This blog is devoted to studied investigation of news and opinion--with a special focus on the intersection of ideas and history in current events. A healthy mixture of history, philosophy, politics, economics, literature, and humor--THE rEPUBLICAN OBSERVER holds events up to the critical lights of reason and experience in the search for objective truth.
Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Guest Submission: The Problem with Today's Digital Freedom Fighters
Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, and an endless list of
digital vigilantes have come to dominate the news as of late. They profess to
be righting wrong by violating laws—laws which should not exist in a free and
just society. Manning released video of American helicopters killing Iraqi
civilians and Snowden revealed what many Americans have long feared – that the United States
government was capable of and is spying on the American people. These two men
have quickly become heroes to some and villains to others. Without question the
has entered into a precarious era of balancing the government need to protect
its citizens while maintaining secrets from foreign and domestic threats. The
problem is that security policy should be set through the democratic process
and not by high-minded vigilantes who would destroy the nation’s defense
capabilities while trying to allegedly protect individual liberty.
Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning violated oaths and
agreements made with the people of the United States by releasing secret
information. They state that not to do so would have been an abdication of a
greater responsibility they had to their fellow citizens and “humanity.” Both
believe they had witnessed something illicit and unjust and took it upon
themselves to correct this wrong by revealing documents considered classified,
as they were sensitive to the National Security of the American people. These
are the facts of the case for which there is no dispute. The question that
needs to be asked is this: does an individual American have a right to violate
laws meant to protect national security in the name of what they personally
consider to be, national security?
While the stories of Snowden and Manning do indicate a
government whose obsession with maintaining its own secrecy while denying
privacy to others, there is a troubling pattern emerging--that of
technologically adept altruists who feel it is their duty to reveal what they
believe to be government and private malfeasance. Snowden states that he leaked
the documents because the “public needs to decide whether these programs are
right or wrong.”
Snowden is correct that the extent of the spying on American
citizens was “unknown,” but the suggestion that there was no oversight is
incorrect. Information on all of these programs was readily available to
inquisitive members of Congress, federal courts, and the Executive branch.
Furthermore, American citizens have had 12 years since the implementation of
the Patriot Act to elect individuals to Congress and the presidency to restrict
the government’s broad powers – knowing for the most part what they were.
Except for Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky,
most of the Post 9-11 officials have been lukewarm on civil liberties. The only
person who comes out of this scandal looking like a “liar,” who has hidden an
aspect of his policy beliefs from the American people is President Obama – but
what else is new?
While President Obama campaigned on the promise of ending
surveillance programs, he has since decided it was valuable in whatever he
calls “the war on terror.” (I think it is now called: “Our On-Going Gentlemanly
Row on Terror”) The revelation that President Obama, like the president before
him, oversees a branch of government that has the ability to spy on every
single American should have come as a shock to no one. This should only come as
a lesson to Democrats that their president is just as lousy at guarding against
excesses as the Republicans. While it has been entertaining to see President
Obama’s hypocrisy brought to light and to watch Congressmen and Senators act
like Captain Renault of Casablanca,
(“I am shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here!”) nothing has
or will come of this save embarrassing the United States and exposing an
expensive and formerly secret weapon. The result will be, just as every Liberty
loving American fears, a spying mechanism that is countered by our enemies (As
indicated by this recent story from Wired magazine)
and whose only remaining target is the everyday citizen. All Edward Snowden has
done is to waste a considerable amount of taxpayer dollars and instigate the
NSA to make the program more robust and more secret at great expense.
It is fair to say that Snowden’s actions have faint
similarities with those of whistle-blowers, who generally are protected from
prosecution for bringing illegal dealings to the proper authorities. This is
not what Snowden did. Instead of bringing what he believed to be a severe
violation of both the separation of powers and the rights of American citizens
to the attention of a Congressman, an attorney, or court’s officer, he released
American intelligence secrets to the foreign press. He also took more
information on intelligence operations with him to Hong Kong and then Russia,
continuing to discharge more secret information on the way that was not
directly pertinent to the privacy of American citizens and pertained directly
to foreign surveillance methods used on the Europeans, Chinese, and Russians.
The first action may be considered an attempt on the part of a conscientious
citizen to roll back the national security state and protect individual
liberties, but the subsequent releases qualify as blatant espionage.
