Editor’s Comment

Intelligence on the Intelligence.

Do all Americans have the constitutional right to know every security activity of their government? Mr. Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old security contractor, has posed this question. His recent whistle-blowing revelation of the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance programs to The Washington Post and The Guardian sparks a long-overdue debate on exactly how far a government can go around its citizens’ privacy to collect intelligence.

The collection of intelligence is mandatorily required to be hidden to serve its purpose. The various security agencies of the U.S. have always gone to great lengths to maintain the shroud of secrecy. A government in a democracy, however, is fully accountable to its citizens, and any action it takes should be based on the informed consent of the people. So how can such a government maintain its necessary secrecy while keeping the public informed of its top-secret intelligence apparatus?

Before politics and ideological battles, a government’s most important task is to protect its citizens, its country’s sovereignty, and its interests. In implementing this mountainous task, intelligence plays a big role. In the shadows of 9/11, the American intelligence community came under scrutiny as it had in the wake of the Pearl Harbor disaster in the 40s. This time, America again gave wide-reaching powers to its law enforcement and spy agencies to protect its homeland and its interests. The technology of our new millennium, however, has allowed for unprecedented spying ability, and its loopholes are likewise a new challenge. Drawing a line between security and privacy is not impossible, but difficult. As the government was voted into power by the people, so should the responsibility for spying in a democracy go to the government.

As a result of this thinking, the American administration and lawmakers brainstormed the Patriot Act, creating domestic policy and law aimed at tightening security loopholes. The creation of Homeland Security, the primary goal of which is to protect the nation, and the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence followed suit. In addition, the various intelligence agencies reevaluated their operations in light of our new millennium and revamped procedures to be more effective in their mission.

The goal of this series of changes is to present the best possible intelligence to the President and other national security decision-makers. Prior to Mr. Snowden’s clandestine intelligence leak, the security and privacy debate had never been undertaken to such depths among the American public. If governmental oversight of the NSA is found to be inadequate, then its practices need to be redressed. President Barack Obama has reacted to the leak by saying that he ‘welcomes’ a public debate on the issue.

— Probir Kumar Sarkar

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