Arlington VA January 3, 2014
For better or worse, the debacle surrounding the National Security Agency (NSA) is out in the open, due to Edward Snowden and others, and much of the conversation is not very pretty. You can take whichever side you wish in the ongoing debate, but one this is certain here--people are beginning to want to know in greater detail what their government is doing in this Cyber Age.
We have not had a similar debate since Daniel Ellsberg and the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers back in the 60s. Even in those days, the populace was split, despite the ongoing opposition to the Vietnam War. Then, people were concerned about HOW the government was manipulating the public, through the press mostly, and some who seldom cared about the Government were outraged by what they saw on the news, and read in the papers. Some called Ellsberg a traitor, and others a whistleblower and hero. The Justice Department, which tried beforehand to stop the release and publication of the papers, was viewed in much the same way the Holder Justice Department is held today.
Those who considered Ellsberg a traitor said so loudly. Unfortunately, the opposition to the Vietnam War was so virulent that their voices were lost in the larger sounds of anti-war rhetoric. Those old enough can remember days when the reported casulaties were actually larger than what we are currently experiencing in totla inAfghanistan, and larger as well than those in Iraq. In the end, the papers were published, Ellsberg was released, and he continues to be public figure--though seldom seen--unless something such as the Snowden Affair rise to the public eye.
Flashing forward, the Snowden Affair is a bit different, but, at the same time, analogous to Ellsberg. Both worked for contractors--Snowden with Booz, Allen Hamilton, and Ellsberg with the Rand Corp. Both were young idealists who thought they had a mission, and they pursued it. Both claimed to high ideals and loyalty to their country, and saw their duty to bring information to the public. Were they right? That's for you and history to decide.
The issues are slightly different. Ellsber's information related to how the Government, particularly the White House, was managing information on the Vietnam War. Snowden decided to release information on how the Government is using the USA Patriot Act as a means of doing massive data collection, much without either public scrutiny or approval from the commercial sources involved, and claiming that this helps National Security.
Again, decisions on guilt or innocence are not the topic here--it is the tremendous national debate which resulted from Snowden's disclosures, and whether or not that debate should even be occuring.
On the pro-debate side, it is clear that a large number of people are upset that their personal data may be at risk of government intrusion. On the pro-security side, a similarly large number of people are afraid that stopping the actions of the NSA may contribute to incresed terrorist activity, and less-effective national security. It is not time yet to decide which side is correct, but it is the time to continue the debate on the continuation of freedom in the United States.
Part of the problem here, perhaps a large part of the problem, is the lack of understanding of the issues, or the concerns on either side, on how to achieve security for the American people, which requires some level of monitoring by the Government of those who potentially could cause harm here. That is, and should be, the thrust of the debate. people have a right to know what the Government is doing, at least in broad brush, to secure their safety, and prevent other 9-11 disasters.
The Government, in turn, needs to heed the concerns of the people--it is the people's Nation, not Washington's--and the people's voice on their level of comfort and security must be included in any debate on overall national Security.
The most important thing is that a debate is surely occuring--and it should continue so that the Congress, the President, and the National Security people heard THE PEOPLE'S voice loudly ,and not simply assume that someone in Washington has all the answers.