Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Josh Fielder's Thoughts on Edward Snowden

Courtesy Oli Scarff/Getty Images

My good friend Josh Fielder asked me yesterday what I thought of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contractor who leaked classified information about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs to the press a few weeks ago and has been on the run ever since. (The feds are charging Snowden with espionage so he’s seeking but not finding asylum.) I told Josh I thought Snowden was a hero who’s obviously not used to being in the harsh spotlight of the international media. Josh disagreed – something that’s rare for us – and shared a persuasive and well-crafted essay he wrote which I’ve reposted here:

Preface: Let me start by saying that I am a former NSA employee and I have never, even remotely, discussed any classified information with any uncleared personnel. I signed an agreement, prior to my working there, that holds me accountable for doing so for many, many years. I think it's a safe assumption that, if anything, the agreement has only gotten stricter since I left the NSA and that Mr. Snowden signed the same type of agreement before he began working for the CIA and NSA as a technical contractor.

The Good: Well, there's not much good to speak of. Unless, of course, you count the fact that because of Mr. Snowden's revelations, people are just slightly more aware of something they'd already forgotten about from over a decade earlier. You see, he didn't really bring any new information to the table. The NSA was tasked with this program (PRISM) shortly after the creation of the Patriot Act and it was brought to light shortly thereafter, analyzed, debated, and then it snuck back into the news cycle and disappeared from our collective short attention span. Governments all over the world have kept an eye and/or an ear on their citizens ever since the beginning of governments and citizens. It's the unfortunate nature of the beast. Now, granted, the program has grown in size, but not necessarily in scope. Over the past ten years, we've had a myriad of other things to occupy our mind and attention, so it's kind of disheartening to think that we, as a nation, have come full circle and are outraged (again) at something we've known was going on for quite some time. Mr. Snowden's 'revelation' that the NSA has been able to tap into our own communications is akin to someone calling 911 as the firefighters are packing up after putting out the blaze.

The Bad: Mr Snowden took it upon himself to divulge classified information to unauthorized personnel. He knowingly violated the law and his aforementioned non-disclosure agreement. It remains to be seen what his actual reasons were. Mr Snowden operated above his pay grade, released classified information and knowingly endangered this country's security. Regardless of his reasons, those are facts. He is NOT being charged with espionage. He is being charged with "Theft of Government Property,”"Unauthorized Communication of National Defense Information" and "Willful Communication of Classified Intelligence to Unauthorized Persons," all of which are things that he admitted to doing.

The Ugly: There are countless civilians and military personnel working in the intelligence community, and yes, I recognize the irony in that statement. There are systems in place for concerned individuals to report things that they think are illegal or immoral. These procedures are explained at your orientation when you first begin working at any intelligence agency, and these procedures have been in place, and utilized, for decades. Mr. Snowden, admittedly, decided NOT to use them. That system exists for a reason. It is not up to an individual person to determine what cats our country should or should not let out of the bag. Example: During WWII, the phrase "Loose lips sink ships" came into the lexicon. That idea arose from soldiers/sailors/Marines and their loved ones discussing departure and return dates through letters and telegrams. Now you may ask how is that a national security risk? Well, if a German intelligence officer intercepted enough telegrams from a certain unit and could see that they were all talking about going home in a month, then he could pass that information on to a field commander and they would know when and where to attack or when to expect a ship full of troops to leave a specific harbor. You see, one person alone cannot fathom the far-reaching impact(s) of revealing classified information. Which is exactly why we don't put all the secrets in one place with one person. One admittedly low level person should not be allowed to determine what is or is not "harmful disclosure."

If he thought what he was doing was so right and just, then why did he have to lie about receiving medical treatment and then fly to a non-extradition country? And to China of all countries? China!? You think the NSA is spying on your posts, texts, e-mails and phone calls so you move to CHINA? China's intelligence gathering efforts make the NSA's programs look like water cooler gossip. And China also uses the information they gather to fuel their anti-human rights campaign. Here's a quote from Mr. Snowden: "I don't want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded." So after saying that, he flies to Hong Kong and then Moscow where he is certainly going to be the most surveilled person on the planet? Let me see if I've got this straight. You don't want to live in a place where you can be spied on so you fly to the two most oppressive countries with regards to privacy and human rights? Seems legit to me.

I'm not arguing the legality of the Patriot Act or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I'm simply stating that the term "whistleblower" does not apply to Mr. Snowden. Whistleblowers affect change by alerting us to wrongdoing from within. Mr. Snowden did not alert anyone to anything illegal or fraudulent. He REMINDED us of something that is – regardless of your feelings on the matter – legal and ongoing and in doing so, quite possibly endangered the lives of men and women all around the world, including here at home. I will refrain from calling him a traitor because that word has connotations of evil and a wish to harm one's country, and as I have stated before, his real intentions have not been made clear. I will say this: while not a whistleblower, in my opinion or by definition, he is a reckless and careless individual who should be brought to trial for the actual crimes he committed.

Although I’m less trusting of the “systems already in place” than Josh, he changed my mind about the “hero” label. If the information that Snowden – who’s indeed being charged under the Espionage Act – shared had been new and he hadn’t signed a non-disclosure agreement, I might insist on the “hero” moniker. But I’m now convinced that this is just another media-overblown distraction in the same category as Paula Deen and Westboro Baptist Church – there may be some merit in referencing it but it's not worthy of constant coverage or friends becoming enemies.

Josh is the one on the left

Josh, 38, is a Virginia native who served in the U.S. Air Force at the NSA for six years. The son of a sheriff’s deputy, Josh is a single father of two teenagers who collects Facebook pals like I collect parking tickets and promotes social, political, economic and environmental change in his spare time.

1 comment:

  1. ecussins@yahoo.comJuly 4, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    As an ex U.S. Navy Cryptography Tech, I too worked for the NSA and had a higher than Top Secret background check. I have agreed with Josh from the beginning. It took almost a year for my clearance and I have been wondering how this guy got his clearance in the first place.