By the late 1920, the United States had a spying problem — the problem was, we didn’t do any. The State Department’s “Cipher Bureau” was famously shut down by SecState Henry Stimson, who that “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” FDR loved all kinds of intrigue and eventually got the secret ball rolling again, but damage had been done. By the middle of WWII we were cracking codes left and right.
So how the hell did we get from Stimson to Obama, who has apparently reset the NSA’s mission to listen to “everything, all the time?”
In a short phrase: No more Pearl Harbors.
We have this nasty habit of getting sucked into wars via sneak attack. Pearl Harbor, North Korea, 9/11. Each time, we up our ability to listen in. And yet we still keep getting caught with our pants down.
Because eavesdropping is a terrible way to collect actionable intelligence.
We listen more and more, but our understanding doesn’t increase. And we’re pissing off our allies, angering our own people, and doing little to stop our enemies.
If you want to collect intel, put people on the ground.
If you want to find out what Angela Merkel had for lunch, why not just pick up the phone and ask her?