Let’s be absolutely clear: Edward Snowden, the man, is absolutely irrelevant—Two questions are relevant: One question that’s relevant is why on earth did this person have access to data that could cause such damage—if indeed that’s even the truth?
Snowden will be hunted relentlessly and, when finally found, with glee, brought back to the US in handcuffs and severely punished. (If PrivateBradley Manning‘s obscene conditions while incarcerated are any indication, it won’t be pleasant for Snowden either, even while awaiting trial.) Snowden has already been the object of scorn and derision from the Washington establishment and mainstream media, but, once again, the focus is misplaced on the transiently shiny object.
The news that the NSA collects massive amounts of information on US citizens – from emails, to telephone calls, to videos, under the Prism program and other Fisa court orders: should surprise no one. They’ve been collecting data since 2001. Before that it was the CIA. Before that the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover.
As interesting as his flight to Hong Kong might be, the pole-dancing girlfriend, and interviews from undisclosed locations, his fate is just a sideshow to the essential issues of national security versus constitutional guarantees of privacy, which his disclosures have brought into the spotlight.
The “Other Relevant Question
The second relevant issue should be: what exactly is the US government doing in the people’s name to “keep us safe” from terrorists?
Prism and other NSA data-mining programs might indeed be very effective in hunting and capturing actual terrorists, but as a society—despite what Big Media would have you believe—we don’t have enough information to make that decision. Despite admirable efforts led by Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall to bring to the public’s attention, we have been continually thwarted by the past and present administrations because everything about this program was deemed “too secret”.
Congress cannot even exercise its oversight responsibilities—not that they would be able to while trying to turn every damn kerfuffle into a modern day
“Watergate” for political purposes. And the important issue here is that the intelligence community and their friends on the Hill do not have a right to interpret our rights without a discussion or even a ruling by the judicial branch.
The shock and surprise that Snowden exposed these secrets is hard for me to understand when over 1.4 million Americans hold “top secret” security clearances. When that many have access to sensitive information, is it really so difficult to envision a leak? Come on my fellow Americans, get your heads out of your asses, quit letting commentators on FOX, MSNBC, ABC, and all the other initialed ENTERTAINMENT companies frame the damn issues for their own self-interest.
We are now dealing with a vast intelligence-industrial complex that is largely unaccountable to its citizens. This alarming, unchecked growth of the intelligence sector and the increasingly heavy reliance on subcontractors to carry out core intelligence tasks – now estimated to account for approximately 60% of the intelligence budget – have intensified since the 9/11 attacks and what was, arguably, our regrettable over-reaction to them.
Again We Go Back to the Great Bumbler—Ronald Reagan
The roots of this trend go back at least as far as the Reagan era, when the political right became obsessed with limiting government and denigrating those who worked for the public sector. It began a wave of privatization – because everything was held to be more “cost-efficient” when done by the private sector. Bullshit!
And that only deepened with the political polarization following the election of 2000. As it turns out, the promises of cheaper, more efficient services were hollow, but inertia carried the day. What the hell ever happened to the logic that you get (or don’t get) what you pay for?
Today, the intelligence sector is so immense that no one person can manage, or even comprehend, its reach. When an operation in the field goes to shit, who would we prefer to try and correct the damage: a government employee whose loyalty belongs to his country (despite a modest salary), or the subcontractor who wants to ensure that his much fatter paycheck keeps coming?
Early polls of Americans about their privacy concerns that the government might be collecting metadata from phone calls and emails indicates that there is little alarm; there appears to be, in fact, an acceptance of or resignation to these practices. To date, there is no proof that the government has:
- Used this information to pursue and harass US citizens based on their political views.
- There are no J Edgar Hoover-like “enemy lists” … yet.
But it is not so difficult to envisage a scenario where any of us has a link, via a friend of a friend of a friend, to someone on the terrorist watchlist. And what happens then? You may have no idea who this person is, but a supercomputer in Fort Meade (or, soon, at the Utah Data Center near Salt Lake City) will have made this connection. And then you could have some explaining to do to an over-zealous prosecutor, or worse—like during the Bush-Cheney years—be renditioned to some far-off desert bunker.
Officials from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to self-important senators are, for all intents, telling Americans not to worry– it’s no big deal, and “trust us” because they’re keeping we ungrateful, better-off-not-knowing, US citizens safe.
This position must be turned on its head and opened up to a genuine discussion about the necessary, forceful tension between security and privacy. As it now stands, these programs are ripe for abuse unless we establish ground rules and barriers between authentic national security interests and potential political, deceitful bullshit.
The abject irony of former Vice-President Dick (Darth) Cheney wringing his hands over the release of classified information is would be funny if it weren’t so damn dangerous. Cheney calls Snowden a traitor. Hello pot? Meet Kettle.
Snowden is no hero. But it’s about damn time to get these issues into the public square for the vigorous discussion it deserves. Snowden and his true intentions will never, ever be fully known; and frankly I don’t give a rat’s ass what they were.
What I care about is why this guy had access, and why the hell the media and politicians aren’t talking about that instead of this shithead’s travel itinerary.
Harvey A. Gold