January 16, 2014.

In an unusual move, Congress is placing restrictions on the Obama administration’s plan to shift responsibility for armed drones more toward the military and away from the C.I.A., congressional and administration officials said Thursday. Lawmakers inserted wording into a classified annex to the $1.1 trillion federal budget approved by Congress this week that would make it more difficult to transfer control over the drone campaign or the authority to carry out strikes.

But the measure, first reported on the Washington Post’s website on Wednesday night, is a rare move by Congress to dictate how covert operations like the drone program are carried out. It also reflects the simmering suspicion among many lawmakers on the Intelligence Committees that the military’s Joint Special Operations Command is not up to the task of killing terrorism suspects with Predator or Reaper drones, a notion the Pentagon rejects.

(3PA: Last April I called for the Obama administration to transfer CIA drone strikes to the Pentagon, still a needed reform.)


Darren Samuelsohn, “Public remains ‘all over the map’ on NSA tactics,” Politico, January 16, 2014.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said public opinion is off the mark because Americans are getting a skewed picture of the NSA programs. She slammed press coverage that “has been dramatically one way” against the surveillance activities, though she’s been writing op-eds and speaking out trying to correct the record.

“I think there’s enormous misunderstanding out there about what exactly is done,” Feinstein said in an interview. “I think there is a misunderstanding because I think people believe we’re collecting content, that we’re collecting what people say to each other on the phone and that is not correct. It’s very difficult.”

(3PA: Sen. Feinstein, during John Brennan’s February 2013 confirmation hearing, said that she was unaware of the United States’ policy of signature strikes. Yet, when it comes to the NSA’s surveillance program, Sen. Feinstein seems to think she is more well-versed than the American public and many other congressmen.)


Cisco Annual Security Report Documents Unprecedented Growth of Advanced Attacks and Malicious Traffic,” Cisco, January 16, 2014.

Overall vulnerabilities and threats reached the highest level since initial tracking began in May 2000. As of Oct. 2013, cumulative annual alert totals increased 14 percent year-over-year from 2012.


Review of the Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Facilities in Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012,” U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, January 15, 2014.

On June 6, 2012, Stevens recommended the creation of teams, made up of locally hired personnel, in Benghazi and Tripoli. The State Department attempted to create a team in Tripoli, but was unable to · difficult to find and clear appropriate personnel. (page 14)

On July 9, 2012, Stevens sent a cable to State Department headquarters requesting a minimum of 13 “Temporary Duty” (TDY) U.S. security personnel for Libya, which he said could be made up of DS agents, DoD Site Security Team (SST) personnel, or some combination of the two. These TDY security personnel were needed to meet the requested security posture in Tripoli and Benghazi. The State Department never fulfilled this request and, according to Eric Nordstrom, State Department headquarters never responded to the request with a cable. (page 15)

DoD confirmed to the Committee that Ambassador Stevens declined two specific offers from General Carter Ham, then the head of AFRICOM, to sustain the SST in the weeks before the terrorist attacks. (page 20)

With respect to the role of DoD and AFRICOM in emergency evacuations and rescue operations in Benghazi, the Committee received conflicting information on the extent of the awareness within DoD of the Benghazi [CIA] Annex. According to U.S. AFRICOM, neither the command nor its Commander were aware of an annex in Benghazi, Libya. However, it is the Committee’s understanding that other DoD personnel were aware of the Benghazi Annex. (page 26)

DoD moved aerial assets, teams of Marines, and special operations forces toward Libya as the attacks were ongoing, but in addition to the seven-man reinforcement team from Tripoli, the only additional resources that were able to arrive on scene were unmanned, unarmed aerial surveillance assets. (page 28)

The Majority believes that the terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel at the Temporary Mission Facility and the Annex in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11 and 12, 2012, were likely preventable based on the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission and the significant strategic (although not tactical) warnings from the Intelligence Community (IC) about the deteriorating security situation in Libya.  (Additional Majority News, page 1)


Susan B. Epstein, Alex Tiersky, Marian L. Lawson, “State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2014 Budget and Appropriations,” Congressional Research Service, January 3, 2014.

