Student Blog – Grace Lee | U.S., North and South Korea Event: What the Future Holds


The Tower Center hosted a panel discussion on the politics of the Korean peninsula and U.S. – Korean relations. Han Park and Victor Cha are Korean scholars who discussed their opinions on the possibility of the unification of the Koreas. Although unification is desirable, there is a low level of practicality. Some unstable scenarios between the Koreas are not only on nuclear and military fortified spots, but also on the tension of legitimacy war and the inability to have both regimes. In addition, North Korea is listed as the #1 most homogenous country in the world; the country’s ability to even consider the act of unification is undermined by the government’s lack of openness to the world. Under these circumstances, unification may seem impractical, but in the words of Victor Cha, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Nevertheless, Professor Park reminded us of the gradual change that is happening in recent times through stories of long lost families reuniting after years and years of no contact. He also pointed out an interesting aspect of North Korean politics, which involved the worship of Kim Il Sung, who passed in 1994. Rather than a significant ruler who runs the country, the ghost of Kim Il Sung is in fact running the country. For this reason, no matter how many rising leaders North Korea has, the government remains the same. As Professor Cha discusses, the unification of North and South Korea may result in either a nightmare or an opportunity.

As for the thoughts of other regions on this issue, Professor Victor Cha tells the perspective of other countries, such as Russia, Japan, and China; they would not oppose in the unification because of the risk of threatening the preservation of international relations. Furthermore, he believes in the support of America’s interest in the unification of North and South Korea.

Dr. Victor Cha is the university director of Asian Studies and holds the D.S. Song Chair in the Department of Government and School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He has authored several books on Foreign Affairs between U.S. Korea, Japan and North Korea. Cha has also served in the White House as Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. Dr. Han Park is the university professor of Public and International Affairs and Director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia. He is currently an ABC News Consultant/Analyst and has appeared on major global media outlets, including CNN, ABC News, BBC, and KBS.

- Grace Lee, SMU Student and Tower Center Intern

Grace Lee is a Tower Center intern at the Tower Center of Political Studies department at SMU. She is a senior pursuing a degree in International Studies with a specialization in East Asia. After graduation, Grace hopes to attend graduate school in Washington D.C. and be involved in International Affairs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Amb. Robert Jordan on #Iran & who could play the bad cop in the Mideast

In the News/Fox Radio, November 27, 2013

Note: The entire interview can be heard here.

Amb. Robert Jordan on #Iran & who could play the bad cop in the Mideast

Amb. Robert Jordan, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, weighed in on the P5+1 deal with Iran and quoted President Reagan by saying we should “trust but verify.”  However, he amended the quote by saying he doesn’t know if he would even go as far as to trust!  On Israel and Saudi Arabia collaborating, Jordan said, “It is certainly possible that they could be collaborating with each other on what kind of strategy to employ.  Either to stop this interim agreement or to take action on their own part.”  He added, “It doesn’t hurt us to have a good cop, bad cop environment so that we can say to the Iranians ‘If you don’t play ball with us, watch out because there’s some really bad actors out there who would like to do away with you!’”

Ambassador Robert Jordan is a Diplomat-in-Residence at the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies. Click here to visit his personal page on our website.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Student Blog – Karly Hanson | Rioters for Justice: Remnants of Colonization and civil unrest in the French Banlieues

BfvZlh4IEAEcDlCHervé Tchumkam discussed the civil unrest in the French banlieues in his lecture ”Rioters for Justice” during the inaugural session of the Tower Center Monthly Seminar. Tchumkan graduated from the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 and the University of Pennsylvania. His research has concentrated on Postcolonial Studies and Literary Theory, and Political Philosophy.

Tchumkam talked about the similarities that today’s exclusion and racism in France, share with the harshness of colonization. During French colonization, the pursuit of assimilation was brutal; immigrants were exploited for labor and resources to further French economic interests. African immigrants have been oscillating between necessary and expendable to France for more than 70 years. Even black French citizens that have been in the nation for three or four generations are not considered French, but are instead considered African. The question remains: what does it mean to be French?

