This summer, any weekly reel of headlines about Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency should have served as an embarrassment to the very idea of integrity in public service under the national security state.
No sooner did President Obama facilely assure the American people that the government was not listening to our phone calls, or the NSA's Gen. Keith Alexander and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (chair of the "oversight" Senate Intelligence Committee) make broad assertions about a legally correct bureaucratic record on surveillance, than new revelations from official documents -- as reported in three major newspapers -- undermined the probity of government at the highest levels.
Public lies were -- and are -- patronizingly peddled from the White House down. Do they take us for fools? The president often appears to be a captive audience for the Director of National Intelligence and his latest briefing in a sealed-off area of public policy. No one has been sacked for runaway surveillance programs. Each branch of the government covers the backside of the other. In another historical context, impeachment would definitely have been on the table.
NOTE: Under Article II, section 4 of the Constitution, the president, vice president, and all civil officers of the United States are subject to impeachment and removal from office upon conviction for treason or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
In the world at large, people have been debating whether Snowden is a traitor or a patriot. But that question has to be secondary to those suggested by Andrew Bacevich of Boston University: To whom do intelligence civil servants and contractors owe their loyalty? To the state or to the Constitution? They do not equate. To the national security bureaucracies that employ them, or to the citizens that the state is supposed to protect? They are not identical, by a long shot.
Our leaders have continued to circle the wagons in the dragnet/manhunt for Snowden, trapped in their own webs of secrecy and conspiracy theories. The very culture of the national security state is under assault. The "iron triangle" of the White House, Congress (witness Feinstein's severe case of clientitis), and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, is under siege. Many careers are at stake. The government's authority has been placed in jeopardy. "Protecting the homeland" can serve as a smokescreen, in the "company town" of Washington.
To put it bluntly: In their zeal to debunk Edward Snowden, President Obama has lied; Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein has lied; the Director of National Intelligence, Gen. James Clapper, has lied. The national security state is drowning in its own phlegm.Consider the lead conclusion of the latest blockbuster story in the New York Times (following a trail blazed by Bart Gellman in the Washington Post and Glen Greenwald in the Guardian). According to "N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web," NYT, September 6, 2013, the NSA has been -- and is -- using trickery and bullying
By stealth, it has inserted its "backdoor" to compromise encrypted systems. This is often done in cozy "collaboration" (as in fellow traveler) with the most popular Internet companies.
to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age.
As a country, we are at a critical crossroads in the tense struggle over liberty versus security. If Snowden is a traitor, then he is my kind of traitor.
Having served in key positions in both the legislative and executive branches -- with high-level compartmented clearances -- the above is a difficult conclusion for me.