Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 16, 2013

Upending the Natural (and National Security) Order of Things: A Harvard Forum on the NSA, Privacy, and the Press

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on October 16, 2013

A few weeks ago, Harvard’s Institute of Politics (an enduring legacy of the Kennedy family that is unique in higher education) held a panel discussion in Washington (instead of Cambridge) on “The NSA Conundrum: National Security vs. Privacy and the Press” (in their language a “Forum,” and it was hosted in DC for Harvard alumni only…so not exactly in the spirit of the vast majority of such events at Harvard’s Kennedy School that are open to the public and allow for anyone to ask a question of the invited guests). It was an interesting conversation moderated by Harvard professor Graham Allison that included former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, former Representative (and rumored future DHS Secretary) Jane Harman, and New York Times journalist David Sanger.

The official description:

In the flurry of leaks, leakers, and prosecutions, it is difficult to get one’s bearings. To explore some of the key questions beneath the surface, the Institute of Politics and Harvard Kennedy School has assembled a panel of thoughtful participant observers for this Forum on the Road including Harvard Professor Graham T. Allison, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, former US Representative Jane Harman, and The New York Times Journalist David E. Sanger.

Among the questions moderator Graham Allison will put to the panel are:

  • Was Scott McNealy (founder of Sun Microsystems) correct two decades ago when he said: “privacy is history: if you liked privacy, forget about it,” or would that mean resignation to life in Orwell’s world of 1984?
  • Is the concept of a journalist as a “aider, abettor, or co-conspirator” conceivable?
  • Should Americans think of Edward Snowden (the NSA leaker) as a “traitor” or as a “whistleblower?”
  • Has the net effect of WikiLeaks and the NSA releases on American national security been negative or positive?
  • Has the emergence of a pervasive, invasive 24/7 Washington news cycle and a culture of leaks provided more sunshine and better national security deliberations and choices—or alternatively, degraded the process of analysis and deliberation essential to sound national security decision making?

Here is the video of the entire event:


As someone in the audience, what struck me afterwards was that the entire panel could not bring themselves to utter the name “Glenn Greenwald.”  He is the lawyer, blogger, and journalist working for the British paper The Guardian who has been heavily involved in releasing the Snowden leaks. Instead of using his name, he was referred to as “a blogger,” especially by Harman.  I’m guessing the national security types on the panel feel angered or insulted by his actions while Sanger does not appreciate that someone outside of the elite journalistic establishment is in large part driving a national, and even international, discussion.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • LinkedIn


Comment by bellavita

October 16, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

Thanks for the post, Arnold, and for including the entire presentation.

Your comment about the journalist who “does not appreciate that someone outside of the elite journalistic establishment is in large part driving a national, and even international, discussion” reminded me of the voice of America story about “blogger” reactions to the Chinese government’s response to floods (http://www.voanews.com/content/reu-china-sends-riot-police-to-block-new-protests-by-flood-victims/1770617.html)

Bloggers in China are sending posts and images about the devastation in eastern China. However, according to the story,

“legal experts suggest Internet users may now be cautious about expressing opinions. A judicial interpretation by China’s top court in September said bloggers can be prosecuted for posting rumors seen by more than 5,000 people, or forwarded more than 500 times.

Yang Xuelin, a Beijing lawyer, told Reuters that many people “are afraid to post comments on weibo now. State media has clear biases so if ordinary people have no voice, it is very difficult to know the truth.”

Here’s the reasoned response (channeling some of the Katrina-era official chatters) from the State (again, according to Voice of America):

Cai Qi, a senior party official for Zhejiang province, urged residents not to “magnify” the protests.

“Who says there’s been a failure of leadership?” Cai said in his microblog. “In the face of this unprecedented catastrophe, the leaders and cadres of all levels in Yuyao city have done everything possible for the typhoon relief efforts.”

State-run Yuyao Daily said in an editorial that residents should “express their rational demands at an appropriate time, and in a reasonable manner”.

tl;dr — it’s too early for finger pointing

Comment by Arnold Bogis

October 16, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

Thanks for pointing out the Chinese story. The whole issue of the role and influence of bloggers and other social media users is large and complicated. To be fair to Sanger, he (and the rest of the panel) did address the question in part when a member of the audience asked about how the definition of “journalism” is changing (towards the end of the discussion).

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 22, 2013 @ 9:52 pm

Finally got to the whole of the panel discussion. Respectfully disagree with some of the panel discussion saying collection of data by corporations ahead of government meant that the government really doing not much that was new.

Chertoff statement that 9/11/01 might have been prevented by Sigint as opposed to Humint was new to me.

Clearly th

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 22, 2013 @ 9:54 pm

continued: Clearly the changing technology creating new opportunities for mischief IMO!

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>