The January 2, 2014 installment of CQ Homeland Security's (subscription required) “Experts Weigh In” feature asked DC Partner Clark Kent Ervin and Senior Policy Advisor Norma Krayem the following question regarding the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities in 2013:
“Despite the anger surrounding disclosures about the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities this past year, Congress has been unwilling or unable to rein it in. Which side gets stronger the longer this goes on — those who prioritize national security or those who want more privacy and civil liberties?”
The CQ series brings homeland security experts in the public, private and academic sectors to weigh in on the lessons of 2013 and what’s in store for the country in 2014.
Mr. Ervin responded with:
This depends entirely on whether there is another attack or serious disrupted plot. If, as time goes by, neither happens, the “civil liberties first side” will prevail. If one or the other happens, the “security first side” will prevail. We wouldn’t be talking about weakening our intelligence capabilities now, if the Snowden revelations had been followed by an attack or a serious disrupted plot. We forget that just months before the revelations, left and right, after Boston, were complaining that our intelligence agencies were still failing to “connect the dots.” One of our key problems is our tendency to let “events” whipsaw us on terrorism between complacency and hysteria. In the age of terrorism, we can’t have both 100 percent security and 100 percent liberty.
Ms. Krayem shared these thoughts:
This does not need to be a zero sum game. The United States has long had to balance national security issues and privacy/civil liberties. There can be an appropriate balance — it is one that takes time and effort — but all Americans expect their government to work through these difficult issues and this is clearly one of them. The last week has also shown that the courts will take action, and that action may or may not result in an even more patchwork outcome. At the end of the day, it behooves the Administration and the Congress to work together to come up with the right balance.