One year after Edward Snowden’s leaks, we’re better off for the debate he started.
One year ago today, the Guardian first reported on the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. After 12 months of near-incessant accusations and arguments about everyone from Glenn Greenwald to James Clapper to Vladimir Putin, are Americans any better off for having met a bespectacled young NSA contractor and whistleblower named Edward Snowden?In short, yes. As a former covert CIA ops officer, I firmly believe in the need for strong intelligence capabilities to keep our country secure. But as a citizen, I also believe that our intelligence services must protect both the nation and the freedoms that make it worth protecting. It has now become clear that the government has lost sight of that dual responsibility. And by violating the Constitution and evading proper oversight by Congress and the courts, the intelligence community is undermining the democratic system that it aims to protect.Despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent detrimental statements toward Snowden, we wouldn’t be having the current debate over the scope of our intelligence services if it were not for his leaks—a debate that President Obama himself has welcomed. But some in the government are trying to distract Americans from the real issue of whether the NSA’s programs are legal, wise or effective.
This comes as no surprise to me. In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, my husband, Amb. Joe Wilson, questioned President George W. Bush’s claim that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons. In an effort to distract from the substantive questions about those alleged weapons, the Bush White House tried to shift public attention to my husband and me, seeking retribution by revealing my work for the CIA.
Now, NSA surveillance supporters—including Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Bill Nelson, Reps. Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper—are similarly attempting to muddy the waters. They claim—with scant evidence or examples—that Snowden’s revelations have deeply harmed national security. This is a mere talking point, and a tired tactic used for decades by intelligence officials fearful that when the public learns what the government is actually up to, it won’t be able to do it anymore. Even the president’s own review panel, which included a former counterterrorism advisor and former senior CIA official, found that the NSA’s phone records collection program has not been instrumental in preventing any attacks against the United States.
Much of the public, many members of Congress from both parties and President Obama all understand this: They have said over the past year that dragnet surveillance must end. And they are correct.