Are Hackers the Next Bogeyman Used to Scare Americans Into Giving Up More Rights?
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Marcy Wheeler has been speculating for a very long time that the real purpose of all this NSA collection isn't terrorism, it's hacking. These comments last week from Michael Hayden lend a lot of credence to that theory in my eyes:
"If and when our government grabs Edward Snowden, and brings him back here to the United States for trial, what does this group do?" said retired air force general Michael Hayden, who from 1999 to 2009 ran the NSA and then the CIA, referring to "nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven't talked to the opposite sex in five or six years".
"They may want to come after the US government, but frankly, you know, the dot-mil stuff is about the hardest target in the United States," Hayden said, using a shorthand for US military networks. "So if they can't create great harm to dot-mil, who are they going after? Who for them are the World Trade Centers? The World Trade Centers, as they were for al-Qaida."
That's just a tiny bit overwrought for an allegedly serious expert, don't you think? In fact, it sounds like the kind of thing we heard from various members of the Bush administration during the early days after 9/11. And it certainly indicates, as Wheeler has been speculating, that the government is stretching the terrorism laws to include hacking. They certainly are using the same histrionic language to describe it.
Under Hayden, the NSA began to collect, among other things, the phone records and internet data of Americans without warrants after 9/11, a drastic departure from its traditional mission of collecting foreign intelligence. A variety of technically sophisticated collection and analysis programs, codenamed Stellar Wind, were the genesis of several of the NSA efforts that Snowden disclosed to the Guardian and the Washington Post.
Hayden said that the loose coalition of hacker groups and activists were "less capable" of inflicting actual harm on either US networks or physical infrastructure, but they grow technologically more sophisticated. Echoing years of rhetoric that has described terrorists, Hayden added that their "demands may be unsatisfiable".
I had a feeling that "terrorism" was growing a little stale as an all purpose boogeyman. It's important to keep the paranoia fresh and exciting in this fast paced modern world.
Nonetheless it's always rather startling to hear an esteemed national security expert talking like a member of the Soprano family in public. Perhaps the president should have a chat with some of these people since he's so concerned about the fact that the public doesn't have "confidence" in the efficacy and necessity of being spied upon. When the people who designed the programs sound like cheap thugs it tends to undermine their credibility just a little bit.