By Al Franken, Special to CNN
Last month, when Edward Snowden began leaking highly classified documents to the press, many Americans were shocked by what they read.
I don't blame them. For years, the architecture of the programs designed to keep us safe have been a secret to all but a few members of the intelligence community and select legislators. The companies that were involved in these programs were under strict gag orders. And while members of Congress had the opportunity to be briefed on these programs, it would have been a crime, literally, for us to have talked about them publicly.
As a result, when Snowden's leaks became public, Americans had no way of knowing the scope of these programs, their privacy protections and the legal authorities they were operating under. It was just Snowden and his documents on the one side and the government on the other, saying "trust us."
Editor's note: Al Franken represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate and is a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party.FULL STORY
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the latest in a series of stories and opinion pieces previewing the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event which is taking place from July 17-20 in Aspen, Colorado. Follow the event on Twitter under @aspeninstitute and @natlsecuritycnn #AspenSecurity. John McLaughlin was a CIA officer for 32 years and served as deputy director and acting director from 2000-2004. He currently teaches at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
From John McLaughlin, Special for CNN
Terrorism experts inside and outside the government have been caught up in a debate about how close we may be to defeating al Qaeda and associated groups. As events have demonstrated so vividly in recent years, we are living in an era of continuous surprise, making this one of those questions that cannot be answered with confidence.
What can be said with absolute confidence is that today’s al Qaeda is fundamentally different from the one we knew for years. It has evolved from the hierarchical organization of September 2001 into what might be called a “network of networks.”
Interconnected, loosely-structured organizations are run by a series of al Qaeda affiliates scattered across the arc of South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Some declare fealty to Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, while others merely take inspiration from the legacy his organization represents.
By Peter Bergen, Special to CNN
There is a one-word subtext to President Obama's trip to Africa: China.
After 9/11, the United States became embroiled in more than a decade of wars in Asia and the Middle East. As a result, U.S. engagement in Latin America and Africa largely atrophied.
Meanwhile, China saw an opportunity. China has now displaced the United States as the largest trading partners of two key Latin American countries, Brazil and Chile.
China's economic rise is particularly marked in Africa; it quietly surpassed the United States as the continent's largest trading partner four years ago.
Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst and a director at the New America Foundation.FULL STORY
By Bruce Schneier, Special to CNN
Today, the United States is conducting offensive cyberwar actions around the world.
More than passively eavesdropping, we're penetrating and damaging foreign networks for both espionage and to ready them for attack. We're creating custom-designed Internet weapons, pre-targeted and ready to be "fired" against some piece of another country's electronic infrastructure on a moment's notice.
This is much worse than what we're accusing China of doing to us. We're pursuing policies that are both expensive and destabilizing and aren't making the Internet any safer. We're reacting from fear, and causing other countries to counter-react from fear. We're ignoring resilience in favor of offense.
Welcome to the cyberwar arms race, an arms race that will define the Internet in the 21st century.
Editor's note: Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and author of "Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Society Needs to Survive."FULL STORY
Editors Note: Jane Harman is director, president and chief executive officer of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She was a nine-term congresswoman from California, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee from 2002 to 2006, and a principal coauthor of the Intelligence Reform Law of 2004 and the FISA Amendments of 2008.
By Jane Harman, Special to CNN
Many disagree with Sen. Rand Paul on many issues, but he is spot-on about the need for a crystal clear framework regarding the domestic and international use of drones.
Inside the United States, without exception, an American suspected of plotting a terror attack should never be targeted by an armed drone. Period.
Rand Paul was right to end the 13-hour filibuster after getting a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder that provided modest clarification about presidential authority over drone use in the United States.
"Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" Mr. Holder wrote. "The answer to that question is no."
Still, the letter left more questions unanswered than answered. Indeed, a simple "no" is hardly reassuring when the policy it supports is not clear.
Editors Note: Jane Harman is director, president and chief executive officer of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She was a nine-term congresswoman from California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee from 2002 to 2006, and a principal coauthor of the Intelligence Reform Law of 2004 and the FISA Amendments of 2008.
By Jane Harman, Special to CNN
In the debate on drone policy that is raging in Washington, a simple solution is available. Why not use the framework established in the 35-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to cover drone strikes and offensive cyberoperations?
