After Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s secret mass surveillance scheme to the American people and the world, there have been those who consider what he did to be treasonous rather than patriotic. That adverse reaction to what Snowden did is a perfect example of how the national-security state apparatus that was grafted onto America’s governmental system after World War II has warped and perverted the values and stultified the consciences of the American people.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the NSA’s super-secret phone collection program was illegal — that is, that it violated the Constitution of the United States, which is the higher law that governs the actions of the federal government.
So, let’s see if I have this clear: If an employee within the national-security branch of the federal government discloses an illegal scheme on the part of the military, the CIA, or the NSA, he is to be considered a “bad guy” — i.e., a person who hates his country — a traitor, maybe even an anti-American spy.
Yep. That’s pretty much it. Despite the appellate court’s ruling, the Justice Department has no intention of dismissing the criminal indictment against Snowden. By disclosing the scheme, he broke the law, the Justice Department prosecutors maintain, and it doesn’t matter how illegal the scheme was that he disclosed.
Do you see something wrong with that picture, at least insofar as morals and values are concerned?
Let’s assume that during the CIA’s MKULTRA experiments on unsuspecting Americans, a CIA employee had a crisis of conscience over what the drug experiments were doing to unsuspecting Americans. Let’s say that the CIA agent goes to the American citizen and tells him about what the CIA is doing to him.
That CIA agent goes to jail. He’s considered a bad person — a traitor. By telling the American citizen what the CIA was doing to him with drugs, he has violated the law of the national-security state. He’s jeopardized “national security.” He needs to be punished.
In fact, as the fascinating book A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments by H.P. Albarelli Jr. details, that’s pretty much what happened to national-security state biochemist Frank Olson, who had a crisis of conscience over the CIA’s drug experiments and disclosed them to unauthorized people. Given his act of “disloyalty” and the threat to “national security” Olson posed, they punished him, only not with a criminal prosecution but with an execution.
In 1970, the CIA was orchestrating the violent kidnapping of a man named Rene Schneider, who was the commander of the Chilean armed forces. Schneider had committed no crime. The reason the CIA wanted him out of the way was because he was refusing to go along with the CIA’s wishes for a military coup in Chile.
Let’s say that a federal employee got wind of the kidnapping scheme and warned Schneider. He would be considered a bad guy — a traitor — a spy, despite the fact that he was saving the life of an innocent man. The fact that Schneider was being targeted by the CIA is all that matters. It doesn’t matter that kidnapping is illegal. And it doesn’t matter if a federal employee has a crisis of conscience. Federal employees are expected to remain loyal to their secrecy oaths and keep their mouths shut. (By the way, Schneider was murdered during the actual kidnapping.)
Or consider the national-security state’s participation in the executions of American citizens Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi during the Chilean coup. What if a national-security state employee had tried to warn them that their own government was orchestrating their killing simply because they were socialists or because they had learned about the U.S. national-security state’s participation in the coup? It wouldn’t matter. That employee would be considered a traitor. He would be prosecuted for treason or espionage. He would be sent to jail for a long time, if not given the death penalty for disclosing “national security” secrets.
Or take the repeated assassination attempts against Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Under what legal or moral authority did the CIA, operating in partnership with the Mafia, try to assassinate Castro? Had Cuba attacked or invaded the United States? Had it initiated terrorism against the United States? Had it committed any act of aggression against the United States?
No. Cuba has never initiated any act of aggression against the United States. No invasion. No assassinations. No terrorism. No sabotage.
It’s always been the other way around. The U.S. national security state has always been the aggressor against Cuba, including through invasions, assassination attempts, terrorism, sabotage, and other regime-change operations.
How has the national-security state branch justified such acts of aggression? They say that since Castro believed in communism, they had the moral and legal right to kill him as well as attempt other regime-change operations against Cuba.
Really? Does that mean that private Americans have the moral and legal right to kill people who believe in communism here in the United States? It’s my understanding that if an American citizen walks into a liberal college and shoots and kills a communist professor, he will be indicted for murder, and rightfully so. Why doesn’t the same principle apply to the CIA’s assassination of a foreign leader who happens to believe in a particular economic or political philosophy that doesn’t meet with the approval of the U.S. national security state?
What if a federal employee learned of a CIA-Mafia assassination plot against Castro and warned Castro about it? That employee would be considered a spy — a bad guy — a communist sympathizer — a traitor. He had no right to violate his secrecy oath, they would say, no matter how immoral or illegal he believed the CIA-Mafia assassination scheme was. His duty was to keep silent and let the assassination go forward, they would say.
In fact, there have actually been cases of federal employees who have been caught delivering secret information to Cuba. That’s because they genuinely believed that the acts of aggression carried out by the U.S. national-security branch against Cuba, including the decades-long economic embargo against the Cuban people, have been morally wrong.
Not surprisingly, the federal hammer came crashing down on them. They were treated as traitors and spies, just like Edward Snowden is. What’s interesting about their cases was that all the information that they gave to Cuba had to involve the program of aggression that the U.S. national-security state has long had toward Cuba. So, all that secret information they gave to Cuba was intended to help Cuba defend itself from acts of aggression on the part of the national-security branch of the U.S. government.
But under the principles of the national-security state, that doesn’t matter. Federal employees are expected to leave their consciences at home. No matter how illegal or immoral the national-security state’s acts are, federal employees are expected to keep them secret. In the eyes of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, that’s what patriotism and loyalty are all about — standing with “your team,” no matter what.
Of course, if there had never a military-industrial complex, a CIA, or an NSA, there never would have been massive surveillance schemes, assassination programs, or invasions of countries that have never attacked the United States. Maybe that’s one reason that for some 150 years our American ancestors never permitted a national-security state apparatus to be grafted onto our federal governmental system. Maybe another reason is that they knew that such an apparatus would inevitably warp and pervert the principles and values of a free people.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.