Do you ever find yourself trying to reconcile with your environment? That is where I am now with regard to national security and reaction to leaks and programs designed to protect against terrorist threats.
In 2010, Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks organization got themselves on the world stage by publishing large volumes of classified documents, many provided by Pfc. Bradley Manning, USA, an intelligence analyst. At that time, and since, both Assange and Manning have been held up as villains by some and as heroes and whistle-blowers by others.
In May of this year, Edward Snowden, a computer analyst hired by Booz Allen Hamilton to work on U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) programs, leaked massive classified data to the British newspaper The Guardian concerning NSA intelligence-gathering programs. Again, Snowden is a traitor or a hero, depending on whom you talk to. A recent USA Today poll found 55 percent of Americans felt Snowden was a whistle-blower and hero.
The government continues to address these massive leaks, their implications to national security and the changes to law that may be needed. In the Manning case, the administration consistently has been determined to prosecute him for treason and aiding the enemy. On July 30, USA Today reported on its online front page with the headline, “Manning verdict redefines meaning of traitor.” While the military court ruled that Manning was guilty of a number of the charges, including parts of the Espionage Act, he was found not guilty of “giving aid to the enemy,” the most serious of the charges, because the prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had “a specific intent to aid or assist the enemy.” Legal analysts now are saying that Congress should review the Espionage Act in light of the pervasiveness of technology and its new role in warfighting and terrorism.
The Snowden case is more confounding because it is entangled in the balance between security and privacy. This debate has been fueled by a huge amount of misinformation. In the leak of information to The Guardian, Snowden initially leaked only information that tended to support his allegation that the NSA was illegally monitoring U.S. telephone and Internet traffic. Details since have been released that clearly point out that the Section 215 telephone data collection involves metadata only, and that is placed in a “lockbox,” or secure repository, that can by accessed only under court order when sufficient cause has been shown that terrorist activity may exist. Even then, no content is stored or released.
This program was proposed by the Bush administration; passed into law by a strong majority of Congress; renewed by the Obama administration; and is overseen by the court. Section 702, which deals with the collection of foreign Internet traffic, has similar controls. Studies conducted since the beginning of this debate show that the United States has much stronger controls over such collection than other countries in the world, including those in Europe.
It is baffling that many members of Congress—the same Congress that overwhelmingly approved the original programs and their renewal—came out in public against these programs before the facts were fully known. Members of Congress who have been fully informed on the programs, such as members of the intelligence oversight committees, have stood steadfastly behind the programs, saying that all the necessary controls are in place to ensure compliance with the law.
Many have called for a public debate. I fully agree. But have the debate, get the facts out first and then propose changes if necessary. These leaks have caused tremendous damage to the security of the United States and its allies. Let’s not aggravate that through a knee-jerk reaction.
One fact needs to be absolutely clear: Manning and Snowden are criminals. They are traitors. They were trained and given access to information at the Top Secret/Special Compartmented Information level. They knew exactly what the impact on national security would be when they leaked classified information. They had signed agreements to protect the classified information in their care and were clearly informed what the penalties would be if they disclosed that information. There were legal ways for these two people to report violations if they believed they were occurring. They chose not to take that path. Let’s not appear to validate their actions, or we all will be down the rabbit hole.