Video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__EIV7IkOlI
DOES STATE SPYING MAKE US SAFER?
THE MUNK DEBATE ON MASS SURVEILLANCE
May 2, 2014 Toronto, Ontario
FEATURING EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY FROM EDWARD SNOWDEN
PRO: MICHAEL HAYDEN/ALAN DERSHOWITZ
CON: GLENN GREENWALD/ALEXIS OHANIAN
A LETTER FROM PETER MUNK
Since we started the Munk Debates, my wife, Melanie, and I have been deeply gratified at how quickly
they have captured the public’s imagination. From the time of our first event in May 2008, we have
hosted what I believe are some of the most exciting public policy debates in Canada and internationally.
Global in focus, the Munk Debates have tackled a range of issues, such as humanitarian intervention, the
effectiveness of foreign aid, the threat of global warming, religion’s impact on geopolitics, the rise of
China, and the decline of Europe. These compelling topics have served as intellectual and ethical grist
for some of the world’s most important thinkers and doers, from Henry Kissinger to Tony Blair,
Christopher Hitchens to Paul Krugman, Peter Mandelson to Fareed Zakaria.
The issues raised at the Munk Debates have not only fostered public awareness, but they have also
helped many of us become more involved and, therefore, less intimidated by the concept of
globalization. It is so easy to be inward-looking. It is so easy to be xenophobic. It is so easy to be
nationalistic. It is hard to go into the unknown. Globalization, for many people, is an abstract concept at
best. The purpose of this debate series is to help people feel more familiar with our fast-changing world
and more comfortable participating in the universal dialogue about the issues and events that will shape
our collective future.
I don’t need to tell you that there are many, many burning issues. Global warming, the plight of extreme
poverty, genocide, or our shaky financial order — these are just a few of the critical issues that matter to
people. And it seems to me, and to my foundation board members, that the quality of the public dialogue
on these critical issues diminishes in direct proportion to the salience and number of issues clamouring
for our attention. By trying to highlight the most important issues at crucial moments in the global
conversation, these debates not only profile the ideas and opinions of some of the world’s brightest
thinkers, but they also crystallize public passion and knowledge, helping to tackle some of the
challenges confronting humankind.
I have learned in life — and I’m sure many of you will share this view — that challenges bring out the
best in us. I hope you’ll agree that the participants in these debates challenge not only each other but also
each of us to think clearly and logically about important problems facing our world.
Founder, Aurea Foundation Toronto, Ontario
INTRODUCTION BY RUDYARD GRIFFITHS – MODERATOR/ORGANIZER
State surveillance is the controversy of our time, combining fast- changing technology, the ongoing
revolution in how we communicate with each other, the power and responsibility of nation-states to
defend themselves, and our deep-seated, personal expectations for privacy — it engages a host of the
major tenets that make up our modern way of life. This is why it was an obvious choice for the Munk
Debates to dedicate one of its semi-annual contests to bringing together the most trenchant and salient
commentators on state surveillance today for a no-holds- barred discussion.
The resolution before the three thousand attendees who filled Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall to capacity
was as stark as it was significant: “Be it resolved: state surveillance is a legitimate defence of our
freedoms.” Speaking for the resolution, in his first-ever public debate, was General Michael Hayden.
Considered by many to be the chief architect of the sophisticated surveillance programs that evolved in
the post-9/11 era, General Hayden led both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) under President George W. Bush. Throughout the debate, he displayed his
unparalleled knowledge of the inner workings and larger policy objectives of America’s surveillance
networks. In this regard, readers will want to pay special attention to his fascinating account of the 9/11
terrorists and how, in his view, a robust regime of state surveillance such as the one America has today
could have helped foil such an attack. To quote Michael Hayden from the debate: “Terrorism is a big
deal, but we do [mass surveillance] for lots of good, legitimate reasons. . . . if this metadata program —
which is about terrorism, because the only reason you can use metadata is to stop terror attacks, no other
purpose — had been in place we would have known that Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al- Mihdhar, two
of the muscle guys on the plane planning to hit the Pentagon, were in San Diego.”