FISA was enacted in response to the abuses of the Nixon years and established a special court and congressional oversight procedures to review intelligence collection activities against Americans and foreigners. For 23 years, that framework worked well in a very different threat environment. The FISA court was able to manage a reasonable caseload, and the Senate and House intelligence committees – created to do oversight over the program – carefully reviewed all activities.
September 11, 2001, was a game changer, forcing the United States to rethink the existing security paradigms. In response to the graveness of the terrorist threat, the Bush administration decided that the existing FISA framework was antiquated and inadequate, and began warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance outside the FISA structure. The president claimed this extra-legal action was justified under his "commander in chief" powers in Article II of the Constitution.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Stevan Weine is Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Testimony after Catastrophe: Narrating the Traumas of Political Violence.
By Stevan Weine, Special for CNN
The Obama administration has begun preparing the public for a prolonged war on terrorism that will extend well into the future.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke of an "enduring presence" in Afghanistan to fight terror threats. And the Pentagon's top lawyer said recently the United States will use every tool in its arsenal as al Qaeda continues to operate through affiliates in countries, like Iraq, Mali and Nigeria.
While much attention is paid to lethal efforts, not discussed as much is a broad policy directive undertaken by the Obama administration since 2011 to try to stop terrorism in the United States through influencing attitudes.
Through this policy, the U.S. government engages communities in America under the threat of al Qaeda-inspired violent extremism and develops community-based solutions.
Behind this policy is the widespread concern among Americans over how to prevent homegrown violent extremism and the knowledge that some Muslim-American communities in the United States have been targeted by terrorist recruiters.
By emphasizing building community resilience, this policy underlines the positive attributes of Muslim-American communities often stigmatized in the United States. Doing so has helped open the door to stronger community-government collaboration focused on prevention of violent radicalization. FULL POST
By Jane Harman, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Jane Harman is the director of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. She served nine terms as a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from California where she served on the Armed Services, Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees. The views expressed here are her own.
In spite of all the hoopla about bayonets and horses during Monday's presidential debate about America's role in the world, Governor Mitt Romney sounded surprisingly like President Barack Obama on the campaign trail four years ago:
"We can't kill our way out of this mess," Romney said. We're going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world ... reject this radical violent extremism."
Yes! At last, we have two presidential candidates who believe that playing whack-a-mole will never suffice.
As Obama said when he ran for his first term, America is a country "whose strength abroad is measured not just by armies, but rather by the power of our ideals, and by our purpose to forge an even more perfect union at home."
Both candidates consistently made that case on Monday. While partisans panned the debate - and neither side appears to have gained much of an election bounce - I saw it as evidence that we're that much closer to articulating a much-needed bipartisan vision for projecting our values around the world.
As the U.S. considers what to do if Syria's president falls, a former director of the C.I.A. says the Obama administration should look to the lesson of Iraq. Gen. Michael Hayden, who was appointed to run the C.I.A. under President George W. Bush, writes on CNN's Opinion page that the mistaken approach post-Saddam Hussein is an important warning when it comes to Syria:
We should not allow the dramatic power of the most visible narrative, the struggle between oppressed and oppressor, to drown out the sad reality of another less noble story line - namely that this is still, at least for now, a sectarian conflict.
That this is the dominant narrative, the one that is most controlling and the one we should pay most attention to, is suggested by Vali Nasr's 2006 post mortem on Iraq. Nasr observed that we mistakenly "thought of politics as the relationship between individuals and the state" rather than recognizing "that people in the Middle East see politics also as the balance of power among communities."
We would do well to keep that in mind as the Syrian end game approaches. We should accelerate work to get the minorities into the game against the regime, hastening its end and broadening its opposition. The Christian and Kurdish communities have historic ties to the West that should play to our advantage in this.
With all the accusations and demands for investigations over national security leaks, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen considers how much did the leaks really hurt U.S.
After all, Bergen notes on CNN's Opinion section, when it comes to revelations about how U.S. and Israel planted the Stuxnet virus, the Iranians know that their problems with the centrifuges at Natanz are caused by cyberattacks and have publicly said so for the past two years.
Another story that has critics of the Obama administration steamed is that it has allowed to become public that the president personally approves "kill lists" for CIA drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. Perhaps these concerns are also overblown, Bergen writes: FULL POST