Time to set things right

Valley Forge panorama

Washington’s headquarters Valley Forge – photo courtesy of johnsmilitaryhistory.com

We are approaching July 4th Independence day and with that as a backdrop, let’s review current events.

Let’s begin by a small understanding of what patriotism is or should be in my estimation.

Patriotism – pa·tri·ot·ism
[pey-tree-uh-tiz-uhm or, esp. British, pa-]
A devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country. A loyalty based on national identity.
Identification in feelings of pride for a country’s merits and achievements.

Sometimes our nation has lost sight of the original ideals from which it was founded. These principles may be considered old fashioned however they have served several generations well. Over the past centuries our country has strayed from the foundational doctrine expressed by our Constitution and because of it has found itself in crisis. The Civil War was one of those times, due to a lack of recognizing all men are created equal.

These lapses of conscience or crimes should be brought out in the open to discuss, and when so doing they have historically been corrected through freedom of speech, the press, the ballot box and our courts.

Stepping beyond the above points are where the vision becomes contested; using the words of Salman Rushdie.

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947), British-Indian writer

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947), British-Indian writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ignorance leads to arrogance
“I do not envy people who think they have a complete explanation of the world, for the simple reason that they are obviously wrong.”
– Salman Rushdie talking with David Frost (1993)

I believe in the foundational principles of our Constitution. I’m proud to be an American and having served several years as part of it’s armed forces. I’m appreciative of being able to openly criticize as well as support our nation. I make it a point to stay informed and to apply what I know.

It’s significant to review a few things about what it means to be a patriot. I like to examine what are loyalty and fidelity. Fidelity suggests by it’s wording you go beyond just being loyal. For example, the swearing in of a new member in the armed forces or the President of the United States in doing their duty with complete trust and devotion. For those of us who served in the military under additional responsibility of secrecy, we signed papers which authorized the government to research our background and once we were accepted, we gave an oath to not reveal things pertaining to the defense of our country.

“Our lives teach us who we are.”

– Salman Rushdie, London Independent, Feb. 4, 1990

Edward Snowden and Pfc Bradley Manning also were required to accept or reject oaths in the performance of their duties. This was a requirement for their respective jobs and in doing so essentially stated, you can trust us, we will not divulge information harmful to our nation.

I want to point out that neither of these men have been the first people to provide leaks containing sensitive classified data. One of the most famous occurrences was ‘Deep Throat’ during the Nixon administration. Years later it was revealed, W. Mark Felt, then the No. 2 man at the FBI, was Deep Throat.

Private Bradley Manning – The New York Times February 28, 2013
Pfc. Bradley Manning on Thursday confessed in open court to providing vast archives of military and diplomatic files to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, saying that he released the information to help enlighten the public about “what happens and why it happens” and to “spark a debate about foreign policy.”

Edward Snowden carries with him, 4 laptop computers containing classified information which hasn’t been publicly released. He has disclosed information and made accusations concerning the collection methods in use by NSA and it’s contractors of telephone, email and other private communication of U.S. citizens. Additionally he made claims as to knowing the methods which the U.S. collects data about allies and against specific targeted countries. Snowden in Moscow has stated the President and Vice President are not honoring international asylum law, are not afraid of him but rather the reaction by the now more fully informed electorate.

Manning was a prominent source for information to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks posted 391,832 secret Pentagon documents on the Iraq war. Twelve weeks earlier, Julian Assange posted 77,000 documents on the Afghan conflict. The most damaging of these leaks weren’t so much tactical as they were about how the U.S. allowed systematic torture, civilian losses and in some cases murders by private contractors working as surrogate for the U.S. military and how badly the war was proceeding in Iraq. Coupled with that, were embarrassing communique from senior State Department members disclosing their candid assessments of International leaders as well as the lack of confidence Afghanistan leadership has in the U.S. keeping them safe.

In reading and doing my best to understand what is really at play here, it’s not easy to make a cut and dry assessment of whether Pfc Manning or Edward Snowden are heroes and patriots or disaffected traitors to their country. It is clear however, Pfc Manning will have his day in military court and probably not have a very bright future. Edward Snowden is currently in political asylum limbo. He has sought asylum and rejected by Russia as well as 20 other countries. This suggests to me other countries have considered his actions and rejected supporting him in his cause for personal liberty after his going public with classified material.

I can’t tell someone else what their values should be because they are personal and often only fully understood by the individual. I know what I would have done if I were in their respective positions. I would have kept my mouth shut and my USB flash drives secured from any breech of security. While touching on breech of security, I hope the organizations responsible for security and employee procedure recognize they have some serious holes to plug. They need to ask human resources at Booz-Allen Hamilton, to find people with a proven track record of keeping secrets. Their procedures for access to sensitive classified data should be as strict as missile launch procedures in nuclear silos. In other words it should take 2 or more people to download any file unless they are very senior. Additionally, upload of data procedures should be locked down because it’s just as damaging to inject a worm or virus into a data system.

The Information security policies and actions by senior officers where Pfc Manning worked, are partly responsible and therefore complicit in Manning’s leaks. It hasn’t been that long since either event however the military, civilian and defense contractors need to make changes immediately if not sooner.