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Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the New York Times reported on Sunday, “have renewed a longstanding concern: that young Internet aficionados whose skills the agencies need for counterterrorism and cyberdefense sometimes bring an anti-authority spirit that does not fit the security bureaucracy.”

Agencies like the NSA and CIA -- and private contractors like Booz Allen -- can’t be sure that all employees will obey the rules without interference from their own idealism. This is a basic dilemma for the warfare/surveillance state, which must hire and retain a huge pool of young talent to service the digital innards of a growing Big Brother.

With private firms scrambling to recruit workers for top-secret government contracts, the current situation was foreshadowed by novelist John Hersey in his 1960 book The Child Buyer. When the vice president of a contractor named United Lymphomilloid, “in charge of materials procurement,” goes shopping for a very bright ten-year-old, he explains that “my duties have an extremely high national-defense rating.” And he adds: “When a commodity that you need falls in short supply, you have to get out and hustle. I buy brains.”

That’s what Booz Allen and similar outfits do. They buy brains. And obedience.

But despite the best efforts of those contractors and government agencies, the brains still belong to people. And, as the Times put it, an “anti-authority spirit” might not fit “the security bureaucracy.”

In the long run, Edward Snowden didn’t fit. Neither did Bradley Manning. They both had brains that seemed useful to authority. But they also had principles and decided to act on them.

Like the NSA and its contractors, the U.S. military is in constant need of personnel. “According to his superiors . . . Manning was not working out as a soldier, and they discussed keeping him back when his unit was deployed to Iraq,” biographer Chase Madar writes in The Passion of Bradley Manning. “However, in the fall of 2009, the occupation was desperate for intelligence analysts with computer skills, and Private Bradley Manning, his superiors hurriedly concluded, showed signs of improvement as a workable soldier. This is how, on October 10, 2009, Private First Class Bradley Manning was deployed . . . to Iraq as an intelligence analyst.”

In their own ways, with very different backgrounds and circumstances, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have confounded the best-laid plans of the warfare/surveillance state. They worked for “the security bureaucracy,” but as time went on they found a higher calling than just following orders. They leaked information that we all have a right to know.

This month, not only with words but also with actions, Edward Snowden is transcending the moral limits of authority and insisting that we can fully defend the Bill of Rights, emphatically including the Fourth Amendment.

What a contrast with New York Times columnists David Brooks, Thomas Friedman and Bill Keller, who have responded to Snowden’s revelations by siding with the violators of civil liberties at the top of the U.S. government.

Brooks denounced Snowden as “a traitor” during a June 14 appearance on the PBS NewsHour, saying indignantly: “He betrayed his oath, which was given to him and which he took implicitly and explicitly. He betrayed his company, the people who gave him a job, the people who trusted him. . . . He betrayed the democratic process. It’s not up to a lone 29-year-old to decide what's private and public. We have -- actually have procedures for that set down in the Constitution and established by tradition.”

Enthralled with lockstep compliance, Brooks preached the conformist gospel: “When you work for an institution, any institution, a company, a faculty, you don't get to violate the rules of that institution and decide for your own self what you’re going to do in a unilateral way that no one else can reverse. And that's exactly what he did. So he betrayed the trust of the institution. He betrayed what creates a government, which is being a civil servant, being a servant to a larger cause, and not going off on some unilateral thing because it makes you feel grandiose.”

In sync with such bombast, Tom Friedman and former Times executive editor Bill Keller have promoted a notably gutless argument for embracing the NSA’s newly revealed surveillance programs. Friedman wrote (on June 12) and Keller agreed (June 17) that our government is correct to curtail privacy rights against surveillance -- because if we fully retained those rights and then a big terrorist attack happened, the damage to civil liberties would be worse.

What a contrast between big-name journalists craven enough to toss the Fourth Amendment overboard and whistleblowers courageous enough to risk their lives for civil liberties.

Originally posted to NormanSolomon on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 08:01 AM PDT.

Also republished by Headwaters.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This is really a fight between old people and (5+ / 0-)

    young people.  It is the same fight we had during the 60's and 70s.  Young people are completely open with their lives, they have nothing to hide and don't see why the government should be hiding so much so they expose it because they can.  It has always been thus....nothing new here.  You know Snowden is right because Dick Cheney is against it.  Where were these guys when Cheney and his goons outed a CIA operative during wartime.  Talk about treason....

