Secrecy & Leaks

Daniel Byman and My Article in Foreign Affairs on NSA

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 5:27 PM

My Brookings colleague, sometime coauthor, and Lawfare's Foreign Policy Editor, Daniel Byman, and I have written a lengthy article Foreign Affairs, on NSA matters. It's a high-altitude, non-legal look at the issue of how NSA should operate in a world in which it cannot rely to the same degree it traditionally has relied on secrecy, but it draws on many of the themes I've been developing on Lawfare. It opens:

The long-running debate over the tradeoffs the United States should make between national security and civil liberties flared up spectacularly last summer, when Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor, handed journalists a huge trove of heavily classified documents that exposed, in excruciating detail, electronic surveillance programs and other operations carried out by the NSA. Americans suddenly learned that in recent years, the NSA had been acquiring the phone and Internet communications of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens, as well as collecting massive volumes of bulk telephone records known as “metadata”---phone numbers and the time and length of calls. Along with the rest of the world, Americans found out that the NSA had broken common forms of online encryption, tapped the phones of various foreign heads of state, and monitored global communications far more aggressively than was previously understood.

Howls of outrage erupted. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who learned from the Snowden leaks that the NSA had been monitoring her personal conversations, described the NSA’s activities as a “violation of human rights and civil liberties,” decrying the “disrespect to national sovereignty.” In the United States, both ends of the political spectrum denounced the NSA’s activities. Rand Paul, a Republican senator from Kentucky, called them “an all-out assault on the Constitution,” and the former Democratic vice president Al Gore said they were “obscenely outrageous.”