Federal agents are trying to figure out what led the San Bernardino attackers to radical Islam and ISIS sympathy. They are no doubt combing through mountains of anti-terrorism intelligence data. What are they finding?
FBI Director James Comey told a Senate committee on Dec. 9 that the two shooters were radicalized
at least two years ago and had discussed jihad and martyrdom as early as 2013. How does Comey know this?
News reports say the killers disposed or destroyed their personal electronic devices before the attack. That means Comey was probably relying on communications intercepted by the National Security Agency (NSA).
Whether that’s true or he learned it some other way, the government looks bad. If Comey’s source is the NSA, then it means persons known to have radical sympathies still managed to enter the U.S. unhindered and stage an attack.
So what are we taxpayers getting for the billions of dollars we give these agencies?
Edward Snowden, the NSA whistle-blower who fled overseas in 2013, said the NSA was intercepting far more data than it could possibly analyze. It did so as part of General Keith Alexander’s “collect it all
The result was an intelligence agency drowning in so much intercepted data that it missed what Comey’s agents found in a matter of days – once they knew where to look. By then, 14 people were dead and 22 injured.
In other words, we spent untold billions of dollars and sacrificed hard-fought civil liberties so the FBI could explain a killer’s motive after the victims were already dead.
I don’t consider that a good deal.
Alternately, it may be that Comey uncovered information about the terrorists’ background by non-technical means. FBI agents knocked on doors and talked to people. It’s old-fashioned, but still effective.
The NSA still looks bad in that scenario, too. It means that even with every possible legal advantage and a near-unlimited budget, the agency still missed very obvious signs of radical intent by people who then entered the U.S. and attacked us. That’s not basic security, much less “national” security.
You might think this failure would chasten the law enforcement and intelligence chiefs under whose watch it occurred. Not so. FBI Director Comey
says it is all our fault.
That’s right. We citizens who prefer to keep our private affairs private are endangering national security. So are companies like Apple (AAPL)
and Google (GOOGL) who now sell mobile devices with strong encryption enabled by default.
As I’ve explained before, these government demands place U.S. technology companies in an impossible
position. They can’t serve two masters.
Washington agrees. They don’t want us to serve two masters, either. In their view, we should all serve one master and Washington should be it.
Doing what they want might make us a little safer – but will definitely make us less free.
This is a bad deal. Don’t take it.
is an Austin-based financial writer. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickW
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