Edward Snowden: Hero, or Traitor?by David Pinar on Jun. 12, 2013, under Pol. & Govt.
Like many of you I’ve been digesting the news from the last couple of days, trying to decide what it means to me, and how do I feel about it. A 29 year old high school dropout (who later earned a GED), who was released from the Army after only serving 5 months, was hired by a Government contractor, paid well over $100k per year (and got to live in Hawaii), and was given top secret clearance as a systems analyst. The unimaginable happens [/sarcasm] and the guy decides he doesn’t like that our government is collecting personal data on all Americans – things like phone calls (including GPS location on mobile phone calls), our email, videos, what web sites we visit, and more. So the guy gets copies a bunch of top secret documents that he had no reason to have access to, gets to the safest location he can get to that has free access to international media, and releases what he has and knows to the world. This predictably results in a bunch of exploding heads in Washington, both politicians and our government’s intelligence operations. So, what does all this mean to us, and what do we think about it?
First of all,where did I go wrong in my career? 29 years old, live in Hawaii with what seems like a nice girlfriend, and paid $122,00 a year to spend all day on a computer??? Where did I go wrong?
On a more serious note, first of all it means to me that our government’s intelligence operations may be good at getting the bad guys and preventing terrorist attacks, they’re still amazing inept at internal controls. After Pvt. Bradley Manning released thousands and thousands of top secret documents to Wikileaks – documents that there was no reason for Manning to have access to – it still hasn’t occurred to them to compartmentalize secret data, with access restricted carefully on a need to know basis? For example, if a guy is hired to monitor network traffic, why would he have access to secret documents on a server somewhere else? Government contractors need to significantly improve employee screening and monitoring. And the Government also needs to significantly improve contract employee screening and monitoring.
And now the big question: What do we think about the Government collecting all that personal data on everyone? Well, I don’t think it’s necessarily that bad a thing. With the phone records, it’s just the “meta data” – timestamp, # of the phone making the call, # called, and length of the call. No phone call recordings, they still need a reasonable suspicion and a court order to tap phones and listen to actual conversations. The government stores the data until they have a reason to search for something. In the case of the Boston Marathon bombing case, they no doubt searched this database for any phone calls from or to the Tsarnaev brothers’ phones. If that is what helped the government find the friend in Miami that they say confessed to and implicated one of the Tsarnaev brothers in a murder, then that’s a proper and good use of that data. And all the personal data from the major internet providers? Well, those companies have been collecting that personal data on us for years and never told us about it, the government just wanted in on it. But, the thing is that we need know what personal data is being collected, and why. The collection of personal data must be a much more transparent process. Several of the large internet companies have requested the Justice Department allow them to post on their sites what information they collected and what the government requested and got access to. I think that’s a very good start.
And what is it with this “FISA Court”? That’s the secret, separate court that was created in 1978 to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the United States by federal law enforcement agencies. Its hearings are closed to the public, and records of the proceedings are classified top secret, and its rulings are not subject to review by any other court. What could possibly go wrong? This is the court that gave the order for Verizon to hand over all phone records to the NSA (National Security Agency). This needs to be a hell of a lot more transparent. Some other court needs to review the FISA rulings to ensure they are constitutional, perhaps a select group of U.S. Appeals Court Judges who have cleared security checks. And a select group of Senators and Congressmen on Intelligence Committees needs to be able to review the court proceedings. And there needs to be more public awareness and debate so that we can decide when the collection of personal data goes too far.
As for Edward Snowden? I’m not sure he’s a hero, but I am sure he’s no traitor. I think he did the right thing, letting the American public know what is being done, so that we can make our own informed decisions. As for the rest of the world that also now knows the U.S. Government collects data on visits to Google, Yahoo!, etc. web sites from locations outside the U.S., and has records on every phone call made to or from a U.S. phone number, I imagine their collective reaction is: “Well, duh!”. No serious damage to our security.
Mr. Snowden said this morning in an interview with a Hong Kong news outlet:
People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions. I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality. I’m neither traitor nor hero. I’m an American.”
Well done, Ed