Bearing the Cost of Snowden’s Actions

Throughout the last several posts I have been trying to figure out my opinion in regards to leaking classified information. I was not sure if the costs outweighed the benefits of if the benefits outweighed the cost until I read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. The book goes into detail about why Middle Eastern specifically Muslims that live in the Middle East, often depict Americans negatively. It goes into detail and explains the connection between the hatred of Americans and the events that led up until 9/11. The book talks about the wide time span between the terrorist educating themselves and also planning the attack on American soil. It goes into depth to explain the culture, training, and studying that ensued before the attack. Al-Qaeda had so much time and resources dedicated to this plan that they sent people to America in order to begin pilot lessons. They simply made sure that all of the information that they needed to carry out this attack could happen smoothly. One of the biggest criticisms about 9/11 is how Al-Qaeda handled information compared to the American government.

Americans had two major issues when thinking about information. The first issues is that American’s knew almost nothing about Al-Qaeda because they did not think they were an actually threat. The second issue that Americans had in terms of information and 9/11 was the fact that many government agencies were not able to communicate properly. For example, The CIA was aware that two people that were a risk to American safety were in America, but they failed to share that information with the FBI. Intelligence organizations are often protective of their information because they are not always confident that other agencies will handle the information the way that they want. This again brings us back to classified information and benefits outweigh the cost of vice versa. If government organizations felt more comfortable sharing information then the events that occurred on September 11th, in 2001 could have been stopped. Edward Snowden has impacted our national security in a horrendous way because he was able to access and share information that was supposed to be kept secret. In doing this he has made agencies even more protective then they already are, for fear that other organizations may have a leaker in their office. In Journalism after Snowden, the authors say that “making secret data harder to share also makes it harder to use and thus less valuable” (Bell, Owen, 163). After reading this quote and the book mentioned earlier its clear that our intelligence agencies must have the privacy that they demand in order to ensure our safety. This also means that Snowden did not just share a vital piece of information, but when he released the documents he told the world that America is still trying to figure out how to conduct its services in regards to national security. This inevitable makes America a target.


One thought on “Bearing the Cost of Snowden’s Actions

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  1. I love how you engage with this issue and push yourself to look at it in different ways. I’ll push you a little to interrogate this further.
    1) I think it makes sense to ask whether the CIA and FBI were not sharing information because of a lack of technical ability to do so, a mandate not to, or competition and turf wars between the organizations themselves. If it was either of the latter 2, then the new surveillance does not help. Even if you look at the current moment we have 17 different intelligence services. The four major ones (FBI, CIA, NSA, DNI) all were investigating Russian interference in the election and yet either were not sharing the information with each other or were still unable to prevent it. It is a questionable assertion that adding more surveillance necessarily means there will be greater sharing of information or that action will necessarily follow.

    2) Another important question is whether it is even productive to use mass surveillance. If you are looking for a needle in a hay stack, it does not make sense to include a wider area with additional haystacks. Might there not be better ways to use the surveillance capacity of the state- ones that would be more productive and be less intrusive on the rights of citizens.

    3) Even if one were to grant that mass surveillance makes us safer (and I am actually not willing to grant that), one should ask why the government did so in the manner that it did. If there is indeed a trade off that must be made between liberty and security, the American people had a right to engage in a discussion about the nature of that trade off. As it was, the government engaged in illegal surveillance. They violated the Constitution in order to protect Americans. We are a nation of laws. If those laws are unjust or ineffective, we must change the laws. We may not simply circumvent them. The government may not rewrite the social contract without informing the public that the terms of the agreement have been changed.

    Thus, I would argue that Snowden had few good options. The government was breaking the law because it substituted its assessment of risk for the judgement of the people. Edward Snowden broke the law because he substituted his assessment of risk for that of the government’s judgement. It seems ironic that government should prosecute Snowden for doing essentially what it had done. Both broke the law. But in the case of the government, it violated the constitution itself.

    We can never have perfect freedom and perfect safety. People will naturally disagree on the correct balance. I am arguing mostly for our right to have the conversation (though I am pessimistic about the results of that conversation).


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