Episode 3: Jeffrey Carr

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Wow, it’s been a while. I’m sorry for going silent. I’ve been busy learning the ropes of fatherhood. I recorded this episode way back in July, and ever since, I’ve been trying to find a time to package it up.

Jeffrey Carr of Taia Global is the first person I look to for a global picture of cyberwarfare, which is exactly what I’ve found lacking for English news coverage of NSA surveillance: The U.S. is doing this, but are other countries doing the same? Are foreign leaders outraged because the US’s actions are out of line with global doctrine? Or are these leaders simply playing along, safeguarding the fact that they, like all other nations past and present, have spied on others to the greatest extent of their ability? I’m not saying the answers to these questions make the difference between right and wrong. I’m saying that the broader context is critical to understanding what is going on, and that we can’t solve this problem without that context.

There’s no way an 60-minute conversation can tell you everything you need to know. My goal for this episode was to give myself, and all of you, some basic knowledge on a very difficult topic. We cover some other stuff as well: the NSA’s dual missions of cyberdefense and offense; the questionable veracity of signals intelligence; and why superpowers are not the real threat to global cybersecurity:

As somebody who is in the profession of information security, I would like to see the NSA be clearer about its role in terms of defending our network versus finding ways to break into a network, and find a way to accomplish that mission without weakening the technology that we rely upon to defend our networks.

Footnotes for this episode:


Balancing security and privacy is a hard problem. Freaking out won’t do any good.

That is the inspiration for this project. I have watched in frustration as reporters have stoked public anxiety by reporting on the NSA’s capabilities, without adding any context about what these capabilities are for or how we got to this point, leaving readers to assume that the NSA is actively watching their every move.

Meanwhile, the Intelligence Community has done an atrocious job of filling in this gap, tripping over themselves with statements that do not add up, reinforcing their image as an institution that is not to be trusted. They are not in the habit of explaining their work to the public, and it shows. They continue to take the “Just trust us” approach to earning public support, oblivious to the fact that the public doesn’t know who “us” is.

It is in the interest of both sides to understand the other’s perspective. This problem was created when two parties–the public, and the government they create–lost touch with one another’s needs. Solving this problem requires balancing two competing needs: the national security community’s need for secrecy, and the public’s right to know.

Nowhere have I seen this problem mentioned by any journalist–I have not read everything on the topic, so I can’t say definitively that no one is talking about this–but the press have been preoccupied with the intrigue, focusing on revelation after revelation, leading the public to convene at, as Marc Andreessen put it, a gigantic collective fainting couch. This is not a good way to solve a hard problem.

In fact, the only time I ever heard people discussing how to solve this problem is when they’ve been saying it to me, one-on-one, during a calm, prolonged conversation about the past year’s revelations. I have walked away from these conversations thinking, “I wish I had recorded that.” These impromptu conversations were immensely helpful in helping me sort out my own conflicted feelings about this problem, so I decided to do more of them–this time, into a microphone. I hope our words help listeners appreciate the many facets of this problem and think about them more constructively.