Naturally, this issue seems all too familiar to Americans. Here in the U.S., Africans were slaves, and even when they were granted their freedom, segregation and racism were cruel. As a nation, America has made progress on issues of race and politics, and continues to strive for equality in civil rights. France has an ongoing crisis of national identity and struggles with segregated housing and neighborhoods. The rise of Xenophobia that invaded France during the 1930s when the African soldiers returned to France could still be at the roots. Some fear a crisis of the French citizenship. However, with the recent outbreaks of riots in the cities as evidence, the French citizens living in the banlieues are ready for a change. If the situation continues to escalate, as Tchumkam concluded his lecture, there could be more civil unrest.

- Karly Hanson, SMU student and Tower Center Intern

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Student Blog – Grace Lee | Demographic Changes and their Political Impact

Last Thursday, Dr. Jeffrey S. Passel and Dr. Harold Stanley discussed the political impact of demographic changes in the U.S. Dr. Passel is a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project and is a specialist in immigrant populations in America. His focus is on undocumented immigration, the impact of the foreign-born, and the impact of welfare reform on immigrant populations. Dr. Harold Stanley, Associate Provost at SMU, focuses his research on Latino politics, and presidential elections.

The discussion involved the demographic influence of immigration: how it impacted politics, affected the U.S. population, and became a national issue. There was also a focus on how the Latino population growth played a part in U.S. immigration. According to Dr. Passel’s research, immigrants from Mexico and Latin America count for more than half of all immigrants in the United States. He also shared statistics of the rise and fall of immigration since the 1920s.

Currently in the United States, there has been a slow decline in the past five to six years. However, research shows that because of the increase in foreign-born children and the rapid growth of the dispersal of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., the immigration population may escalate in the future.

Many professors and visitors attended this event and it was interesting to share in their attentiveness on the sensitive topic. This was the first discussion I attended as a Tower Center intern, and I learned that although the topic of immigration may be a complicated subject, it is now more in need of attention than ever before.

- Grace Lee, SMU Student and Tower Center Intern

Grace 2

Grace Lee is a Tower Center intern at the Tower Center of Political Studies department at SMU. She is a senior pursuing a degree in International Studies with a specialization in East Asia. After graduation, Grace hopes to attend graduate school in Washington D.C. and be involved in International Affairs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Darwin Deason gives SMU gifts toward cybersecurity studies

This news story first appeared on January 29, 2014. For more information click here.

By Robert Miller, The Dallas Morning News; January 29, 2014

A $7.75 million gift from Darwin Deason will launch the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security and support the Deason Innovation Gym in Southern Methodist University’s Lyle School of Engineering.

Deason’s gift includes a $5 million endowment and $1.25 million in operational funding for the new institute, which is headed by cybersecurity expert Frederick R. Chang. The former research director at the National Security Agency joined SMU last fall as the first Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security with the goal of creating the institute that now bears Deason’s name.

The gift provides $1.5 million to support Deason Innovation Gym, a facility in which students are immersed into a fast-paced environment to solve engineering problems.

“This support immediately positions the Lyle School to make significant contributions to the science of cybersecurity,” said SMU president R. Gerald Turner. “Darwin Deason’s generous gift of operational funding, in addition to the endowment, allows the institute to begin addressing critical cybersecurity issues from day one, advancements that will have an impact far beyond our campus nationally and globally.”

Lyle School dean Marc Christensen said: “The institute will attract the best minds to address the threats of cybercrime and cyberterrorism. The Innovation Gym helps develop young minds, turning students loose to solve real-world problems under tight deadlines, overcoming intermediate failures as they learn to innovate. By supporting the institute, this gift recognizes the importance of research at the highest level to solve a global challenge.”

Deason is the founder of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., launched in 1988 to handle business processes. Deason took the company public in 1994 and sold it to Xerox Corp. in 2010 for $6.4 billion.

Previously, Deason worked for the data-processing firm MTech and in data processing for Gulf Oil in Tulsa.

