Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden in Washington D.C. alongside my friend and colleague Brian Jencunas. You will be able to read all about that experience in next week’s edition of the Wire, as well as on WheatonWire.com at the end of this week.
I’m not going to discuss the trip itself in this space, but I’d like to say a few words about the recent NSA-related headlines.
In the United States of America, we have freedoms quite literally beyond comprehension. We live an astonishingly secure, safe nation, one in which the act of questioning and exercising curiosity has become a norm we hardly even think about. Why, then, do so many people discuss issues of transnational security as if the NSA’s “knee jerk” information trolling is quintessentially American when, in actuality, perhaps the most American of privileged attitudes is the one in which we bafflingly call for complete transparency in matters of complex national security? I see a notable logical fallacy here.
Do I want to be spied on? Tough question. I suppose not. I suppose I’d love to live in a world in which such snooping is unnecessary, or, at the very least, reserved for the most pressing of circumstances. In my woolgathering, I can vaguely imagine that place, and it’s very lovely.
However, a real world exists outside of our heads, and wishy-washy escapism rivals ignorance as a great threat to the security of this country. In order to obtain some freedoms, we sometimes need to cede others.
We live in a culture in which dichotomies dominate our line of thinking. Hell, duality is practically built into the bipartisan political structure of this country. But Americans need to approach this issue in a more nuanced way. We’re asking the wrong questions when we say “Why is it necessary to collect intelligence?” Instead, we should examine the line at which the information rush becomes too much for our comfort. Let’s be honest: is ending Metadata going to make our lives any easier than they already are?
We should think about why monitoring macro American-servered email platforms out of necessity is different than tapping into Angela Merkel’s phone. Let’s at least add some nuance to the rhetoric about totalitarianism in this country, and curb the talk that implies that there is no tacit agreement among world powers that spying is about as commonplace as it gets in the world we live in. Let’s stop pretending we know what was happening before 2002, and start calling for transparency only once we’ve determined what it actually entails.