Valerie Plame Wilson on privacy versus national security

October 17, 2013

Think that the National Security Agency has too much power? That it’s snooping too much into your (and everyone else’s) personal affairs? That it spends too much?

 

Guess again. The power of General Keith Alexander, current head of NSA, Central Security Service, and United States Cyber Command is “so immense that no one can imagine his reach.” That message typified Valerie Plame Wilson’s lecture Tuesday evening (October 15, 2013) at the Westminster Town Hall Forum. With just over two weeks before Halloween, Ms. Wilson supplied a host of real life facts and examples that scared the thousand attending adults more than any fictional spook story ever could.

 

In an era of sequestration, government furloughs, and budget gridlock, Wilson declared Washington D.C.’s “boom town” economy has been fueled by the exponential growth of the military-industrial-intelligence complex. At Fort Meade outside Baltimore over 50 new buildings devoted to national security and surveillance have been constructed. Across the country more than twenty other structures have been erected to examine, codify, and archive one-third of the world’s telephone calls and virtually all of its Internet communications to keep America safe.

 

What benefits have its citizens received in return for Gen. Alexander’s drive to “collect it all?” Very little except for an additional layer of bureaucracy. While Alexander, James Clapper (Director of National Intelligence), and a host of others amass more resources and more power, the American people “have given away [their] very last bit of privacy.” Not only has their privacy eroded, but they are paying these officials and the1.2 million subcontractors under them such as Edward Snowden more than three times what they would pay government employees, approximately 60-70% of the intelligence budget.

 

Given these developments, Wilson lamented the disingenuousness with which government officials from George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Hilary Clinton have claimed to welcome “a sensible adult conversation” on the issue. This “total tyranny” that is “making us less safe” has created, to use former Senator Frank Church’s words, “an abyss of no return.”

 

Though long on chilling examples, Ms. Wilson’s Q&A session afterwards offered little in the way of specifying how these efforts result in “deliberately weakening security” or to redress them other than to “agitate for political change” through organizations like Global Zero. Acknowledging that being a citizen in this country can at times be “very disheartening,” she urged her audience to heed baby boomer icon Paul McCartney’s injunction on his latest album, “before you go, try to do something good.”

 

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