“My business career was built on technology services, so clearly the issue of cybersecurity is something I take very seriously,” Deason said. “The work of the institute will have a far-reaching impact, spanning retail, defense, technology, health care, energy, government, finance and transportation — everything that makes our world work.”

Deason is chairman of Deason Capital Services and president of the Deason Foundation.

“The reach of this gift means that SMU students will benefit from a unique combination of learning opportunities at SMU,” said SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs Paul Ludden. “It supports both important research and the spark of student creativity in one step.”

The Deason Institute will educate leaders who understand the complexities of cyber-related issues, whether they take their degree in computer science or philosophy. It will also incorporate elements from law, business and the social sciences to promote development of an educated citizenry in the issues of cybersecurity.

In addition to directing the Deason Institute, Chang teaches computer science and serves as a senior fellow in the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Student Blog – Karly Hanson | Elect Her: Campus Women Win Training

I have never given the idea of running for office much thought. I think mostly, that’s because I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I am not a political science major, and though it has always been my dad’s dream, it is not mine, to one day become president.  But, I am attending the Elect Her training session on April 25thanyway. I believe young women everywhere should equip themselves with the skills and knowledge that the talented and accomplished leaders, such as Jessica Grounds -Director of the Women’s Office for Ready for Hillary -teach through the program: leadership, organization, and effective communication skills for example.

Growing up I never wanted to be in the spotlight. I don’t speak up in class, and I am hardly ever the loudest voice in a group. However, as I get older and progress through college, I am realizing how important it is for every voice to be heard. Running for office does not have to be about me being known by everyone. Instead, it can be about me helping others become represented, and inspiring other women to do the same.

The more I sit back and observe the campus, the clearer it becomes that I cannot simply watch and hope that someone elected will make the changes that SMU needs. It’s like when teachers tell their students to ask questions because someone else might have the same one.  When no one asks questions, no one gets the answers they need. If I want to a see a change in my community, in this case, on the SMU campus, then I must be the force behind the movement. I hope to learn how to be that force in the Elect Her training session on April 25th. I want to learn how to lead a community, and most importantly how to inspire my peers so that one day they will do the same in their own communities.

- Karly Hanson, SMU student and Tower Center Intern

If you are interested in learning how to lead like Karly, join us for the Elect Her | Campus Women Win Training on April 25th at Hughes-Trigg.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mexico pitches energy reform

This news story first appeared on January 24, 2014. For more information click here.

By James Osborne, The Dallas Morning News; January 24, 2014


Mexican congressman Javier Trevino Cantu is in Texas trying to sell his country’s energy reforms to U.S. oil companies. On Friday, he visited with attendees before speaking to a group at SMU. (Mona Reeder/Staff Photographer)

Javier Treviño Cantu, a Mexican congressman and close ally of President Enrique Peña Nieto, has spent much of the last month traveling Texas to tout the historic nature of his country’s decision to open up its oil sector. But he admits Mexico has a ways to go yet.

“There are many opportunities in the world, between South America and Africa and the Arctic,” he said. “So how are we able to attract the oil companies? That’s going to be the key challenge.”

More than a month after Mexico’s Congress passed a series of historic constitutional amendments to open up its energy sector to foreign investment, the country is trying to sell the changes to U.S. companies that remain both eager and skeptical of their prospects south of the border.

Earlier this week, Gustavo Madero, president of the National Action Party, and Jesús Reyes Heroles, former CEO of the national oil company Pemex, appeared before oil executives and attorneys in Houston to explain the developments expected in the months ahead.

Treviño, a leading force within the Institutional Revolutionary Party, has been to Texas three times since the vote. He mixes private meetings with industry insiders with public events like a speech at SMU on Friday. The message is Mexico is open for business and committed to creating a legal structure that will be attractive to foreign oil companies.

So far, the message has been getting a good reaction from U.S. oil companies, according to analysts and attorneys. But with the structure of the changes still being drawn up, how terms will compare with countries like Brazil and Peru also seeking investment is unclear, said Carlos Solé, an attorney with Baker Botts.

