Edward Snowden’s trove of documents acquired from the National Security Agency (NSA) has provided a blueprint for understanding the structure and design of intelligence agencies around the world. Thus far, a major theme among the Snowden leaks relate to how the NSA and GCHQ intercepts communication by monitoring phone calls, text messages, email, Internet history/activity, and even remotely accessing personal computers and mobile devices.
A Snowden leak from the Guardian revealed that the British Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, aided by the NSA, intercepted more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts and webcam photos at random from around the globe in a program labeled, “Optic Nerve.” According to the Guardian, Yahoo reacted furiously and a spokesperson accused the agencies of “a whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy.” Many users were outraged as a large number of the photos were sexually explicit.
Although this leak may infuriate some, it may not be enough to convince those who still have faith in the NSA’s presumed good intentions.
Glenn Greenwald sheds some light in his newest and most damning revelation on the GCHQ secret unit, JTRIG (Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group), and its intention to manipulate public thought and discourse through an elaborate training program labeled, “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations.”One of the first few slides for the training program introduces the “4 D’s:
Deny, Disrupt, Degrade, Deceive.” These techniques involve rhetoric strategies to develop a strong ethos among the agent, numerous devices for exploiting human interaction, and multiple methods to cause disruption once they have established their credibility
Another remarkable aspect to this program is the amount of psychological and social consideration that went into designing this system. They investigated how human beings can be influenced through leaders, trust, obedience, and compliance. They constructed a program purely designed to manipulate human beings.
The fact that the government has programs designed to spread lies and work to destroy legacies of whomever they wish brings the moral and ethical intentions of the agencies into question.
General Keith Alexander, the current director of the NSA, justifies the NSA’s controversial actions claiming that their work has stopped numerous terrorist attacks to date, and remains a pivotal tool for protecting the U.S. and its allies. However, the facts behind this claim remain muddled. The NSA is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), which grants NSA permission to run unknown projects, based on classified interpretations of the law.
NSA dissidents claim the right to privacy for personal reasons while invoking violations of the Fourth Amendment as the legal means to discredit the program. And due to the NSA’s secrecy, they also claim that there is no proof that the NSA has ever prevented a terrorist attack.
Our governments are pushing their boundaries (as acknowledged by JTRIG) and it’s fair to say that the public deserves disclosure on the scope of information that the government collects and, in this case, distributes among its people.The NSA is well known for refusing to comment on intelligence matters, but this JTRIG program demands an explanation on how it can be acceptable for a government agency to deliberately lie in order to manipulate the public under a confidential agency.
In summation, the world's intelligence agencies can continue to hide behind their veil of secrecy, but if the Snowden leaks continue to shock and frustrate the masses, the NSA will eventually have to speak and justify their controversial programs. It’s important to remember that Snowden downloaded around 1.7 million documents, and these revelations are far from over.
More controversial reports are sure to come, and with those reports, transparency is essential in order for the public to be informed so they can decide whether or not the NSA lays claim to any legal, moral, or ethical justifications.
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