Too little, too late?
Some are making political hay out of Edward Snowden's bold admission this past weekend that he is the leak behind the bombshell reports of massive government spying on American civilians.
CNN and the Huffington Post have joined with an unlikely ally in Drudge Report and other right-wing outlets to froth over the news, while the New York Times is left on the sidelines as its arch-rival, the Washington Post, relishes its role as co-breaker of the story, along with England's less-reputable Guardian. Today, the Times appears to be in full pout mode, bending over backwards to give President Obama - and, by extension, Republicans George W. Bush and New York Representative Peter King - the benefit of the doubt regarding spying as a legitimate anti-terrorism tool.
Bush's presidential cabinet crafted our country's post-9/11 scramble to detect and thwart attacks against the homeland, and King, from suburban New York City, symbolic locale of America's front line on homeland terrorism, serves on the Homeland Security Committee in the House of Representatives.
And indeed, many Americans still seem unable to reconcile the need (we've been told we have) to give up certain privacies for freedoms (we've been told are) under ever-increasing threats. While small-government Libertarians have been quick to seize upon the blatant - and bloated - unconstitutionality within which PRISM and other secret data surveillance programs appear to operate, we've known since President Bush's deployment of the Patriot Act that a brazen exploitation of Fourth Amendment rights against unwarranted searches and seizures was taking place somehow, somewhere in our nation's vast security apparatus. We've known that our online privacy is nil, and that we're all sitting ducks for personal identity thieves, let alone government cyber-sleuths.
Still, getting what looks like confirmation that our government doesn't even bother to obtain search warrants anymore, and that media brands we all use every day, like Verizon, were forced to participate in such scheming, suddenly makes the matter seem far more urgent and palpable.
And the level of trust even some liberals have struggled to maintain with Washington seems to be evaporating in front of our eyes. For many other Americans, whatever trust they used to have has long since evaporated, and today, they're simply more angry and cynical than ever before. Not just towards Washington, but the part of corporate America that depends on farmed-out espionage and national security that today, contractors do more of than civil servants. The multi-billion-dollar-annually company Booz Allen Hamilton, for example, the contractor for whom Snowden briefly worked, earns approximately 98% of its business from Uncle Sam.
Boo, Booz Allen! What part of your free enterprise is free?
Indeed, perhaps just as stunning as the scope of these programs are, if Snowden's accusations are accurate, and as brave as Snowden's whistle-blowing may prove to be, the blithe acquiescence to and participation within these security programs of legions of government bureaucrats, politicians, and employees for contractors like Booz Allen may represent a new low in greed and arrogance.
If a high-school dropout with only a junior college diploma could work at Booz Allen for three months and learn enough about what he perceives to be such a massive threat against personal liberty, imagine how long and hard other people have labored knowing even more than Snowden does, and kept their mouths shut - yet their wallets open. Didn't any of them struggle with personal angst over what they were doing? How many other employees on these top-secret programs balked at something that they considered too unconstitutional, and were either cajoled back into complicity with bonuses, or forced to resign under punitive penalties for talking to the press? Snowden has told the Guardian and Post that he realizes he may never see America again as a free man, and he fears for his family's safety, now that he's spilled the beans.
Then, too, part of me wonders if he really has spilled any genuine beans. He was only on this job for three months - how much did he see, or have access to? Doesn't it seem somewhat curious that after the Obama administration has been hit with a series of scandals, such as accusation that the IRS asked for telephone and e-mail records from conservative non-profit applicants, this story would break out in the open? Is this simply more proof that the Obama administration can't manage national governance, or is Snowden a sacrificial lamb designed to throw the press off of even bigger fish out there waiting to be fried?
Meanwhile, some politicians still want to claim that the government needs to treat everybody as a suspect in order to find the big bad terrorists. It's kind of like the Transportation Security Agency has mutated across Capitol Hill. We've grumbled for years now about whether assuming all passengers are carrying bomb-making material until being proven otherwise risks being unconstitutional. Now, if the government is demanding our phone data wholesale, without a search warrant for particular suspects, are we once again being treated like we're all potential terrorists?
If you don't understand why gun-rights advocates bristle at even more gun control laws, now maybe you can.
If you don't understand why welfare advocates bristle at drug screening for welfare applicants, now maybe you can.
Might this latest scandal be the meeting point at which liberals and conservatives begin to see some common objectives for our society? Or might our society collectively shrug its shoulders as the public consternation over Snowden's story dies a slow death in the face of whatever scandals are coming down the pike? After all, it's been one bad revelation after another so far for this administration's second term. And voters get jaded quickly these days.
Whatever happens, nothing can alter the fact that billions of bytes of our personal information has been compiled and processed by our government, and has already been stored for who knows what other purposes. According to Booz Allen, Snowden's actions represent an egregious violation of company policy, but considering how Snowden's "violation" was for what he thinks is the good of our country, what's to stop other employees from committing more nefarious "violations" for their own gain?
Or indeed, the nefarious gains of our own government?