It’s not your father’s NSA anymore

By: John Richards Posted: June 9, 2013 No Comments

The NSA has come, kicking and screaming, out of the shadows. Sure, anyone with a reasonable awareness of our government knew it existed but beyond that it was always overshadowed by its much smaller brother, the CIA. When we thought of deep cover spies protecting our nation we instantly thought of the CIA. But before 9-11 who had any inkling of what the NSA really did?

All of that really changed for me about twenty years ago when I was starting up an internet operation. I attended a lot of seminars put on by software developers and vendors. One of the presenters was always at these events. The man was a genius at networking, network security and database design. At the time he worked as an independent consultant.

Of course I took every opportunity to pick his brain for business purposes and we ended up not really being friends but what I would call “good acquaintances”. And through some of the projects I was working on we discovered we were both conservatives. One of the things they did at these events was give away fairly expensive software packages to attendees at random and let’s just say I became a lucky guy. And after one particularly lucky day I invited him for drinks after the event.

But first let’s put this in its’ proper perspective. Snail mail was still the largest, by far, accepted form of communication. Interactive web sites accessing databases were only used by the largest of companies. Everyone accessing the web probably had heard about this new thing called broadband but were still using dial-up connections. And no one had computers with a built in Ethernet connector.

Oklahoma City hadn’t happened. Nor as I recall the first attempt on the World Trade Center.

Over the years I’ve forgotten his name but will never forget who he had worked for and what he told me. You’ve got it. The NSA. For something over ten years. My immediate thought was of all the things the CIA does, gleaned from my extensive knowledge and study of James Bond movies along with Three days of the Condor, led me to say “So you were a spy.” And that started the conversation.

First things first. I learned from him the CIA was geared to foreign operations while the NSA was more or less domestic, primarily data capture and analysis. And, as I was told, they never met a source of information they didn’t like.

Both of us knew where we were going with the dawn of the digital age and so did the NSA. That’s was a main focus of what he did there, looking five, ten years ahead and finding how to capture that data. We both knew the speed of data communication was about to skyrocket while the technology and price of data storage was set for freefall. One thing was clear, there would be no such thing as true privacy in the future.

Having previously served as CFO of a smaller cable TV company I knew what information we gathered about our customers viewing habits but until then I never realized that the government, in the near future, could also be privy to that information also. Essentially ANYTHING that runs across an internet connection is fair game. Ain’t technology grand?

So by then I’m honestly wondering, a.) Is he a nut?, b.) Why did he quit?, c.) Is the NSA actually spying on Americans? And d.) If they are, why? Being polite I skipped over question ‘a’ and went right to ‘b’ and that answered everything else.

He still was a conservative, voted Republican but had developed a lot of Libertarian leanings because of his work there. He saw what they did as spying on his fellow citizens. But it wasn’t to weed out foreign threats as he thought when he started there. So I asked him what he thought it was all about.

His one word answer was startling. “Control” he said. I asked why did he think our government needs to spy on us to control us? We have a Constitution, a Bill of Rights, a representative form of government and a judiciary system to keep it all in balance, isn’t that enough control?

He said the problem stemmed from being a federal republic, that we are really comprised of 50 independent states (57 if you’re from a certain “other” country) and thinking about it I couldn’t disagree. Each state knows what laws work best for their particular situation but then how can the federal government maintain its’ power?

Back in that time frame, and being a natural born speed demon, I thought about the 55 mph national speed limit. Remember the Arab Oil Embargo? The gas lines? Lowering the speed limit to save fuel? In our form of government the feds can’t compel a state to lower its’ limit but they sure can withhold road funding. Ever try driving across Wyoming at 55? Shouldn’t each state set speed limits that work for their particular circumstance? And how many years after the embargo ended did the feds finally revoke the law? It’s coercion, but it’s effective. It’s control.

Even religion couldn’t escape scrutiny. Something that totally caught me off guard. After all our Pledge of Allegiance states “One Nation under God”. The United States was founded with deep religious values. At first I thought he must be referring to cults. But he explained religious beliefs, in a way that are at odds with those of the government, are a concern. That they could be a threat to the state should the state find itself at odds with the morals dictated by Judeo-Christian values.

He said the point was that the more the government knew about everybody, the sooner the government would spot trends that could threaten the power of that government, and to identify the source of those threats.

But where are today?

In a perfect world we would want, even demand, our government take all the necessary precautions to protect us both at home and abroad. But that requires nearly perfect people in the government, something we’ve never been further from than we are today. Government is only as good and as honest as who appoints the people to run it and the character, and loyalty to this Nation (not the administration), of those appointed. The NSA, IRS, FEC, Benghazi, DOJ and now the EPA scandals are, putting it mildly, less than examples of perfect people and governance.

Stop and think about all the laws and regulations states are forced to comply with or lose funding. And while you’re at it think about unfunded mandates imposed by the federal government as well as all the legislation rewritten by regulators.

Think about things like Common Core and the notion that reading literary classics may be replaced by required reading of government pamphlets (propaganda). That religious liberty and belief is being trumped by Obamacare. That our military is now removing references to “God” so as not to offend who or whatever. That our current president and vice president are ready to throw out any part of our Constitution that doesn’t suit their misguided thinking. The country that resulted from the most successful experiment in history swinging its’ doors open wide saying “You’ll c’mon in and we’ll let you do it your way.” And the list goes on seemingly forever.

Looking back on that conversation I wish I could remember his name, we’d have a lot to talk about. Then again maybe it’s for the best I can’t. This isn’t my father’s America anymore. But it sure causes me to look at the last twenty years through a brand new “prism”

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