Recipients of U.S. Foreign Aid
(page 10)


Craig Whitlock and Craig Timberg, “Border-patrol drones being borrowed by other agencies more often than previously known,” Washington Post, January 14, 2014.

Customs and Border Protection, which has the largest U.S. drone fleet of its kind outside the Defense Department, flew nearly 700 such surveillance missions on behalf of other agencies from 2010 to 2012, according to flight logs released recently in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group…In 2010, for example, Customs and Border Protection conducted 76 drone missions for other agencies. The next year, that number quadrupled, and it remained at nearly the same level in 2012.

Although the border agency has acknowledged that it flies drones for other law-enforcement departments, it has revealed little about the number and precise nature of the missions. Customs and Border Protection has a fleet of 10 unarmed Predator B drones. They are virtually identical to an Air Force drone known as the Reaper. Both are manufactured by General Atomics, a major drone producer based in Southern California…The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies have their own drones, but they are more rudimentary than those operated by Customs and Border Protection. The Defense Department is prohibited from using its drones in the United States for law enforcement.

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Kir Komrik

    Thank you for another great update,

    PPD-28 sounds like a step in the right direction. The part that requires some clever work is in how to enforce it in a way that is politically feasible.

    If after random audits done by in-place software should someone be found to have mishandled data, then perhaps the President could have any number of other agencies with similar skills collect information on the one who fouled up. Then they can publish that in the NYT.

    Senator Feinstein, imo, doesn’t indicate in any obvious way that she understands what the public is really concerned about. It isn’t intendment with which they really object, but the capability itself. Of course, this could be wrong, but I understand that U.S. intelligence services have had access to Facebook data, google data, consumer purchasing data and a long list of monstrous things everyone thought was private. All the capability to access everyone’s data, thanks to Microsoft’s Windows 8 and the “cloud”, is now almost unlimited. It is this very capability that concerns people. No one needs to be shot to object to the presentation of a capacity to be shot by having a gun pointed at them.

    So, it’s kind of like when they were told they were protected by HIPAA only to find out that any noer-do-well can hire an attorney and get your medical records subpoenaed anyway; all over the most frivolous things such as unwarranted civil litigation. In fact, some make a sport of filing suits just to get confidential information.

    The directive addresses the moral hazard angle if it can be enforced and I suspect that if some clever mechanism of enforcement could be shown to the public it would solve the perception problem, imo.

    - kk

  • Posted by Kir Komrik

    Apologies for the divided post but I’ve been asked to offer some detail around my suggestion, so here it is.

    About publicly versioned block and escalate software

    My suggestion regarding PD-28, specifically, was that an NGO be responsible for writing, maintaining and versioning software whose requirements are provided by the intelligence community. I will use an email example here. The software would, for example, allow statutorily permissible actions such as the reading of META data. But it would by default block information such as content of emails. In a relational database this might be flagged, for example, as:
    To: U.S. citizen
    From: U.S. citizen
    META data: visible
    content: blocked
    in this example, a simple block is all that is needed. But in the case of:
    To: U.S. citizen
    From: foreign national
    content: blocked and escalated

    Which would require at least three other persons, from any institution you like, to login to the system with their own signed identity, and authorize a release of the block as an “accountable” party. This should be instituted on ready watch status, so that three “accountables” are available at all times in sufficient number to process these requests real-time. The White House should have a complete and real-time updated list of all “accountables”.

    No intelligence agency would have any access to the machine code that runs this program. It would be encrypted and it would processed (loaded and run) in the same physical location as the database. The database would be a centralized “cloud” to which one can easily write but for which reading would be by the block and escalate software mentioned. This database would sit, preferably, beneath the White House. This would put an end to all the Tom-Foolery going on in the intelligence community and no intelligence community should be allowed a database other than this one. And it should be a High Crime to be caught with one.

