Kadner: Sacrificing liberty for security
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org June 21, 2013 9:00PM
Updated: July 24, 2013 6:47AM
Suppose you could cut the murder rate by 50 percent. Obliterate organized crime.
Make the streets safe for every man, woman and child.
And suppose the only thing you had to give up for all of that is your right to privacy.
Listening to some U.S. senators, congressmen and federal intelligence officers the past week or so, it seems they would enthusiastically accept such a bargain.
This debate about civil liberty vs. safety was sparked by Edward Snowden’s revelation that the U.S. government has access to all of our electronic communications.
Snowden also implies that the National Security Agency illegally is wiretapping Americans, but the NSA chief denies that.
But he insists the authority to monitor all emails is essential to protect U.S. citizens from terrorists.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, “It is at times like these when our enemies within become almost as damaging as our enemies on the outside.”
I would say that at times like these our own government becomes as dangerous to our security as the terrorists who threaten the country.
U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “This is called protecting America. People want the homeland kept safe.”
Sure we do. No doubt about that.
But the “homeland” (something about that word sends shivers up my spine) would be much safer if U.S. soldiers were patrolling the streets, and if the FBI and local police departments were allowed to conduct warrantless searches, too.
With video cameras on almost every street corner these days, much of our daily routine (walking, driving or shopping) already is recorded somewhere.
Most Americans don’t seem to mind.
It’s for our own safety, don’t you know.
Snowden, who leaked all over the place about the government’s surveillance program, is now being portrayed as a crackpot, a traitor and an enemy of the people.
His girlfriend, for mercy’s sake, is a pole dancer.
As a newspaper reporter who has dealt with stories that embarrassed the government, none of that surprises me.
For the powers that be, it’s all about dirtying the source of the information, destroying his credibility, distracting the public.
Accuse Snowden of espionage. Anyone who questions the government’s actions is therefore seen as defending him and must be unpatriotic.
But here’s what I always tell government officials who respond in that way to stories that I have broken: “Did my source say anything that was wrong? What, precisely?”
I don’t care if the guy is angry because he was passed over for a promotion, failed to get a pay raise or hates his boss.
The motives matter far less than the accuracy of the information being revealed.
And I have yet to hear anything said that really counters the information Snowden revealed.
The U.S. government feels it should have the power to investigate anybody it considers dangerous with all the weapons at its command.
I never had a doubt that the government asked for this power to protect us from evil.
That’s always the justification in every country where civil liberties have been abandoned.
It’s for our own good. Lives are being saved. The homeland is being protected.
Fear is always the wedge that separates people from their liberty.
I don’t know much about Snowden or his motives, but I do know this:
The 29-year-old who is now called a liar, a traitor and, it is implied, may be mentally unsound, was given a top security clearance by a consulting company employed by the National Security Agency.
That alone proves the surveillance program is badly flawed.
That is what our government itself is confessing to by trying to discredit Snowden.
If Snowden could get access to all these secrets (and no one has denied he had such access), how many other crackpots, incompetents, traitors, schemers and blackmailers have been given the power to investigate the private lives of Americans without proper oversight?
If nothing else, Snowden has successfully exposed the intelligence-gathering program of this nation as deeply flawed and improperly supervised.
The interesting thing about the controversy is how conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats find themselves as torn about the government’s powers to spy on Americans as the public itself.
U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), like Feinstein a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has called for tightening the Patriot Act to limit the government’s powers to spy on civilians.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has said he no longer trusts the NSA because its leaders have lied to him in the past.
I find that sort of skepticism encouraging since legislators are supposed to serve as a check on the executive branch of government, not as cheerleaders.
I am certain that our intelligence agencies have thwarted some terrorist plots over the past 11 years using their ability to monitor electronic communications.
I am sure they have saved some lives.
But it’s up to us, the American people, to decide what risk we’re willing to run to protect our personal liberties.
This country protected those precious liberties even in the face of nuclear attack during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was spending billions of dollars spying on us.
Terrorism poses a real threat to this country. There is no doubt of that.
Street gangs pose a more real danger to average Americans.
And so does our own government’s zealous pursuit of power.
In the end, it will take courage for Americans to protect the freedoms so many have been willing to die for in the past.
If you’re not willing to put up a fight, the enemy (from within or without) will eventually win.