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Feb-01-2014 11:42printcomments

Snowing With Snowden... Obama Snoops To Conquer?

Most men look at the white egret, as it stalks through a lagoon, and ask: "Why?" I look at it and say: "Why not?"

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden

(DAYTONA BEACH) - I'm suspicious of band wagons, not only those goosed by governments but also those scrambled upon by mindful dissidents. In both cases, the rank and file musician tends to have a tin ear; a tone-deaf ignoring of the still, small voice of common sense, and rarely set to music. So it is these days on both sides of the brass versus woodwind sections in everybody's favorite musical tragedy, l'opera Snowden.

Every schoolboy knows the libretto:

Edward Snowden, but recently topping the age of 30, is by hippy definition arguably not to be trusted. But he is a computer whiz, an erstwhile CIA laborer and a former NSA freelance, who is either a traitorous rat or a hero of the people, depending on your personal tea leaves. Personally, as a juror, I'm still either on the fence, or on the sidelines or lying in the weeds, depending on the time of day. Here's why.

First, the basic scenario: he leaked classified stuff to the media, operational details of our global surveillance set-up, which everybody, thanks to Hollywood and supermarket mags, has known to exist since J. E. Hoover divided his time between dirty pictures and harboring the book on Kennedy. (In some cases la meme chose.) That makes him (Snowden) the biggest squealer, say the astonished scribes, in history, give or take a Rosenberg or a Benedict Arnold.

In Snowden's case, the earnest seekers after truth were the Guardian and the Washington Post, followed by the thundering herd of flacks and scribblers worldwide. With narrow lead time, Snow-boy managed to lam from Hawaii to Manilla to that well-known safe house and citadel of freedom, Moscow. Sheremetyevo International Airport, to be exact, where fortunately there are sufficient

coin machines dispensing garlic chips and Coke to sustain him. And to soften his privation and self-sacrifice, he had with him his faithful companion, Sarah Harrison, who has been almost totally ignored, even by photo-journalists. Anyway, the kindly Russians have granted him refugee status, provided he doesn't take advantage of them by staying more than a year, which is rarely the case in the world of Russian tourism.

So what's his beef, his purpose to date? "To inform the public (the American public, since few Russian proles are interested. - Ed.) as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them." And that involves ipso facto an immediate and apparent balance between national security and the privacy of information. Take your pick. Almost everybody has:

One federal judge last year opined that the government had abridged the Constitution by nosing into a mega number of phone calls not only to and from but within the United States. Shortly afterward, another federal judge decided that the snoop program was legal.

The press and the public since have had Snowden on a Procrustean bed, either anointing him a hero of the people or suggesting he needs imprisonment or the death penalty.

So what's with Snowden's background? It's mixed and inconclusive as to hero or rat. In 2008, he voted third-party but "believed in Obama's promises." That didn't last, because in 2012 he contributed to Ron Paul's Oz-like faltering campaign. And along the way he admitted to an urge to defend our freedom in Iraq but, while he served as an Army recruit, a serious training accident prevented him from getting there. Summary? A not notably unusual American youth.

Like Othello, he has "done the state some service." In fact no less a state service provider than Daniel Ellsberg is on record that Snowden is his hero. On the other hand, Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, said recently in an interview "I see him as a very good source... as I did Julian Assange and WikiLeaks... Edward Snowden did help The New York Times keep the public informed on what I consider to be very important matters."

Yeah, but -

"We make those decisions," Adamson continued, (i.e. what The Times published. -Ed.) "trying to apply common sense... where we respectfully listen to concerns of the U.S. government that publishing a story is going to actually harm national security, and we balance those concerns against the importance and newsworthiness of the information and our primary duty, which is to keep the public informed."

Who better a judge of "doing the state some service" than the President? Barack Obama has rejected the notion that Edward Snowden is a patriot, much less a hero. At one point the President noted "our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets."

But Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said that Snowden had done us a favor by encouraging debate on matters of surveillance. I tend to agree with Bernie, with a qualifier. I repeat that Snowden has done the Othello bit, short of smiting a bearded turk or even committing suicide, although confinement in Russia may run a close second.

But if Snowden has revealed the fact that a certain percentage of our NSA operators are idiots, perhaps Obama' administration can improve on that. And the basic fact is that a majority of the revelations

Snowden made had to do not with domestic surveillance but foreign intelligence operations. Like it or not, folks, we're in a world where every nation is spying, hacking and nosing into the foreign operations of every other nation. We can't have jumped-up heroes taking it on themselves to weaken our position..

Fareed Zalaria, writing in Time, has noted "since 2011, cyberattacks on America's critical infrastructure - chemical, electrical, water and transportation systems - have risen seventeenfold... The effects can range from the disruption of transactions to systemic damage that feels like a military invasion.

"It would be impossible to defend against these attacks without allowing intelligence agencies to spy on foreign governments and agencies abroad. But it's also crucial that the NSA and others have some ability to enter into telecommunication systems at home to track cyber attacks, figure out where they come from and render them ineffective."

The bottom line is that unfortunately - or fortunately - we all live in two worlds - the physical one and the virtual world of internet and social networking and cyber space. We have no choice but to compromise between the reality and the global opportunity, between the benefits and the dangers implicit in both. And finding the delicate balance necessary between our security and our freedom of information - which both the President and the New York /Times Executive Editor have alluded to - is the important solution that must be reached.

Snowden has done us all a favor by bringing this subject up. If I'm on the fence about his guilt or innocence - his heroism or his villainy - it's because, while I'm grateful for his intent and his principles, I stop short of relying on his judgment as the arbiter of what should be laid bear for the world to see.


Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.

At 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.

He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.

Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber.

You can write to Bill Annett at this address:



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