Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 21, 2014

Snowden Belongs in Jail; Congress Needs to Hear the Truth

What are people thinking?

How can only 54 percent of Americans (according to a Pew/USA Today poll) think that Edward Snowden should be prosecuted for leaking some of the government’s biggest secrets in the war on terrorism?

Even fewer, 43 percent, support criminal charges, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll.

Snowden technically has not committed treason; he hasn’t purposefully given aid and comfort to an enemy in a declared war. But he’s certainly stolen valuable government property and violated laws against unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Whether they are criminal offenses, he’s hurt his country’s effort to “connect the dots” in chasing terrorists and, to boot, has alleged that the U.S. conducts cyber-war operations against China, giving that regime an opportunity to undercut U.S. efforts to get it to stop systematically stealing intellectual property from any U.S. enterprise it can hack into.

I think he should spend a long, long time in jail.

If it were up to me, I’d also have him flogged for exaggerating the ability of a Booz Allen contract employee to read anybody’s emails, including the president’s. Fortunately for him, it’s not up to me.

Now that he’s done his damage, however, it’s important for Congress to revisit the Patriot Act, National Security Agency surveillance procedures and the operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to make sure they are doing what they’re supposed to, and can’t do what they’re not supposed to.

So far, there’s no indication of misuse of any NSA program. As President Barack Obama said Tuesday (a lot later than he should have) “this is not a situation where we are rifling through ordinary emails” of American citizens. Neither is the government listening to their phone calls without court permission.

But Congress does have to make sure barriers are strong against Richard Nixon/J. Edgar Hoover politicization of the surveillance program. And it has to find out why the government can’t protect secrets better.

Not all of Congress’s inquiries into all this can be done in public — but as much as possible should be.

In the meantime, there’s no reason not to have public hearings into the vast system of privacy-invasion by the private sector — Google, Facebook, etc. — at least to inform people how much information they are giving away and how it’s being used.

The funniest comment I’ve seen since Snowden spilled was from Richard Cohen in the Washington Post: “Google, I’m convinced, is the new Santa Claus. It sees you when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.”

Congress, if you can trust it do to anything right these days, should at least mandate a way for people to easily opt out of Google’s identity theft and sales system. Right now, it’s more pervasive than anything the NSA is doing.

  • truthseeker53

    Snowden did the people of this country a service. He gave the government a black eye. Even the stupider sheeple are now beginning to smell the rats. One who gives up freedom to gain “security” deserves neither. If what they are doing worked there’d've been no marathon bombing. The war on terror is a farce.

  • Imre Beke

    I understand the position being taken by those who want to see Snowden prosecuted. As a defense hawk myself (I despise pacifism, non-interventionism, isolationism, etc.), I have always placed a great deal of importance on defending the American People from attack.

    However, there is a major flaw in the argument made by people who are angered by Snowden’s actions, including Mr. Kondracke. They speak up for the efficacy of the program. That is a problem because we do not live in a society where the ends justify the means.

    Prior to any valid discussion of how effective the program is, we must first have a definitive conversation about whether or not it is Constitutionally, morally and ethically permissible. If it fails with regard to any of those factors (especially the first one), the issue of effectiveness is moot. Whether or not an anti-Constitutional program (or even a program whose Constitutionality is being widely questioned) is effective is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

    Thus, the discussion of effectiveness and results needs to be tabled until the more important question of Constitutionality is resolved. In this case, we have sincere questions about the Fourth and possibly the Fifth Amendment. We also have to questions whether classifying a program which might yet turn out to be illegitimate is an acceptable curtailment of the First Amendment Rights of Snowden and others in the intelligence community. As the world decided after World War II, orders which violate basic human rights are not legitimate and are to be disobeyed at every turn. The same should – arguably – apply to intelligence classifications which serve primarily – or even partially – to hide programs which likewise contravene human rights. And if the PRISM program is shown to be contrary to Constitutional Freedoms, it violates human rights by definition.

    Finally, we have the issue of power. We know that knowledge and information are power. When the Government amasses incomprehensibly vast piles of data on American citizens, that gives them increased power over us. Whether or not the data is being used today, if can be used in the future. The situation might be different if there was an expiration date, if the data were to be wiped after three months or six months or a year. There is no such expiration date as far as we know. The Government just keeps on building its horde of information gold. By doing so, it continues to grow its potential (and perhaps actual) power over us.

    Lord Acton is famously known for having said that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    At what point do we decide that the Government’s collection of data and its attendant growth in power has gone over the line of acceptability, that it must reverse course? At what point do we recognize that the corruption such power brings poses a fundamental and significant danger to the People of the United States? and Many sincere Conservatives – including defense hawks like myself – are convinced that we passed that point a very long time ago. In our view, no matter how effective programs like PRISM are, they are nowhere near worth the cost in terms of erosion of Constitutional Freedom. Indeed, our own Government has surpassed the point at which it is – in the long term – every bit as dangerous to the People as our foreign enemies are.

    Then again, our Founding Fathers long ago warned us that this would eventually take place. We just have not been smart enough to take note and act to prevent it.

  • Jeremy Sprague

    Government spying IS terrorism. The US shouldn’t fight terrorism with terrorism.

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