“That’s the $20,000 question,” he said. “When they do the first bids they want the who’s who of the energy industry. And that’s why you have guys coming up to Dallas and Houston, making the rounds. I’m not sure what the phrase is, road show maybe.”

For Mexico, the stakes are high. Discussions on overhauling the energy sector stretch back more than two decades. But standing in the way was the deep national passion around Mexico’s decision in the 1930s to declare its oil reserves off-limits to foreign companies.

But since the North American Free Trade Agreement opened up cross-border trade in the 1990s, that way of thinking has started to diminish, Treviño said.

Perhaps more important, while oil and gas drilling has soared in the U.S. through the hydraulic fracturing revolution, production in Mexico has fallen off a cliff.

“It’s interesting. That sort of rhetorical nationalism seems the domain of a political class, the left,” said Tony Garza, the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and now an attorney in Mexico City with White & Case.

“When you get out and see some of the polls that have been done of the middle class and lower middle class, you recognize that they are looking for opportunity. It’s less of that visceral nationalism and more, ‘How can we compete, why are we leaving our nation’s patrimony in the ground, buried?’”

But considerable questions remain.

What will happen to Pemex, the vast sprawling state agency, which up until now has held a monopoly over oil production in Mexico?

Mexico is eager to develop deep offshore projects and unconventional shale plays that Pemex is considered ill-equipped to manage. But handing them off to an Exxon Mobil or a Shell outright could prove politically difficult in Mexico City, analysts say.

Dallas Parker, a partner with Houston law firm Mayer Brown, which has advised Pemex in the past, said the company was ready to move on from its current role.

“At the upper levels they feel like the shackles have been taken off. They won’t be run solely as a revenue-generating source for the Mexican government,” he said. “Pemex does not have the capabilities to be involved in every oil and gas opportunity in Mexico. The resources are vast. If Mexico wants to reform, they have to go all the way.”

The fine print of the changes remains a subject of considerable speculation.

Attorneys and analysts gather intelligence through government sources in Mexico. And each has a different interpretation of how things will shape up when the government is scheduled to present legislation on the energy reforms April 20.

As he traveled around Texas this month, Treviño said he has heard the skepticism.

“There are reactions. There are concerns. There are viewpoints, which is good. It’s a very good learning process,” he said.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Student Blog – Julien Teel | Mexican Energy Reform: Insights & Perspectives

In partnership with the Maguire Energy Institute, the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies had the privilege to bring Congressman Javier Treviño Cantú from Mexico to Dallas last Friday. Congressman Treviño is an elected official of the Mexican Federal Congress for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and has been well involved in Mexico’s recent energy reformation process. His appearance gave scholars, government officials, business professionals, and even students some unique insights on the prospects and implications regarding the energy reform.

Congressman Treviño opened his discussion by analyzing three vital aspects:  the current predicaments and objectives that the government of Mexico is aggressively addressing, the purpose and future of the new constitutional amendments that have been ratified, and energy trends that led to the necessity of implementing a novel energy reform. Specifics of the energy reform itself were also meticulously explained, showing that Mexico indeed has a viable plan for revitalizing the nation and entering the world economy as a major energy player.

Despite opposition from political actors and interests groups who wish to retain Mexico’s old policy on energy, Congressman Treviño remains optimistic that the citizens of Mexico, and indeed the international community, will come to see these reforms as progressive and economically beneficial. Much thought and effort has been put into these reforms to ensure Mexico’s future is secured, all while promoting transparency and anti-corruption policies. Although it is still early to feel the effects of the reforms, this feat has the opportunity to transform North America into an energy powerhouse. Indeed, the future is beginning to look much brighter for Mexico.

