Friday, June 14, 2013

If Ed Snowden is a Hero, we're a Nation Bereft

There is nothing wrong with being young. Nothing wrong with not having a high school diploma. Nothing wrong with being idealistic.  Nothing wrong with distrusting the government if something they're doing doesn't strike you right.

There is something wrong with taking a job so sensitive to national security it requires a solemn oath to keep what you've seen secret, and within three months of your starting date you've already disregarded the oath and have stolen the very secrets you promised to protect.

Edward Snowden, through his top security clearance, had access to our most sensitive materials.  He worked on government contracts assigned to a private contractor--an arrangement common in this country.  Depending on the job, these private contractors are often privy to state secrets.

Candidates for top security clearances are vetted and investigated through a process worked out by the government.  The FBI is involved and, often, so is the CIA.  It isn't an overnight process and any dark mark in the candidate's past can stop the process dead.  At the end of the process, every employee awarded a high security clearance signs an oath and is warned that a security breach is against the law.  They will be prosecuted.  That warning is repeated every six months. It takes time and much footwork to make sure the candidate will live up to such serious responsibilities, and that's the way it should be.  We put our nation's secrets in their hands.  We give them an enormous responsibility and we expect them to honor it.

We've had two incidences in the past few years where young men took it upon themselves to use their clearances to steal classified materials.  (In 2010 I wrote about Bradley Manning in a piece called "Still Looking for the Wikileaks Heroes", which caused a veritable firestorm over at dagblog at the time.  I went back and read it this morning. I believed what I wrote then and I believe it now.)  I wonder how many more wannabees are waiting in the wings, ready to use their high security access to steal more documents?  I can only hope their idealism is coupled with judicious, thoughtful consideration of the implications.  I can only hope they understand what they were told:  that what they're doing is against the law and they will be prosecuted.  Barring that, I can only hope they'll find another line of work.

We are not a country where gulags abound.  Our young men don't disappear into the night because the government fears they will rise up and attempt an overthrow.  We don't have government-led massacres, we don't throw our citizen-dissidents into prisons, we don't punish people for making hateful remarks against the White House or congress.  So far, every prediction about the terrible things the government will do to us if they catch us talking against them hasn't come true.  There is no evidence that our government is coming to get us.

It's chilling to think that these young, untested men are stealing government documents and are picking and choosing which parts of them will be released to the world.  But what's even more chilling is that there are whole factions in this country that so distrust our government they're willing to defend their right to do it. 


  1. We are a country of laws, not men. But it is the men we vote in, and our own activism, that protects this arrangement. The Constitution doesn't protect our freedoms; we protect our freedoms by, among other things, following the Constitution

  2. Peter, we are a country of laws, but we know from past experience that laws are easily broken. if the NSA is doing bad things against the citizenry, we need to be aware of it so we can stop them cold, but I can't condone stealing NSA documents by someone we've entrusted with a top security position. The end doesn't justify the means. We can be activists without being thieves. I think of leaders like MLK, Gandhi and Mandela. Great positive change came about because of them and not one of them condoned criminal activity to get to their goals.


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