Glenn Greenwald: The U.S. Is Not Safer Since 9/11

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The Guardian's Brazil-based reporter Glenn Greenwald testifies before the investigative committee of the Senate that examines charges of espionage by the United States in Brasilia on October 9, 2013.
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Click here to read a transcript of part 1 of Greenwald’s interview. Check back with The Takeaway tomorrow for part II.

When news broke revealing the extent of the NSA’s data collection strategies, it quickly became not only the most-talked about story of the year, but it raised all sorts of questions regarding the privacy of citizens and the constitutionality of mass surveillance.

Glenn Greenwald was the journalist who worked with leaker Edward Snowden to reveal the cache of classified NSA documents. Being involved with the leaks has forever changed Greenwald’s life. In a special two part interview, The Takeaway talks with Greenwald about the safety of the United States, possible solutions to curb the NSA’s secretive surveillance plans, and much more.

Though government entities argue that the type of dragnet surveillance carried out by the NSA is designed to keep Americans safe, after getting an up close look at the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs, Greenwald doesn’t think the United States is any safer than it was before the September 11th attacks.

“I absolutely think that doing nothing would’ve been better than what we did, because we ended up creating so much more problems in terms of a terrorist threat than ever existed prior to 9/11,” he tells The Takeaway. “I think what we did made the threat much, much worse, and at the same time, destroyed many of the freedoms that we’ve all been taught define what the United States is all about.”

Greenwald says that the United States leverages the power of the NSA because it can—not because it needs to.

“The answer is that the United States doesn’t actually need, or the NSA doesn’t need a specific reason in order to spy on people and collect their communications,” Greenwald says. “They do it because they’ve developed this technology that lets them do it, and their institutional mandate is just to constantly seek out more and more. They don’t need a reason.”

Greenwald argues that this is why transparency around these types of technologies is so necessary—they define limits. Secrecy is often key to successful technological advancement. With the atomic bomb, for example, Greenwald says there was no framework or limitations for its development. But countries have collaborated and created treaties, conventions, and a regulatory framework for the development of nuclear technology.

And that’s how Greenwald sees the future of surveillance technology.

“Human beings are always going to try to develop more technologies to give themselves greater power,” says Greenwald. “And the challenges for them is for other human beings to organize on their own to come up with ways to control and limit that technology so it doesn’t do massive amounts of harm. And this kind of tension is critical.”

In Greenwald’s mind, surveillance technology and the internet needs a body of international oversight and regulation—something equivalent to the International Atomic Energy Agency. While the global community isn’t there just yet, he says the international community is already starting to move in that direction.

“You are now seeing countries around the world banding together to try to figure out ways to reconstruct the internet so that it doesn’t all go through essentially one country—the United States,” he says.

In addition to reconstructing aspects of the internet to bypass the Untied States, Greenwald also says that technological solutions like cryptography and encryption are being presented for the creation of independent networks, making it very difficult—if not impossible—for the U.S. government to lay its hand on these new networks.

“I think technology will provide an answer as well, as it so often does, to the problems that it’s created,” he says.