- Zaid Jilanistaff reporter at The Intercept.
- Arun Kundnaniauthor of The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror.
In one of the more heated moments in Tuesday’s debate, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio clashed over the National Security Agency’s bulk metadata collection. Donald Trump called for closing parts of the Internet to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State. “You talk freedom of speech. You talk freedom of anything you want. I don’t want them using our Internet,” Trump said.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to go to another subject that came up in the debate. During the debate, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio clashed over the government’s bulk collection of metadata.
DANA BASH: Senator Cruz, you voted for a bill that President Obama signed into law just this past June, that made it harder for the government to access Americans’ phone records. In light of the San Bernardino attack, was your vote a mistake?
SEN. TED CRUZ: Well, Dana, the premise of your question is not accurate. I’m very proud to have joined with conservatives in both the Senate and the House to reform how we target bad guys. And what the USA FREEDOM Act did is it did two things. Number one, it ended the federal government’s bulk collection of phone metadata of millions of law-abiding citizens. But number two, and the second half of it that is critical, it strengthened the tools of national security and law enforcement to go after terrorists. It gave us greater tools, and we are seeing those tools work right now in San Bernardino. …
SEN. RAND PAUL: Dana, may I interject here?
DANA BASH: Senator—Senator—Senator Rubio, please respond.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Let me be very careful when answering this, because I don’t think national television, in front of 15 million people, is the place to discuss classified information. So let me just be very clear. There is nothing that we are allowed to do under this bill that we could not do before. This bill did, however, take away a valuable tool that allowed the National Security Agency and other law—and other intelligence agencies to quickly and rapidly access phone records and match them up with other phone records to see who terrorists have been calling. Because I promise you, the next time there is attack on—an attack on this country, the first thing people are going to want to know is: Why didn’t we know about it, and why didn’t we stop it? And the answer better not be because we didn’t have access to records or information that would have allowed us to identify these killers before they attacked.
SEN. RAND PAUL: Dana, this is a—this is a—
DANA BASH: Senator—Senator Paul—Senator Paul, I know this is—this has been a very big issue for you. You hear many of your colleagues are calling for increased surveillance by law enforcement. You call that hogwash. Why is that hogwash?
SEN. RAND PAUL: You know, I think Marco gets it completely wrong here. We are not any safer through the bulk collection of all Americans’ records. In fact, I think we’re less safe. We get so distracted by all of the information, we’re not spending enough time getting specific immigration—specific information on terrorists.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That last speaker was Senator Rand Paul. In the debate, Donald Trump also defended his call for closing parts of the Internet to fight ISIS.
DONALD TRUMP: You talk freedom of speech, you talk freedom of anything you want. I don’t want them using our Internet to take our young, impressionable youth—and watching the media talking about how they’re masterminds, these are masterminds. They shouldn’t be using the word “mastermind.” These are thugs. These are terrible people in ISIS, not masterminds. And we have to change it from every standpoint. But we should be using our brilliant people, our most brilliant minds, to figure a way that ISIS cannot use the Internet. And then, on second, we should be able to penetrate the Internet and find out exactly where ISIS is and everything about ISIS. And we can do that if we use our good people.
WOLF BLITZER: Let me follow up, Mr. Trump. So, are you open to closing parts of the Internet?
DONALD TRUMP: I would certainly be open to closing areas where we are at war with somebody. I sure as hell don’t want to let people that want to kill us and kill our nation use our Internet. Yes, sir, I am.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Zaid Jilani of The Intercept has written a lot about the issue of surveillance. This debate on surveillance and on controlling “our Internet”?
