Friday, July 5, 2013

Edward Snowden and the NSA

I had breakfast this morning with my friend Paul Bresnahan. Eventually our conversation moved from matters ecclesiastical to Edward Snowden.

I have to confess that the Snowden affair has left me puzzled. I am not at all surprised by the extent of the NSA's domestic surveillance, but I am disappointed. I had hoped that the President would not continue the policies of his predecessor and I have some faint hope that now there will be some serious discussion of these surveillance programs. Faint hope only because it seems that there is little interest among members of Congress, many of whom want to have hearings on just about anything - perhaps hearings on the President's golfing could be next.

I am puzzled mostly about Snowden himself. He violated a promise he had made when he went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton and rather than take his knowledge of how vast the surveillance program to a member of Congress or a major news organization here, he went to China and shared the information with an English newspaper. Daniel Ellsberg, to whom Snowden has been compared and who has made some supportive statements about Snowden, first took the Pentagon Papers to a member of Congress and only then went to the New York Times. Then he waited to be arrested. Perhaps, as Paul suggested at breakfast, news organizations here now lack the courage they had then, but I don't think so.

As puzzling as Snowden's decision to go to Hong Kong, his decision to release details of US spying on the Russian President was even more puzzling. Was it motivated by spite, by a desire to embarrass President Obama on the eve of his meeting with President Putin? While our knowing more about the domestic surveillance programs may serve a useful purpose, what useful purpose is served by our knowing about spying on world leaders? Many of us assumed it was happening, and that other governments were gathering as much knowledge as they could about ours. Having it confirmed by Snowden serves no purpose.

I hope that Snowden will find a way to return home. I even hope that the Justice Department will help make that possible by showing some leniency. I don't want Snowden to live out his days as a man without a country.

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