US National Security Agency

National Security Agency doing its job

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 4:23am

Your editorial ("US surveillance policy shows it cannot be trusted", June 12) manages to confuse the aggressive and often overreaching promotion of democracy and human rights by US governments with a perfectly legitimate programme of self-defence.

You, together with many other "shocked" activists and pundits, don't seem to understand that the nature of electronic intelligence gathering is that you have to start from the biggest possible pool of data and sift your way through it.

This is not unlike the police looking for a suspect in a large crowd; many innocent people will also be looked at, perhaps videotaped, and maybe even stopped, in the search for the right person.

Collecting logs from any possible source is precisely what I would expect the National Security Agency (NSA) to do; if they didn't, they'd be betraying their mission of collecting intelligence required to protect the American people from terrorism, and, through sharing with other similar agencies, protecting many other people around the world.

On the issue of transparency, surely you would agree it is a nation's right to defend itself, and intelligence-driven pre-emptive measures are certainly preferable to bombs killing innocent people.

It is absurd to expect a government - be it of the US, China, Russia or any other country - to be transparent about its intelligence gathering or other sensitive systems and operations; would you expect, for example, a government to release the names and locations of spies it deploys? Such "transparency" will obviously destroy the effectiveness of the operation, risk the lives of the people involved, and allow terrorists and other enemies to find ways to circumvent the intelligence efforts.

Certain aspects of national security should be openly debated in any democratic society. But oversight of the very complex and sensitive world of covert operations should be limited, as it has been, to well-briefed representatives of the public.

It is telling that not only Barack Obama, but practically all members of the intelligence committees in Congress, including liberal Democrats, have expressed support for the programme and indignation about its reckless exposure by Edward Snowden - a low-level technician who, like Julian Assange before him, made himself a judge and jury of one, deciding right from wrong based on ideology rather than knowledge and thus endangering the lives of many innocent people.

Oren Tatcher, Sheung Wan