National security. Who is watching you?

Edward Snowden, hero or traitor, recently leaked documents to the Washington Post and the British Guardian about the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) secret surveillance program
known as Prism which monitors foreign terrorists communications. A top secret court order requiring Verizon to turn over the calling data of millions of Americans was also leaked by Snowden, a former NSA employee and more recently of Booz Allen Hamilton, an NSA contractor, has fled to Hong Kong declaring that he is exposing the illegal activities of the United States.

President Obama has stated that all of these surveillance programs have prevented terrorist attacks, saving countless lives and are completely legal.

A friend of mine was out of circulation the past couple weeks and I told her about these events. Her response was not that different than many others. She said, “that is what the NSA is supposed to do, spy on people.”  A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center basically confirmed that the majority of Americans supported the NSA surveillance program as a way to fight terrorism.

During the years of the Cold War, we experienced the intelligence community through the lense of Communism and the Soviet Union. When presidents claimed national security as reasons to keep documents from the public, many of us were suspicious due to secret wars and spying on the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War movement.

In Mad Magazine, a humor periodical popular in the 60s and 70s, there was a cartoon “Spy versus Spy.” Two little dark figures just followed each other around everywhere! We romanticized James Bond as a hero who saved the world and got the girl.

And then came the war on terrorism. Not only a war against Al Qaeda but also a war against, the enemy within, you and I.  If we see someone suspicious at the airport, report him!  Never leave your luggage unattended.  At the train station, at the mall, in the neighborhood, in your own home…Terrorists can be anywhere and anyone but we have been convinced to especially be careful of people who look like they are from the Middle East, except Israel, of course.

There are several issues in the leaking of these documents by Edward Snowden. Should the NSA be spying on millions of Americans and teaching other countries to spy on their own people? My answer is a definite no. The purpose of our intelligence community should be the gathering of information for the safety and well-being of all our residents. This does not include what I would consider “a fishing expedition.”  Just because we have the technology to manage and analyze “big data” does not mean we should or need to for national security purposes.

Is Snowden a hero or a traitor? Probably, neither. He should not be identified as “a Benedict Arnold” since he gave no information directly to our enemies unless you believe everyone is our enemy.

As a journalist, I have two important beliefs. They can run in opposition to one another. I believe in the “public’s right to know.” This includes the operations of government and the private sector when the safety and well-being of our communities is at stake. I also believe in the individual rights to privacy.  Both, are in jeopardy in the name of national security.
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