The deep state likes it that way – the deeper the better, away from prying eyes, insolent questions, democratic digging. All the more alarm then when one of its own, Edward Snowden, released droves of classified material showing that the National Security Agency, center piece of the deep state, was unlawfully spying on millions of Americans – phone calls, emails – and using the information for political purposes.
Unforgivable. Snowden landed in Russia to avoid arrest under the rarely used Espionage Act, a relic of World War One. But President Trump may be forgiving. He says he is considering a pardon, and a US. appeals court has ruled that NSA’s mass surveillance is unlawful, as Snowden insisted. A few adventurous office holders have made a similar pitch. It could be good politics at a time of excessive acrimony in the U.S. Then, too, the President, himself an outsider, may have some affinity for another outsider like Snowden.
Not that he was an outsider at NSA . He was well integrated into the community and valued for his internet wizardry. He liked his job and had enormous ambition for the internet until he witnessed its misuse under the management of longtime NSA chief Keith Alexander who asked in some frustration: “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?” That confirmed Snowden’s fear that NSA was determined to erase all private communication in the U.S, maybe in the world. It would be a vast extension of human power, he said, without accountability – the antithesis of democracy.
Beyond that, how useful was it? A flood of facts from “all the signals” are difficult to put together in any meaningful way. Failure to connect the dots led to the surprise attack of 9/11. Bits and pieces of information had been on hand but not collated. When asked how many terror attacks had been averted by NSA, Alexander could come up with only one doubtful example
Snowden has been criticized for not going through proper channels before becoming a public whistle blower. But experience argued against it. One after another, previous whistle blowers had got into serious trouble for challenging policies however misguided. As a Congressional staffer charged with oversight of NSA, Diane Roark took her concerns about domestic spying to every official she could think of. To no avail. NSA Director Michael Haydn defended his program on the grounds that “we had the power.” While she was suffering from breast cancer, the FBI raided and ransacked her home. Refusing to plead guilty to any spurious charge, she was finally left alone with tattered body and reputation.
Snowden has asked the President to pardon other whistle blowers currently under fire, but Trump supporters remain divided on how to handle him. Neocon Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he should be executed for treason, while Republican Representative Matt Gaetz calls for his pardon. Coincidentally, Snowden’s antagonist, former NSA boss Alexander, has been named to the board of prospering Amazon. The issue of freedom vs. secrecy is very much alive.