“Whatever you do, don’t let Congress, or anyone else, create regulations that prevent us from being quicker than the other guy,” Gray said. “In this world of cyber security, you don’t have eight months or eight days to get something approved – you’ve got about eight seconds.”
A third panelist, Mike S. Swetnam, CEO and chairman of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, spoke of the flip side of collecting intelligence, which is spreading false information via propaganda, and he noted how adversaries tend to be better at using modern technology to achieve their propaganda objectives. He also noted the importance of realizing how media coverage can inadvertently aid terrorists in spreading their propaganda message. And in that regard, he said that Snowden’s damage to the reputation of the United States by painting it and the NSA as bad because they invade privacy may be as significant in the propaganda war that is always ongoing as his actual damage to the intelligence capacity.
All of the panelists suggested that there needed to be a greater understanding of what the NSA does and why it should not be limited in collecting intelligence information. Public support for intelligence activities is important, said Kerr. But he acknowledged that it has always been an awkward relationship to have secret intelligence in a democracy.
Unlike an event earlier this month at the Washington, D.C. Newseum, there was no one to present the other side of the issue on this panel. But Kerr expressed the view that little real give and take is occurring in general public discussions. Unfortunately, he noted, “We are having not a discussion or a debate at the present time but we are having people shout at each other or past each other instead.” Everyone loses when that happens, he stated.
“I’m worried," he added, “that the inability of senior leadership to address this issue will cause harm over time.”
(Security Management Intern Megan Gates contributed to this report.)