Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Edward Snowden: Hero? Not Hardly....

By now, most of us know who Edward Snowden is and what he's done. Some say he's a traitor who violated his non disclosure agreement and put the United States at a higher security risk by giving away top secret, classified documents. Others say he's a brave whistle blower, who deserves our admiration and respect.

For those who don't know Mr. Snowden, he's an employee of the private firm Booz Allen Hamilton, whom the Federal Government employs to provide intelligence services. Snowden, 30, armed with not much more than his GED, and some brief experience in the United States Army (cut short due to breaking both of his legs in a training accident), security work for the NSA at a secret facility at the University of Maryland which led to his being hired by the CIA to work on IT security. After being stationed in Switzerland for a while, Snowden then left the CIA and worked for a private contractor at a NSA facility on a US military base in Japan.

Snowden worked as a system administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton less than three months when he took his big step. Stationed in the Hawaii area for the NSA, he earned a salary of roughly two hundred thousand dollars a year. By almost any reasonable measure, Mr. Snowden had done pretty well for himself considering his lack of formal education.

Edward Snowden went to the Washington Post with classified information about the surveillance programs the National Security Agency. They wouldn't handle his information to his liking so Snowden then offered it to the Guardian newspaper in London. He told them, "I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded." 

The media has gone nuts. Talk shows are having a field day. Politicians are saying everything you can imagine. The situation has created a somewhat nice diversion for President Obama, while Mr. Snowden has created the strangest of bedfellows. Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul on roughly the same side of this as are Rush Limbaugh and Micheal Moore. Weird times, indeed. 

Snowden is flat out wrong to have done what he's done. 

The United States of America has a systematic government. We vote freely in Presidential, Congressional and Senate elections and the winners of these govern and make decisions on our behalf. We've "hired them" to represent us and our interests. The "spying" programs Snowden decided on his own weren't appropriate are known to many of our elected representatives. The Congress provides oversight on the Executive Branch. Federal judges are also involved when the NSA determines that some information needs a closer look or listen. Its not one guy making this up. Career professionals do this sort of work every day and bottom line, their goals are to keep the United States safe. The programs and methods aren't entirely new, either, having been around since the Bush Administration. Its ironic that this degree of outrage was no where to be seen until just a few days ago. 

I've been wondering what exactly a "healthy distrust of the Government" really means. Not a total distrust, but a "healthy mistrust." The people we've duly elected and entrusted to lead our country are the ones who bear the burden of some of these tough decisions. Everything I've heard/read lately on this story tells me there's limits to what the NSA can do. Only targets that meet certain criteria can receive more intense scrutiny, etc. They're not listening to me and my brother discuss the animals in his back yard nor are they the least bit interested in what you think about Mad Men. They don't have the resources in either people or financial terms to waste chasing after things that don't matter. 

They pursue people who would do us harm. Can you imagine if it came out in the days after 9/11, that we'd possessed the technology to have identified and ultimately prevented what happened that day but didn't use it? People would be outraged in high numbers. We know these programs are to some degree effective and have prevented one terrorist, Najibullah Zazi, from blowing up a New York City subway in 2009. 

Some will say that the programs are not properly managed, the potential for abuse is too high, its against what our country stands for, etc. If I hear the Ben Franklin quote about "those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither" one more time, I'm going to scream. Those words, which are over two hundred years old, can't be plucked out of the ages and cut and pasted seamlessly into today's world. The world is different now. Everyone knows it. Its a different ball game, pal.

Do we, as American citizens, have the right to know everything our Government is doing on our behalf? Good question. I don't think we have a right to know every little thing. The systems of checks and balances is designed, along with our oversight committees, to keep any branch of Government from running amuk. Our system, that the forefathers developed and passed on to us is, at some level, based on trust. That's not to say that politicians are never corrupt, because we know of countless instances where they've behaved badly, sometimes illegally and clearly not in the best interests of we, the people. And in most of those cases, they are punished. 

As maddening as our government can be, as frustrating as our elected officials can be, no single citizen has the right to release classified documents, essentially to the world, to make a point. No business would put up with it, and no government can either. Snowden had options. Talk to his superiors, leave the position, file a report with the Inspector General for him to follow through, seek out his elected representative, etc. All, far better choices that going to the media, creating some level of hysteria and further alienating the people's government from the people. 

We've gone overboard with this "anti-government" stuff. Yes, yes, yes seek out and punish wrong doers. Absolutely. But we've lost our sense of balance with regard to how we view our leaders. If it comes down to choosing the Edward Snowden's of the world versus the duly elected officials and appointed military and intelligence professionals, I chose the latter. Every time. I don't think the United States and her interests are any safer today because of what Mr. Snowden did. In fact, I suspect that we are less safe, due to his actions. Like Bradley Manning, when you sign onto to certain jobs, you agree to abide by the rules and terms of your employment. Both men, while perhaps virtuous on some level, executed their plans in a selfish and reckless manner. 

Generally speaking, I am against anything that endangers American lives. Both Snowden and Manning deserve their day in court, and whatever justice the court feels is merited.

Neither is a hero. Not even close...






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