The directors of the FBI, CIA, and NSA put on an elaborate display of public relations on Thursday in a thinly veiled attempt to con the American public into giving up their basic rights so the country’s police industrial complex can do its job more easily.
Attendees, increasingly spied upon and tracked, appeared less than won over by the charm offensive.
At the intelligence and National Security Summit, officials from America’s security organizations took the stage in order to address a variety of issues, including what they claim is unfair public opinion against their organizations. They repeatedly claimed that the negative public opinion against their groups make it difficult to do their jobs.
In a remarkable display of wordsmanship, CIA Director John Brennan called the negative public opinion a “misunderstanding” regarding the United States Intelligence community.
He then went on to say, with a straight face, that the negative opinion of the agencies was the result of people who are attempting to undermine these organizations and enemies of the state.
FBI director James Comey made the near laughable claim that it was “impossible” to conduct a rational discussion about a variety of issues due to "venom and deep cynicism.”
He specifically singled out his own personal efforts to abolish the idea of encryption by giving the FBI a method for gaining backdoor access to encryption on any computer device.
Yet the disingenuous stance flies in the face of Apple CEO Tim Cook who has publicly voiced support for strong encryption in his company’s signature iPhones in order to protect hard won individual privacy rights.
Tech companies in general have been deeply resistant to public attempts by America’s three letter agencies to include back doors in their products that skirt the need for judicially reviewed search warrants and instead provide law enforcement and intelligence with unfettered access to America’s most private moments.
While Comey went on to say that "I don't think we've really tried to find answers yet because no one in the private sector has been properly incentivized,” his remarks fly in the face of economic reality that diametrically opposes this position.
Ever since whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the vast, extrajudicial, spying apparatus of the NSA, which included access to virtually all data that crosses American wires, tech companies based in the U.S. have found it increasingly difficult to do business overseas.
China, Russia and even supposed allies like Germany have all become deeply distrustful of American tech companies, fearful that U.S. authorities will have complete access to any systems offered by tech leaders.
Contrary to Mr Comey’s statement the economic realities show the incentives are already in place: Nobody wants pervasive spying and they’re willing to pay not to have it.
A recurring theme of the PR offensive was how “difficult” the jobs of intelligence and law enforcement have become. NSA Leader Admiral Michael Rogers claimed that revelations, such as the Edward Snowden incident and WikiLeaks, have made his job more difficult. Rogers called for a collective dialogue about the role of the intelligence community, though what precisely he meant by the remark was not obvious.
The NSA operates the largest computing cluster in the world, is completely unaccountable for any of its actions and has a crack team of legal acrobats carefully papering its activities in case the dirty details come to light.
The evidence clearly shows the NSA operates as it pleases and does not engage in two way “collective dialogue.” Any such notions are merely an attempt to distract and confuse: Rogers’ agency wants all your data and they want it easily.
While the heads were carefully prepared for their close-up with the public, whom they increasingly view as an adversary, they failed to deliver answers when asked reasonable questions.
Rogers was asked how the NSA could obtain the trust of the public. The NSA leader both dodged the question and denied its premise, stating, “I don't think we have fundamentally destroyed the public's trust. Some feel that way, but we are accountable to the citizens of the nation, and the nation is counting on us. The nation needs the insights we generate and our computer expertise."
When asked about the openness of the intelligence agencies several questions were met with moments of awkward silence by the talking heads.
It was clear the agencies were not “open” enough to answer some simple questions.
One such instance occurred when Rogers was asked what was America’s top threat. Rogers claimed to be “frustrated” by the question, stating “The answer changes every hour."
Despite a spectacular display of question dodging and vocal complaints about the opinion of the public, one truth did emerge from the show.
America’s intelligence agencies deeply distrust the American people and positively abhor the idea of judicial oversight.
They want to get on with their jobs, easily, with no regard for the rule of law or the implications their actions have on hard-won American rights and freedoms.
The display highlighted that the American people would be well advised to reciprocate this deep distrust until such a time these agencies truly embrace the concepts of openness and accountability.