Snowden Belongs in Jail; Congress Needs to Hear the Truth

What are people thinking? How can only 54 percent of Americans (according to a Pew/USA Today poll) think that Edward Snowden should be prosecuted for leaking some of the government’s biggest secrets in the war on terrorism? Even fewer, 43 percent, support criminal charges, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll. Snowden technically has not committed treason; he hasn’t purposefully given aid and comfort to an enemy in a declared war. But he's certainly stolen valuable government property and violated laws against unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Whether they are criminal offenses, he’s hurt his country’s effort to “connect the dots” in chasing terrorists and, to boot, has alleged that the U.S. conducts cyber-war operations against China, giving that regime an opportunity to undercut U.S. efforts to get it to stop systematically stealing intellectual property from any U.S. enterprise it can hack into. I think he should spend a long, long time in jail. If it were up to me, I’d also have him flogged for exaggerating the ability of a Booz Allen contract employee to read anybody’s emails, including the president’s. Fortunately for him, it’s not up to me. Now that he’s done his damage, however, it’s important for Congress to revisit the Patriot Act, National Security Agency surveillance procedures and the operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to make sure they are doing what they’re supposed to, and can’t do what they’re not supposed to. So far, there’s no indication of misuse of any NSA program. As President Barack Obama said Tuesday (a lot later than he should have) “this is not a situation where we are rifling through ordinary emails” of American citizens. Neither is the government listening to their phone calls without court permission. But Congress does have to make sure barriers are strong against Richard Nixon/J. Edgar Hoover politicization of the surveillance program. And it has to find out why the government can’t protect secrets better. Not all of Congress’s inquiries into all this can be done in public — but as much as possible should be. In the meantime, there’s no reason not to have public hearings into the vast system of privacy-invasion by the private sector — Google, Facebook, etc. — at least to inform people how much information they are giving away and how it’s being used. The funniest comment I’ve seen since Snowden spilled was from Richard Cohen in the Washington Post: “Google, I’m convinced, is the new Santa Claus. It sees you when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.” Congress, if you can trust it do to anything right these days, should at least mandate a way for people to easily opt out of Google’s identity theft and sales system. Right now, it’s more pervasive than anything the NSA is doing.