Partisanship and politics is getting in the way of solid security strategy

Partisanship and politics is getting in the way of solid security strategy

Summary: As long as this partisan foolishness continues, Americans won't trust America's leaders. That makes it almost impossible for Americans to trust potentially intrusive, yet necessary security measures.

SHARE:

Life is filled with tough choices. I know that sounds cliche, but we all know it's true. If life for each of us individuals is filled with tough choices, imagine how challenging some of the choices are at the national governance level.

A young person has to choose what course of study to pursue, even though he doesn't really know what he wants to do in life, and can only afford one shot at school. A young parent may have to decide whether to focus on career or family. A couple may have have to choose whether or not they're going to have kids at all. These are all tough choices, and yet each of us has to make tough choices all the time.

At the national level, our leaders have tough choices, too. Do we send our troops into war, where some of our kids are certain to die? Is it better to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki or to potentially let millions more die in conventional ground conflicts?

Do we spend tax money that might help suffering families or do we spend it to prevent bridges from collapsing? Or do we not spend it at all, and thereby reduce the tax burden on our citizens?

Great Debate: Do democracies really need to spy on their citizens?

These are all huge choices. They're very different, yet there's one common factor among all of them: there is no one right answer. There are many ramifications to each choice, and those of one ideology may lean one way while those of another ideology may lean another — but there's still no one right choice.

This is at the heart of politics. Because national policy choices are based on so many factors, it's virtually impossible to get everyone to agree on one single option.

Take climate change, for example. Scientists the world over are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we're experiencing substantial climate change. And yet, even in the face of scientific evidence, there are deniers. Some deny out of ideology and some deny out of simple orneriness (if the other side is for it, I'm against it). Still others fight against the concept because they don't want their companies to be subject to regulations if climate change becomes an accepted theory and laws are enacted based on that premise.

Politics is important, because in a democratic nation, we all have the right to a voice. But politics can get in the way of finding the best answer, the best practice for a given situation. Politics is often fueled, not just by concerned citizens' voices, but by enormously powerful lobbies, often representing clients whose missions are at fundamental odds with the best interests of the nation as a whole.

The problem with politics is that it can often derail wisdom in favor of the most moneyed special interests. A single viral sound-bite or video clip can derail best practices if it's got stickiness or resonates -- even if it's based on faulty logic or misleading messaging.

Lobbying firms play this game for keeps. That's how we got SOPA and PIPA, truly heinous bills that did their darndest to leave our fair use rights at the digital door.

This, then, is the fundamental problem of politics: it erodes the public's confidence and trust in our leadership.

Our leaders are faced with enormously difficult decisions each day, decisions that are needed to keep our economy running, decisions that are needed to keep us healthy, and decisions that are needed to protect us from terrorist and lunatic attack.

This leads me to the Edward Snowden story and the NSA. Violet Blue and I just completed a Great Debate on the question, Do democracies really need to spy on their citizens? Violet said "no" and won the popular vote by a wide margin. Respondents were clearly influenced by a lack of trust of government.

I argued "yes," and won the moderator's vote for best argument. That's because I looked at the issue as a management problem and not an emotional one. I looked at how we protect our citizens from attack, what we actually would need to do, not what we wish we could do.

Every weekday, the New York City subway system gives just about 5.5 million rides to New Yorkers. In 2009, one Najibullah Zazi was recruited by al Queda to deliver a bomb to the New York subways system and commit suicide by detonating the bomb himself. That bombing never happened, reports CBS in New York City because aggregate analysis of phone records led the FBI to Zazi before he could carry out his mission.

General Keith Brian Alexander, the current director of the NSA, reports that more than 50 Zazi-like attacks were foiled due to NSA's active surveillance programs.

In other words, without the very sorts of programs that most people are up in arms against, there would, almost undoubtedly, have been horrible consequences.

This is why 62 percent of Americans, reports Politico approve of national security surveillance.

Americans understand tough decisions.

The problem is, Americans also understand politicians. Where Americans have difficulty is telling the difference between when a leader is making an expedient decision for the benefit of the nation or, more likely, is making a politically expedient decision for the benefit of his or her backers and lobbyist cronies.

This is where the system breaks down. It's not the NSA surveillance of aggregate phone data. That's actually a pretty smart strategy. It's the politicians who have, for so long, betrayed our trust with political shenanigans that we just can't tell when they're making a good decision or selling us out.

