Edward Snowden is by far one of the most controversial figures of 2013. The National Security Agency contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton turned whistleblower sent shockwaves through the international political scene with revelations of NSA data collection programs whose purposes range from tapping global leader’s phones, collecting billions of phone calls, emails, and text messages, to covertly spying on millions of Americans.
There is no way to determine how many documents pertaining to US intelligence agency’s actions Snowden obtained, due to the NSA claiming widely disparaging numbers. One NSA contractor claims that Snowden stole a mind-numbing 1.7 million documents, while NSA Director Keith Alexander says the number is around 200,000. Either way, Snowden still has access to thousands of US state secrets and likely has every intention to release them.
Now that it has been revealed to what extent that the NSA and wider US intelligence community has sought to usurp the 4th amendment rights of American citizens, it is time to discuss another controversial facet of the Snowden affair. It’s time to bring him home. So he can be embraced as a patriot, not thrown in jail as a criminal.
The fact that we are now able as a free society to debate the overreach of the NSA’s domestic spying program is the reason why Edward Snowden should be granted clemency, and permitted to return to the United States. The entirety of the bulk data collection programs we have all been reading about since the summer operate exclusively outside the view of the public and with absolutely no congressional oversight. Are they legal? Technically. But the NSA and the Bush and Obama administrations have taken laws like the Patriot Act and totally warped them into a cancer upon American civil liberties that belongs in George Orwell’s 1984.
Let’s look at Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is the catalyst and justification of all of the mass data collection programs. The text is available here.
SEC. 215. ACCESS TO RECORDS AND OTHER ITEMS UNDER THE FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SURVEILLANCE ACT.
Title V of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1861 et seq.) is amended by striking sections 501 through 503 and inserting the following:
`SEC. 501. ACCESS TO CERTAIN BUSINESS RECORDS FOR FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE AND INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM INVESTIGATIONS.
`(a)(1) The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director (whose rank shall be no lower than Assistant Special Agent in Charge) may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.
So, Congress passes the law, the Executive uses the law to gather intelligence, and the Judicial Branch polices the actions by reviewing each case to gather data on a target. Sounds totally legal. Here’s where the problem arises.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court responsible for oversight of government requests to collect data on targets in the United States approves the surveillance requests every time. Since the War on Terror began, there have been over 15,000 requests to the FISA Court. Ten applications have been denied. Ten in 11 years. That’s 0.00067% of government requests denied to spy on targets in the United States. That isn’t oversight, it’s a sham.
But wait! The Senate Intelligence Committee is informed on actions of the NSA and other intelligence gathering programs! That’s how our representatives stay informed! Yeah, tell that to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). Here’s how National Intelligence Director James Clapper answered one of the people in charge of staying informed on government surveillance activities:
He flat out lied. To one of the only members of Congress responsible for oversight of the Intel community. There are many calling for his prosecution. Maybe Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is right he says James Clapper and Edward Snowden should “share a jail cell,” since they both broke the law.
Critics of Snowden will argue that he didn’t follow proper channels in getting the information of perceived abuses of government power. What should he have done otherwise? Go to a superior? Boom, security clearance gone pending termination and possible prosecution. No information gets to the public. So what’s his next move since following the chain of command in his company with a complaint is out of the question? Go to a congressional leader? Perfect! Let’s use Senator Wyden as an example since he would likely be one to be for the release of this information. He’s not legally allowed to release any of it. Let’s go back to another part of our good old pal Section 215 of the Patriot Act:
`(d) No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.
And… checkmate. No one is legally allowed to disclose information on data collection techniques as outlined in the Patriot Act. Snowden is still prosecuted and imprisoned for divulging classified information. Since Snowden worked for a private company, all laws regarding federal whistleblower protections do not apply to him. Game over.
Finally, the press. The Washington Post was approached by Snowden, but the UK’s Guardian eventually ran with the story. There was no where else for him to go with information. If there was a more proper and respectable channel for Edward Snowden to have let the US public know its constitutional rights were being violated on such an obscene level by the NSA, please leave a comment below.
Edward Snowden fled the United States because he was going to be imprisoned for being what equates to a political dissident. He left behind a job in Hawaii with a six figure income. He had his assets frozen. He became an international fugitive. He gave this information to the public as a gift. United States citizens are immune to unlawful searches and seizures. Our government doesn’t care about the 4th amendment anymore because it’s not convenient. These freedoms do not exist at the convenience of the federal government. Edward Snowden did his duty and shed light on intrusive abuses of government power the administration would rather have left in the shadows. For that, Edward Snowden is a patriot.