Bruce Schneier on The Matthew Filipowicz Show 2: Obstacles to Restoring Trust for the NSA

As a follow-up on the interview, Bruce Schneier explains his perspective of ways for the NSA to regain citizens’ trust and the economic aspects of the matter.

– I’m talking to Bruce Schneier, a security technologist, encryption specialist and author. Let’s talk about the political side of what needs to be done, because you also wrote very well about how the trust is gone, and the trust should be gone after all we’ve learned. I mean, really, we should not be trusting the NSA after all that’s being revealed right now. They really are not trustworthy stewards when it comes to the Internet. You actually wrote on what is necessary is in a lot of ways full disclosure, not only that, but having a special prosecutor installed that would have access to all of the classified files. Talk about that, because that is something that actually should be pursued very vigorously by activists now.

The NSA needs to tell the truth to regain trust

The NSA needs to tell the truth to regain trust

– Well, this is actually interesting. The question is: “How do we restore trust?” We know the NSA has been doing all these things. We don’t know what else they’re doing. If they say: “This is all we’re doing, there’s nothing more,” we don’t believe them, because we know for a fact that Glenn Greenwald has another allegation. He’s just waiting for the NSA to deny it so he can prove that they’re lying. He’s done this several times before; he’s going to keep doing this.

It’s kind of the same thing as trust in relationships. You know that if you betray a spouse, the only way you can regain trust is by telling that spouse absolutely everything. You hold back, you dribble the truth, it just makes it worse. This is kind of the same circumstance. The only way we can regain trust is if the NSA says: “Here, here is everything. We were wrong, we’re sorry, please forgive us, here is the whole truth.” And it’s got to be the whole truth, because as soon as we feel they held back, we’re not going to trust anything again, and it’s much harder the next time.

And to that end we need – I’ve been using different metaphors: either a special prosecutor or a new Church Commission, or something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission – some mechanism by which we can know what they’re doing. We don’t need to know operational details, we don’t need to know the name of the Pakistani general circuit the NSA is listening to, we don’t need to know the North Korean military channels – that’s all operational secrets; we get that. But then programs, the methods, the things the NSA is doing in our name with our tax dollars, we kind of get to know. And that’s important.

– Yeah, obviously, I think the side of that is not just them coming forward and saying: “Ok, that’s it,” but actually having a way to verify. I’m actually having someone from the public actually having access to it, to actually verify that they are telling the truth now. And also I would like to see those who broke the law actually be prosecuted for their crimes, but we don’t really see that happening a whole lot. We saw tortures, breaking the international law, and no one was prosecuted for torture.

– Yeah, it’s unlikely, and especially because there are very few laws actually broken. I think what’s more likely happening is that, as we know, laws don’t keep up with technology. So there’s always a lot of grey area in law. And I believe the NSA is expanding its mission to fill all possible grey area. And I don’t think there’s real full law breaking: “Here is a law, let’s break it.” I think it’s more like: “Here’s a law, there are half a dozen interpretations, let’s pick an interpretation that’s more favorable to us.” And since there’s no actual real oversight, there’s no counter-balance to that. So I think that’s what’s going on.

I want to make one more point before we close, and that’s the international nature of this. When I talk about the US being the unworthy steward of the Internet, I mean something very specific. We’re right now living in a very hard time for the Internet. There’s a lot more nationalism. Countries like China, like Russia, Iran, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt are using the Internet for censorship, for surveillance, for propaganda, for telling what their citizens can and can’t do.

These governments are using the Internet for very bad things. And the US has long been an example of how to manage the Internet properly, how to maintain a free and open Internet. And we’ve been fighting against what’s known as the Cyber Sovereignty Movement, giving these countries more control over their national Internet. We want to keep the international Internet. What the US has done is undermine all of this work. We have emboldened those countries to do more against their citizens. And what they’re doing is much, much worse than what we are doing. But we have now legitimized them. And that is a huge, huge shame.

– Before I let you go, I want to ask you one more thing, if that’s alright. You actually wrote just the other day a really interesting post. That point actually needs to be made overall, because I think a lot of people necessarily may not be interested in this NSA story, the broad NSA story. But you actually tied it back to what’s kind of going on in this country right now when it comes to jobs, which I found very interesting. And you actually wrote about how a lack of job stability in the economy is actually hurting the NSA’s ability to keep secrets. Describe that, because I actually find that whole concept very, very true. So tell us about that.

Whistleblowers protection movement

Whistleblowers protection movements

– So, what I’m looking at is the number of whistleblowers we have and what that means for the national security apparatus. So, fundamentally, let’s think about the way the intelligence used to work. Think of the World War II movies, the Cold War movies, where some bright young person would be selected when he was in college and he would be inculcated into the intelligence world. And he’d learn the secrets, so he had a job for life, and that’s the way that community worked. You protect the government secrets, the government will protect you, you will learn the secret knowledge, you’ll become one of us, and you will not betray us. It was very much a loyalty-based organization.

That kind of metaphor fails in the world of outsourcing and contracting and two-year employment and no job security, which is really what the current young generation knows about the world. So, when you look at Chelsea Manning, you look at Edward Snowden – Manning was 25, Snowden was 30. These people know there’s no jobs for life. For these people there’s no: “The government will take care of you.” These people are much more likely to say: “This stuff is wrong, I’m going to expose it,” simply because their world view is different. And I think that’s a huge generational issue and something that’s going to bite the NSA. There are millions of people with security clearances. I think that Manning and Snowden are the first of many.

– Bruce Schneier, security technologist, encryption specialist. He’s an author of 12 books, the latest “Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Thrive” you can find at schneier.com, you can find them on Twitter @schneierblog. Bruce, really, really interesting stuff, honestly, again, this is something, this ongoing story is so important, and actually having your encryption expertise on this is really, really great. Thank you so much for what you’re doing and thanks for being on this show!

– Thank you!

Read previous: Bruce Schneier on The Matthew Filipowicz Show: NSA Working with Tech Companies to Insert Weaknesses into Code

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