By Saloni Singhvi
Even though much of the media makes the National Security Agency (NSA) out to be a misguided effort that infringes on basic American liberties, many analysts contend that the NSA greatly benefits Americans on a holistic level. They report that the NSA plays a key role in effectively stopping terrorism and crime.
The NSA’s main contribution comes from its unique ability to collect mass data in the United States, enabling it to capture terrorists. Michael Chertoff from USA Today writes that because terrorists operate “under the cover of deception, they can uniquely be detected by the use, analysis, and sharing of intelligence that allows us to see who the real threat is.” While the NSA gathers basic metadata from email and phone communication, its abilities exceed even those. A report by Access to Innovation explains, “By processing the unique pitch contour of the human voice, researchers at the NSA have developed a method of detecting altered voice recordings.” Even more importantly, the NSA has developed a patented suite of algorithms that can detect text from any image, including photos, maps, and videos, extracting critical information from covert communications. This allows them to decode terrorist communications from a wide range of sources. Additionally, an analysis by Harvard specifies that the NSA can even track terrorists on forums on the “Dark Web”, an anonymous underground Internet frequently used by terrorists and other criminals. Using these and other tools, the NSA has been able to provide the FBI and other law enforcement agencies intelligence that assisted in tracking down and capturing 300 terrorists, according to Glenn Greenwald from The Guardian.
However, the NSA uses its capabilities for purposes other than counter-terrorism. The Daily Mail notes that NSA domestic surveillance focuses on targeting underground sites on the “Dark Web.” Through these efforts, the NSA has located one of the largest underground child pornography hosting services in the world, tracked its 1,500 users, 100 gigabytes of data, over 1 million of explicit pictures and assisted the FBI in a complete shutdown of 95% of such sites. Kashmir Hill from Forbes Magazine reports that the NSA was also integral in assisting the FBI in shutting down the Silk Road, a black market drug trade website that head nearly 1 million customers during its peak of operation. Stopping these malicious activities reduces child exploitation and drug abuse across the country.
The NSA also helps to thwart cyber crime directed at the United States. Jack Goldsmith of the Brookings Institution writes that the NSA has been “been heavily involved in the development of the Einstein systems”, which are used to scan communications and block cyber attacks. According to Edward Liu of the University of Maryland, this third iteration, Einstein 3, is the only design of system which can block and respond to cyber threats. In fact, Carolyn Marsan of Network World quantifies the massive benefit to U.S. security, stating that “between 100 and 10,000 cyber‐attacks aimed at each federal agency per week [have been detected] through the Einstein appliances.” Even more significantly, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, there have been 24,000 defense files stolen by China in 2009, a massive security risk. Fortunately, since the installation of Einstein 3 in 2010, this number has been greatly diminished.