“The National Security Agency is prohibited by law from eavesdropping on American citizens,” Tan told Alvin. “Yet, at the direction of the American president, they have done exactly that. They have established listening posts within U.S. borders, in the very facilities through which domestic communications flow. They are accumulating vast quantities of data in secret locations. Much of it is encrypted. They can already break encryption, but at great expense and with much delay.”
Tan paused for effect. He leaned back in his chair and placed his palm on the table.
“So why would the NSA want an inexpensive computer that can decrypt large numbers of secret communications, if not to mine this vast quantity of data, gathered from Americans on American soil?”
Alvin blanched at the realization.
“You’re talking about domestic surveillance by the government, with no oversight. Here, in the United States.”
“On a vast scale,” he responded.
“But why?” Alvin asked plaintively.
Tan closed his eyes briefly in a meditative pose.
“Oh, I’m sure their intentions are honorable. We live in dangerous times, after all. The enemy isn’t contained within the borders of a single country. They are everywhere.” He sipped his scotch. “And the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”
“That’s not liberty!” Alvin blurted. “That’s tyranny!”
“Tyranny? In America?” Tan said with irony. “Impossible.”
Alvin sat mute, struggling with the revelation.
“Xiao Weiguo,” Tan said, “Do you think that by keeping this technology out of the hands of the Chinese that you preserve it for a more benevolent master?”