In a well-orchestrated effort to get ahead of the story, this week the Obama administration released a trove of secret information about domestic spying and the rules of how the domestic phone records may be accessed and used by intelligence analysts.
And yesterday, the president met with congressional leaders to assure them that the secret NSA programs would be adjusted. But, the administration efforts failed miserably in heading off the growing outcry and only raised more questions than they answered.
Too little, too late.
Even as senators debated the program, The Guardian published a 32-page presentation, downloaded by Edward J. Snowden, that describes a separate surveillance activity by the agency. It gives NSA analysts access to virtually any Internet browsing activity around the world -- data that is being vacuumed up from 150 foreign sites.
But what is absolutely maddening is that this same administration, pushed by Republican right-wingers, continues to protect its anti-terrorism flank, its hard defense credentials, by vengefully punishing whistleblowers like Pfc. Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden who revealed inconvenient truths to the American public.
What they don't understand is that whistleblowers are essential to freedom of the press and freedom of the press is essential to democracy. After all, the role of investigative journalists is to publish things that the government does not want published.
Surely, we must all agree that the classified materials released by Snowden and Manning includes information that we citizens deserve to know. The classic definition of whistleblowing is: a person who exposes misconduct, alleged dishonest or illegal activity occurring in an organization.
We send troops around the world, and we need to know if they are acting in an immoral way and if they are representing the best of American values.
Americans need to know when our soldiers, in a helicopter, flying 1,000 feet up, casually massacre a dozen innocent Iraqis and killing two Reuters reporters for no cause, nor real suspicion, and then joke and laugh as if it were playing a video game. This is the tape that Manning revealed to WikiLeaks.
Is the crime that Manning committed worse than the murderous slaughter of innocent civilians by American soldiers?
We need to know that all of our phones, mail, emails -- everything we do day-to-day are being recorded and stored somewhere, accessible by tens of thousands of NSA workers.
Is revealing this unlawful spying really the horrible crime that it is being made out to be? Or is the spying itself the more villainous act?
Domestic spying, secret laws, secret courts and secret judicial rulings are un-American. They go against everything that every soldier who died "for this country" was fighting for. The public's ability to hold their government accounts is only possible if we know what the government is doing.
Spying against ordinary Americans is evil, immoral and odious. It's as if Obama doesn't understand the service and sacrifice these two brave, young, loyal Americans have provided our county.
"They who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety," said Benjamin Franklin.
The debate between liberty and safety is an important, long-standing conversation. But, if the administration had its way, it wouldn't even be necessary to have this conversation now. It's only because of the acts of civil disobedience by Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning.
It is ironic that the president now admits -- in a change of heart -- that this is an important conversation to have. Yet, he continues to persecute those very people who have brought the discussion about.
Snowden should be welcomed back to the U.S. as a hero (we certainly shouldn't let him stay in Russia for a host of reasons). But instead, he is being reviled as a traitor -- ironically, by the very people who are calling for Congressional action on the basis of his revelations.
Our government's first and greatest priority is to protect us from being taken over by forces that would turn America into a police state. How ironic that the greatest threat to our liberties may now be coming from the government itself?
A few random acts of terrorism are not going to destroy what America has been all about, but taking away our liberties and leaving us under a dark blanket of censorship -- which wiping out whistleblowers will do -- threatens to erase many of those qualities that have made our country truly exceptional for so long.
Freedom is precious and fleeting for most citizens on this planet, a concept that is well out of reach for most peoples.
America is one of the few places on the planet where it has rooted freedoms, and Americans have been lucky and vigilant -- for the most part -- about protecting these freedoms. But, we are at a critical point in history where technology has made the unthinkable possible, and easy. All our secrets will be known. Are we all to be judged guilty until the government says otherwise? Just because one has nothing to hide doesn't mean that everyone should be open to mass scrutiny.
There is no doubt that future historians will judge Snowden and Manning -- and the other whistleblowers that Obama has prosecuted -- as heroes, as most of the world already does. These two young men sacrificed comfortable lives and good careers and even personal freedom to keep this country free and open and honest. That is, unless the NSA and their fellow travelers win, in which case future historians will probably have to say whatever the government wants them to say, lest they be accused of giving our enemies comfort.
Freedom of the Press is the Civil Rights issue of our time! Federal Courts have increasingly treated whistleblowers -- which freedom of the press relies on -- as suspect. The repercussions of attacking the press will be far reaching.
But unless we have Freedom of the Press, freedom for whistleblowers and respect for the Fourth Amendment's right to privacy, democracy will have a hard time thriving.
I fear we are falling into the hands of ungoverned and uncontrolled police state bullies who lie and exaggerate. By what preposterous logic is informing the American public about it's government's wrong --- doing is aiding the enemy?
We need more whistleblowers -- more true, blue, patriotic Americans like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning -- not less. We need to fight for our Constitution and Democracy while we still have the memory of one.
By defending the secret rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Obama administration rejects the bedrock principles, which make democracy possible.
There cannot be freedom of thought without a right to privacy. The secret rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, by their very nature, undermine the confidence of the American people in the lawfulness of their government and discourage democratic participation.
Congress needs to step up to the plate and demand the transparency, accountability and oversight needed to guarantee a robust defense of the 4th Amendment right to privacy. The Obama Administration and the 217 members of the House who defended the secret rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are all on the wrong side of history!
Our government has gone astray and is belatedly trying to rationalize its actions with propaganda and pretexts to hide lawless behavior.
Why haven't the NSA officials that lied to the Senate and the public been charged with perjury or lying to Congress?
Secret law cannot be allowed to exist in a democracy, and a secret law exemption must clearly spelled out publicly. It is all too easy for the government to use the pretext of national security to covertly interpret laws as desires, shielded from public disclosure and from judicial review.
Thank you Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning for your service to your country. Without your disclosures, all this material would have stayed hidden away from the American public and Congress.