The NSA's "blueprints," which include its operational structure and methods, are its soul.
At the end of New York Times reporter Scott Shane's superb report on the documents stolen by Edward Snowden and obtained by The New York Times, a former NSA director put forward a radical idea for the NSA: Reveal the information now.
“My advice would be to take everything you think Snowden has and get it out yourself,” Bobby R. Inman told the Times. “It would certainly be a shock to the agency. But bad news doesn’t get better with age. The sooner they get it out and put it behind them, the faster they can begin to rebuild.”
Inman led the NSA from 1977 to 1981 — right after the Church Committee investigation into NSA domestic spying — so he knows plenty about rebuilding.
But the idea is a radical one given that Snowden's haul reportedly includes the "blueprints of the NSA," 58,000 documents from the UK's signals intelligence agency (GCHQ), and 30,000 U.S. documents that do "not deal with NSA surveillance but primarily with standard intelligence about other countries’ military capabilities, including weapons systems."
Even The New York Times withheld details that officials said could compromise intelligence operations — such as the NSA's elite TAO hackers or secret "black bag" jobs — so it would be mind-boggling if Inman actually means disclosing such operations.
On the other hand, the secrets Snowden took are out there in one form or another.
D.B. Grady, who co-authored the book " Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry " with fellow investigative journalist Marc Ambinder, told Business Insider in August that a ll of the materials Snowden took are already compromised.
"It's out there now. It's out there forever," he said. "Any time someone comes into contact with sensitive material without a need to know ... there is a danger that material will get out."
The primary problem for the U.S. government is that it keeps an extraordinary amount of secrets and provides 1.4 million people with top-secret clearances — a third of those contractors like Snowden — so leakage is inevitable.
"We have essentially built a system of our own undoing," Grady told BI. "We've created a massive national security state that requires, as its own fuel and sustenance, more secrets. And the more secrets you have, the more secret keepers you have, the more leaks you're going to have — either accidentally or intentionally."
Grady brought up Bradley Manning, the Army private who passed 700,000 military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, and noted that Snowden's leaks are "m uch worse and much more carefully targeted."
"We all exist in a universe that these guys created. The system is fundamentally broken," Grady said. "And if we've learned anything from these [Snowden] leaks, it's that there is no going back at this point."
As for potential reforms, Grady said that it's "impossible to see how the system is going to survive without the major reforms that I think the system itself is incapable of making."
Those reforms would involve active transparency before the system springs a leak.
"They need to get as much of this information out as quickly as possible, rather than just coil up a tiger and keep this information more tightly concealed — at which point the information is almost certain to leak," Grady told BI. "It's going to get out again."
Grady offers sound advice to prevent the next Edward Snowden, but it does the U.S. little good now — that is, unless they want to follow Inman's advice, disclose the NSA's blueprints (as well as intel on other country's weapons), and start from scratch.
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