Who’s The Traitor?

Despite a Congress that seems unable to function we can still count on its members to issue forth with unsettling remarks from time to time. Their hands may be tied by their unwillingness to cooperate, but you can’t tie their tongues. Unfortunately. The latest profound utterance comes from House Speaker Boehner:

House Speaker John Boehner today called NSA leaker Edward Snowden a “traitor” who put Americans at risk by releasing classified information to the media.

“He’s a traitor,” the highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said in an extensive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Boehner endorsed President Obama’s characterization of two programs, which allow the NSA to gather information about phone calls made in the U.S. as well as information on foreign suspects collected from major internet companies, as critical to the government’s ability to fight terrorism. He said that there are “clear safeguards” built into the programs to protect Americans.

You may recall that Snowden is the man who decided that it was in his country’s best interest to know what sorts of shenanigans their government is up to. And from what we read more revelations may be forthcoming. The man is consequently regarded as a traitor by this hard-line Republican who apparently knows what constitutes loyalty to one’s country — even though he is part of the contingent that has brought government to a virtual halt and seems to be bound to party, rather than the common good.

There are several problems with this story, of course. We might begin with the fact that this Republican leader is siding with a “liberal” Democratic president — strange bedfellows, indeed. Only a tad stranger is the fact that Democrat Dianne Feinstein has joined Boehner in calling Edwards a “traitor.” Talk is cheap.  If only they would cooperate on such vital issues as the economy and climate change. But more important is the fact that this sort of comment by Feinstein and Boehner clouds the issue of what constitutes true patriotism, loyalty to one’s country. When one is privy to information that one is convinced his fellow citizens are better off knowing — such as information about what their armies and navies are doing in the name of “Iraqi freedom”  — as in the case of Bradley Manning — or, as in this case, what their government is doing in the name of “national security,” then they feel a responsibility to tell what they know. And this despite the fact that they know they will be pilloried by people like John Boehner. Or they might even be court-martialed as is the case with Manning.

It is a tough call to determine what sort of information should and should not be made available to ordinary citizens who are probably better off being shielded from most of the ugly things the government is forced to do. And it may turn out, as Matt Miller suggested in a recent story in the Washington Post, that Snowden has a private agenda and is simply “indulging his precious conscience.” But as a general rule I tend to side with those who show the courage of their convictions and are willing to suffer serious consequences because their “precious” consciences demand that they do what they regard as the right thing. Given the stench that so often seems to come our way from the halls of government, one suspects that this country can withstand the fresh air that has been sent its way by the revelations about phone-tapping in the name of national security. Is it indeed the case that our nation is not secure? Really? After all, who is it exactly we fear? One senses that our leaders, not to mention self-styled “centrist” journalists like Matt Miller, are becoming a bit paranoid.


14 thoughts on “Who’s The Traitor?

  1. Well said!

    I don’t think he’s a traitor, either – unless we learn something new and unexpected. He seems to be a person following his principles at great personal cost to himself.

    “Leaker who is admired for putting his notion of the public interest ahead of his official obligation or oath is called a whistle-blower; the same individual, viewed from inside, is called a fink, and is pursued vainly by plumbers.”
    – William Safire

  2. Of course, Google knows more about us than anyone. I do think we need the whistleblowers to make sure we have open, honest debate about what is going on. While we are told there is oversight to protect us, we would not be having this conversation if it were not for this airing of the issue. Very little seems private anymore. If it is on a server somewhere, it can be found, read and used. Good post.

  3. Can not a case be made that Boehner, et al are traitors, is putting their party ideals above their constitutional duties?

  4. Hugh, I agree with you wholeheartedly. We have to side with the man who has decided to risk a great deal to act on his conscience. It is an amazing thing.

    Also, there’s no way, given the American experience and our tendency to use all sorts of material against political and policy opponents — going back to John Adams and the Alien and Sedition Act — that we can simply take the Justice Department or the NSA at their word that all’s hunky dory with the handling of the data. Not just national security data, but all of the data — personal, private business, political/business/marketing strategies, etc.

    It is important to consider that because this program and systems supporting are so huge with about 1 million people having the security clearance to access data, phone calls, e-mails, etc. (how is that really “security” when you think of it?) there is a great potential for someone who did not have Snowden’s conscience to use this information in so many harmful ways I doubt we can barely begin to imagine them.

    Some have said it is an overreaction to concerned that there’d be abuse of the data. I don’t think so. With so many people having access to things it is not hyperbole to think that serious breaches of all kinds are within reach. Corruption, misuse and abuse of people’s private information has long been commonplace among big companies and government. This mushrooms it: Too many people with access equals too many opportunities for abuse.

    And it’s not just national security that is at stake. It is not a big leap to think of some low-level employee more interested in money or ambition than Snowden who would be tempted with a fat bribe to sell trade secrets obtained from an e-mail or phone conversation to a pharmaceutical giant, agribusiness giant, electronics/telecommunications firm, even a Hollywood studio looking for advanced copies of a rival’s script treatment.

    We know many examples of unethical behavior that have happened without this big new tool (insider stock trading, the insider dealing in the sale of the corn plant in Marshall that led to local farmers winning a lawsuit against ADM, corporate espionage/theft of trade secrets, even big-company efforts to thwart protesters against everything from power lines to horrible, poorly tested new drugs, let alone Nixonian political dirty tricks). Can you imagine the kind of blackmail J. Edgar Hoover would have dreamed up had he had this system? Or the Mob – here, kid, here’s a million bucks, now give us everything you’ve got from the D.A.’s home computers and phone calls. Not only could it happen, it has. Many times.

    And now they do have this tool. There is just too much loose space in this system, in those who run it, for any element of it to be trusted.

  5. Thanks, Hugh! I think I actually worry the most about this info being sold and misused by private interests than I do extensive government abuse. And we’ve already seen that is possible: Snowden, while a former CIA employee, worked for a private company that contracted with the government at the time he leaked the info.

  6. Pingback: A Few More Questions | Views from the Hill

  7. Fine way of explaining, and nice article to get facts regarding my presentation topic, which i am going to convey in academy.

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