Commentary: More NSA disclosures cause loss of trust

Commentary: More NSA disclosures cause loss of trust

This official photo of NSA headquarters and parking lot is captioned: "The mission never sleeps."

By Len Lazarick

keith alexander

Gen. Keith Alexander

“Who will guard the guards themselves?” is a Roman saying at least 1,800 years old.

Who will protect us from those who are supposed to protect us? That is the question that lingers after the disclosure of two programs that monitor the phone records and Internet use of millions of Americans by the National Security Agency, based at Maryland’s Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County.

Here is what Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, told the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce on April 25.

“Our people take pride in protecting our civil liberties and our privacy,” Alexander said. “We can’t tell you how we do that.”

In other words, trust us.

Trust us

On Thursday, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and the ranking Democrat, Maryland’s own Dutch Ruppersberger, issued a joint statement. (Rogers was the speaker at the Montgomery County Republican Lincoln-Reagan dinner in April.)

“It is important that the American people understand that this information does not include the content of anyone’s conversations and does not reveal any individual or organization names,” said the statement. “This important collection tool does not allow the government to eavesdrop on the phone calls of the American people.  When these authorities are used, they are governed by court-approved processes and procedures. Moreover, the use of these authorities is reviewed and approved by federal judges every 90 days. Additionally, the [Intelligence] Committee routinely reviews all FISA activities.”

NSA headquarters

This official photo of NSA headquarters and parking lot is captioned: “The mission never sleeps.”

The committee reviews activities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act behind closed doors. Trust us.

The FISA court that oversees these activities meets in secret, and the only side of the case it hears is the government’s. Trust us.

‘False myths’ about NSA

 The general counsel of the National Security Agency, Rajeesh De, gave a lengthy speech at the Georgetown University Law School in February where he detailed the protection of civil liberties and privacy.

In it, he tries to deflate “false myths” about the NSA. One is that “NSA is spying on Americans at home and abroad with questionable or no legal basis” and another is that “NSA operates in the shadows free from external scrutiny or any true accountability.”

De describes extensive oversight of NSA by the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Almost all of it happens behind closed doors. Trust us.

There is even a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, but that board has had a troubled history. The chairman was just confirmed last month, after a year and half of delay.

Handsome profits

After 9/11, Maryland has profited handsomely from the expansion of NSA and its private contractors. They occupy the entire National Business Park in Annapolis Junction, and have a major footprint in Columbia and Howard County. Several years ago, the outsourcing contracts to local companies were estimated to be over $4 billion, but we don’t know how much it really is. It is part of the classified “black budget” for the intelligence agencies. Trust us.

When whistleblowers came forward to protest what they see as abuse of the law, privacy and civil liberties, they are prosecuted and not praised.

With the recent disclosures, it is difficult again — as usual — to trust the government. Who will guard the guards themselves?

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.

1 Comment

  1. cwals99

    WOW! A good article about justice in Maryland. It is indeed our state that leads this security madness and it is why we have so much wealth and inequity….and fraud and corruption! Isn’t it ironic that in the nation’s most security oriented state that our state is ranked at the bottom nationally for fraud, corruption, and lack of transparency. You know they aren’t looking for corporate fraud.

    We will receive much insight from Snowden’s actions. It takes a huge amount of social conscience to place yourself in such cross-hairs! First, we got to see that BOOZ et al these private contractors are simply international business management corporations that not only get to handle everything that goes on in America, but no doubt profits from sharing the data relevant to business interests. You say ‘shame on you’ they aren’t looking at detail, they are just meta-analyzing account numbers…..OH YEAH, AND I HAVE SWAMP LAND IN FLORIDA TO SELL YOU! Why do these pols privatize all that is public? Because to Third Way corporate democrats like we have in the leadership of the party today…..all that is public belongs to corporations. We need to correct that by running and voting for labor and justice candidates next elections.

    You will notice how captured Maryland’s elections are. Media will only show you the handful of selected politicians who are proven to be committed to global empire-building. How many times have you seen Anthony Brown for instance or Wall Street’s favorite protector Doug Gansler? Over and over and over. Have you heard about Brian Vaeth and Duane Davis both registered as candidates for Governor and Lt Governor for a few months now? THEY MAY NOT BE TEAM PLAYERS SO WE DO NOT WANT TO GIVE THEM AIRTIME! We all need to vote the farm team out and go with these people who are unknowns as we take government back to the people and out of the hands of global corporate pols…..republicans are the same folks…don’t go there!!!