– Julien Teel, 2013 Tower Center Vaughn Intern

Teel, JulienJulien Teel recently graduated from SMU in December 2013 with a degree in Political Science and International Studies. His research encompasses security and defense issues in East Asia, as well as analyzing the trilateral relationship between the U.S., Japan, and China. Currently, Julien is in the process of applying for Officer Candidate School in the Navy with the intention of entering as an Intelligence Officer. He eventually hopes to become a Foreign Area Officer in the Navy, formulating and promoting American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tower Center Fellows & Associates | Fall 2013 Highlights

Tower Center fellows and associates include a wide range of scholars, public intellectuals, and policy practitioners. Here is a selection of their recent publications, speaking events, and other notable accomplishments.

Sabri Ates, Associate

Ottoman-Iranian Borderlands: Making a Boundary, 1843–1914 (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Mark A. Chancey, Associate

“Public School Bible Courses in Historical Perspective: North Carolina as a Case Study,” Religion & Education 40:3 (2013): 253-269.

Jeffrey Kahn, Fellow

Appointment, O’Brien Fellow-in-Residence, McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism in the Faculty of Law, McGill University, Fall 2013.

Testimony, “Ibrahim v. Dep’t of Homeland Security, et al.” United States District Court for the Northern District of California, December 2-6, 2013, San Francisco

Mrs. Shipley’s Ghost: The Right to Travel and Terrorist Watchlists (University of Michigan Press, 2013) (reviewed by Nina C. Ayoub, The Talented Mrs. Shipley, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 20, 2013)

Op-ed, Human rights in Russia: In Putin’s Russia, Shooting the Messenger, N.Y. Times, Feb. 25, 2013 (online); International Herald Tribune, Feb. 27, 2013, at 8 (print)

Citation by European Court of Human Rights (Khodorkovskiy & Lebedev v. Russia, App. Nos. 11082/06 & 13772/05, July 25, 2013, at ¶¶ 362 & 890) of joint report submitted to and at the request of the Council of the President of the Russian Federation for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights.

Sheri Kunovich, Fellow

Presenter, “Women’s Political Participation in Poland,” Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw Poland, October 2013.

Harold Stanley, Senior Fellow

Vital Statistics on American Politics 2013-2014 (CQ Press, 2013) (with Richard G. Niemi).

Hiroki Takeuchi, Fellow

“Survival Strategies of Township Governments in Rural China: From Predatory Taxation to Land Trade,” Journal of Contemporary China, Volume 22, Number 83 (September 2013): pp. 755-772.

Speaker, “US-China Relations,” Teacher Workshop at Asia Society Texas Center, Houston, TX, October 19, 2013.

Speaker, “Did You Hear about the Trans-Pacific Partnership?” New Outlooks on Great Decisions Discussion Group by Emeritus plus 50 Program, Dallas, TX, October 22, 2013.

Speaker, “China Today” Talk at the Highland Park Presbyterian Church, Dallas, TX, November 22, 2013.

Jenia Iontcheva Turner, Associate

Presenter, “Legal Ethics in International Practice,” Nuts and Bolts of International Law Seminar, International Law Section, State Bar of Texas, Dallas, TX, Oct. 18, 2013.

Presenter, “Effective Remedies for Ineffective Assistance,” Southwest Criminal Law Workshop, UC Davis Law School, Sept. 7, 2013

Presenter, “The Search for Truth in Criminal Procedure: A Comparative View,” SMU Dedman School of Law, Faculty Forum, Aug. 28, 2013

Matthew Wilson, Fellow

Politics and Religion in the United States (Routledge, 2013) (with Julia Corbett-Hemeyer).

Presenter,”Religion in American Public Life,” Faith and Politics Conference, Churchill College, Cambridge.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Joshua Rovner – Reckless Reforms

Tower Chair Joshua Rovner wrote an op-ed on the NSA in Foreign Policy magazine.

Reckless Reforms
Why the Obama administration should ignore recommendations from the panel it established to review NSA surveillance.

This news story first appeared on January 2, 2014. For more information click here.

