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This weekend Edward Snowden, a low-level employee who worked for a major defense contractor, came out to the press and acknowledged that he was the source of the leaks behind the National Security Administration's controversial spy program. The negative reaction to these revelations of the past week have been swift and strong from average Americans, some elected officials, and tech companies who have been named as participants in the NSA's data gathering scheme. In the end though, none of this will matter.
Snowden, a 29-year-old high school dropout and former technical assistant (i.e. an IT security guard) for the CIA and employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the nation's premier defense contractors, has moved from obscurity to the new front-page star of every major paper the world over. How you ask? By shining a light on some more than disturbing intelligence gathering processes undertaken by your federal government. This story of a low-level employee with high-level clearance pulling a Julian Assange-like move on the feds has brought the fire of hell down upon the Obama Administration.
With Snowden's striking revelations of the last week, the American intelligence community, the political establishment in DC and the heads of major Internet service providers have been thrown into PR overdrive as they clamor to dodge responsibility and move to DEFCON 1; damage control mode. Some members of Congress are calling for investigations, others are saying that the program works so stop all your griping and Senator Rand Paul has said he will challenge this all the way to the Supreme Court.
This is yet another scandal for an administration already besieged by questions of its data integrity, bias and Chicago-style political retribution. Once all the clamor of this NSA issue dies down, once America moves on to the latest Kim Kardashian news and England begins talking about the impending Royal baby, policies and procedures at the nation's top intelligence agencies won't change.
We've already seen members of Congress speak in favor of the program, regardless of its controversial nature, saying it is a lawful program and it works. It has led to actionable intelligence that may have stopped terrorist attacks, or so they say. President Obama said that he welcomes the debate on this issue and members of the intelligence community have called for the leaker to disappear, something that very well may have encouraged Snowden to come forward now. There have also been murmurs that Snowden may be a Chinese spy and this whole PR blitz is just part of the show.
Make no mistake, all of that will lead to the defense of this program within the halls of Congress.
Many of the major decisions affecting our lives are made behind closed doors in Washington, a fact that the American people are learning more about by the day. When I worked on Capitol Hill I was amazed by just how much influence closed door meetings of staffers, members of Congress and government officials had on the policy and procedures of the US government. There is no doubt that members of the intelligence oversight committees in both houses of Congress knew about this program. There is no doubt that senior staff in Congress and throughout the ever expanding bureaucracy knew about it as well. Those are the people who helped craft this spying effort and those are the people who will help it continue, no matter the public and media pressure.
Many of these officials are probably chuckling right now as they watch everyone up-in-arms over a program they have been steering for years without notice. They know it will have no impact on their jobs, no hit to their funding and will be nothing more than water under the bridge in a matter of weeks.
Is it right for us to accept this as standard practice in the modern age of intelligence gathering? Should we acknowledge the reality that digital snooping is easier and more cost-effective than the on-the-ground infiltration methods of old and therefore more acceptable, less egregious? No, absolutely not.
Is it right for the federal government to monitor your every online move or telephone conversation with, and this is the truly disturbing part, the assistance of private companies that provide the backbone of this country's communication infrastructure? No, absolutely not.
We should expect our government to find the proper balance between security and preserving civil liberties, something that this program undoubtedly proves they have not done.
Will this explosion of doubt and anger from the front pages, dinner tables and social media feeds of the American people really matter though? Will it truly jeopardize the future of this program? On Coffee and Markets this morning, our resident tech security expert, Francis Cianfrocca, answered that question when I posed it to him with a one word answer; "No."