Scott Shane of The New York Times has published a masterful piece on what the paper learned from its trove of classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
One thing that stands out is the NSA uses corporate language, and Shane writes the spy agency is akin to one of the largest in the world: Amazon.
He explains that while the CIA still gathers intelligence “roughly the same way spies operated in biblical times,” but the NSA has progressed from spying on long-distance phone calls to spying on computers, mobile phones, and the Internet:
Today’s N.S.A. is the Amazon of intelligence agencies, as different from the 1950s agency as that online behemoth is from a mum-and-pop bookstore. It sucks the contents from fibre-optic cables, sits on telephone switches and Internet hubs, digitally burglarizes laptops and plants bugs on smartphones around the globe.
The corporate analogy continues throughout the report, as one document states that the agency’s “business processes need to promote data-driven decision-making.”
Shane writes that the proliferation of computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones means that “hacking has become the agency’s growth area.”
That’s sounds a lot like how Amazon runs its business: The company “uses the Internet to get maximum leverage out of its fixed assets” while investing tons of money in big opportunities to expand globally.
The NSA’s investment in extract data from electronic devices leads to a pressure to deliver for what the agency calls “customers,” which includes the White House, Pentagon, Intelligence Community (IC), State Department, and various mundane departments such as the Energy Department and the United States Trade Representative.
Shane notes that it’s disingenuous when government officials defend the NSA by saying it prevents terrorists attacks because “the focus on counterterrorism is a misleadingly narrow sales pitch for an agency with an almost unlimited agenda. Its scale and aggressiveness are breathtaking.”
What’s so refreshing about Shane’s report is that it acknowledges that the documents are “far from comprehensive” but do “give a sense of the agency’s reach and abilities.”
Nevertheless, the agency clearly states that its end goal is to “utterly master” foreign intelligence carried on communications networks, according to the Times.
Shane details some of the hurdles and limitations, and notes one thing that many NSA critics ignore: “In every international crisis, American policy makers look to the N.S.A. for inside information.”
The report is full of interesting nuggets about NSA operations around the world, and Shane’s writing is top notch.
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