The Christmas Season is finally here, that festive time of eggnog and good cheer, where "it’s better to give than to receive."
OK. Scratch that last one, for at least two big constituencies would strongly disagree.
1) Children, since there’s nothing better than ripping open presents after interminably waiting for Santa.
2) Every country on Earth, all salivating at receiving the mother lode of U.S. government intelligence operations, courtesy of Mr. "Secret" Santa himself, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
At first, Snowden’s actions — exposing the NSA’s massive domestic spying operations — merited him a big Christmas gift, but as the extent of his security breeches become known, he deserves nothing but coal and a jail cell.
The scope of Snowden’s actions, and ultimately who received what information, may never be known, but it is clearly the largest exposure of intelligence secrets in history. Like most stories that garner huge attention, however, many of the major points are being overlooked in favor of juicier, albeit less important, angles. Worst of all, actions are now being contemplated that should not even be on the table, from amnesty for Snowden to severely curtailing U.S. intelligence capabilities.
Let’s review the situation:
1) The NSA is wrong to spy on Americans without probable cause. Period. It is unacceptable that the agency hacked into (or outright demanded) the private data of phone carriers, Internet providers and search engine companies for domestic intelligence-gathering activities. If government agencies need information related to an individual being investigated, they should use the proper — aka legal — channels to conduct their operations. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court (FISA) was established in 1978 for just that purpose.
Trolling through millions of records of law-abiding citizens, just because the agency has the capability, should unequivocally be a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s unreasonable search-and-seizure provision. And it’s unnecessary, as FISA courts are highly effective: In 33 years, only 11 of 34,000 FISA warrants were rejected.
Ironically, there’s significant doubt that the NSA’s domestic spying efforts are even productive. Just this week, a federal judge, in stating that the NSA’s actions were likely unlawful, concluded that the government didn’t cite a single instance in which the program "actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack," according to the Associated Press.
When our government becomes as intrusive as those we fight, it’s time for major changes. So let’s recap — no more unregulated domestic spying.
2) For everyone and everything else, it’s fair game. There should be no restrictions — none — on intelligence-gathering operations conducted outside the United States. And that includes even our staunchest allies.
It is dangerously naïve to believe that our friends will always do the right thing. Self-interest and greed are powerful motivators, and can quickly erode the integrity and common sense of otherwise reasonable people.
Because national security and the lives of millions hang in the balance, the NSA must always adhere to a "trust but verify" approach, achieved through 24/365 surveillance and eavesdropping operations, not just on the bad guys, but everyone.
If it didn’t engage in such operations, we might never have known about the individuals, companies, and yes, friendly governments, that have jeopardized global security by deliberately violating treaties and laws. A good example is those who have secretly helped build Iran’s nuclear program.
And just last week, numerous entities, from Ukraine to the Philippines, were nailed by the U.S. for violating sanctions placed on Iran. That type of information doesn’t come out of thin air, but from aggressive, hard-nosed spying, both human and electronic. Any changes in how we collect and share intelligence as a way to mitigate international fallout from the Snowden leaks would be disastrous and should be resisted at all costs.
3) Hey allies — stop whining! So you got spied upon. So what? Deal with it, but at least be honest. You spy on America, or at least attempt to, on a regular basis. You’re just not very good at it.
Don’t get your underwear in a twist because we’re so much better at it than you. Of course, our status as world leader also makes us your protector, not because we have to, but because it’s the right thing to do. Much the same way that America saved you — and all of humanity — by winning two world wars.
Since no one ever looks to China to save the day when things get dicey, how about this? If any country steps up and fully takes over America’s place on the world stage — militarily, economically, politically — entirely on its own, we’ll stop spying on you.
What’s that? No takers? Well then, maybe you should stop pouting over the NSA listening to your phone calls and eavesdropping on the unfathomably exciting G8 Summit conversations.
The lesson? "Mr. Ed" (Snowden) notwithstanding, don’t kick a gift horse in the mouth.
How Edward Snowden, (a contractor, not even an NSA employee), was permitted access to so many classified documents is something that needs thorough investigation, as well as why his computers were configured to hide his movements.
That aside, had he exposed the domestic spying operations only, one could make the case that his actions were rooted in patriotism and liberty. But he didn’t.
Instead, he has put the security of the world in serious jeopardy, and without question needs to be held accountable and brought to justice.
And that would be the best present of all.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]
About the Author
Chris Freind writes a weekly column for the Daily Times. Reach the author at [email protected] .
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