By Jacob G. Hornberger
The Edward Snowden case provides a good example of how the conversion of the federal government from a limited-government republic to a national-security state has warped and perverted the morals, values, principles, and consciences of the American people.
Snowden is the former NSA official who revealed the national-security establishment’s top-secret surveillance scheme to the American people and the rest of the world. Knowing that the national-security establishment would come after him with overwhelming force, possibly even to assassinate him, for disclosing its secrets, Snowden fled the country and ended up exiled in Russia after U.S. officials canceled his U.S. passport while he was en route to Latin America.
Since then, U.S. officials have attempted, without success, to secure Snowden’s extradition from Russia in hopes of putting him on trial and sending him to jail for life or even executing him under an anti-espionage law that, believe it or not, dates back to World War I. Some officials have accused Snowden of spying for the Russians, notwithstanding the fact that it was the U.S. government’s decision to cancel his passport while he was on his way to Latin America that caused Snowden to be marooned in Russia.
Notice something important about Snowden’s revelations. Despite all the hoopla that he had disclosed secrets relating to “national security,” the federal government is still standing. So is America. The U.S. government hasn’t been taken over by terrorists, Muslims, drug dealers, illegal aliens, or communists. Russia, China, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam haven’t invaded and conquered the country. And America didn’t fall into the ocean.
The main thing that happened was the disclosure of illegal and nefarious dark-side activity on the part of the U.S. national-security establishment.
It was no different when WikiLeaks disclosed its mountain of national-security secrets several years ago. America continued to exist as a nation. So did the federal government.
Here’s the point: If the NSA were to be abolished today and if Congress were to order all of its documents and records to be released immediately to the public, nothing would happen to the United States. Nothing!
The same holds true for the CIA and the military-industrial complex. If all their files and records were to be suddenly disclosed to the people of the world, America would continue to exist as a country. It would not fall into the ocean, and the federal government would continue to operate.
In fact, full disclosure of all of the illegal and immoral actions that the U.S. national-security establishment has engaged in during the past 70 years of its existence would be the greatest and healthiest thing that could ever happen to the United States. Full disclosure of such secrets would be an antiseptic that would help cleanse the federal government and the country of many of the long-lasting stains that the national-security establishment has inflicted on it — an antiseptic that might finally begin to restore trust and confidence in the federal government among the American people.
To be sure, the secrecy is always alleged to be justified by “national security,” the two most important words in any nation whose government is a national-security state. But what does that term mean? It has no objective meaning at all. It’s just a bogus term designed to keep nefarious and illegal actions secret.
But heaven help those who reveal those secrets to others. They will be persecuted, prosecuted, vilified, condemned, exiled, or murdered. Nothing matters more to a national-security state than the protection of its secrets. Those who reveal them must be made examples to anyone else who contemplates doing the same thing.
In the process, conscience is suspended and stultified. It has no role in a national-security state. Individual citizens are expected to place their deep and abiding trust in the national-security establishment and to unconditionally defer to its judgment and expertise. Its job is to protect “national security” and that’s all that people need to know. Sometimes that entails illegal activity, such as murder, torture, and kidnapping, but that’s just the way it is. What’s important, they say, is that the national-security establishment is on the job, a perpetual sentinel for freedom, protecting “national security.”
Imagine that Edward Snowden voluntarily returned to the United States for trial. Do you think he would be given the opportunity at trial to show why he disclosed the NSA’s illegal and nefarious surveillance schemes? Do you think he would be entitled to argue that he was simply following the dictates of his conscience when he chose to reveal that information to the American people and the world?
Not on your life. The federal judge presiding in the case would rule that the exercise of conscience is not an affirmative defense in criminal prosecutions, including those relating to “national security.” He would rule that Snowden’s motive in disclosing the information was irrelevant and would instruct the jury to convict if they concluded that Snowden had in fact released national-security secrets.
If Snowden voluntarily returned to the United States, there is no doubt that he would spend much of the rest of his life in prison because the federal judiciary is not about to buck the national-security branch of the federal government. The latter is simply much too powerful.
And that’s if he’s lucky. If the national-security establishment decided to assassinate him as a terrorist, there is absolutely nothing anyone could do about it. That’s because the national-security branch, operating in conjunction with the executive branch, wields the omnipotent, nonreviewable power to assassinate anyone they want. The federal judiciary has made it perfectly clear that it will not interfere with or second-guess the president, CIA, or Pentagon when it comes to assassinations relating to national security.
Read the rest at The Future of Freedom Foundation