Completing the two-person “pro” team on the debate stage was celebrated legal scholar, trial lawyer,
and civil liberties champion professor Alan Dershowitz. Why would one of the most prominent civil
libertarians of our time chose to argue that state surveillance is a legitimate defence of our freedoms?
For Professor Dershowitz the debate is not one of absolutes. As he argued throughout the two-hour
contest, the challenge at hand is striking a balance, enshrined in law and overseen by the courts and
Congress, between the privacy rights of individuals and the immense advantage surveillance programs
give democratic societies facing complex, unconventional, and sophisticated terrorist threats. He
believes our courts, democratic legislatures, and public servants are up to this challenge and that
accountable, measured, and legally rigorous state surveillance is a necessary and achievable goal: “I
sincerely believe that surveillance, properly conducted and properly limited, can really and genuinely
protect our liberties. No state has ever survived without surveillance, and no state deserves to survive if
it has too much surveillance, particularly against its own citizens. A balance has to be struck, but that
balance cannot eliminate the power of government to obtain information necessary to the defence of our
One formidable team of debaters deserves another, and here the Munk Debate on state surveillance did
not disappoint. Arguing that state surveillance is not a legitimate defence of our freedoms was Glenn
Greenwald, the investigative journalist at the centre of the Edward Snowden leaks that exposed
America’s “surveillance state” to the world. Greenwald is currently a columnist and lead writer for The
Intercept, an online clearing house for Snowden’s trove of data on the U.S. National Security Agency.
He has been lauded by the Financial Times as the “most famous journalist of his generation,” and
Foreign Policy magazine singled him out as one of their 100 Leading Global Thinkers for 2013.
Throughout the debate Glenn Greenwald demonstrated his trademark fluency with the legal,
technological, and historical intricacies of mass surveillance programs in the United States and around
the world. A passionate advocate for the sanctity of privacy rights in the face of corporate and state
encroachment, Glenn Greenwald used the debate to paint a dark picture of a pervasive surveillance
bureaucracy operating with little if any substantial legal or civilian oversight in the United States,
Canada, and the United Kingdom, all of which are relentlessly collecting massive amounts of electronic
data about people’s intimate lives and conversations for analysis and detection. Glenn Greenwald
reiterated his belief that mass, Internet-based surveillance of individuals was especially pernicious and
that its effects on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly would prove chilling: “Over and over in
the documents of the NSA we find not these mild paeans about the need for targeted surveillance, but
the opposite. It is aggressive, boasting about the system of indiscriminate, suspicionless surveillance that
they have constructed in the dark. Entire populations, hundreds of millions of people who are guilty of
nothing, have their communications routinely monitored, surveilled, and stored.”
The second debater arguing against the resolution brought his own unique perspective to the contest as a
serial technology entrepreneur and fervent believer in the social goods that flow from an open and
progressive Internet. Alexis Ohanian is the co-founder of reddit, the social news website used by 100
million people each month. For two years in a row he has been named to Forbes’ prestigious “30 under
30: Technology” list. Alexis Ohanian’s contribution to the debate was to make the case for how
widespread state surveillance affects the Internet itself and could threaten many of the characteristics of
the World Wide Web that make it a transformative force for good in societies large and small. To quote
Alexis Ohanian in his opening statement: “I could never have started reddit with the hope of it becoming
a truly global platform if we thought we didn’t have access to everyone with an Internet connection. The
Internet works better the more people that are on it.
But intelligence agencies have created an environment that is increasingly insecure for users, with the
purpose of hopefully being able to take advantage of these security flaws for surveillance somewhere
down the road.”
Whatever preconceived notions anyone may have about this debate, readers will find the battle of wits
between Michael Hayden, Glenn Greenwald, Alan Dershowitz, and Alexis Ohanian a refreshingly
accessible and sophisticated exploration of whether or not state surveillance is in our collective interest.