The same goes for Bradley Manning who admittedly released
embarrassing State Department secret cables--many of which he did not even
bother to read--because he resented how the United States government treated
gays like himself. Manning’s petty act of revenge was both a violation of his sworn
oath as a United States
service member and another blatant act of espionage against the United States.
That he stole and published random classified information to the “World” and
not to any particular country does not make his action any different than any
other spy working for a foreign nation.
Is Edward Snowden really concerned with the “liberties” of individuals
while aiding foreign governments like China
who steal from American companies and wage a cyber war against the United States?
Perhaps he believes the Russian government, that imprisons domestic protestors
and murders foreign dissidents, has secrets worth protecting? This all smacks
of a person with a misguided savior complex who believes that the path to
reform is embarrassing the United
States on the world stage and hoping for
revolution. The reasoning and arguments put forth by both of these men are
incredibly similar to those of the lone Anarchist who assassinated William
McKinley, Leon Czolgosz. Czolgosz believed that McKinley had violated American
principles in his war on the revolutionaries in the Philippines and represented an
expansion of imperialism. He shot McKinley believing that murdering a “tyrant”
would encourage an Anarchist uprising. Czolgosz never bothered to contemplate
the idea that in a democratic country revolutions are not waged with bullets,
but with ballots.
What Czolgosz, Manning and Snowden all seem to have
forgotten is that the United
States relies on elections, courts, and
checks and balances to right the wayward ship. Every one of these individuals
could have voted, participated in, and advocated during one of many elections
if they wanted pro-privacy, anti-war candidates. This would have allowed them
to maintain the oaths and agreements they made to protect the United States
and its secrets. Being part of the intelligence structure, they would have had
the knowledge base to know where the real pitfalls and incursions were and
pursued legislative and democratic methods to achieve the goal of resolving
them. Instead they aspired to be treated like martyrs of the hypocritical “Great
Satan,” by our enemies, all the while fixing nothing.
While I believe that Snowden and Manning are criminals who unapologetically
violated their oaths - and Manning’s court martial happens to agree with me –
that does not mean that I discount the need for government whistleblower
reform. President Obama has been waging a war on leakers, so long as said leaks
do not make him look good like those that revealed foiled Al’Queada plots in Yemen.
His ability to wield the bureaucratic and access nightmare that is classified
materials to hide his own failings (See: Benghazi) and to use laws associated with
classified materials to punish legitimate criticisms of his policy failings
presents a real threat to the separation of powers, national security, and the
liberties of individual Americans.
Do I want government spying on American citizens to end? Of
course I do. The excesses of the Patriot Act were apparent to most Americans
the day someone finally sat down to read it. What is the value of knowing what
books people are reading? After 9-11 that only book that seemed pertinent to
that particular attack was the Qur’Ran. The only person who might benefit from
producing a report of books American citizens are buying is the guy who sells
the government its paper. If there is a source of corruption, I always assume
it is that guy.
Should we being having this discussion? Definitely. Should Edward
Snowden get a pass because the public agrees with his outrage? Of course not.
We are a nation of laws. If you disagree with said laws you still have some
options denied to most of the rest of humanity: work to change them, emigrate,
Should there be legislation to protect government whistleblowers
that reveal troubling Top Secret information to Congressmen and Senators so
they can make informed decisions? Yes. But should Snowden and Manning be
treated like heroes for releasing sensitive information for the “sake of the
world?” No. Should they be prosecuted for violating the trust given to them by
the American people? Yes. Will we continue to see more people like Snowden and
Manning who feel alienated by a political system where elections steer policy
and not vigilantism? Definitely.
The current battle for electronic privacy is an important
fight, if not the most important, being waged by the State and those who seek
to limit its power. The United
States government, has long made a habit of
listening in on conversations, telegraphs, phone calls, and Internet messages
of its citizens. The extent to which this should be permitted in a republic
that guarantees a reasonable right to privacy is a delicate balance between
elected officials, law enforcement, voters, and the courts. It is not an area
that should be settled by megalomaniacal altruists who play God with computer
code and think it entitles them to play God with America’s national security and
-- Daniel P. Roberts
Barbara Starr, Man Behind NSA Leaks says he did it to safe guard privacy,
liberty, last modified June 23, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/10/politics/edward-snowden-profile
Ali Mohsin, Bradley Manning justifies his actions by a desire to spark a
debate, February 28, 2013, http://www.dailypressdot.com/bradley-manning-justifies-his-actions-by-the-desire-to-spark-a-debate/758357/.