The Edward Snowden–NSA affair was for me all but a fait accompli with me absolutely convinced initially that Snowden was just an idealistic, naïve, disaffected and probably delusional soul. With more forthcoming, credible information (more than just domestic privacy, illegal search/seizure and our presumption of innocence issues) coming in I believe that the charges of espionage and treason levied again him to be justified. Why? - because our intelligence gathering strategy was legally authorized and we are technically at war with Terrorism and its many components. Snowden by violating his oath and ultimately airing sensitive (though not unexpected) data about our seemingly routine security practices throughout the world has compromised historical, key military and business alliances. Since everybody else is doing pretty much the same thing (though on different levels) this will eventually blow over as diplomats rebuild a tolerable mutual trust and their beneficial convivial relationships as they joke and banter over their vodka and single malts.
For this writer the revelations about privacy issues with the NSA routinely listening in to telephone conversations or monitoring e-mail and all electronic media were no deal breaker. That approach appears to this writer to be a common sense and proven, results-documented, strategy to pursue given the overt/covert threats and the persistence of our enemies. That for this writer constituted and realized the essential, though tenuous, balance between privacy and security.
There is no doubt that Congress has been regularly briefed on the program, but politics is politics and with a wink and nod many of our now conveniently indignant elected representatives have a severe case of amnesia. Polls show that most Americans understand the threat to our country and support (but may not like) the heroic measures required to effectively combat terrorism. The country, however, is pretty equally split on their characterization and treatment of Mr. Snowden though most now favor criminal charges against him.
Interestingly, we now see revelations even by the NSA that they apparently broke their own privacy rules and/or exceeded their authority many times since granted those authorities. Immediate moves by the President, Congress and the NSA to tighten up oversight of these programs without compromising our national security is absolutely imperative.
As for Snowden, he is no “civil disobedient” in the image of Ghandi or MLK Jr. He did much more than blow the whistle on domestic surveillance tipping him into espionage and treason. He could have engaged his representatives and plead his case in front of a Senate or House Committee and been guaranteed protection. He didn’t - choosing a hostile international forum that compromised many important relationships and perhaps even lives.
Many hope that Snowden never returns to the United States and is stripped of his citizenship. While that might remove jurisdiction over him perhaps Snowden could then, unencumbered, liaise with an inviting Russian spy Anna Chapman? Let him live out the rest of his life in some remote corner of Russia on a limited stipend. His cell will be Russia itself where Putin has offered nothing but disdain and contempt for defectors. That’s generally what happens after Russia extracts all the information they can and there is no more PR or intelligence value in propping up those of Snowden’s ilk. Snowden is no longer an outraged citizen or whistleblower. He is a defector who stands accused of espionage and theft of government property and given the circumstances, those charges do not appear refutable. The only question is Snowden’s motivation and intent though now that really doesn’t matter. It’s patently obvious that the NSA and other US intelligence agencies need to rethink their selection process and choice of contractors and consultants.
Snowden’s actions were Russia’s most recent pot of gold though any protestations by them would be ultimate hypocrisy. Russia’s spying apparatus is, no doubt, more insidious and far reaching than even the Americans and their Allies - combined. The Russians continue to send spies to the US and Europe. We see and hear credible reports that the FBI has apprehended over 10 Russian spies (some say 20 spies and sleeper agents) in the US just over the past four years. We think that the tip of the iceberg.
While the Soviet Union is gone - reinvented as modern Russia, the Cold War continues. It never stopped. Now as for Snowden’s persistent use of “we” when describing the US Citizenry… for me that’s debatable.
With that said Snowden’s actions (whatever his motives) have opened up what we feel is an essential and critical national debate on balancing security and privacy issues. Maybe this will finally get Congress off their butts… Our great fear is that an overreaction on the “privacy side” will empower and inform our enemies and restrict our intelligence gathering efforts leaving us more vulnerable than ever to another security disaster on the scale of 911. Everybody – please don’t let that happen.