Former CIA Agent: Fine-tune NSA's Data Collection Practices

Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 08:07 PM

By Sean Piccoli

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The latest journalistic scoop provided by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden proves that some fine-tuning of data collection by U.S. spy agencies might make sense, but it shouldn't shock or outrage anyone who follows the news, a former CIA covert operations officer told Newsmax TV on Tuesday.

The National Security Agency collects far more data from ordinary Internet users than it does from its legal surveillance targets, by a ratio of nine to one, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post from self-proclaimed dissident Snowden.

That's standard operating procedure, former CIA agent Mike Baker told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner.

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"We [already] knew that, based on the collection of metadata . . . the NSA was casting a wide net," said Baker, president of the global intelligence and security firm Diligence. "And the reality of any investigation, whether it's a criminal investigation or a terrorist investigation . . . is when you start, that the net will be larger than it needs to be because you don't know what the parameters are."

The Post survey found that a vast majority of several thousand emails, instant messages and Internet documents scooped up by the NSA between 2009 and 2012 — mostly from Americans — were not communications the NSA specifically sought.

"From an operational perspective, is that a surprise? No," said Baker. "Is it a surprise to the general public? I guess, if they haven't been paying a lot of attention to this. I just don't see a lot 'new' here, in that sense."

Baker said he understands the concerns and the emotions surrounding government collection of personal information.

"I'm a small-government person," he said, adding, "I would always prefer that our intel collection, whether it's human or 'sigint' [signals intelligence], is done in a more specific fashion."

But he contended there's been hypocrisy and hyperventilating over accepted U.S. spy practices. He said some lawmakers responsible for congressional oversight of U.S. intelligence operations "know what's been going on" but still find it "politically expedient" to criticize.

Intelligence agencies, meanwhile, are constrained by secrecy laws and the need to protect their sources and methods from mounting an all-out defense of themselves, said Baker.

"It's the same reason why the CIA . . . is always such a good scapegoat," he said. "They get marched up to Capitol Hill and smacked around on a fairly frequent basis because they don't defend themselves — they can't defend themselves. They just say, 'Okay, fine, thank you. May I have another?'"

"I don't want to apologize or make excuses for everything related to intel collection and NSA work because it can be done better," said Baker. "But it's a human process, in part . . .  We don't want to forget that. So, it's never going to be perfect."

"Sometimes there are gray areas because you don't know what you're going after," said Baker. "You don't know how long that particular piece of information may be relevant, because maybe two years from now that piece of information is going to be what's going to allow you to connect the dots to a potential impending [terrorist] operation."

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