Presidential Directive Misses Real Threat to Public’s Privacy

Mike Swetnam, CEO of Potomac Institute, comments on the Presidential Directive released yesterday:

I joined the Intelligence Services of this country in December 1972 when I was first “read into” SCI—Special Compartmented Information.  For the past 41 years I have been involved, at one level or another, in intelligence work.  Most of that time the work was related to Signals Intelligence (SIGINT).  In June of 1985, I was assigned to the Intelligence Community Staff (now called the Office of the DNI Staff).  I was the overseer, coordinator, reviewer, and presenter of the Consolidated Cryptologic Program (NSA’s budget) to the US Congress.  Since 1998, I have been a member of the US Senate Special Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Technical Advisory Board (TAG).  In that capacity, I have had the privilege of reviewing the NSA Program and Budget often.  It is therefore accurate to say that I have been and am currently familiar with NSA and the conduct of SIGINT in the US Intelligence Community.  In particular, I have been involved in SIGINT, how it is used and controlled since the controlling document Executive Order 12333 was released by the Reagan administration.

I have reviewed the President’s new directive regarding the collection, analysis, storage, and dissemination of SIGINT, PD-28.[1]

In my opinion, this is a directive that doesn’t “direct”.  It reiterates long-standing processes and procedures for controlling SIGINT.  It redirects department heads and IC agencies to control the info almost exactly as they have for the last 33 years under EO12333.  It directs several reports from the principals of these agencies within the next six months on how well they are doing what they should have been doing anyway.  It’s actually a reminder directive.

The good news is that the directive will not delay or add restrictions to existing IC activities.  The bad news is that tens of thousands of bureaucratic hours will be spent further studying and documenting IC activities.  This is not only a waste of resources but will increase the likelihood of further leaks and disclosure of sources and methods critical to our intelligence success.

The Presidential Directive also does little, if anything, to address the very real and growing threat to the public’s privacy.  The meta-data, and in fact the substantive data, on most Americans is collected and stored in large databases every day – Not by NSA – but by Google, Amazon, Facebook, and dozens of others.  There are few, if any, controls and no oversight of these entities and their use of our information.  What is to stop these companies from using information about me or you to prevent us from supporting a favorite cause or candidate? Nothing.

Every single review by Congress, the justice department, the White House Review Group, and the NSC have all concluded that NSA was not and has not abused its capabilities and has not spied on Americans.  Meanwhile our civil liberties are being grossly and vastly violated by private corporations.  Our government will spend millions, maybe hundreds of millions making sure that NSA doesn’t do anything wrong, even though NSA hasn’t, and will standby while the private sector’s power over your information and your life grows.

This is yet another example of how our government is no longer working.

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