Best Defense

Gen. McChrystal explains what he means by suggesting our rights will be curtailed

I wrote a note asking General McChrystal about the warnings he gave in a “Prism” journal interview I quoted yesterday. This is his response:

030414-D-2987S-060 
	Army Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal answers a reporter’s question during a Pentagon press conference on April 14, 2003.  McChrystal and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke brought reporters up-to-date on Operation Iraqi Freedom, which is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein.  McChrystal is the vice director for Operations, J-3, the Joint Staff.  DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel.  (Released)
030414-D-2987S-060 Army Maj. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal answers a reporter’s question during a Pentagon press conference on April 14, 2003. McChrystal and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke brought reporters up-to-date on Operation Iraqi Freedom, which is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. McChrystal is the vice director for Operations, J-3, the Joint Staff. DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel. (Released)

 

I wrote a note asking General Stanley McChrystal about the warnings he gave in an interview with Prism magazine that I quoted yesterday. This is his response:

I’m consciously not seeking to make a lot of news these days, there seems to be plenty being made already. But I am comfortable providing a few thoughts on the part of the Prism interview you found of interest.

On technology’s impact on domestic security, I first think about how technology (particularly information technology) has changed (and is changing) many of our attitudes and expectations of privacy. On the one hand we desire information security and can resent things like targeted fundraising or advertising that results from the increasing volume of information about us that is publicly available. But most of us have willingly (or unconsciously) made our lives dramatically more transparent by embracing the capabilities and convenience networked devices offer. I think we’re at an uncomfortable tipping point where the actual implications of this transparency are increasingly apparent, but backing away from all that connects us is impractical.

From a domestic security standpoint, faced with technology-enabled opponents, we are more rapidly trading significant parts of our privacy and anonymity than most of us freely admit. Confirming our identity to board commercial aircraft or enter many business buildings is just an obvious step. But because the technology exists (and is, in some cases, used) to track cell phone locations, read automobile license plates, record toll booth passage, and compile credit card usage by place and time, our whereabouts and activities (our pattern of life) is easily collected, analyzed, and leveraged. Security systems within organizations can analyze an employee’s behavior for everything from their efficiency at serving tables in restaurants to predicting internal theft or compromise of sensitive information. Add to this the proliferation of cameras — from security cameras to individual cell phones — and an extraordinary “record” of heretofore private or forgotten activities is now permanently available. In many ways, we have, perhaps unconsciously, constructed an impressive and unblinking “all-source” intelligence collection capability. But to direct it at the new breed of threats, we must focus is also on ourselves.

Each of us will have a different view of where the right balance lies, and what I’d like future reality to be and what I suspect will be the case, will no doubt be different. But my guess is that the next decade or more will show a constant tension between the security provided by the rise in collection and analytical capacity and our desire for some level of privacy. I see it likely for most citizens to gradually accept more and more encroachments to the personal privacy our grandparents, and even our parents, considered sacred and secure, than for us to accept the inconvenience or security risks associated.

I’m not convinced a change to the Bill of Rights is ahead, I find it more likely that our interpretation of what rights of privacy mean will evolve.

Tom again: I also note that the new issue of Prism also has a review of McChrystal’s book, Team of Teams, that says it is “arguably the most important book on national security in the past decade, but it is not likely to be recognized as such in Washington, D.C.” I agree — I thought and still think the book is really good and really important. I was especially struck by his insight that your structure is your strategy. I am a little puzzled that it isn’t cited more often in policy discussions.

Photo credit: HELENE C. STIKKEL/U.S. Department of Defense

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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