Edward J. Snowden is on the lam. The leaker who revealed the extent of the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping may have put some of the country’s most closely held secrets into the hands of our enemies. The government can blame mostly itself.
Mr. Snowden may have taken laptops brimming with secrets on his travels from Hong Kong and Russia to destinations that could include Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. There’s no way to know what documents he has with him, or whether he could use them to buy the cooperation of the governments aiding him. The only thing we know for sure is that Mr. Snowden leaked a slide show about the National Security Agency program called Prism, which sifts through personal information provided by Apple, Google, Microsoft and other high-tech firms. He revealed a secret court order demanding that Verizon hand over all the data the telecommunications company has on its customers.
The Fourth Amendment requires warrants be issued only for particular individuals; it does not allow general warrants, such as the Verizon order. Many in the government think the public — that is, the rest of us — can’t be trusted to judge whether there’s constitutional misconduct in the government’s domestic spying programs.
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican, called Mr. Snowden a “traitor.” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said he was a “lawbreaker.” President Obama sent the message that whistleblowing is not tolerated on his watch. In February, John Kiriakou, formerly a CIA analyst, was imprisoned for, in his own words, “telling the public that torture was official U.S. government policy” when he confirmed the use of waterboarding. Mr. Snowden referred to Kiriakou when he explained why he was fleeing the United States.
A plausible case can be made that the waterboarding revelation harmed American interests, but no such claim is plausible about the crackdown on State Department whistleblowers who departed from the fraudulent White House explanation of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Hearings in May before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee revealed, in Rep. Darrell E. Issa’s words, the use of “retaliation and intimidation tactics against lifelong public servants who dared to question top officials on their inaccurate and highly public assertions.”
“National security” has become a political weapon for an administration that routinely leaks classified information. Earlier this month, the Defense Department’s inspector general confirmed that former CIA Director Leon E. Panetta gave top-secret material to the producers of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the movie about the raid that took down Osama bin Laden. This was one of the administration’s few foreign-policy success stories. Such forbidden disclosures become authorized when a top official reveals them, even if for “public relations.” (It’s called “spinning.”)
“Zero Dark Thirty” is evidence that Mr. Snowden’s surveillance disclosure hasn’t jeopardized national security. As in the movie, bin Laden avoided all electronic communications because he knew the CIA was listening. Mr. Snowden’s revelations — so far — have been news to Americans and our allies, not to terrorists.
There’s probably much more to the story that we don’t yet know. But if Mr. Snowden made his disclosures for personal gain, he’s not likely to enjoy life in Ecuador or wherever he goes. Ecuador has great natural beauty, but a spy on the lam can never relax on a beach. That buzzing sound overhead, too loud for a mosquito, might be one of Mr. Obama’s drones, taking aim.
The Washington Times