Our country is currently in a struggle between the need to protect our citizens from terrorism and the need to protect the civil liberties of our citizens. How can we do both while not sacrificing either?
During my five years as chairman of the National Commission on Homeland Security, we analyzed and debated issues of national security and presented our finding to the president and Congress, which became the framework for the Department of Homeland Security.
America must never make the mistake of sacrificing liberty for security. However, an equally severe mistake would be to give up the ability to track the enemy because of a fear of government. This duality of purpose demands oversight, not dismantling.
While our security focus has been primarily on non-state entities such as al Qaeda, the past several weeks in Ukraine have been a sobering reminder of the threat we face from state actors as well. The easiest way for such entities to circumvent our security is by revealing the tools we use in order to protect our country.
A perfect example of this are the crimes committed by Edward Snowden. Some would argue he is a patriot. I can tell you those people are dead wrong. Mr. Snowden swore an oath to protect his country and, in turn, was given the trust of America.
Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said it best: “Edward Snowden is not a whistleblower worthy of protection, but a fugitive deserving of prosecution. He violated his sworn pledge to protect classified information. He jeopardized our national security. And he betrayed the trust of the American people. This man is no hero.”
Mr. Snowden’s traitorous act is a perfect example of the dual threat we face from state and non-state actors. His actions helped al Qaeda by revealing a program used to track terrorists, while at the same time giving the world’s largest bully a propaganda tool used to legitimize its actions.
Throughout our history, the United States has committed itself to thought leadership, but today the world is more dangerous than it has ever been, and we have to do even more than we have ever done to combat the challenges we face in an unstable world.
In today’s world, we continue to have the potential for a dangerous national conflict, but we have a new construct in which international organizations grow beyond borders and endanger and threaten our country and other countries as well.
We have been staring into the face of this struggle since Sept. 11, 2001, when the Pentagon was struck in my home state of Virginia. Now we live in a more interconnected world with advanced techniques of reconnaissance and communication, intelligence-gathering and the Internet.
We are now faced with the challenge of protecting the civil liberties of our citizens while being able to successfully put our foot on the throats of terrorists who want to destroy our most sacred institutions.
As chairman of the National Commission on Homeland Security, I brought the issue of protecting our civil liberties to the forefront of the national conversation and helped establish and implement the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
This panel was tasked with ensuring that liberty concerns are appropriately considered when implementing laws, regulations and policies used to successfully protect America against terrorism.
There are some assertions that perhaps our policies have gone too far in the wake of Sept. 11, but we believe in the well-being of our people, and we must act to ensure that our civil liberties are once again central to the national conversation about the mass collection of data.
I suggest that the intelligence community talk more about these challenges and what might happen, so if another Sept. 11-type attack occurs, the American people can shake it off and maintain their coherent narrative of who they are and what kind of people they will be.
The citizens of the United States are not yet fully engaged in the entire defense of the nation that will be necessary in the 21st century.
If the advantages of our free people are brought to bear, then even though we live in a new and dangerous world, I promise you we will prevail. We will continue to be a beacon of hope to the world.
Jim Gilmore is the president and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation. He served as the 68th governor of Virginia and 59th chairman of the Republican National Committee.