The Inevitable Unsecurity of the National Security State
Posted on May 19, 2016
We have built a secret surveillance society supported by the plurality of Americans who share a delusion that it makes them safer. It doesn’t. Leaving aside the risk that many ordinary citizens will be mistreated, the larger the number of overempowered and overstaffed spies we have, the more they will destroy the careers of innocent top diplomats, disrupt their work, and make the world a more dangerous place. Thus in 2014 Robin Raphel, a former assistant Secretary of State, was managing the only remaining back channels to the Pakistani military and intelligence services after the bin Laden assassination soured all direct relationships. So naturally the FBI bumbled in and, apparently based on misunderstood NSA wiretaps, investigated Raphel, destroyed her career, and further impeded our ability to talk with an out-of-control front-line ally that receives many billions in U.S. support.
The problem, as always, was “type two errors” or false positives. In other words, if you investigate enough people you are bound to find something that accidentally looks suspicious even where there is no wrong-doing. Beyond a certain point, more spies means more mistakes and less safety. It is a Utopian search for perfect safety that leads us into the trap of tyrannical surveillance.
We know something about the massive level of illegal NSA spy operations only because of patriotic whistle-blowing by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. Oddly, most Americans think Manning was a traitor, yet think Snowden was a hero.