For the time being, we will take the leaders of the intelligence communities’ word for it that these intrusive and invasive programs have yielded invaluable information in identifying and heading off terrorist attacks. Now that the programs are publicly known, we trust that more concrete proof of such information than has surfaced so far will come to light — assuming such proof can be made public without further compromising our security.
And we hope that the same skill and perseverance the intelligence agencies put into monitoring their own country is being applied to cyberespionage and cyberwarfare, and that our intelligence agencies are not sitting idly by while China and other nations continue to steal our trade secrets, product, particularly weapon, designs and financial information. It will take more than just words from the president to persuade China to change its ways.
However, the ease with which Edward Snowden, 29, a civilian contractor, scooped up some of NSA’s most closely guarded secrets indicates an institutional carelessness that shows the security apparatus has learned little, if anything, from the Bradley Manning case.
Manning was the Army private with a troubled past that should have raised all kinds of red flags. In 2010, he allegedly downloaded some 250,000 classified diplomatic cables and 500,000 military war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and turned them over to the foreign-operated WikiLeaks website, an outlet ostensibly devoted to transparency, actions for which he is now rightly standing trial.
Both Snowden and Manning had monumental egos, or else an exceptional ability to rationalize, that evidently allowed them to presume that it was solely up to them to inform the American people what the U.S. government was doing in their name. And in Snowden’s case, especially, they seemed to be able to do so through an almost criminal lack of supervision and controls, resulting in the leaking of information that this country has spent years and billions of dollars assembling.
According to The Washington Post, Snowden said in a video on the British newspaper Guardian’s website: “Any analyst at any time can target anyone. ... I, sitting at my desk, had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I’d had a personal email.”
Snowden’s choice of code name, “Verax,” said to mean “truth-teller” in Latin, indicates a certain amount of ego. And when the Post, the newspaper he chose for a leak, wouldn’t print his purloined PowerPoint presentation in the time and format he had demanded, he took his documents to the Guardian.
Snowden fled his home in Hawaii, and from Hong Kong, where he seems reasonably safe from swift extradition, he pronounced, “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” the Guardian quoted him as saying.
Indeed, he seems to feel he has done the American people a favor, saving them from “massive surveillance.” Perhaps so, but that is not his decision to make, and it is a defect in our intelligence system that he was in a position to do so.