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Manning and Snowden: Necessary Heroes

Most of the debate around Manning and Snowden focuses on what they did and whether they are heroes, traitors, or something in between. 

And that’s exactly the way our leaders want it.

Because that keeps the debate off the fact that our government is spying on us; that the fourth amendment is in shreds; that the degree of government intervention in our lives is not warranted by the nature of the threat we face; and the breakdown in the media coverage of the Patriot Act in particular, and national security in general, made these leaks essential if we are to have a functioning democracy.

Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Our Government is spying on us and lying about it:  After a series of lies by public officials, it is now official  – our government is not simply collecting aggregate information, it is actively spying on individual US citizens, to a degree never practiced in history.  Our phone calls, emails, texts, financial information, web habits – detailed data about individuals -- are being intercepted, collected and shared by the federal government for purposes not authorized by the law.  DEA  (including their top secret Special Operations Division) and the IRS have been given access to NSA data collected under the rationale of assuring national security and protecting us from terrorism.

It gets worse. We have video tape of the head of NSA lying to Congress under oath about the program.  We have the President telling us things that are manifestly  untrue.  These aren’t subtle spins, they are intentional deceptions stated in public and recorded for posterity.

Our leaders are lying to us, they’ve been found out, and yet the press and the pundits continue to talk about the personal lives of Manning and Snowden and whether they are traitors.

Patriot Act, Smatriot Act – The Fourth Amendment prohibits this kind of behavior:  At a time when conservatives are quoting the outdated and archaic Second Amendment at every opportunity they get and using it to justify a national garage sale on assault rifles, it seems preposterous that the press and the American people are blithely unaware that the Patriot Act stands in direct contradiction to any reasonable reading of the Fourth Amendment. Yet check out its last clause:

…. no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Obviously, the founders never meant to allow a random witch-hunt involving hundreds of millions of American citizens performed on less than hearsay.

In fact, it has recently come to light that in 2011, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found that NSA deceived the court and violated the Constitution in the administration of their domestic spying program.


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This same court, by the way, has approved all but .03 per cent of the requests it has received to issue warrants authorizing surveillance.  Something Obama referred to as part of the “rigorous over site” that protects our rights in the application of this illegal law. Oh, and Chief Justice “Citizens United” Roberts has appointed all the current members to the FISA Court.

But hey, pay no attention to that stuff– let’s examine the personal lives, peccadilloes and motivations of Manning and Snowden …

Terrorism is not an existential threat, so why are we sacrificing freedom to defend against it?   It is axiomatic that our response to threats and risks should be proportional.  That is, we should not give away more money, freedom, or opportunity than is warranted by the nature of the threat. For example, we don’t let the fact that some 33,000 people a year die on the road make us ban cars.  Nor do we let the 30,000 plus people a year killed by guns cause us to ban guns.  

So why do we hand over long-cherished and hard fought freedoms so cavalierly to prevent a threat that historically has only killed about 220 a year? 

Yes, we should confront terrorism, and intelligence and good policing has proven to be the most effective way to do so.  But it does not warrant gutting freedoms American men and women have fought and died to protect.

The press’s malfeasance threatened democracy – Manning and Snowden’s acts remedied that.  Here’s the deal.  Americans were – and to some extent still are – profoundly ignorant of how completely these programs usurped their rights and violated our principles.  This isn’t a failure of citizenship alone.  It is a failure on the part of the press to report on or investigate things they thought would be unpopular or bad for business.  Just as the press’s cowardice allowed us to be deceived into the  Iraqi War, so too did the press’s failure to inform the people about the profound and illegal changes embedded in the Patriot Act enable government to snatch away long-held freedoms. 

Manning revealed the brutality and ineffectiveness of our wars of occupation, and Snowden revealed the extent of illegal government surveillance – both things the mainstream press failed to adequately cover.

In the end, democracy can only flourish when government is transparent and the press is diligent in assuring that citizens have access to the information they need to make informed choices. 

Manning and Snowden did what an effective press used to do – they revealed the truth to the people.  They are heroes by necessity.   But their deeds have meaning only if we the people, pay attention to the real issue their stories address – wholesale criminal acts by government that have gone virtually unreported by a feckless press.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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