This then, is my warning to our politician readers (and I know you read this, because you write me relatively regularly): stop with the political crap. America has serious problems to solve, we all have to work together to solve them, and we're going to be locked in gridlock together if you people in Washington and the various state capitals don't start focusing on your jobs instead of your reelection campaigns.

For America to be united in its fight against enemies foreign and domestic, we must first be united as a people. We are the United States. This should be a given.

It's time for our politicians to behave like leaders instead of like entitled creeps, and put the nation first. Then, if we have to take extraordinary precautions to protect our citizens, our citizens will know its in their best interests.

Right now, this whole NSA surveillance thing isn't making Americans feel more secure. Violet made good points. She mentioned the AP spying incident and the IRS attacks against Tea Party nonprofits. As long as this partisan foolishness continues, Americans won't trust America's leaders.

They'll just worry about when the shoe will drop on their heads.

Topics: Security, Government, Government US, Government UK, Privacy

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

11 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • No...

    ..."Partisanship and politics is getting in the way of solid security strategy"...it really is..."Partisanship and politics is getting in the way of EVERYTHING."

    BOTH sides...and the one or two in the middle...are a complete disgrace. None of them worth their weight in dog poo.
    IT_Fella
  • TL;DR version for people afraid of the "wall of text"

    Everyone needs to rally behind the government. Abandon your personal rights and freedom. The nation is what matters, not you.
    Jean-Pierre-
  • Misguided

    "That's because I looked at the issue as a management problem and not an emotional one."
    How typically American ... and misguided. The critical point of failure.
    The number one problem throughout history is that one man cannot let another do as he please. So follows religious intolerance, conflict ... and war. So follows all manner of persecution for race, gender, sexual orientation, ... with the same horrible consequences: often death.

    Americans feel an obligation to 'manage' things?
    My arse!
    They feel an obligation to interfere to preserve ... the money supply!!
    And it's not all Americans .. it's the priveledged elite.

    "Every weekday, the New York City subway system gives just about 5.5 million rides to New Yorkers."
    I was reading recently about the number of people murdered in Brazil in the last 30 years ... want to have a guess? Twelve million. How many die in Africa daily?
    How many died on 9/11 ... 2,753: a drop in the ocean of humanity. Ah, but they were Americans and it was an unspeakable act of terrorism. Quelle dommage!

    "For America to be united in its fight against enemies foreign and domestic, we must first be united as a people. We are the United States. This should be a given."
    You do not. The enemy is within: greed; fear of the unknown and unfamiliar; intolerance.

    Surveillance is a treatment for symptoms. We need to focus on treating the disease.
    We need to return to the time of the Minoan civilisation: their cities were built without walls and they had no word for 'war'.
    jacksonjohn
  • Rephrasing

    Politics is surely a negotiation towards a settlement agreeable to all ... not 'we are going to monitor and manage you potentially subversive mfers (while we make sure we keep all the money)'.

    Ah, the emotion of it ... if I don't trust you (and I don't) then you will ALWAYS be liable to attack.

    ALWAYS. Multiply any amount of damage by FOREVER and the answer is ...

    ... "The only way to win the game is not to play."
    jacksonjohn
  • Cold Civil War

    Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of people who think that national unity has to wait until after the Revolution permanently renders the Bad Guys (which ever parties or factions one may think they are) and their supporters politically irrelevant.

    I think they have a long wait.
    John L. Ries
  • Cold Civil War

    Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of people who think that national unity has to wait until after the Revolution permanently renders the Bad Guys (which ever parties or factions one may think they are) and their supporters politically irrelevant.

    I think they have a long wait.
    John L. Ries
  • Everything In The US Seems To Be Politicized

    Your US parties don't seem to stand for any policies any more, only for taking each other down at every opportunity.

    When even voter registration has become a controversial political issue, you have to wonder about the health of the entire system...
    ldo17
    • Correct, but...

      ...our parties do stand for policies, but they seem to primarily be "wedge issues" that the parties don't really want to be resolved because they help to rally the faithful.

      Otherwise, I think your diagnosis is correct. It's part of why the level of antipartisanship in this country is among the highest in the world (most of us don't really like our parties, even the ones we belong to).
      John L. Ries
  • Flawed argumentation

    "I argued "yes," and won the moderator's vote for best argument. That's because I looked at the issue as a management problem and not an emotional one. I looked at how we protect our citizens from attack, what we actually would need to do, not what we wish we could do."

