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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: But, first, here’s my take: President Barack Obama gave a much- anticipated speech on Friday outlining reforms in the American government’s surveillance activities. Before I give you my reaction to the speech, I want to give you some context.

The American government and many U.S. companies are routinely the targets of cyber-attacks from all over the world. For example, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is an arm of the Energy Department and monitors America’s nuclear power plants, was the target of 10 million cyber-attacks every day in 2012.

By contrast, the entire United Kingdom suffered 44 million cyber- attacks in the entire year of 2011.

Some of these are efforts to spy on America, enter into communication systems, telecom systems, steal secrets from the government or from private companies, look at phone records, e-mails.

Others are efforts to disrupt normal life or kill civilians. Last year, the head of the FBI testified that cyber-attacks from foreign sources, often including terrorist groups, had surpassed traditional terrorism as the single most worrisome threat to the United States.

I’m trying to remind you that this debate about American policy cannot take place in a vacuum. There are other countries out there, and groups of militants and terrorists, and they are actively using whatever cyber-tools they have to tap into phone systems, emails, bank records, power plant operation systems, nuclear facilities, and more.

In that context, President Obama has taken on a worthy task, to see if American intelligence has gotten out of control as it deals with these threats and challenges there. His speech suggests that, no, the NSA is not a rogue outfit.

But he acknowledged that two facts need to be kept in mind. First, that the United States has unique capabilities in this area and second, that after 9/11, the American government went too far in its efforts to search for and counter terrorist threats.

So he’s proposed a series of reforms that strike me as a good balance between security and liberty. He’s preserved the basic structure of American intelligence gathering while putting in more checks and safeguards.

One case where he may have gone too far is in limiting America’s ability to spy on foreign leaders. This was probably inevitable and a political sop to foreign heads of government like Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Germany’s Angela Merkel.

It’s a good idea for the United States to protect civil liberties, institute checks and balances, and have periodic reviews of the whole system. But let’s also keep in mind that I haven’t heard much about the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s intelligence reform proposals, and I don’t expect we will be hearing much from him, or President Vladimir Putin or many other foreign leaders.

Intelligence is called the world’s second oldest profession for a reason. Everyone does it.


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