    The intelligence community would only provide the business requirements for the software. That’s it. So, they can’t complain. They can make whatever demands they want on the software and some smart people will figure out how to deliver the need, even if it requires the use of state machines or artificial intelligence. The software I’m talking about only applies to statutory provision, so it has nothing to do with intelligence and there is no excuse for not using it this way. And there is nothing to imply in this that the President would have any direct access to this data either. As all human users, he or she would be under the same software controls of block and escalate (de-escalate, but escalate in terms of accountability).

    Its not rocket science, imo, to fix this problem.

    The public should be shown in a concrete and reified manner how this software works. This could be done with some very public demonstrations. The NGO could even open the code as open source as its content has nothing to do with national security (unless, of course, someone _intends_ to violate the law). However it is done, the NGO would deliver the source code to the Comptroller at the White House, where the code would be compiled by an ANSI compliant compiler directly to machine code on secure machines.

    A mirror of the same system, with false data, should be created for hacking by an independent agency for IT security unaffiliated with the intelligence community. They can hack the system and find holes in security which would not be publicized, but would be fixed. This includes targeting the laundry list of intelligence community Trojan horse code they will inevitably try to insert into the compilers, software, hardware and systems.

    And rather than making the mistake that was made with the Health Care website, the business requirements should be frozen months before go-live and before any code production begins at all; which is the true cause of the Health Care website woes. If intelligence agencies don’t provide them in a timely manner, the White House should set them at its discretion.

    More so than any other scheme, this would slam the door shut on negative public perception, sans pareil.

    - kk

  • Posted by Phillip Bolster

    Hopefully I speak for anyone who reads this blog when I say your explanation is much appreciated as is the CFR’s policy to publishing comments which I find nonrestrictive and fair.

    In response, although I appreciate that you yourself could probably design a virtually uncorruptible system I think the track record of abuses which Snowden’s leaks have confirmed tells us two things which cannot now be ignored and must be factored into any major outside-in change in SIGINT policy.

    1) They’ve abused it before they’ll abuse it again !

    The whole modern SIGINT concept/policy, from the very top, needs rethinking and re-balancing in light of public opinion and understanding in what is supposed to be a representative democracy.
    In other words, does the United States Administration AS ELECTED BY ITS CITIZENS wish to continue to listen to and collect any and all communications of its citizens which may or may not be a technical exaggeration – we don’t know.
    The entire concept needs clarifying and explaining and put up for genuine public transparent debate, congress, senate, news shows, all of it right in the public domain and people need specifics now not ‘trust us’ garbage, that stuff ain’t flying any more.
    In fact the most important development since Snowden did his thing is exactly that – TRUST US Policy is now officially defunct ! So they’ve abused the machine before …they’ll try do it again. This is the central lesson in all of this and this is the first problem I have with your proposed system adjustment as clever and technically wise it might be. It deals with the status quo, not the status ‘should be’.

    2) Complexity means gaps.

    Patriotic leaders within the Intel world will find these gaps. They will adapt and overcome to achieve their mission and they have good intentions and are driven by purpose. Who are we to argue? We don’t know what they know….

    or so the theory goes.

    The NSA and it’s technological abilities is vast and complex and it is intertwined with many other agencies and contractors and the government/administration as well as the rest of the enormously complex Intel World.

    This means that every hole you plug or every reform you put on the table can most likely be circumvented by those who would wish to do so.

    Who would wish to do so? Is this a conspiracy theory?
    No it is not it is a very simple reality.

    There are men and women who are on the inside within the military or Intel community in the higher levels of leadership who know better than the public and the journalists who write about Snowden and/or drone strikes for instance, who would of course like much less bureaucracy and/or in some cases what we citizens would term less ‘safeguards’ in place for the simple fact that these things can and do on occasions slow down or restrict their ability to carry out their mission. Transparency and Rules restrict their ability to do their jobs – FACT. They see it as bad we see it as good and the overly simplified and so often obtuse debate rages on.

