The “dedicated public servants” who protect us from harm

John Naughton:

One of the strangest things about the current debates about surveillance and the law-enforcement and security agencies that are lobbying energetically for even more intrusive powers than they already have, is the eerie absence of any sceptical voice about the integrity and trustworthiness of these agencies. The idea that there might be even a single black sheep among the serried ranks of ‘dedicated’ public servants (aka spooks, NSA/GCHQ geeks, public police officers, etc.) is treated with outrage by their leaders and political masters. I know, because I’ve uttered such outrageous conjectures in their presence!

This is really weird, because you can only rationally take this line if you have no knowledge of history. And we’re not talking ancient history either — the recent past will do. In Britain, for example, it’s not that long ago since MI6 was riddled with Soviet spies (Blunt, Burgess, Maclean, et al, or that MI5 was staffed by right-wing nutters (see, for example, the files on that agency’s surveillance of Eric Hobsbawm). So the idea that their successors are 100% certain to be squeaky clean seems, well, a mite implausible.

On the other side of the pond, we have seen the former head of the NSA lying under oath to Congress (though now Agency lawyers are claiming that it was just a slip of the memory that led him to mislead legislators). And the current Director of the FBI, one James Comey, has been weighing in against companies like Apple and Google providing their customers/users with strong encryption with which to protect their privacy.

Related, a timely article from The Guardian: Revealed: FBI violated its own rules while spying on Keystone XL opponents.