Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Gellman vs. Lewis on leaks vs. security

By Tsion Hiletework Best Defense guest reporter What was most striking about a discussion of government surveillance programs at CSIS on Tuesday was the width of the gap between cyber-experts focusing on national security and journalists focusing on constitutional rights. Bart Gellman of the Washington Post called for more media scrutiny of the “so-called spy ...

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By Tsion Hiletework

Best Defense guest reporter

What was most striking about a discussion of government surveillance programs at CSIS on Tuesday was the width of the gap between cyber-experts focusing on national security and journalists focusing on constitutional rights.

By Tsion Hiletework

Best Defense guest reporter

What was most striking about a discussion of government surveillance programs at CSIS on Tuesday was the width of the gap between cyber-experts focusing on national security and journalists focusing on constitutional rights.

Bart Gellman of the Washington Post called for more media scrutiny of the “so-called spy programs.” James Lewis, a CSIS cybersecurity expert, responded, rather dismissively, “There aren’t enough people in analysis to make investigating your private sex life priority number one.”

On the other hand, Lewis recognized the need for more transparency, while Gellman conceded that publicly admitting to PRISM is difficult for the government because its contents often contain private databases and warrant-based information.

What to take away? Well, even with the questionable intent and conduct of what Lewis called the “NSA’s free backup service,” Gellman also noted that the program has been treated as constitutional by the three branches of the federal government. In other words, the line between terrorism protection and individual intrusion remains hazy.

Gellman and Lewis may have contrasting opinions, but despite their differing points of origin, they sat down at the table to talk directly. Whether the government will be as direct in discussing its clandestine programs seems unlikely. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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