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The Intelligence-Industrial Complex

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"...we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist." Thus spoke President Dwight Eisenhower in January 1961.

Now we have an intelligence-industrial complex composed of close to a dozen and a half federal intelligence agencies and services, many of which are duplicative, and in the last decade or two the growth of a private sector intelligence world. Originally initiated in the National Security Act of 1947 as instrumental in conducting the Cold War, this massive expansion of data collection and analysis continued on even after the Cold War ended in 1991 and then received renewed energy with the declaration of a "global war on terrorism."

It is dangerous to have a technology-empowered government capable of amassing private data; it is even more dangerous to privatize this Big Brother world.

Following the findings of serious unconstitutional abuse of power in the early 1970s, the Senate Select Committee to Investigate the Intelligence Services of the U.S. Government (the Church committee), steps were taken to protect constitutional rights, especially Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, most notably by the creation of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts required to issue warrants, as the Fourth Amendment requires, upon a showing that the national security is endangered.

But even this protection, as important as it is, seems less than adequate when the record shows that all government requests for warrants for surveillance are granted by these courts. Even if a new layer of Constitutional ombudsman, who appeared in the secret FISA court to question the government's case, were added, serious questions of privacy and personal security and the explosion of the intelligence-industrial complex would remain.

As we ponder the motivations and personalities of the Snowdens and Assanges, we must not lose sight of the greatest question: Is the Surveillance State -- the intelligence-industrial complex -- out of the control of the elected officials responsible for holding it accountable to American citizens protected by the U.S. Constitution?

We should not have to rely on whistle-blowers to protect our rights.

A mistake of historic importance was made when terrorism was determined to be an act of war and not criminal conspiracy. The wrong strategies and doctrines, including invasions and regime changes, were adopted, and a new stimulus to dramatically expand the intelligence-industrial complex was provided. The Cold War ended 22 years ago and the global war on terrorism is being replaced by more targeted approaches, and the National Security Act is 67 years old.

Someone or someones must be empowered by the White House and Congress to take an Olympian view of the intelligence-industrial complex, to downsize it, reorganizing it, provide strict rules for its conduct and operations, and eliminate the metastasizing private consulting world now overwhelming it. In 2004, Congress created a Director of National Intelligence to do something like this. It has not worked.

The case of Edward Snowden, and future Snowdens to come, will continue to draw great media attention. But, while preoccupied by the character of the renegade, the larger historic question remains: How do we stop the growth of the intelligence-industrial complex?