The Washington Post profile of NSA director General Keith B. Alexander concludes with an account of a private meeting that he conducted a few years ago with financial industry officials. Talk turned to computer malware aimed at stealing customer data.
"His proposed solution: Private companies should give the government access to their networks so it could screen out the harmful software," the newspaper reports. "The NSA chief was offering to serve as an all-knowing virus-protection service, but at the cost, industry officials felt, of an unprecedented intrusion into the financial institutions' databases." They were "stunned" the story goes on, "immediately grasping the privacy implications of what Alexander was politely but urgently suggesting." Said one participant, "Folks in the room looked at each other like, 'Wow. That's kind of wild.' "
Alexander's proposal is just the latest example we have of the NSA aggressively reaching out to America's biggest, most powerful corporate actors in ways that ostensibly offer an upside of added protection against attack, but at a terrible cost: the extreme concentration of power in the United States. The federal government, Wall Street, Silicon Valley -- all are centers of power. In fact, entities within each sphere are powerful enough, on their own, to warrant constant vigilance. The NSA has constant access to troves of private communications. So does Google. I wouldn't bet that, 10 years from now, Google is going to launch a sophisticated blackmail campaign against America's ruling class. But if they wanted to, they'd have the data!