Like most Americans I’m totally befuddled by the Snowden affair. A confirmed supporter of open government my allegiance to the people’s right to know is in the DNA. At the same time, I hear the concerns of data privacy advocates. And in the end, it seems to me that this bifurcation of the issue is a false premise at its core.
The best I can do is to identify, ponder and focus on some basic questions.
- Why did Booz-Allen have access to sensitive records of the NSA in the first place? In our enthusiasm for limited government are we abdicating government authority and responsibility in favor of the lowest bidder or, more likely, the favored consultant agency.
- What trusted government process allowed for Booz-Allen to place a callow youth with no relevant experience to guard the data hen house?
- What other clearance do contracted lackeys enjoy?
- What has been the role of the journalists ostensibly selected by Snowden – Glenn Greenwald of the Manchester Guardian and Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman.
- Who/what is the FISA court? How are members chosen? What exactly is the role of the court? To whom is FISA accountable?
- Just how much infringement by the government on individuals is acceptable?
- Whose responsibility is it to assure that government policies and practices stay ahead of the technology?
- Is responsibility for policy being relinquished to geeks?
- How do average Americans know the rules under which our government is operating – intentionally or inadvertently?
- Is anyone outside the Beltway really informed, engaged, responsible?
- How can citizens know the scope of this incident? Or, for that matter, how many citizens know the basics of government intelligence – the players, the policies, the decision-making process, the protections?
- Where is the Fourth Estate in all this?
I’m not as interested in the details of where Snowden’s plane landed or the role of Assange as I am in the Big Picture. I want to know the Deciders, the game, the players, the rules, the oversight, the accountability of the actors to the American people who not only deserve the truth but who also pay the generous salaries of these high-placed Insiders.
For all of the inflated language, posturing and finger-pointing, this incident reveals that the business of governing this nation is a human enterprise. So is the business of investigating, interpreting and informing the public. Given access to information by and about our government we citizens are capable of understanding and acting responsibly. We can and will be responsible for the oversight so obviously lacking in the intelligence community and the free press.
Others will and must have other questions – the urgency is to keep on asking till we get some answers.