Edward Snowden did himself and our country a profound disservice in releasing a vast amount of confidential national security information. He has made himself an international pariah and created serious problems for our national security agencies that they may never fully rectify. He is a poorly educated, unsophisticated young man who will be a long time coming to grips with the magnitude of his infamous deed.
Snowden sees himself as a whistleblower because he believes our government has gone overboard in data gathering, but he lacks both the wisdom and the standing to make that judgment. Without question, the Department of Homeland Security and its myriad sub-agencies are engaging in aggressive intelligence gathering that would have been unthinkable before 9/11, but we are now in a new kind of war unlike any we have fought before. In a world where legions of fanatics are eager to sacrifice their lives to destroy our most cherished values, we will read their mail and subvert their conspiracies where we can. If government agencies are going too far in this campaign, that is for Congress and the courts to decide, not Edward Snowden.
But Snowden has done us a service in one sense -- he has focused a spotlight on our runaway data gathering apparatus that is producing a flood of information without due consideration of how to handle it and control it. I fought this battle for many years as I led the Signal Corps into the digital revolution. More information is not always better. Like all products, there are various grades of information ranging from misinformation to pearls of wisdom. Unfortunately, we have created transport systems which move raw data at nanosecond speeds to all parts of the globe without much thought to the consequences. We spend countless hours staring at a stream of information coming across our computer screens, but if no intelligent mind has winnowed the wheat from the chaff, it is worse than useless.
And as we acquire more information, we need more people to handle it and thus security becomes increasingly difficult. As an officer responsible for sensitive information, I insisted it be restricted to as few people as possible and I kept a close eye on those people. I relieved officers whose conduct led me to believe they could not be trusted. Today, the Department of Homeland Security passes out security clearances like confetti. USA Today recently reported that 1.4 million people have top security clearances. When you pass out security clearances willy-nilly like that, people like Edward Snowden end up with them.
But there may be a poetic justice in store for Snowden. He said he was concerned that our government is invading the privacy of citizens. At last report he has applied for asylum in Russia. If Snowden thinks out government is intrusive, he will just love Putin's Russia.