ZAID JILANI: No, I mean, it’s a bizarre debate. You know, when Trump says he wants to close parts of the Internet, you know, when people are fighting with us, I mean, is he saying to take Iraq and Syria off the Internet? I mean, that’s crazy. I mean, that’s actually what Assad—Assad did that in Syria during the start of the revolution, is he actually knocked off parts of the country from the Internet. And, you know, I actually met a man who was involved in the revolution. They used a little USB dongle, and that we used to put them on donkeys and send them to the next town, right? I mean, is that what—is that what Trump wants to be doing here in the United States? And it’s also interesting, just the idea of knocking people off the Internet. You know, our intelligence agencies actually like to have access to people’s social media accounts and to—and to people putting out broadcasts, so they can actually—can track people who may be, you know, doing us harm. So I don’t think that just sort of walling off the Internet to certain parts of the world is necessarily going to solve much at all.
And I think that it also goes back to the debate about surveillance. I mean, there’s no evidence that the bulk collection of data would have stopped the San Bernardino attack. I mean, it’s entirely speculative. And even in cases where we do have sort of a paper trail—like, for example, Dylann Roof, laid out a detailed manifesto about what he was doing. We had plenty of public information about, you know, the weapons he had and such things, and yet we didn’t use that information to intercept him in any way or to surveil him in any way. So I think, actually, there is a danger in collecting too much information, and I think, actually, that’s what Paul was getting to.
AMY GOODMAN: And even in the case of San Bernardino, I mean, isn’t it the fact that the woman who was involved with this attack was just actually openly on social media talking about violent jihad? This didn’t take going deeply into some, you know, private part or encrypted parts of communication.
ZAID JILANI: Exactly. And, I mean, there’s been this huge attack on encryption following the Paris attacks, and yet we don’t have any evidence that they were using encryption. I mean, they were using unencrypted data to move this stuff around. So, you know, a lot of the times it’s not necessarily about, you know, we have to get tougher, we have to get more intrusive, we have to take away more of our liberties. It’s more about like, hey, we have the police, we have the tools, we need to go to them and say, “Hey, what are you doing here? Maybe are you just collecting too much information to where you can’t sift it sufficiently?” And that’s a real threat, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Arun Kundnani, would you like to weigh in on this?
ARUN KUNDNANI: Yeah, I mean, I think this is—there’s two moments where someone said something I think is correct. One was Rand Paul actually saying, you know, the problem that we have with surveillance is we’re just collecting so much information that we can’t analyze it properly. I mean, most actual incidents of terrorism, that’s been the issue. The person was known, information was in the system, but it couldn’t be assessed. So, you know, I think the idea that we just need to suck up more and more data is completely misconceived.
And the other aspect here is, you know, if you look at those posts that Tashfeen Malik made in the San Bernardino case, they weren’t in English. So you’re talking about recruiting huge numbers of translators, if you want to do this mass processing of data.
AMY GOODMAN: She wrote in Urdu.
ARUN KUNDNANI: Right, right. And so, we would need to have an army of Urdu translators, if we’re going to—if we’re going to look at every social media profile of everyone applying for a visa. So, who’s going to vet the translators that we’re going to recruit? Right? We don’t have the translators to translate their social media posts. We get sucked into craziness when we start thinking like this.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you’ve mentioned—you’ve written about the level of—the ratio of surveillance agents here in the United States that’s comparable to East Germany before the fall of communism.
ARUN KUNDNANI: Yeah, that’s right. So, you know, if you look at the number of agents in different intelligence agencies within the United States looking at the domestic situation, we have such a huge number now working there in those kinds of agencies. But if you look at the ratio to the number of Muslims in the United States that are subject to that surveillance, the ratio looks roughly the same as what the East German population was facing under the Stasi. So, you know, roughly for every Muslim in the United States, I think, if I remember right, it’s about 70 or 80 intelligence agents who are spying on them—same ratio that Stasi had. And, of course, the lesson here is that that level of surveillance doesn’t tell you what you think it tells you, because, after all, the Stasi didn’t anticipate their own downfall.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. We’re talking about the Republican presidential debate that was held last night in Sheldon Adelson’s casino in Las Vegas. Our guests are Zaid Jilani of The Intercept; Arun Kundnani, author of The Muslims Are Coming!, he teaches at New York University; and Bob Herbert of Demos. Stay with us.