    •  The Old People of today (0+ / 0-)

      were the young of the 60's & early 70's.  Most of them are voting for Republicans, supporting tax breaks for the wealthy, denying women the right to choose, denying food to children, the indigent and elderly.  They were right, don't trust anyone over 30.

  •  Mr. Solomon (6+ / 0-)

    Thanks for your contribution and insights here. I did not know you were a Daily Kos diarist. It is great to see you engaging us here and participating in the community.

    I've found the rush of big-name journalists throwing Mr. Snowden under the bus to be a very curious phenomenon. If we had a healthy press, of course, would they be doing the same thing?

    And why is the best reporting on this story coming from foreign newspapers?

    So much of this seems to be a pronouncement on media culture in the U.S. I would hope that the New York Times would be aggressively shining the light on secret government activity -- especially where it appears to come into conflict with basic human rights.

    Instead, I see wagons circling around the issues.

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 08:17:13 AM PDT

  •  Yeah, what's a poor spy-master to do? (4+ / 0-)
    Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the New York Times reported on Sunday, “have renewed a longstanding concern: that young Internet aficionados whose skills the agencies need for counterterrorism and cyberdefense sometimes bring an anti-authority spirit that does not fit the security bureaucracy.”
    Only a matter of time till they resort to mind-control drugs and holding hostages from the families of "young Internet aficionados" to ensure obedience.

    s/... maybe.

    When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

    by PhilJD on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 09:18:14 AM PDT

  •  As an old system designer, I have long been (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OldDragon

    fascinated with the problem of whistle blowing and the rogue insider who substitutes his judgment for the judgment of his "superiors."

    The conflict has been played out many times over the years and it never seems to get solved. The solution is obvious but I have never seen it discussed or even proposed.

    There are many organizational (system) problems with our government and many other institutions, and they share a common solution. The Athenians solved it long, long ago and their solution would work perfectly now.

    The problem is republicanism versus democracy. We live in a republic which requires that a small group of elites be in control of everything. Won't work. Democracy, on the other hand...

    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

    by hestal on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 09:25:16 AM PDT

  •  Any idea... (0+ / 0-)

    ...that constant monitoring is beyond the parameters set by the law goes totally without notice.  Sigh.

    I'm not always political, but when I am I vote Democratic. Stay Democratic, my friends. -The Most Interesting Man in the World

    by boran2 on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 10:18:31 AM PDT

  •  So, Brooks denies judgement of Nuremberg. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gfv6800, David54, OldDragon, aliasalias

    David Brooks flat-out denies the validity of the decision at the Nuremberg trials that individuals are morally culpable for their actions even if they are "just following orders".

    What.an.asshole.

  •  Brooks Friedman can go fu*q himselves. (0+ / 0-)

    I have no use for what they very predictably say.
    However, when all the facts are out, Snowden may not turn out to be the "nice guy" with integrity that he's billing himself as.
    What really bugs me the most is the "private contractor" angle in this whole story. I wonder how long it will be before we find out that collection agencies, etc. are gaining access to these supposedly "national security" resources.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 11:13:34 AM PDT

  •  asdf (0+ / 0-)
    - because if we fully retained those rights and then a big terrorist attack happened, the damage to civil liberties would be worse.

    Isn't this also the argument for chained CPI?  We gotta do bad things or else we'll do worse things later.  

    Bad things aren't bad! And anyway, there's mitigation!

    by Nada Lemming on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 03:48:38 PM PDT

  •  We have to eliminate privacy rights in order to... (0+ / 0-)

    ...save them:

    Friedman wrote (on June 12) and Keller agreed (June 17) that our government is correct to curtail privacy rights against surveillance -- because if we fully retained those rights and then a big terrorist attack happened, the damage to civil liberties would be worse.
    Wow. Just. Wow.

    Tell you what Thomas: Suck. On. This.

    Obama is the Chickenshit-in-Chief for failing to stand up to Republicans on all their phony scandals, from the "beer summit," to Van Jones, "death panels," Shirley Sherrod, contraception, Benghazi, and the IRS.

    by expatjourno on Thu Jun 20, 2013 at 11:05:48 AM PDT

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