By Roger McKinney
As National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on Monday apparently remained in Russia, trying to evade extradition to the U.S. on an espionage charge, the debate over the program he revealed continues stateside.
Snowden left Hong Kong on Sunday and flew to Moscow. He may be seeking other countries in which to seek asylum.
Snowden has given highly classified documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post newspapers disclosing U.S. surveillance programs that collect vast amounts of phone records and online data in the name of foreign intelligence, often sweeping up information on American citizens.
Sources contacted for this story said they had problems with the NSA surveillance program, but not all looked upon Snowden’s actions favorably.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the federal government when Snowden’s revelations were published. Gary Brunk, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, said the lawsuit alleges that the NSA program violates the rights of free speech, association and privacy of Americans.
“The kind of aggregation of personal data involved in these programs constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure” under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, Brunk said.
He said there is no transparency to the government programs.
“We have secret courts making secret decisions and nobody reviewing them,” Brunk said, referring to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court. The court was created after government abuses of the 1960s and 1970s, including spying on civil rights leaders, and other dissidents and protesters.
“At the bottom, this is about unchecked power,” Brunk said. “Unchecked power is ultimately abused.”
Brunk said Snowden took an action he knew would put him at risk for the rest of his life.
“Charging him under the Espionage Act is way overreaching,” Brunk said. “Without these leaks, the freedom of the press in this country would be diminished. We should thank him, rather than get the gallows ready, which has been the response of some members of Congress.”
NOT BIG BROTHER
Paul Zagorski, a professor at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University whose classes include those on the Constitution and civil liberties, said that though government officials say they’re collecting only phone numbers and logs, that’s not innocuous.
“That’s potentially dangerous,” he said.
He said the information might be used by authorities to disrupt a legitimate protest.
“That’s the sort of problem I see, not that we’re going to have Big Brother listening to everything we say,” he said.
Zagorski said the government doesn’t provide any oversight because the public isn’t interested.
“The problem is the public’s not really concerned about it,” he said. “There really has been no public debate.”
He said the revelations initially caused a debate, but that has been overshadowed by Snowden himself. Regarding Snowden, Zagorski said the Espionage Act was enacted during World War I to address domestic dissent.
“They threw the book at him when that may not have been the best thing to do,” Zagorski said. “In general, that’s the way the Obama administration has proceeded however.”
Zagorski said Snowden broke the law.
“You have to have laws that protect official secrets,” he said. “It’s a very difficult balance. I don’t think we’ve done it in a very open and coherent fashion.”
Aaron DuRall, a Joplin resident, said he finds it interesting that the government is snooping on private emails and phone calls, yet the government is going after the man who revealed the snooping.
“People have some reasonable expectation of privacy” in their communications, DuRall said.
DuRall said Snowden is being treated unfairly.
“He basically exposes the fact that the government agencies have been snooping on us,” he said. “He’s not conspiring with enemies. He’s not selling government secrets.”
Richard Hilderbrand, a Cherokee County, Kan., commissioner, said the surveillance program is among the government programs introduced with the Patriot Act.
“I just think that they’re something we should never have entered into,” Hilderbrand said. “The privacy of American citizens is jeopardized. That could lead to abuse. The right to due process is too important.”
Despite his position, he said he thinks Snowden should be prosecuted, noting that two wrongs don’t make a right.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., also shared their thoughts on the NSA program
“We need to make sure our intelligence agencies have the tools necessary to go after terrorists and keep America safe, but those tools must be consistent with American values,” McCaskill said in an emailed statement. “Congress has been clear that all intelligence-gathering activities must be done within the constraints of the law.
“At the same time, leaking classified information that puts our national security at risk is a criminal act and should be treated as such.”
McCaskill was involved in a hearing last week related to vetting of Snowden by a contractor for his security clearance.
Blunt addressed the NSA program in a recent conference call with Missouri reporters, saying his concern is the volume of information being collected and stored, and its effectiveness in catching terrorists.
“This mass collection of information and retaining the information is legitimately troublesome, and I’m not sure it’s all that beneficial,” Blunt said in a recording of the conference call.
He said he also was disturbed that retired Lt. Gen. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, testified at a congressional hearing that Americans’ information wasn’t being collected.
“I don’t know how he can possibly defend that, based on what he knew at the time,” Blunt said.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.
IN 2012, THERE WERE 3.5 million federal employees and 1.1 million contractors who held secret or top-secret security clearance, according to a news release from U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.