USA TODAY US Edition
Real security threat is U.S. war policies, not the whistle-blower
The American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others are launching a campaign this week to get President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden for his 2013 whistle-blowing on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.
There is no question that Obama should pardon Snowden. He should do it because Snowden’s whistle-blowing was a public service in two ways: It revealed the NSA’s domestic spying, and it showed U.S. citizens how their tax dollars are being spent in overseas wars — without giving away much that our adversaries didn’t already know.
Then-Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, noted in 2014 that “the vast majority of the documents … had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities,” but rather “were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures.” Dempsey claimed that it would “cost billions of dollars to overcome the loss of security that has been imposed on us.”
WHAT I LEARNED Military secrets, and not domestic spying, are what the Joint Chiefs found so egregious about Snowden’s leak. And this is where the argument made by Dempsey and Washington’s anti-transparency crowd (including Obama, who has used the Espionage Act to shut down whistle-blowers more than any previous president) has little merit.
As a senior adviser on foreign policy to Rep. Mike Honda, DCalif., I learned that with few exceptions, America’s adversaries are well aware of our military capabilities, tactics and techniques. This was not an “aha” moment for any non-state actor using violence against American assets, domestic or foreign.
One such example can be seen in WikiLeaks. Three years before Snowden’s big data dump, WikiLeaks released the Collateral
Murder video, which shows how U.S. forces gunned down civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters employees. At that time, one of my colleagues felt strongly that this video release posed a serious threat to our national security. WikiLeaks was in the wrong, in his view, not the Apache helicopter gunmen and their callous reaction to the moment. (“Look at those dead bastards,” one says. “Nice,” says another.) While my colleague’s perspective is not atypical of Washington’s security establishment, the assumption that our adversaries would see this video as fresh ammunition against America is deeply naive.
Opponents of our militarized foreign policy know exactly what’s happening on the ground and in countries we’ve invaded. Al- Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula or Houthis in Yemen, for example, know all too well that the U.S. is supporting military attacks that have decimated hospitals and killed innocents.
No leaked video footage would increase American insecurity. The damage is done in the deed. Not the retelling of it. FACE OUR AMORALITY The only way a video could pose a security threat is by turning Americans against their government because they don’t want their tax dollars being used to kill civilians or collude with foreign autocrats. All of this is happening with little outrage. Rather than admitting our amorality, it’s easier to shun the messenger.
The same goes with Snowden’s intelligence dump. In fact, few of these leaks present new information in the general sense. Site specifics, yes. Overall trends, no.
Those who wish to do harm to America already know that our Defense and State departments weaponize, finance and train violent governments and non-state actors yet look the other way when those same U.S.-supported warlords, rebels, dictators and autocrats engage in indiscriminate killing, maiming, trafficking and displacement of their people.
Our covert tactics are not new. We’ve been employing them for decades, directly and indirectly. It is these actual U.S.-led operations — not the Snowden data dump that elucidates how these procedures were, in the end, employed or deployed — that are the real threat to national security.
The Snowdens of this world are simply reflecting back to American taxpayers what’s happening. Someone needs to do it because the public won’t hear about it from the presiding administration, from most members of Congress or even the mainstream news media. They’re all busy selling whatever war Washington is waging.
When the White House says Snowden “should come home to the United States, and be judged by a jury of his peers, not hide behind the cover of an authoritarian regime,” let’s make sure that what stands trial is the policies, not the messenger.