When Google called in the National Security Agency to help secure its networks, it made a lot of us queasy. Sure, the NSA has some of the world’s most sophisticated cyber defenders. But the agency’s intelligence arm has a long and ugly history of mass surveillance on American citizens. So when Google teams up with the Puzzle Palace, everyone watching sees it as a package deal. The company wants geeks; the rest of us worry about the spies rummaging through our Gmail.
Fortunately, there’s a relatively straightforward solution: We should break up the NSA.
As I explain in this month’s Wired magazine, the NSA really is two agencies under one roof. There’s the signals-intelligence directorate, the Big Brothers who, it is said, can tap into any electronic communication. And there’s the information-assurance directorate, the cybersecurity nerds who make sure our government’s computers and telecommunications systems are hacker- and eavesdropper-free. In other words, there’s a locked-down spy division and a relatively open geek division. The problem is, their goals are often in opposition. One team wants to exploit software holes; the other wants to repair them. It doesn’t make sense to have both of them on the same playing field.
We need a top-flight cyber security agency that can give companies like Google a hand. But we’ve got to be able to trust that agency, too. That won’t happen until we separate the sysadmins from the spooks. Time to split the NSA.
Hat Tip: Gadget42