Former Intelligence Official: Privacy is a ‘Trade-Off’ in the Fight Against Terrorism

“We need to recognize that, for national security, there is a trade-off in how much privacy we can and should afford.”  

By Rhonda FanningNovember 17, 2015 10:32 am

France is in its second day of bombing ISIS targets after last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The country is targeting the group’s stronghold in Raqqua, Syria.

Tuesday, Russia declared the downed passenger jet in Egypt was the work of ISIS. The Russian government issued a $50 million reward for more information on who’s behind the attack, and launched cruise missile strikes on the Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Idlib.

The U.S. strategy against ISIS will not change in light of these ISIS-claimed attacks, President Barack Obama says. Moreover, the president is refusing to back down from his call to resettle some 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States over the objections of more than 26 governors, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

The controversy of resettling Syrian refugees is not the main issue, according to some intelligence specialists. They warn that the most serious terrorist challenge to the U.S. is technological – and retired U.S. Navy Admiral Bobby Inman agrees.

Former NSA director and former CIA deputy director, Inman is the Centennial Chair in National Policy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He says U.S. intelligence has not been able to keep up with threats from ISIS for two reasons.

“Terrorists are the toughest human target, parallelled only by the narcotics dealers,” Inman says. “[They are] small cells almost impossible to penetrate, so you are critically dependent on the ability to find and read their communications. Since Edward Snowden, that’s become infinitely harder.”

Inman’s opinions echo those of CIA director John Brennan. Brennan said Monday that he hoped last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris were a wake-up call to lawmakers. For Brennan, the global intelligence community has been hampered by new privacy protections put into place after Edward Snowden’s revelations on government surveillance.

Inman agrees that since Snowden’s leak, surveillance gotten harder for intelligence officials.

“The prospect that we could be surprised, unfortunately, is higher than it’s been in a long time,” Inman says. “Totally aside from how we deal with the terrorist threat – which could be imminent since [ISIS] told us they were going to hit in France, and now they said they’re going to hit Washington, D.C. – we need to recognize that, for national security, there is a trade-off in how much privacy we can and should afford.”

Inman says it is still possible, however, for U.S. intelligence to thwart any threats of attack by ISIS.

“I think with good, hard work by law enforcement intelligence, you can detect and prevent,” he says.

As far as stopping threats to Washington, D.C. goes, Inman says it all depends on the target, but his greatest worry is suicide bombers.

“We have been…fortunate to this date that the terrorists who’ve done attacks, except for those who were flying the airplanes on 9/11, have wanted to survive,” Inman says. “We’ve had young Americans recruited who’ve gone to Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and others to ISIS, who have served as suicide bombers. And that, for me, is at the top of the worry list.”