Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Edward Snowden: Hero Or Zero?

That was the question of the day on the radio and the official Free Will formulation is (drumroll): "Zero + 2."

The guy's a zero for a lot of reasons, mostly having to do with his deciding unilaterally to release classified information to the leftoid Guardian, a publication that has gone out of its way to undermine America. Then there's his laughable claim that Hong Kong was some kind of libertarian, free speech paradise. Good to know our worldly transnational sophisticates haven't caught up with the news that HK stopped being a free trade entrepot back in 1999. Snowden doesn't talk or act like a patriot, so excuse me if I don't join the "Snowden = Paul Revere" chorus line.*

Still, he gets points for making us confront an ugly reality, namely that the gov't is collecting an enormous amount of personal information about us and our interactions with the world. I get it that the NSA is making use of this information under close supervision and only when there is a probable cause rationale for running our numbers through a database. Other than that, it's just sitting there, inert. No, I don't find that reassuring. Instead, each of us now has a digital sword of Damocles over us, waiting to fall when we run the wrong google search, or receive too many phone calls from the wrong continents. The gov't won't look at you until it does, something that we have learned from the IRS and which we should not soon forget (also note that Mr. Patriot doesn't seem to have been motivated by the IRS's torment of conservatives and Tea Partiers).

But, what Snowden should be making us ask is whether all of this meta-data gathering is the best use of our time and resources. The whole point is to fight terrorism (remember that?) but it's hard to see that the system is working well when we've got a couple yokels from Chechnya blowing up the Boston Marathon without much trouble. We're seemingly spying on true blue Americans (and patting them down in airports) while studiously avoiding the Muslims who are causing all of this trouble in the first place!

There's one way to fight a war against a shadowy transnational guerrilla movement with a deadly ideology: kill as many of them as you can when you can; capture the ones with valuable information and then never let them go; seek out and destroy their leaders, etc. Doing targeted  computer searches of phone records and internet searches makes sense when you are fighting a war in such a manner. We *kind of* did that under Bush - and the left never stopped wailing about  the shredding of the Constitution and the slaughter of innocents in Iraq and Afghanistan. So now we have this new strategy: drone killings from afar and electronic snooping of every American's phone and internet records. Not an improvement.

(And what about the low quality of the folks who are getting top secret clearances so they can work on all of this electronic snooping? It was bad enough that soccer mom Valerie Plame could plausibly call herself a CIA operative, but at least she was getting her hands dirty. Bradley Manning was a gay Welsh 20 year old from Oklahoma with relationship issues. In an earlier era, he would not have been in the army, but in the Obama era, he had a security clearance that gave him access to State Dept. emails. Snowden is a high school drop-out with a naive view of life and freedom in other countries and who donated money to Ron Paul - not that there's anything wrong with that, but a Paul-bot is not the sort of person you would want with top secret clearance.)

Edward Snowden committed crimes and has acted in a way that has hurt the United States. His motives are mixed at best. But, given the expense and low success rate of the intrusive programs he has revealed, it would be nice to see a re-appraisal of what exactly we are doing to ourselves in the name of national security.

* and please don't expect me to appreciate your ability to parse the difference between Snowden and the worm Bradley Manning.

No comments:

Post a Comment