When Different Government Departments Have Mutually Exclusive Missions

Trying to unwrap every mission the federal government has tasked itself with is practically impossible. The beast as grown so large that no single individual can fully grasp it. There are many dangers inherit in such a massive system. One of those dangers is different departments holding mutually exclusive mission. Take the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for instance. One of its missions [Warning: link is operated by a dangerous gang of violent criminals] is to defend the nation’s communication infrastructure. This would imply discovering and notifying the public about potential security exploits. Now consider the National Security Agency (NSA). Its mission is to exploit vulnerable system of both domestic and foreign entities in order to spy on them. This mission is mutually exclusive to DHS’s:

WASHINGTON — Stepping into a heated debate within the nation’s intelligence agencies, President Obama has decided that when the National Security Agency discovers major flaws in Internet security, it should — in most circumstances — reveal them to assure that they will be fixed, rather than keep mum so that the flaws can be used in espionage or cyberattacks, senior administration officials said Saturday.

But Mr. Obama carved a broad exception for “a clear national security or law enforcement need,” the officials said, a loophole that is likely to allow the N.S.A. to continue to exploit security flaws both to crack encryption on the Internet and to design cyberweapons.

It is impossible for the government to both protect the nation’s communication infrastructure and not inform the public about major security flaws. When you discover a security flaw you cannot know for certain that you’re the only one who knows about it. Any number of people could have discovered it beforehand. That being the case you cannot assume that the flaw isn’t being actively exploited by nefarious individuals or organizations. Therefore the only way to protect the general public is to disclose information regarding the exploit so it can be fixed.

This is one of the reasons why any mission statement given by a government agency is meaningless. While one government agency may be tasked with a certain mission another agency is likely tasked with the exact opposite mission.