    If the moderator had any academic degree, he should hand it back to prevent his lack of understanding of the concept of evidence to fall back on his Alma Mater.

    "General Keith Brian Alexander, the current director of the NSA, reports that more than 50 Zazi-like attacks were foiled due to NSA's active surveillance programs.

    In other words, without the very sorts of programs that most people are up in arms against, there would, almost undoubtedly, have been horrible consequences."

    No, that is not the same in other words, as it adds an additional assumption: That these attacks could not be thwarted by other means. So it not only takes a claim by a biased individual with a vested interest in a specific outcome of the debate and takes it uncritically as fact, it actually adds an additional claim, without any evidence whatosever.

    "This is where the system breaks down. It's not the NSA surveillance of aggregate phone data. That's actually a pretty smart strategy. It's the politicians who have, for so long, betrayed our trust with political shenanigans that we just can't tell when they're making a good decision or selling us out."

    What about the NSA betraying your allies, ignoring their sovereignty and stealing their intellectual property?

    Sorry, but your claims are devoid of any basis in fact whatsoever. The NSA has done its fair share of betrayal.

    More. your continued focus on the aggregate phone data reveals that you are woefully uninformed about what the NSA has actually been doing - because they do not just use aggregate phone data but in fact take a single warrant for a specific person to allow them to access far more detailed information on everyone the person was in contact with and everyone those people were in contact with - short, Zazi alone would allow them to access conversations of almost anyone in the US.

    "For America to be united in its fight against enemies foreign and domestic, we must first be united as a people. We are the United States. This should be a given."

    And the usual recipe of your kind of people is whenever there is a problem to resort to grinning and flag-waving.

    To assume that such conduct makes you in any way safer is idiotic. It merely creates more and more enemies.
    hydroxide
  • Good thing Mr Gewirtz is not a leader or in a position of responsiblity,

    because, he thinks ideologically instead of logically.

    As an example, he assumes a side of the argument, and the proceeds to tell others that, his side is the one with the settled and undeniable "truth".

    The following paragraph from his drivel above, is all complete nonsense and garbage and unsupported by the real facts:

    "Take climate change, for example. Scientists the world over are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we're experiencing substantial climate change. And yet, even in the face of scientific evidence, there are deniers. Some deny out of ideology and some deny out of simple orneriness (if the other side is for it, I'm against it). Still others fight against the concept because they don't want their companies to be subject to regulations if climate change becomes an accepted theory and laws are enacted based on that premise."

    That paragraph is complete and utter nonsense, and then he creates a discussion where his premise is that, it's undeniable truth, and only the "deniers" argue against his "facts".

    Science doesn't work that way. Mr Gewirtz is one of the least credible people on the planet when it comes to "climate change", if he actually believes the nonsense he posted above.

    Science is not about majority rule, or consensus. It's about real and verifiable facts, which include the data and the models and the processing of the data, and making sure that the models and data are not massaged and/or manipulated. Global warming "sciences" is a complete fraud, and if Mr Gewirts had any kind of decency, he'd admit to that fact.

    Science is about gathering data, without preferential treatment. Science is about creating models that will verify a "theory". Science is about NOT massaging the data. Science is NOT about creating testing models which will guarantee predefined goals. Science is not about using agendas to steer the research. Science is not about discounting opposing research or opposing viewpoints which argue against flaws in research. Science is not about labeling opposing researchers as "deniers". At every single step, including the gathering of the data, and the modeling, and the processing and the conclusions, global warming science is very flawed, and very unscientific.

    The majority of scientist do not agree with the global warming "findings" (contrary to the claims of Mr Gewirtz) since those findings are completely flawed. GIGO is not a very scientific term, but it's very indicative of what goes on with global warming science.
    adornoe1
  • Furthermore, Mr Gewittz, what the NSA has been doing is unconstitutional,

    and violates several of the rights which people were granted with the bill of rights.

    The NSA is not an institution which is in the business of telling the truth,and if you believe them when they state that several or many planned attacks have been prevented, then, you are just taking the words of proven liars as gospel. The NSA has already lied several times to congress in hearings, and you are going to sit there and tell us that, they can be believed because, why exactly?

    The NSA is in the business of spying, and spying on the citizens of the U.S. is not their mission. What they're doing is against the constitution. The NSA is now under the direction of a very partisan liberal administration, and that's enough reason to keep them away from the American people. Obama can't be trusted, and neither can any organization which is under his direction.
    adornoe1