    They are patriotic men/women who are hired and paid to protect America from the big bad terrorists yada yada etc.. we get that we really do. And, we don’t know the raw Intel they see day to day. We offer opinions based on what they let us know about through leaks, purposeful or real and or rare and hopelessly vague public statements and it is this gap between what they TELL US they do and what we KNOW they do on a case by case basis which breeds distrust and maintains a massive imbalance of information between the debating parties i.e. public.media vs Admin/NSA.

    Their strategy thus far is ‘well we can’t do anything about that and we;re not going to tell you anything so you’ll just have to trust us’ and it is failing, miserably.

    These leaders within the NSA structure or another example within the drone strike structure wish only to do their jobs and carry out their mission, and they have in almost every case little or no experience outside of military Intel life so they see the world as a very black and white place where they protect us from an almost inconceivable and constant danger to which they are privy to in every hour of every work day. They are on the inside so the world is a scary place and so the debate is completely skewed by perspective, before we even have it.

    Which is why the leaks in my opinion are completely necessary and will do more good than harm for society in the long run.

    The bullet point being that patriotic leaders within the Intel world will use a combination of ingenuity, and, any available ‘slack’ to adapt and overcome the gaps which exist within highly complex systems such as exist within the Intel Community. They will do what they feel they need to do to carry out their mission. That’s what they’ve always done, not all of them, but some, for 50 years and they are as we know ahead of the curve of regulation, or oversight, of rules of this so called ‘re-balancing’ which is nothing more than 3 card Monte and they’re masters at it. We slow them down, they love their power they will protect it and adapt. We may accept a certain level of inherent risk in re-shaping domestic Intel gathering or even tearing the whole system down if needs be… and there may genuinely be a need for that and I’m not being extreme for the sake of it, there is momentum towards this end-goal to a certain extent, but these leaders within the NSA/CIA/Intel community will fight tooth and nail to maintain their ability to do what they feel is their mission in life and the complexity and opacity inherent in the large system will continue to allow them to out-manoeuvre us all – writers, public, voters, thinkers, news media, congress and government, everyone. This is a central challenge in all of this.

    To some of these people ‘Real’ Quality representative Oversight and real quality internal reviews and congressional hearings and good media coverage and questions questions questions is like somebody taking some bullets out of their gun and putting it back in their holster and telling them to do their job just as well. They will never accept compromise with a view towards a freer state where right to privacy is re-instated even if it means they cannot do their jobs as well…. but we will…. in the end or this road could end up in a dark place.

    Time to get real and have the debate properly. That’s what Snowden has achieved, that’s the hope and just like him these Operational leaders who bend rules and abuse technology and push through sneaky enormous programs and put their mission ahead of citizen freedoms and build gargantuan NSA facilities with tax payer money – they are in fact Patriots with US citizens safety in mind, just like Snowden, and it’s a damn pity the country can’t come together and have an informed debate, for real, about what kind of world people want to live in rather than have people like Greenwald and co drag this thing into the light kicking and screaming against the grain in a constant cloud of misinformation and polarized hopelessly dichotomous language.

    The system, it seems, could be adjusted and differentiated and secured in a much smarter, less corruptible way, sure, but it is the actual general things that they do and not the compartmentalization which is on the debating line. The whole thing is on the line.

    These debates about little parts of the elephant in the room are simply misdirection, red herrings etc and it suits them to get bogged down on specifics because then the elephant can hide behind the curtain with it’s toe sticking out while we sip tea in the parlor and debate whether it needs its nails cut or not.

  • Posted by Kir Komrik

    Hi Phillip,

    I wasn’t sure you were replying to my post or to the article, but I’ll reply anyway as it was an enjoyable read.

    The theme I gathered from your response can be summed up with the quote:

    “Their strategy thus far is ‘well we can’t do anything about that and we;re not going to tell you anything so you’ll just have to trust us’ and it is failing, miserably.”

