"'Defensive cyber effects operations,' or DCEO, involve reaching outside of U.S. government networks to stop an assault or imminent threat. 'Offensive cyber effects operations,' or OCEO, are intended to 'offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance U.S. national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging.' Both of these describe attacks, and, according to the directive, the president has ordered targeting plans. Stuxnet, the computer worm developed by the United States and Israel and used to sabotage Iran’s nuclear equipment a few years ago, was in the vanguard of such operations. Just recently, an online magazine that spreads al-Qaeda ideology was taken down, presumably another example."
Stuxnet, the product of a US and Israeli collaboration initiated when Bush was still president, can now be described as a fossilized worm. Should there be a future cyber war, look for a combined attack on transportation systems, power grids, telecommunications and financial markets. Although not as deadly as the tragic events on 9/11, such an assault could shut a country down and cause overwhelming destruction.
In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "Living With the Surveillance State" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/17/opinion/keller-living-with-the-surveillance-state.html?pagewanted=all), Bill Keller begins by showering compliments on Thomas Friedman for his June 12, 2013 op-ed entitled "Blowing a Whistle" (see: http://jgcaesarea.blogspot.co.il/2013/06/thomas-friedman-blowing-whistle-nsa-is.html). Keller writes:
"Tom’s important point was that the gravest threat to our civil liberties is not the N.S.A. but another 9/11-scale catastrophe that could leave a panicky public willing to ratchet up the security state, even beyond the war-on-terror excesses that followed the last big attack. Reluctantly, he concludes that a well-regulated program to use technology in defense of liberty — even if it gives us the creeps — is a price we pay to avoid a much higher price, the shutdown of the world’s most open society. Hold onto that qualifier: 'well regulated.'"
Well, I have news for both Bill and Tom: The bigger current danger to the US is not another 9/11 type attack, but rather a massive cyber assault. Moreover, even with warnings from Moscow concerning the Tsarnaev brothers, the data accumulated by PRISM couldn't prevent the Boston Marathon bombing.
"But in most cases the advantages of intrusive technology are tangible and the abuses are largely potential. Edward Snowden’s leaks about N.S.A. data-mining have, so far, not included evidence of any specific abuse.
The danger, it seems to me, is not surveillance per se. We have already decided, most of us, that life on the grid entails a certain amount of intrusion. Nor is the danger secrecy, which, as Posner notes, 'is ubiquitous in a range of uncontroversial settings,' a promise the government makes to protect 'taxpayers, inventors, whistle-blowers, informers, hospital patients, foreign diplomats, entrepreneurs, contractors, data suppliers and many others.'
The danger is the absence of rigorous, independent regulation and vigilant oversight to keep potential abuses of power from becoming a real menace to our freedom. The founders created a system of checks and balances, but the safeguards have not kept up with technology. Instead, we have an executive branch in a leak-hunting frenzy, a Congress that treats oversight as a form of partisan combat, a political climate that has made 'regulation' an expletive and a public that feels a generalized, impotent uneasiness. I don’t think we’re on a slippery slope to a police state, but I think if we are too complacent about our civil liberties we could wake up one day and find them gone — not in a flash of nuclear terror but in a gradual, incremental surrender."
No "evidence of any specific abuse"? The fact that Snowden was privy to PRISM is in and of itself a significant failure. Add to this, Snowden's declaration: "I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail." In short, I would bet that a serious investigation would reveal massive abuse by NSA staff and subcontractors. Randomly select 100 NSA and subcontractor employees and ask them to take a polygraph to determine whether they ever abused the system. My guess is that there would be much "unhappiness" within the ranks.
Congress might also want to ask James Clapper about the hacking of Sharyl Attkisson's computer.
Indeed, the employment of Snowden and his freedom of action are evidence of the absence "of rigorous, independent regulation and vigilant oversight to keep potential abuses of power from becoming a real menace to our freedom."
I agree with Keller that "if we are too complacent about our civil liberties we could wake up one day and find them gone." In any given instance, a balance must be struck between the intrusiveness of technology and its ability to prevent disaster. The Boston Marathon bombing demonstrated PRISM's limited value.
More important, PRISM is powerless to prevent the real threat currently facing the US, i.e. a massive cyber assault on America's infrastructure, whose cost could prove immeasurable.