Head of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, goes in front of a closed doors congressional panel today. They will quiz him about what data the NSA and other intelligence agencies can collect, have been collecting, and plan to collect on Americans. He will tell them about the threats thwarted through the nation’s intelligence collecting systems operated by the NSA. This is all a part of the show of concern for balancing individual privacy and the nation’s security needs that Congress is putting on for our benefit after NSA contractor Edward Snowden outlined how intelligence is developed and named Prism as one such long-running program that snoops on us.
I have no idea what all Snowden gave to Britain’s Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers that would have been news to our enemies, whether they be terrorist organizations or sovereign nation-states. The information freely available in the public domain allows anyone who understands boxes and arrows to draw the above diagram that is one version of a high level representation of our intelligence gathering schema (click on figure for better resolution).
This level of openness is not shared by everyone in Washington. Last Sunday on Fox News former VP Dick Cheney told Chris Wallace that even understanding what I’ve put together in the figure should not be public knowledge and would compromise our security. I totally disagree, and feel we have little to fear from people who don’t already know that we operate such an intelligence gathering scheme – they simply aren’t smart enough to harm us.
My druthers are that Americans understand, to the level indicated in the figure, how our government collects and connects the dots on potential bad guys who mean the country harm. With such a basic understanding we can talk reasonably about what government branches and agencies do and how they interlink. We don’t have to know the details about what stuff passes through all the arrows. But some of the details are important to us.