By Joshua Rovner, Austin Long, Foreign Policy; January 2, 2014

In mid-December, the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies released its findings to great fanfare. The panel, established to evaluate government surveillance activities, joined a growing chorus of critics of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Obama administration’s aggressive approach to intelligence. Yet the group’s report is seriously flawed. It reflects a misunderstanding of the function of foreign intelligence activities and offers some recommendations that are likely to harm these activities, while also doing little to nothing to protect individual rights.

The review group’s report calls for an end to bulk collection of metadata – information about when one person called another, but not the content of their conversation — as well as new steps to protect Americans against what panelists fear is unjustified government surveillance. The panelists recognize the tricky tradeoff between better intelligence and civil liberties, especially in an era of rapid technological change. Yet the unmistakable theme in their report is that policymakers and intelligence officials have gone too far in the direction of security. Now is the time to put the brakes on programs the panel believes create “risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty.”

The report also calls for more stringent criteria about when the NSA can intercept the communications of foreign individuals. This recommendation is a response to news that the NSA listened in on cell-phone conversations of world leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Policymakers and intelligence officials, we are told, should be much more careful about whom they target and how much they data collect.

Already, the report has prompted criticism from those who see it as threatening the capabilities of the intelligence community. One of the report’s authors, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell, has recently attempted to rebut this criticism. He notes in a Dec. 27 Washington Post op-ed that the report does not say the NSA’s collection of metadata “is not important to national security, which is why we did not recommend its elimination.”

Morell is right that the report did not find the metadata program worthless (and it is noteworthy that he goes on to argue that the program would have prevented the 9/11 attacks). Yet his argument that the review group did not recommend the program’s elimination is either disingenuous or backpedaling away from the report itself.

In its executive summary, the report clearly calls for an end to “government collection and storage of mass, undigested, non-public personal information about U.S. persons for the purpose of enabling future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes.” Instead, the report calls for such information to be held by a third party, such as a private contractor. This outsources a large part of the NSA’s core business of signals intelligence. If not exactly elimination, this plan is quite close, preserving just some elements of the program in private hands.

More important than whether the plan constitutes an end to metadata collection, however, is the fact that it is perhaps the worst of all possible worlds. A public-private metadata-sharing protocol would face serious practical and legal obstacles, which is one reason both intelligence officials and industry leaders are opposed to the idea. At the same time, it would increase the risk of future leaks because more individuals (public and private sector alike) would have to be involved in sharing information. After the Snowden affair, it is bizarre that the review group finds putting more information in the hands of contractors comforting.

In addition, the review proposes two additional reforms that could inflict grave harm on U.S. intelligence collection, neither of which is mentioned by Morell in his op-ed. First, the panelists call for extending the protections enjoyed by American citizens and those living in the United States, such as the Privacy Act of 1974, to foreign citizens living abroad. The Privacy Act sharply restricts the government’s ability to collect data on Americans, while giving people the right to access whatever information the government does have on them. The report notes that the Department of Homeland Security already accords these protections to non-U.S. citizens and that the intelligence community is already bound by the Privacy Act in matters like background investigations it conducts on employees. By extension, the report asserts that it would not be too much for the intelligence community to extend similar protections to non-U.S. citizens outside our borders.

While this position is fashionably cosmopolitan, in practice, it would turn out to be either meaningless or extremely damaging to intelligence collection. The intelligence community would not be likely to collect significant data from non-U.S. citizens through voluntary means like background investigations. As the report itself notes, the Privacy Act does not apply to systems related to national security, such as networks used for storing and transmitting classified information; if this exemption were continued, in most cases, the information available to non-U.S. citizens would be trivial or nonexistent, as most intelligence is classified and would be held in systems that the Privacy Act does not cover.

On the other hand, if the intent is to make some information from national security systems available, then the impact would be devastating. The Privacy Act, for instance, permits “any individual to gain access to his record or to any information pertaining to him which is contained in the system.” If the intelligence community faithfully implemented the act, it would also have to allow a target of its espionage and “a person of his own choosing to accompany him, to review the record and have a copy made of all or any portion thereof in a form comprehensible to him.”

At the risk of stating the obvious, this would demolish the whole purpose of spying.