    I’ve posted about this very problem here before and that is a deep rabbit hole. Secrecy and democracy are not compatible … end of story, really. This is one of the key reasons why I don’t believe in neo-liberal western democracy. It doesn’t work, but that is just another very deep tangent. It has other _structural_ problems as well. We need something much, much more sophisticated than the feudalistic pig with makeup we have today.

    To address your point, in my own writings I’ve suggested that all confidential government information be placed in a “cloud” similar to what I suggested but I added a Constitutional provision to require that a Supreme Judiciary (in the U.S. it is similar to the Supreme Court) review this data at regular intervals for probable cause of a crime. If found, they would prosecute it.

    As for the suggestion made here – the way in which it works – it is open source, so the only way that the intelligence community could “defeat” such a system is to Trojan horse the compilers. For added security, the compilers can be made open source as well. That could include the operating system on which the compiler operates. It could include the database that it runs. And finally, it could even include the circuit boards used to create the motherboard (and CPUs). The entire system would be placed in a Faraday cage to prevent EM eavesdropping and the outer walls would be made of gold or silver (this is similar to stealth aircraft material and it blocks EM propagations from the room). The power system would be highly filtered also. The compiler is the software that translates human readable code (I would recommend ANSI C) to machine code. The operating system controls the hardware, including the motherboard. Forgive me if I humor you, but I don’t know your background.

    Being open source, _anyone_ can see it, so it would be impossible to defeat that. However, you could actively hack the system and defeat it that way. But this is no different than the problem we face today. All intelligence agencies have security issues they have to do deal with and any of them can be hacked.

    Coming full circle to your concern, we agree about the incompatibility of secrecy and democracy. After all, if one is to elect their leaders elections are meaningless if the public has no true knowledge of the issues. I believe this problem is much, much older than you might realize, though.

    And allow me to boost your point (that’s a double meaning; allow me to both steal and promote your point): even with a fully secure system, legitimate State secrets are _still incompatible with democracy_. So, you are spot on. But my suggestion greatly reduces the problem until we can eliminate the existing system entirely. And that will take a lot of consensus to do, which is why no one wants this conversation. To be clear, I’m not advocating the “removal of USG”; I’m saying that it must evolve over time like all systems if humanity is to survive. So, yes, we need a bottom-up rebuild of the entire system. It’s grossly antiquated, has never known Rule of Law, is a lie and is flooded with moral hazard.

    The secrecy from the public has been going on ever since Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that he would not reveal all his motives in those papers. At least he had the honor of admitting it.

    What we have in this country is a deep, dark lie, imo. It is one constructed for elitists by elitists (some don’t like that term, but it just refers to the organic power structures in society). The courts are corrupt and they never intended on creating an egalitarian or just society. They have grossly confused Rule of Law with Equity in Law and I’m not sure there is a single judge that knows the difference. But again, that’s another deep rabbit hole. I believe the constructive path is not to point fingers but be rational and understand that it is an evolutionary process. And I think that is the conversation you are asking for. I think everyone is. In that sense, you could say Snowden is a “hero”. I won’t precisely because I don’t know the exact circumstances of his actions, which goes back to your point. I need to know much more about what he did to characterize his actions better in my mind.

    Another reason for a slow, careful approach is that we live in a dangerous world. If you think its bad here, try just about any other country on the planet and it will be worse. Part of my family came from Iran and the IRI is not a nice place. They mistreat Christians and Jews, kind of force Islam on everyone (kind of like Texas’ death penalty is not cruel and unusual) and have a fairly kind, gentle court (believe it or not) but one that is rife with Shia this, Shia that. The way they treat women is just bizarre. They have privilege and they have oppression at the same time. Imagine being atheist in that country. Your whole life is secrecy and oppression because you better tow the party line lest anyone find out.

    The gig is up and now everyone wants to have a serious conversation about what to do about an ancient, quaint and in many ways primitive and barbaric system of governance. As shocking as it is, and though I do support a world government, politicos today want to push forward with a global government that is based on the same barbaric systems we’ve had in use for over 1000 years, none of them much different than the each other. All of them are deeply Aristotelian – you know, like slaves are slaves because nature said so (think 1300s and earlier). The politicos are in deep denial about this and in my opinion have a very poor understanding of public opinion. Even when “scientifically” examined they can’t seem to get the pulse of America right.

    My own legal work involves a Constitution for a form of direct democracy that pretty much eliminates the political class completely. It is formed in a way similar to how courts are formed with something like juries and judges. The “judges” are the politicians and the “juries” are members of General Assemblies that meet when called for something akin to jury duty. The “judges” help them formulate law (similar to jury instructions). So, there are _some_ career politicians in that mix. It’s the only “direct democracy” I’ve seen that would actually work and is not up there with Alice in Wonderland theories of government.

    But what matters today is that the political class needs a way out and you have to give them one that is attractive. The transition should be a responsible one that ensures social and economic stability, etc.

    If you want to read that Constitution, or an introduction to General Federalism, there are two links below that will help:

    http://kirkomrik.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/an_introduction_to_general_federalism_complete_v_1-016.pdf

    http://kirkomrik.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/a_constitution_for_a_general_federation_complete_v_1-05.pdf

    Thanks for the great reply and I wish you luck in fomenting a discussion in your own community or on youtube. You can email me from that site if you’d like to collaborate.

  • Posted by Phillip Bolster

    Great post, very thought provoking, more expansive than the specific article itself but this subject of ‘secrecy within democracy’, as you say, is now putting the entire western democratic system into the spotlight and demands that we face up to some uncomfortable issues, realities, real politic whatever you want to call it, the system as it is, not how I’d hope it to be and I for one don’t enjoy facing up to these issues because it forces me to have to connect my hyperbolic but well intended anti-secrecy rants to the real world which always demands the ‘ranter’ (me) provide a ‘better idea’ than the status quo…. in this case… the seemingly unlimited NSA strategy to collect ‘all communications all the time’ i.e. Total Information Awareness.
    And the fact is I can only offer opinion based on information in the public domain, the de facto handicap of the Idealist protester.
    Places like this blog and writers such as Mr Zenko help bridge this chasm by telling us how it is when other media don’t understand the issues allowing hopeless idealists such as myself to see ‘what is’ and through constructive criticism ‘what is wrong’ which leaves people like myself stuck in a no-mans-land between two states -

    State 1: ‘ there’s so much wrong with total surveillance in a free society it needs to be torn down ‘
    -which is my reactive opinion when I read about yet another expansive surveillance program

    and

    State 2: ‘ because they don’t tell us the actual level of risk and their effectiveness in neutralizing such unquantified risk how can we argue for or against massive domestic and global surveillance? ‘
    - which is my logical self accepting that we actually don’t know enough to advise policy, but that given that ‘they’ control what we know then we must fall down on one side or the other and I choose to fall down on the following side :
    End the NSA in its post 9/11 form and raise NSA Bluffdale and similar data vacuum and storage sites to the ground.
    Terrorism is a massively exaggerated risk in the western world and specifically to the US Homeland as demonstrated by the .09% of total terrorism casualties globally in 2012.
    There are so many risks to free society in pursuing T.I.A. that we should turn our back on it as a society and accept any risks that doing so would inherit.

    However, IF I could sit down with Haden and have an off the record conversation about the actual threat level that exists and the actual defensive effectiveness the NSA represents in sheer numbers of foiled terrorist attacks since AQ were active then I could weigh that up and make a call a la Michael Sandel’s Justice course.

    But you’re absolutely right -
    the uncomfortable untalked-about reality of secrecy within democracy especially within influential states is a conversation which needs to be had now as opposed to talking merely about reform or oversight or small changes or what seems like a ‘make everybody FEEL better approach’ to the elephant in the room which Bamford, Risen and eventually less theoretically – Snowden have now de-curtained.

