A VIEW from LICK SKILLET: Edward Snowden may have done us a favor

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By Gerald Largen

The Constitution of the United States, Article 3, Section 3, Sub-section 1, says: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or, in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”
You would think that anyone who has undertaken to make the laws that govern this nation would, at least on occasion, read this noble document, wouldn’t you? But more than one of our Solons has leveled the charge of treason against young Mister Edward Snowden for telling a journalist about the government’s activities in accumulating information about telephonic and internet communications.Now, without doubt this young man has transgressed the general secrecy rules, but treason? No way! What enemy has he adhered to? What aid and comfort has he given, and to whom?
Think about it and you will see that under our Constitution he is no traitor.
But, his revelations to the journalist have stirred a huge reaction, both here and abroad, and may just bring us to consider exactly where we are, and where we want to be, as a nation.

First, it is a remarkable admission of ignorance, and failure to keep up with events, that so many journalists, newsmen, and political commentators have been thunder struck by Snowden’s revelations. They evidently were sound asleep when the so-called Patriot Act was first introduced. Some of us yelled bloody murder back then and warned that the Act was giving to the government unprecedented authority to spy on us, and much worse, to spy on us through secret warrants, issued by secret courts, with gags on everyone from revealing the fact that the searches and seizures were taking place. Some of us felt that these provisions were totally foreign and contrary to our fundamental principles.
But the stampede was on, and without giving any serious thought, the Bill authorizing this internal spying, accompanied by external spying, carried on under seriously curtailed Due Process was enacted by overwhelming majorities. But now that they see the evil consequences of their reckless and thoughtless approval of this un-American act, they pontificate about how shocked they are that such a thing should have happened. A few of them have tried to stop the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, but they have been hooted down, and were cut off from giving reasons for their position because the Act itself outlaws revealing what it does.
The excesses of the old British Star Chamber were nothing compared to the secret machinations of the Patriot Act. It should never have been enacted, and it should be repealed at the earliest possible opportunity.

Second, this brouhaha should turn the attention of reasonable minds to the question of secrecy in our government. We concede that there are some things, such as military manoeuvres, that should be kept secret, at least until completed. And it was wise to keep secret how to build an atom bomb for as long as possible, but now all too often the lowliest bureaucrat has the power to “classify” just about anything, and in many cases the things that are “classified” are things that would prove embarrassing to the “classifier” if disclosed. This is no way to run a democracy. One of the basic premises of democratic government is that the people make the fundamental decisions as to how their government shall function, and what it shall be. There is no way that the people can make a reasoned and rational decision without a full knowledge of the facts, and they cannot acquire this full knowledge if large and important segments of the facts are hidden and covered up from their scrutiny, which is what “classification” achieves, thus subverting democracy.

Third, the whole concept of secrecy in government is fundamentally flawed by the fact that it is impossible to keep secret anything which is known by a whole bevy of bureaucrats, politicians, and contractors.
Ben Franklin said that three people could keep a secret, just as long as two of them were dead! Nothing has happened with human nature in the intervening two and a quarter centuries to lessen the validity of old Ben’s assessment.

Fourth, back when we started practicing law, there was no internet, nor other computer communication, but there was a widely distributed, and highly efficient, telephone system. But then as now, phones could be tapped, both legally and illegally, both by governmental agents, and private individuals, so we always advised clients, especially in divorce cases and criminal prosecutions, that they should say nothing on the telephone that they would not want to have broadcast over the radio, or see printed on the front page of the newspapers. It was sound advice then, and would be equally so now, with the expansion to cover not only the telephones, but also all the other electronic means of communication.

Fifth, there is added to the mix the fact that not only are the phones and computers and all other such devices subject to the tapping, or eavesdropping of governmental agents and private individual, to which we referred above, but now we have the hybrid of private individuals employed by the government by contract, such as the Snowden case, where he was no longer a governmental agent, but an employee of Booz, Allen, Hamilton, the private corporation which has been employed by the government to carry out its activities in gathering information, etc., under the provisions of the infamous Patriot Act.
The government, both the Executive and the Congressional portions, have moved farther and farther away from governmental action carried out by governmental agents or agencies, and more and more toward the carrying out of governmental functions through contracts and subcontracts with non-public corporations thereby magnifying the profit motive to the exclusion of the public service motive. We have seen how this can be easily expanded even to the making of war, as in the case of Halliburton’s activities in the Iraq and Afghan wars, and executing criminal justice through private prisons and other non-governmental execution of governmental functions.
If the attention of the people, the press, and the politicians can be turned to the foregoing five fields of error or excess, then this whole sorry episode will have served a useful purpose.
We fear, however, that it will serve only to give the politicians a platform upon which to pound in their pursuit of the fulfillment of their prime directive, which is to secure their election, or their re-election, of which there is no more important goal in their simple little minds.
Our friends in the press will madly beat the drums through one or two news cycles and then forget the whole matter, as they dash off madly in pursuit of the next new big thing.
And the people will unfortunately hear only the loudest voices, and will be deliberately mislead by those who should be directing them to the right path.
Oh well, as a fine newswoman, Linda Ellerbee, used to say: “And so it goes.”