The second major flaw in the report that Morell does not address is its call to eschew in almost all instances the exploitation of so-called “Zero Day vulnerabilities” in software. A Zero Day vulnerability is one whose existence is not known and therefore has not been addressed by the developer in a patch. These vulnerabilities can be used to infiltrate computer systems to collect intelligence, inflict harm, or both. The report asserts, with very little supporting argument, that fixing these vulnerabilities is more important than intelligence collected by exploiting them in all but a handful of cases. Though not discussed specifically in the report, this policy approach would likely rule out programs like the alleged exploitation of Microsoft Windows error reporting by NSA’s Tailored Access Operations, used to gain insight into target systems.

Put simply, the exploitation of vulnerabilities is the core of intelligence. The panel’s recommendation is akin to arguing that if one discovered a highly placed official of a foreign government with a drinking and gambling problem, then rather than attempting to exploit that problem, the intelligence community should guide him into rehab. Certainly, if a Zero Day or other system vulnerability affects sensitive U.S. government systems, then the NSA should act to repair it, but a general policy of non-exploitation needlessly handicaps the intelligence community. It flies in the face of the sort of careful analysis of costs and benefits that the review group’s report calls for in other circumstances.

The root of these flaws in the report is the failure to distinguish between domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence. Law enforcement, by definition, is meant to uphold the Constitution and protect the civil liberties of U.S. citizens. Policemen and prosecutors must obey strict guidelines on how they conduct surveillance on suspects and what kind of evidence they can use in court. Foreign intelligence, on the other hand, operates by breaking other countries’ laws. Human intelligence organizations like the CIA try to convince foreign nationals to pass secrets to the United States. And signals intelligence organizations like the NSA consciously and deliberately steal private communications abroad without the target individuals’ knowledge or consent.

The review group, however, recommends that the same criteria be used to determine when the government can collect information about U.S. citizens and foreign individuals on the grounds of protecting rights. In addition to recommending extending the Privacy Act to non-U.S. persons, it declares that intelligence agencies “must not target any non-United States person solely on that person’s political views or religious convictions.” While this is obviously crucial in terms of safeguarding the civil liberties of U.S. citizens, it makes no sense in the world of foreign intelligence. Intelligence agencies always collect information on foreign individuals because of their political views and other beliefs. Why else would they care about particular people, if not for the way they see and interact with the world?

Up to now, the debate about the NSA has focused on the balance between discovering information about terrorists and protecting the rights of citizens. This is understandable, as the legal basis for the NSA programs is the Patriot Act, and because the White House justifies metadata collection on the same grounds. But characterizing the issue as a choice between counterterrorism and civil liberties is simplistic and misleading. The review group admirably stresses that there are security concerns that go beyond terrorism, but it then fails to consider the value of metadata in addressing a host of challenges the intelligence community is facing. Efforts to combat state-sponsored industrial espionage, for example, require painstaking counterintelligence work. Efforts to break up transnational proliferation networks are also likely to benefit from metadata collection; this is a logical way to map the networks and see how they operate, which may be one reason why the Obama administration is fighting so hard to keep the NSA programs alive.

What’s more, despite some fears that the NSA could use metadata to create a “mosaic” of someone’s activities, in reality, this is a pretty inefficient way of encroaching on anyone’s privacy. In the past, when the intelligence community has violated civil liberties, it hasn’t bothered with such a roundabout approach. In the 1960s-1970s, for example, the CIA infiltrated various domestic political organizations, and the NSA intercepted the telegraphs of individual citizens. We have plenty of experience with intelligence agencies behaving badly, and they haven’t been very subtle about it. Collecting and storing metadata is thus very different from what we’ve seen in the past — and, in fact, Occam’s Razor suggests that it is not a violation of civil liberties at all.

Ultimately, while generated with an admirable desire to preserve people’s rights and privacy, the flawed recommendations in the review group’s report threaten to do more harm than good. As the Obama administration considers reforming the NSA, it would do well to ignore them.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment