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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shifting the Blame

A couple days ago, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, former director of the NSA and CIA, wrote an op-ed for CNN suggesting that Edward Snowden is not only a traitor, but the worst of any in U.S. history. He names three potential harms caused by Snowden: (1) that by learning how the NSA gathers data, it will change how our enemies communicate; (2) economic harm to American companies that provided information to the NSA; and (3) erosion of confidence that America can keep anything secret. Hayden concludes:
The appropriate balance between liberty and security has bedeviled free peoples, including Americans, for centuries. But it takes a special kind of arrogance for this young man to believe that his moral judgment on the dilemma suddenly trumps that of two (incredibly different) presidents, both houses of the U.S. Congress, both political parties, the U.S. court system and more than 30,000 of his co-workers.
Let us be clear here. The NSA, FBI, CIA, White House, Congress, etc., created this problem because of their overreaching on gathering intelligence. If they had followed the letter and spirit of the 4th Amendment, rather than whatever twisted meaning they have given it (which interpretation is still secret), this would not have been an issue.

But let's look at Hayden's specific allegations.

First, he contends that it has changed how our enemies communicate. However, it has been noted that the Prism system disclosed by Snowden is not useful against sophisticated targets, but only the dumbest of terrorists (or the public). Either the government has been lying to us about the sophistication of terrorists, or its lying to us about the impact of Snowden's revelations. However, it is certainly changing how potential targets of industrial espionage are reacting. I believe Hayden's real fear is not what Snowden has leaked, but what he might leak about just how far the government has gone in surveilling us, including recording our movements and people with whom we associate.

Second, Hayden contends that it will harm those companies that provided data to the NSA. Probably true. Many of those companies broke the privacy laws of various countries in which they were operating, and may face legal sanctions. Like any other business based on information, these companies rely on customers trusting them to safeguard data. The fact that they cannot be trusted will harm them. But it was sheer arrogance to think that such huge data mining operations could forever remain secret. Snowden didn't compromise these companies--the NSA, CIA, FBI, White House and Congress did.

Third, Hayden claims that it erodes confidence that America can keep anything secret. I would have thought the politically expedient leaks from the White House and senior Administration officials and Wikileaks mess would have already made that clear. However, the real trust issue here isn't that the U.S. can't keep secrets, but that the U.S. can't be trusted to NOT spy on everyone. Again, it wasn't Snowden that jeopardized trust in the U.S., but the intelligence agencies and senior government officials that approved these activities.

What I find interesting is the paragraph I quoted. For instance, Hayden wrote: "his moral judgment on the dilemma suddenly trumps that of two (incredibly different) presidents, both houses of the U.S. Congress, both political parties, the U.S. court system and more than 30,000 of his co-workers." Is Hayden suggesting that Bush and Obama knew and approved the extent of the data collection going on? Also, does he seriously believe that Congress debated this issue? "When surveillance programs are secret and the government lies about them, it is hard to have a debate about their value and their compatibility with civil liberties." Or that the FISA court (which is basically a rubber-stamp) represents the Court system? What about the moral judgment of the American people?

And then there was this: "The appropriate balance between liberty and security has bedeviled free peoples...." Read that again. Hayden is admitting that the issue here is not spying on our enemies, but domestic spying. Spying on the American people.

I would suggest that it is Hayden and those like him that are the real threat to our national security. After all, Snowden is not the one violating our Constitution and Bill of Rights on a daily basis.


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