An analysis of the debate as a whole reveals that the state of public trust stands out as the key issue that
animated our contest and what ultimately nudges opinion into either the “pro” or “con” camp. Do we
trust that the systems of checks and balances built into our legislatures, courts, and bureaucracies (civil
and military) are up to the task of managing and deploying the awesome technological powers of
electronic state surveillance for our collective safety and benefit? Or is the very existence of mass
government systems for data collection and analysis itself a corrosive social phenomenon, seeping
through the body politic and eroding the trust between individuals and governments required to sustain
the expectation of privacy in our technological age? The reading of this debate in its entirety and the
companion interviews with each of the four protagonists will not definitively answer these questions, but
they will, without a doubt, get you thinking about the swirl of issues and ideas that surround the debate
over state surveillance in new and unexpected ways.
Does State Spying Make Us Safer?
Pro: Michael Hayden and Alan Dershowitz Con: Glenn Greenwald and Alexis Ohanian
May 2, 2014 Toronto, Ontario
THE MUNK DEBATE ON MASS SURVEILLANCE
RUDYARD GRIFFITHS: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Welcome to this extraordinary debate on
state surveillance. My name is Rudyard Griffiths, and it’s my privilege to act as the organizer of this
semi-annual series and to once again serve as your moderator.
I want to start tonight’s proceedings by welcoming the North America–wide television and radio
audience tuning into this debate, everywhere from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to
CPAC, Canada’s public affairs channel, to C-SPAN across the continental United States. A warm hello
also to the thousands of people watching this debate live online on The Intercept and the Munk Debates
web sites. It’s terrific to have you as virtual participants in tonight’s proceedings. And finally, hello to
you, the over three thousand people who have once again filled Roy Thomson Hall to capacity for a
Munk Debate. We thank you for your enthusiasm for the goal to which this series is dedicated: bringing
big thinkers together to debate the big issues transforming Canada and the world.
The presence of the four outstanding thinkers on this stage momentarily to discuss the topic of state
surveillance would not be possible without the generosity of our hosts for the evening. Please join me in
showing our appreciation for the Aurea Foundation and its co- founders, Peter and Melanie Munk.
Now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Let’s get our debaters out on stage and our debate
underway. Speaking for the motion, “Be it resolved: state surveillance is a legitimate defence of our
freedoms,” is acclaimed trial lawyer, Harvard scholar, and storied civil libertarian, Professor Alan
Dershowitz. Joining Professor Dershowitz on the pro side of tonight’s debate is none other than Michael
Hayden, the former head of the National Security Agency and the former head of the Central
Intelligence Agency. He’s also a retired four-star U.S. general.
Now, one great team of debaters deserves another, and we have not let you down tonight. Ladies and
gentlemen, please welcome serial technology entrepreneur, the co-founder of the global social news
phenomenon reddit and bestselling author, Alexis Ohanian. Alexis’s partner tonight is a person who has
been at the very centre of this global debate since Edward Snowden stunned the world last June with his
unprecedented exposé on America’s Internet cyber-espionage programs. In the ensuing year our
presenter has become, in the words of the Financial Times of London, the most famous journalist of his
generation, ladies and gentlemen, First Look Media’s Glenn Greenwald.
But before I call on our debaters for their opening statements, I would like to go over a housekeeping
point, which is important for those of you in the hall. When you see our dastardly countdown clock
appear on the screens at the end of the allotted time for opening statements, rebuttals, and closing
statements, please join me in a round of applause for our speakers. This is going to keep them on their
toes and, of course, our debate on time.
Now, let’s find out how all of you, the three thousand of you, voted at the outset of this evening’s debate
on the resolution, “Be it resolved: state surveillance is a legitimate defence of our freedoms.” The results
are: 33 percent agree, 46 percent disagree, and 21 percent are undecided. So, this debate is definitely in
play. Our second question will help us figure out how many of the three thousand people in this hall are
open to changing their vote in the next hour and a half. Let’s have those numbers. Wow — 87 percent of
this audience are open to changing their vote — a very flexible crowd. Only 13 percent of you are
committed resolutely to the “pro” or the “con” side. Now it’s time to see which one of these teams can
sway public opinion.