    At the end of the day it’s about making a decision as a society about whether we are happy with our limited role in our democratic nations, as voters, and our de facto tacit agreement by NOT uprising against those in power, that we trust ‘better’ men to make decisions about our security, to such a degree we give up many of our freedoms based on a ‘trust us’ contract.

    This is the conversation to be had now.

    Not small parts of it. Not getting bogged down in the ends of each tentacle but to stare the entire beast in the eye and decide whether it should take James Bamford and his wired article about NSA Bluffdale Utah to start an avalanche which unearths a behemoth of a surveillance machine which is now using the IT of the day to exponentially increase its reach and power way beyond any ability to oversee or regulate or secure such a beast from abuse OR SHOULD US citizens have KNOWN about NSA Bluffdale and a hell of a lot more congressmen and women too? The facility at Bluffdale is THE symbolic core to this whole thing – how can such a gargantuan machine be built in Utah with almost no coverage or explanation to the US population … a machine capable of sucking in and storing a large percentage of every type of US citizens communications, voice , email, social, txt… to be stored in a building somewhere to be used, apparently, any which way the NSA likes. Which part of that is ok? why are people not marching in the streets?, as they say, well the reason is that coverage of this issue is predominantly very poor and lacking in facts or simplification which is necessary when talking about such a wide and a complex subject.
    The one thing the guys at NSA/CIA/WH who wish to aggressively defend any and all power to spy on Americans and the world can 100% count on – is the lack of quality journalism on the topic which by itself protects their infrastructure and programs no matter what type of massive leak like Snowden’s occurs and that’s just sad because it mistakenly points to a level of social Apathy and lack of basic intelligence among the general population and this is an easy conclusion to end up at, but it’s wrong. People simply don’t have the information to make a well informed choice and so in the mess, in the jumbled up misinformation transmitted at us by the retarded news culture of the day there is nothing clear about it. Nothing people can grab with two hands and look at and have a clear opinion about. That’s the challenge – to wrote well about the issue and get it out there. Without that there is no groundswell for change and you’re left poking at the elephant with a stick. Secrecy is part of the machine of the nation state which wishes to protect itself and thus protects it’s secrecy and this in turn maintains the uncomfortable order of anarchy between nations in the world while attempting to maintain order within the state itself and yet the world is now so interdependent we can no longer identify ourselves as independent countries separate from all others with irreversible trade and economic links between enemies and ‘almost enemies’ we are now living in a world which takes its strength from the globalization of problems and our willingness and unwillingness to work together on issues which effect more than one state which by itself gives the world a new level of anti-fragility but yet the old machinations of secrecy cling on from the cold age and memories of huge war between despotic individuals echo on unrealistically when we all know we can never go to all out war again and we can never retract all our global links amid a global capitalistic free-ish market system. The overly dichotomous choice which they present to us of protection from terrorism OR all out chaos and bloodshed is now defunct. If that is so then why does such a so called free nation such as the mighty USA let their freedoms be taken away in order to let the NSA and co spy on their lives in detail and store their lives interactions in server farms in Utah…. is 9/11 to blame for all of this? Is fear so powerful, can it really change a nation so much? Was OBL that successful? Is he laughing in his grave at the cowardly nature to this national media debate about TAKING YOUR OWN FREEDOMS AWAY? WILLINGLY or IGNORANTLY.

    It’s extraordinary…. and it’s very hard to process from the outside how you as a nation went from shining light for freedom to somewhat cowards cow-towing to a spy infrastructure which simply got out of hand and got too much money for too long in a cold war environment and needs to be put to sleep, shut down, started up again in a more reasonable form conducive to a nation which hilariously says it stands for freedom – time to worry about your own!

    It’s not that complicated –

    IS Terrorism a large enough threat to the US Homeland for the US voting population to continue to allow the NSA to have the ability to catch, read and store all communications from everyone all the time now that yol know about it ? YES or NO. That’s all it is.

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