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June 11, 2013 6:57 am

Obama and Xi – Hot Air and Mirage

avatar by Rachel Ehrenfeld

President Barack Obama. Photo: White House.

The Rancho Mirage meeting between Obama and Xi Jinping left no room for illusion that the basic disagreements between the United States and China could be resolved anytime soon. This much anticipated meeting yielded a lot of hotair, and the only agreement befittingly reached was to discuss ways to reduce emissions of gas, (hydrofluorocarbons–HFCs).

Not even that much was expected. In the run-up to the summit, officials and the media largely lowered expectations of anything happening other than “making nice” on the part of both leaders.  In order to catch a few more readers, some, however, portrayed the event as problem free, except on cyber spying.

The Guardian seems to have timed its exposé of NSA’s alleged “spying” on millions of American citizens to overshadow the meeting. Was it done to weaken the U.S. protest against China’s massive cyber theft and ongoing cyberattacks?

On last week’s “revelation” of Barack Obama’s purported new aggressiveness on cyber, the media commentary largely failed to make the case that the NSA has violated the law.

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The exposé of classified NSA documents , which were illegally leaked to the British Guardian included information about “Boundless Informant,” a program used by the National Security Agency to collect “97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide,” of which 3 billion were collected in the U.S. during March 2013.

If U.S. national security is dependent upon the government’s ability to collect, identify and analyze information containing threats to the U.S. at home and abroad, then why did the NSA protest “it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications”? They are supposed to collect the information to help identify the threatening elements for closer surveillance. Obama’s statement, “no one listening to your calls,” seems to have helped the Tsarnaev brothers to operate under the radar. If “no one is listening,” why spend billions more on a new national database center in Utah?

While the President is probably right and NSA’s collection of telephone and email records does not infringe our privacy, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s response to Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) question whether “the NSA collect any kind of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” — “No, sir … Not wittingly. There are cases where they could, inadvertently, perhaps,” is worrisome.

Last May, when news broke that tax information on conservative groups was transferred to the media by Internal Revenue Service employees who illegally targeted them, the agency responded that this was “inadvertent and unintentional.”

Abusing private information wittingly or not, intentionally or inadvertently is inexcusable and unacceptable. The Administration’s failure to better vet rogue agents, however, should not be used to undermine our national security.

Undermining our national security are leaks of classified reports to the Guardian—the likes of Obama’s ordering an overseas target list for cyber attacks. The Guardian provided a link to a copy of formerly super-secret Presidential Policy Directive 20, but it failed to explain what the president’s order for preemptive cyber attacks meant. On the face of it, “Directive 20” applies the same justification for and execution of such attacks that have traditionally been applied to land warfare. But preparing a potential target list is prudent and hardly the same as planning to strike those targets. For  the Presidential Policy Directive 20 cyber doctrine, “bears a striking resemblance to Obama’s case for the use of drone strikes, which he articulated in a recent speech. Drones, he argues, “are justified on the one hand by the need to remove impending national security threats and, on the other, by the fact that all other options would be much costlier,” Max Fisher observed in the Washington Post.

Criticism of the collateral damage sometimes caused by drone attacks, American’s or Israeli, ignore the fact that the enemy is no longer wearing easily identifiable uniforms, and that they often operate from friendly civilian neighborhoods,

in Afghanistan, Yemen, or Gaza. Nonetheless, the U.S. is likely to hand over its constitutional right and obligation to defend Americans to the UN, to proscribe most of our drone program. The same fate awaits the preemptive cyberattack policy.

The U.S. had given up the fight against China’s cyber espionage even before Obama had the opportunity, as many hoped, to confront the Chinese president. The U.S. position of determination “to work more vigorously with China and other partners to establish international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace,” was declared last week by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

The Chinese, as we have seen many times, respect international norms only when their interest is served.

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle has pointed out at ACD’s Cyberthreats and the Economy briefing on April 9, that “The worst prospect of all would be a cyber version of the Non-Proliferation Treaty–a universal convention based on the premise that any country willing to sign up should have full access to advanced computer science from anywhere in the world. We’ve been down that path before.”

Alas, the Administration seems determined to go down that path again.

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