They have – at great personal risk – revealed what we citizens have remained ignorant of: the reach of information technology, intelligence-gathering and database management in the 21st century. They have shown us abuses of military power, mismanagement of diplomacy, and the reach of electronic surveillance into our private lives and civil society.
Even together they’d be cheaper than Booz Allen Hamilton (cost to taxpayers in 2009: $3,748,607,535) or Blackwater Xe (now Academi)
There’s a precedent for hiring them in the private sector too: young people who successfully hack into commercial systems (even illegally) frequently get hired by high-tech companies – sometimes by the very companies they hacked.
At a time when we can’t even agree on background checks for gun sales or food stamps for the hungry
they could be invaluable in helping Congress and the President lead the conversations we must have about the parameters of individual freedom and the common good, about our loyalties to nation and to humanity, about the relationship between liberty and justice, about who should profit from fossil fuels, or suffer from global warming; and about who deserves to be indefinitely imprisoned or killed by drones.
The stage on which world power and politics is being played is now world-wide. No one nation, state agency, multinational corporation or media giant can stage-manage the whole show.
The major players include private for-profit contractors and technologists with skills and reach beyond anything imagined even five years ago. The scripts they are playing have been secret, but basically unprotected from abuse.
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In the past few weeks we have learned that Congress has not in fact controlled the NSA, CIA, FBI, or DIA and that those agencies are contracting out most of our military spying.
Jeff Cohen points out four basic truths about political surveillance: False facts and assumptions circulate widely; Political spying rarely stays on target; Political intelligence is often the opposite of real intelligence; Big Brother flourishes under both political parties.
For example: it is generally accepted that children who abuse animals are more likely to grow up into psychopaths or sociopaths. Should our databases therefore track children for animal abuse? How secure would these databases be? Could an angry neighbor put a false report into the record of a child, or a zealous relative remove an entry? Who should have custody of the custodians? Who oversees the overseers?
Snowden explained to The Guardian: "The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. ... If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards. I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things. ... I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded."
Snowden and Manning are young, skilled, conscientious, and articulate about their convictions; they are looking forward towards what kind of future we want, not backward toward protecting outdated policies and practices. They could spark the conversations we must have if we are to protect ourselves, our neighbors and our planet from endless wars and the totalitarianism of a surveillance state. They could help "We-the-People" to take charge once again.
Manning, Snowden, Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald are merely the vanguard of people of conscience who will come forward to reveal the loss of our basic liberties. Each new generation of whistle-blowers will have better and more secrets to reveal, and will be smarter about revealing it.
It’s a very long shot, but the best option I can see if we want to protect our freedoms, save taxpayer money and jump-start democracy:
President Obama, Congress: Hire Manning and Snowden.