Real se­cu­rity threat is U.S. war poli­cies, not the whis­tle-blower

- Michael Shank Michael Shank teaches at New York Univer­sity’s Cen­ter for Global Af­fairs. He has worked on the ground in the Mid­dle East, Horn of Africa, Cen­tral and South Asia and South­east Asia. Be­tween 2009 and 2013, he served as a se­nior ad­viser on for

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.

 ?? MAN­DEL NGAN, AFP/GETTY IMAGES ?? A protester in Washington in 2013 on be­half of NSA whistle­blower Ed­ward Snow­den, who wants to re­turn from Moscow.
MAN­DEL NGAN, AFP/GETTY IMAGES A protester in Washington in 2013 on be­half of NSA whistle­blower Ed­ward Snow­den, who wants to re­turn from Moscow.

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