Thursday, June 13, 2013

American Hero, Idiot, or Traitor

Edward Snowden claims he is still an American.  I would like to set the record straight. Depending on which side of the equation you fall--his name is now synonymous with friend or foe.  Is he a defender of liberty or is he a grave threat to national security?  The trouble here is that he is only one American.  In truth, as freedom loving Americans, we all should lean toward liberty and hold every precious liberty we have close to our heart. It is the weight of those inherent leanings, the ones we internalized as children by saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the National Anthem while working out what it means to live in the land of the free, that causes the outside edges of our two party political system to bend back around and actually touch one another. The Libertarian's among us and the card carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union see eye to eye on protecting our liberties.  We all should lean in the same’s the central essence of our American nature.  Snowden got that part right.  The part he forgot about is the the other central tenant to our freedom.  That being the allegiance and secrecy necessary to defend our Country against all adversaries. To be a  full- American you have be both in favor of our liberty and be willing to defend our country as well...not just the liberties.  Secrecy is a central tenant of national security and has been from the very start.  A deep understanding of why seems to be where Snowden went awry and has subsequently betrayed us all.

What Snowden failed to realize is that he is not the only American who believes in liberty.  We all do.  But our liberty is not free.  Our freedom has a cost.  Much blood has been shed in the defense of our freedom...but that's not all.  Some liberties we must balance and adjust with laws that reduce our personal freedoms and don't make everyone.  We all bristle under new laws and if we bristle too much we push back.  Some things must be kept secret.  There are approximately 314 million us who live in the land of the free.  We may work for the Libertarian party, the ACLU, or more likely we work at a company like Booz Allen, or a Google, a Facebook, or any other company that might use telephones or the internet, or perhaps we work for the Department of Defense, or even at the National Security Agency.   We are all Americans and sadly, when someone commits a treasonous act against us, just as sure as the Rosenberg’s delivered the plans for the atomic bomb into the hands of the Soviet Union, our national security is weakened.  How much damage Snowden has done to our security is not yet clear.  That will depend on what other secrets he has yet to divulge and whether or not the vast majority of Americans can understand that he is giving us a snow job.  It has to be that way.  The controversy he is so called kicked off is a non-controversy.  Why? Because our Government isn’t breaking any laws.  Keeping secrets does not connote breaking laws.  It also does not mean our privacy is being violated.  Snowden is fanning the flames of his own misguided views of what constitutes privacy.  His motivations for doing so are far from clear.  However the sooner we straighten this out the better.  

But first, let’s examine the benefits of secrecy for a moment.  Here are a few secrets that were better left secret at the time...

One if by land, two if by sea...that went badly for the British...Paul Revere did not subject that bit of knowledge up for public debate...should it be two lanterns, or maybe three? Let's take a poll.

And speaking of the British, it was the Brits who ran project Ultra which broke  the German Enigma Code during WWII...that went badly for the Germans.  Winston Churchill didn’t hold a debate in Parliament over whether or not they should let their the populous know about Ultra.

Of course the Manhattan Project...which turned out badly for the Japanese...did not try to gain popular opinion by raising the debate over nuclear ethics on the front page of the Washington Post.  Due diligence was given the ethical question of first use, however.  The decision to drop the first atomic bomb was perhaps the weightiest decision a President has ever had to make...not done in the court of popular opinion...but considered deeply.

Ten year’s after we went nuclear, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg delivered plans for our atomic weapons to the Soviet Union...that went badly for the us and continues to do so today...ultimately that went badly for the both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

The F-117 Stealth Fighter... that went badly for the Saddam Hussein.

The NSA program compromised by Ed Snowden...that was going badly for Al Qaeda...let’s hope it continues despite Snowden’s best efforts.

We have lost a large portion of our economy overseas.  Al’ Qaeda is one thing, but we still have a thriving information technology component.  One could argue our economic prosperity is perhaps more important to our National Security then combating terrorism.   We classify secrets to protect not just the military but also other areas of national interest that we would prefer to keep in house.  If we lose Google and Facebook to an overseas competitor as a result of these revelations and a subsequent loss of trust, right or wrong, we will suffer economic damage to our national security.  The more we lose trust in our government, the more our national security is damaged.  The more we let our adversaries know how we are battling against them, the more our national security is damaged. The two are inexorably linked to national security and secrecy will always be necessary. Snowden has damaged both.

