"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Snowden and pornography

rainey BARRETT


Dealing with my feelings about the Edward Snowden story creates some of the same thoughts I have about pornography. As an issue, I’m opposed to porn. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take a quick look if it pops up unexpectedly on a web site I’ve happened across.

What Snowden did – stealing and distributing U.S. government secrets – is abhorrent – a clear violation of oaths he took when granted a security clearance to work with classified documents. He’s no hero. He’s a criminal and should be punished as such. He betrayed the trust granted by his civilian employer – and the entire nation by implication – and he may be a source of lasting damage to our national security. So far, that’s doubtful but not all the information he purloined has been published.

With that said – like porn – we’ll all take a look at what stolen details come out of the electronic stash of documents. And they’re coming. Some boring – some interesting – some downright scary and unsettling. It’s certain there will be more revelations, like the ever-present surveillance of the National Security Agency in all our lives. It’s likely to be an even bumpier ride.

Like it or not, what we’re learning about “big brother” and the gaze on us all by the “eye that never sleeps,” is alarming – yet fascinating – stuff. Kind of like that brief, occasional glimpse of porn. Those doing the surveillance are pissed because we now know. But – as the surveilled – we need to know. We have a constitutionally guaranteed right to know.

I hear many people say, “Well, so what? I’m not doing anything wrong. Go ahead and look. They won’t find anything.” Two things scare me about people who say that. First, they’re probably licensed to drive on the same highways I use. Second, the issue is not what we’re doing but rather why should our government be watching us?

This is not a political issue for which this administration or the previous one – or the one previous to that – can be solely criticized. If it’s true the neo-cons of the first Bush years started this, it’s equally true all subsequent administrations have approved it.

In the days after 9/11, there may have been sufficient reasons for ramping up surveillance of electronic traffic. Or, it may have been an overreaction to fears raised by that terrible attack. Makes no difference now. What does make a difference is we’ve had a dozen years to see if such government snooping on its citizens is warranted or is simply being continued because it “may” be effective to identify terrorists. Operative word there is “may.”

There’s been plenty of time to assess the value of such surveillance. The question is, has anyone done such an assessment? If so, what were the results? If not, why the Hell not? One agency says, “Well, we don’t look at these messages from those sources” and another says “We only look at these people.” Is there any coordination here? Who’s in and who’s out? We need to know.

As happens so often when we or a corporation or a government try to operate secretly, the word will get out eventually. The cat’s out of the bag now on this national “secret.” We know – in at least some vague ways – our privacy is being violated by a government trying to do due diligence in matters of national security. But we don’t know exactly by whom, how or what the results are. The fact that no one has flown another airplane into another building is not the answer we deserve. That’s simply a political brush off.

The question of whether Edward Snowden and Bradley – oops – Chelsea Manning were motivated to betray the national trust placed in them is for another time and other discussions. Assuring necessary security in the field of classified national information in the hands of millions of people needs to be addressed now. And safeguards – such as there may be – instituted immediately.

This administration – and whatever intelligent members of Congress we have left – need to make a “full court press” inside government and out. Why do we have these programs? What kinds and how many? Run by whom? Effectiveness? Are there adequate safeguards? Are there other, less invasive ways to get the same results? How are we screening those who are allowed access? And we – you and I – need to be told PDQ the answers to those and other pertinent questions.

Now that the “surveillance cow is out of the national security barn,” we need to know how it got out and what went with it. Even NSA doesn’t seem to know what Snowden took, how he took it or where it is. Those are the folks we’re supposed to rely on when we put our heads on the pillow each night.

Can’t speak for you but I’ve been sleeping with one eye open lately.

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