More than four years ago, we wrote about all the buzz that you were hearing about "cyberwar" was little more than an attempt to drum up FUD to get the government to throw billions of dollars at private contractors. We noted that Booz Allen Hamilton (yes, the last employer of one Ed Snowden) had hired former NSA director and also Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell as its Vice Chairman. He was the leading voice out there screaming about the threat of "cyberwar" getting on TV and having lots of opinion pieces in big name publications -- all of which mentioned his former government jobs, but almost none of which mentioned that his current employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, stood to make billions selling "solutions" to the government. And, indeed, Booz Allen has been raking in the cash
This is worth keeping in mind as you read this fascinating interview with NSA whistleblower, Bill Binney
, in which he lays this out plain and simple. The real reason for all this NSA surveillance is about money and power. "Stop terrorism" is secondary. After pointing out that all of this data collection has been basically useless in stopping terrorism (as confirmed by multiple independent accounts of the NSA's activities), the interviewer asks Binney why the NSA keeps doing it:
So why do they keep doing it?
Money. It takes a lot of money, you have to build up Bluffdale [the location of the NSA's data storage center, in Utah] to store all the data. If you collect all the data, you've got to store it, you have to hire more people to analyze it, you have to hire more contractors, managers to manage the flow. You have to start a big data initiative. It's an empire. Look at what they've built! Have you ever looked around all the buildings they've built up because of 9/11?
So that's what it's all about, expanding the budget for the intelligence community?
If you have a problem, you need money to solve it. But if you solve that problem, you no longer have the justification to get money. That's the way they view it - keep the problem going, so the money keeps flowing. Once you build up this big empire, you have to sustain it. ... Look at the influence and power the intelligence community has over the government. They [the government] are giving them everything they want, they're trying to cover up all their tracks and their crimes. Look at the influence and power they're gaining.
As Clay Shirky famously noted
years ago, "Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution." That appears to absolutely be the case here. It's why there's so much FUD. The NSA and the rest of the intelligence community has built up the threat to be this huge issue that requires huge dollars as well. And once they have the huge dollars and the giant staff, they have to keep that up. So they have to create a continuing problem for which they are the solution -- and since it's all (mostly) done in secret, you get this nefarious circle (as opposed to virtuous), in which more FUD is spread, more money flows in and everyone has to justify themselves to keep it all going.
Whistleblowers like Binney and Snowden actually disrupt that circle and put a threat to the money flows.