by Robert Arvay
By now, everyone in America knows about Edward Snowden. Just kidding, of course. Far too many Americans have not the slightest clue about national affairs. Dreadfully few know that NSA stands for National Security Agency, and even fewer have any idea what that agency is, or what it is supposed to do, much less Edward Snowden’s connection with all it.
For those who try to follow the news, even the most informed among us know very little. That is to be expected, of course. The NSA, NSD, CIA and the rest of the secrecy alphabet soup is, well, secret.
To a certain extent, that is as it should be. The government should know things that I do not know. To be frank, the government should probably do things which you and I would both abhor were we to know about them – but there are limits and the big problem, the massive problem, is this: how does an informed citizenry govern itself when it cannot be informed?
This puts us on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, we want our government to know what our potential enemies are up to, so that we can be protected. On the other hand, we want the secret agencies to use their power for legitimate purposes only, and not for political advantage. Presidents Nixon and Obama have both been accused of using the Internal Revenue Service as a weapon to violate the rights of political opponents. How much more serious, then, is the possibility that super-secret surveillance and other measures, can be turned against the American public and not for reasons in the national interest?
Conspiracy theories abound, but there are also legitimate concerns brought about by the fact that high officials in government power are already known to have abused their positions. Even in cases when their intentions are good, the next question that arises is one of competence. How skillful are those who are entrusted with the duty of running our national security apparatus? Can they prevent attacks? Can they protect the innocent?
The track record is far from spotless. The infamous 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon occurred despite numerous red flags that were made public only after the atrocities were committed. Indeed, even six months after, two of the dead attackers were granted visas by the State Department, in a bizarre punctuating event that demonstrated the utter ineptness of those in charge of even the most basic of our protective measures.
More recently, despite the US government being warned of danger by the Russian government, two Chechen terrorists killed and maimed Americans with bombs during the Boston Marathon. Afterward, the FBI was unable to identify the terrorists, until the supposedly “secret surveillance” photographs were made public, and citizens recognized and reported the terrorists.
Most recently, the Edward Snowden affair not only revealed that government officials have brazenly lied to the oversight committees in Congress, but on top of all that, the fact that a low-level employee of a contractor was able to pull off the intelligence heist of the twenty-first century – reveals that despite all the ten-foot-thick steel, front doors protecting our secrets, the back door had been left wide open and unguarded. Snowden was long gone before anyone—anyone – noticed that anything was missing. Who has been held accountable for this staggering degree of incompetence? We hear nothing but lame excuses.
Is Snowden a patriot or a traitor? Personally, I am reserving judgment. People whom I admire, and whose opinions I respect, have given opposing answers to the question. Some regard Snowden as a traitor who undermined American security and endangered us all. Others see him as a hero who unmasked nefarious deeds being committed by officials acting not in the national interest, but for motives other than that.
Of one thing, I am certain, however. If Edward Snowden is to be punished for what he did, then so should the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Snowden may have told truths that should not have been told, but Clapper told lies that should not be tolerated under the rule of law.
Secret courts, and secret hearings behind closed doors, have proved insufficient to ensure that the NSA acts in our interests, not its own. What is needed is an aggressively intrusive, adversarial agency composed of ordinary citizens to investigate even the most secret agencies of government, to open every door, to look in every corner, and to have the power to hold accountable those who abuse our trust.
If We the People cannot be trusted, then what after all, is the point of protecting us?
Robert Arvay is a Contributing Writer to The Bold Pursuit®