As per convention, the “pro” side will speak first, with six minutes for each opening remark. General
Hayden, the floor is yours.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Thanks for the introduction and the warm welcome. After I read your morning
newspaper and saw that Alan and I were identified as two of the most pernicious human beings on the
planet, I just wasn’t really sure how welcoming you would be.
State surveillance is a legitimate defence of our freedoms. We all know the answer to that — it depends.
It depends on facts. It depends on the totality of circumstances in which we find ourselves. What kind of
surveillance? For what kind of purposes? In what kind of state of danger? And that’s why facts matter.
In having this debate, in trying to decide whether this surveillance is a legitimate defence of our freedom,
we really need to know exactly what this surveillance is. And I freely admit, it’s hard. This stuff has
been pushed out into the world in a way that is unclear. Sometimes it’s been presented in a way that is
Let me give you an example. Information was leaked into the public domain about a program called
Boundless Informant. If I were thinking of names that would eventually become public, it is probably
not one I would pick. It was a heat map of the world that showed the metadata events that the NSA had
acquired in one way or another. And the map also revealed tens of millions of metadata events that NSA
was getting from France, Spain, and Norway. So the story immediately became, “These guys are
checking the call logs of a whole bunch of Europeans.”
The reality of the story was that French, Spanish, and Norwegian intelligence services were providing
the NSA with metadata that their respective services had collected in internationally recognized theatres
of armed conflict, not in Europe. It was a team effort, but it got rolled out very much as an aggressive,
individual effort on the part of the NSA. These situations are complicated and people often incorrectly
assume the most ominous possible thing is happening behind closed doors.
Do you remember something called the PRISM program that allowed the NSA to access materials on
Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft servers in the United States — materials affiliated with a legitimate
intelligence target? It was described in the media as “the NSA is free- ranging on the servers of Google
and Microsoft and Yahoo.” It was portrayed as uncontrolled NSA exploration of this data, which was
incredibly wrong. The Washington Post was one of the papers that presented it in that way, and they
ended up correcting it on their web site several days later, without notifying people that the article had
But let’s skip all that for now. Let’s try to get to the hard truth and boil down what CSEC
(Communications Security Establishment Canada) is doing here, what the NSA’s doing across the lake,
what the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) is doing in Great Britain, and what the
ASD (Australian Signals Directorate) is doing in Australia. Even then you’ve got a problem, because
you’re walking into a movie theatre late in the third reel and you’re looking at a scene, a snapshot of the
film, and you’re saying, “Aha! The butler did it!” Actually, you need to go back and look at the whole
movie. You need to see what went on before, because if you know what happened earlier you might
have a different interpretation of what it is you think the butler is guilty of.
There are a few things that the NSA and all these other security organizations have tried to solve. One of
them is the war with volume: How do you conduct signals and intelligence to keep you safe in a tsunami
of global communications? The answer is bulk collection and metadata. Critics suggest the NSA is
“mucking about in those global telecommunication grids that have your emails,” but no one complained
when the NSA was eavesdropping on Soviet strategic forces’ microwave rocket signals. The more
modern equivalent of those Soviet microwave signals are proliferator, terrorist, narco-trafficker, moneylaunderer emails, coexisting with yours and mine out there in Gmail. And if you want the NSA or CSEC
to continue to keep you safe, it is going to involve jumping into the stream where your data is stored.
After 9/11, the enemy was inside my country. Even when the enemy wasn’t in my country, his
communications were, since most emails reside on servers in the United States. An email from a bad
man in Pakistan communicating to a bad man in Yemen should not deserve constitutional protection.
The PRISM program is what allowed us to access those emails and what allowed us to keep everyone
safe. There’s a lot more to talk about, but you’re going to start clapping in about nine seconds, so I’m
going to go back to the podium. Thank you.
RUDYARD GRIFFITHS: The commanding presence of a four-star general. It’s bred in the bone.
Alexis Ohanian, you ar ...
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