Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Did the Surveillance State Get Hit By Friendly Fire? : The New Yorker:

Last March, in a speech he delivered at a gathering orchestrated by In-Q-Tel, the venture-capital incubator of the Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, the Agency’s director, had occasion to ruminate on “the utter transparency of the digital world.” Contemporary spooks faced both challenges and opportunities in a universe of “big data,” but he had faith in the “diabolical creativity” of the wizards at Langley: “Our technical capabilities often exceed what you see in Tom Cruise movies.” In the digital environment of the twenty-first century, Petraeus announced, “We have to rethink our notions of identity and secrecy.”

For those of us who have been less bullish about the prospects of radical transparency, the serialized revelations that have unfolded since Friday—when Petraeus, who left the military as a four-star general, resigned from the C.I.A. because of an affair—are, to say the least, honeyed with irony. In the decade following September 11, 2001, the national-security establishment in this country devised a surveillance apparatus of genuinely diabolical creativity—a cross-hatch of legal and technical innovations that (in theory, at any rate) could furnish law enforcement and intelligence with a high-definition early-warning system on potential terror events. What it’s delivered, instead, is the tawdry, dismaying, and wildly entertaining spectacle that ensues when the national-security establishment inadvertently turns that surveillance apparatus on itself.