This is an interesting month. Who would have imagined that the right and the left could share anything in common but it has come to pass. Those on the right are celebrating Edward Snowden’s release of intelligence collection secrets because it exposes the Government’s collection of massive amounts of information on its citizens. While those on the left, who want the world wide web to remain completely unmonitored, view this as bringing to light the secret courts the administration runs to gain warrants to secure information they would rather keep private.
The Government has secrets; if you’ve watched the Nicolas Cage movies National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets you must be aware the government does not tell everyone everything. If they did then they wouldn’t be secrets now would they?
There are some things we need to keep secret, and they should not be shared. We live in a dangerous world and to survive in that world we must be able to make hard choices, have a candid discussion, look into the threats and determine their capabilities, or develop countermeasures to stop them, so as to provide the nation with a range of viable options. For example, in World War II we had the Manhattan Project where we brought the best scientists and engineers together to solve the problem of nuclear fission, and create the first atomic bombs. The President thought this so important a secret he didn’t even tell the Vice President about it.
Then there are things the Executive Branch keeps secret because they would be embarrassed if knowledge of the activity were to become known. For example, between 1946 and 1948 Dr. John Cutler of the US Public Health Service infected Guatemalan sex workers, mental health patients and criminals with syphilis to see if penicillin was effective as a treatment. This is the same official who later led the Tuskegee experiment where African-American men in Alabama were infected, but untreated, to observe the effects of the disease.
Finally, there are specific abuses of office that the Executive may try to keep secret to avoid the political and perhaps criminal ramifications from them. We need look no further than the Watergate scandal of the early seventies, Iran-Contra of the 1980’s, or the Lewinsky affair of the 90’s, to see the impacts when those secrets were revealed. Which brings us to this present day.
Thomas Paine, writing in Common Sense said, “A government of our own is our natural right: And when a man seriously reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance.”
Following his advice our founding fathers proceeded to declare independence from England, and upon the end of the war set out to establish a government to unify the colonies. Ultimately leading to our Constitution; built on a realization that government exists because of the trust of the people, and that power must be shared or we would soon fall into the problems of Europe where monarchs ruled, as if it were their right directly from God.
We are a government that is based solely on the support of its people, although many selfish politicians and bureaucrats would believe otherwise and have, whenever allowed, furthered their own selfish interests. There are also those who would sell out this government for their own interests.
Usually they will claim some esoteric or morally righteous reasons, but at the end of the day all of them come down to a selfish act. We can trace that lineage back to General Benedict Arnold, who perhaps felt the sting of indignation over the way the Congress had dealt with him. Along the way we had the civil war where commissioned officers felt their loyalty to the state was stronger than the oath they swore to the Constitution. Then there were the communists of the 20’s and beyond. The Rosenberg’s sold America’s nuclear secrets to the Russians, and John Walker and his son turned over top-secret US Navy codes in the 1960-80’s. There have been dozens of other American’s who have sold their country down the river.
So we come to the question of Edwin Snowden, who some believe to be a hero, and others a traitor. Unless we can know what kind of secrets we are dealing with, either a legitimate use of technology within the restraints of the US Constitution or an abuse of power, how can you even begin to debate him as a hero or traitor?
This is yet another example of how adversarial politics has poisoned the ability to seek the truth. At this time the whole issue is wrapped in shades of gray for me. As each side jockey’s to blame the other, and the Administration once again attempts to blame the past administration I wonder how long this story will remain in the news. But for the record, when one man holds himself above the law his actions are not noble and worthy of praise, no matter the outcome.