Now the biggest problem with Snowden belief that he is trying open  up a national debate is to think that there isn't a debate going on.  He is dead wrong.  There is no need for a new national debate on intelligence and privacy.  The national debate on the what the Government can and cannot collect on it’s citizen’s has been going on for decades and continues every day of the year.  His entry into this debate, by his own hand, demonstrates both his extreme naivete and his extreme hubris.  Rand Paul recently had a similar bout with hubris and naivete when he started a similar debate as he filibustered in Congress over the potential use of unmanned aircraft against US citizens.  How a technology like an unmanned aircraft with a sensor is any different that a manned aircraft with a sensor is beyond me.  Our country worked out long ago it’s position on use of military hardware against the citizenry as we have our position on intelligence collection against our citizenry.  That fact that Snowden had access to networks and technology but not the governing regulations on how it was to be used primarily indicates that he didn’t care about the rules which he believed don’t apply to him.

Here’s a simple analogy that might help explain how misguided Snowden has been in his quest to compromise our national security. When you drive on our Nation’s roads you get to go the speed limit. If you break the speed limit the officer on the side of the road surveilling you with his radar gun is essentially secretly interrogating you to determine what you are up too...he is conducting a search to see if you are breaking the law. He does it in secret because if you knew he was checking your speed, you might slow down.  The same secrecy exists if he was hiding from view behind a billboard or driving in an unmarked car.  Is this secrecy fair?  Of course it’s fair.   These days that surveillance can be conducted automatically by cameras that essentially exist at every intersection. To drive on the road you also have to have your license plate displayed...not to mention county sticker and inspection sticker, etc.  You are telegraphing all of the information that your state Department of Motor Vehicles has on you, where you live, etc.  Your right to drive on our highways means you give up a certain amount of privacy to participate and you have to stay within the law.  If you pass a traffic camera speeding, a traffic ticket will be mailed to your house.  If you are driving a stolen car and your tag shows up on a traffic camera...expect to be stopped and searched and hopefully arrested.  You can’t drink and drive, you can’t text and drive, you can’t transport contraband.  You must wear a seat-belt, your kids have to be in child seats.  You don’t have an unalienable right to drive a car on our roads, it's a privilege.  Believe me, more than anything else, I bristle under the speed limits set in our country...however the laws exist for the greater good of society. Also, it’s a very public endeavor, not unlike going into a shopping mall.  Likewise, as we traverse the information superhighway...or place a enter the public domain.  Your right to privacy is as guaranteed as is your right to open a window and scream’s not.  You’ve got very little right to privacy once you press send on your email or pick up your phone.  

All that being said our country does everything reasonable to assist in maintaining your privacy...even in these public domains...but there is no constitutional right to expect privacy in public places.  Just ask the paparazzi whose careers depend on this legal  “Invasion of privacy”.  What the Government cannot do is target a citizen for collection without cause.  If you’re driving 100 mph away from a bank that has just been robbed...that’s enough cause to stop you and search your vehicle.  I’m going to stop the analogy at this point and you can draw your own inferences from here...what country you might be calling, how many times you call, etc. It’s exactly the same thing.  The analogy, while not perfect, is sound.  There are many ways to expand this analogy to get to the heart of this’s not willy nilly.  It’s always under the watchful eye of a judge...have you ever been to traffic court?  That’s not to say, such a human endeavor can’t be misapplied or abused.  However, if there was widespread abuse, sooner or later there would be reform, at least in a democratic society.  Where are the 1000’s of people who have been wronged by the abuse of this system Snowden speaks about? If there was abuse and the wrongful use of this information it would be easy to spot.  There is no hue and cry because the abuses of this system don’t exist...there has been no abuse of power.  The system is working and by all accounts it’s been effective in the war on terror.  The Government is doing nothing wrong...when I explained this to my teenage daughter she added...the camera’s at the intersection looking for the citizens running the red lights are fine...just as long as the camera isn’t pointed at our house.  Bingo...if she can understand it...the rest of the Country ought to be able to understand it.  This is just the traffic example, but we should also consider the use of surveillance cameras at stores, gas stations, and other public locations.  No body is really sitting watch at those cameras, they are simply collecting data.  If a crime is committed, the first thing law enforcement does, is subpoena  the recordings from those cameras.  Snowden apparently doesn't watch any TV shows either, he must be trapped in what must be the torture of his own mind.

It’s takes incredible arrogance, of mega proportions,  to believe he can be the sole protector of our Constitutional rights.  The same rules Snowden used to justify his actions, opening up the information for public debate, should have been applied ahead of time.  If he believes there should be a public debate on privacy then there should also be a public debate on secrecy and specifically the release of classified intelligence to our adversaries.  He should have consulted all 314 million of us before he broke his allegiance with us.  Having not taken the time to do so doesn’t make him a hero.  It either makes him a complete idiot, whereas he could still claim to be an American, or he is guilty of treason...fleeing to another country however, suggests he is an un-American scum-bag, and like the Rosenbergs, a traitor.