Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Keeping Secrets

All this talk about secrecy and how terrible it is that Whistleblowers exist and occasionally tell the truth about what our government is doing, what to believe. Frankly, I cannot get very worked up over this, not only because it has been going on for a long time, and also because apparently Congress has been briefed on it many times (apparently without paying much attention), but, more importantly, it strikes me as ridiculous. If I heard it correctly, almost 5 million individuals have some form of security clearance and 1.4 million have top secret clearance. I gather that about one quarter of these clearances are held by private companies. It seems to me that if that many people have such privileges when it comes to secrets, and if some have them without the same loyalty oaths, we probably don’t really have any secrets. I mean, seriously, how can you believe something is secret if 1.4 million people are in on it? My experience leads me to believe people are not very good at keeping secrets. If 1.4 million know about it, it can’t really be a secret, can it? I am amazed there have not been more whistleblowers, and I doubt that President Obama’s so-called crackdown on them is going to make much of a difference. How can one argue that the Obama administration is the most secretive in history when approximately 6.4 million people know the secrets? I know that not all the people with clearances know all the secrets, certainly they are not supposed to, but apparently Snowden knew much more than he should have and no doubt others do too. Thus the secrecy situation strikes me as fundamentally absurd, as does the entirety of what now passes for the government of the United States.

As usual in such cases, there seems to be two different views of Mr. Snowden, as also in the case of Bradley Manning, either they are treasonous individuals out to destroy their country or they are heroes for what they have done. I guess neither side believes it should be necessary to conduct an objective investigation into what they have done as either they are already pronounced guilty of treason or awarded sainthood without any further ado. Personally, I don’t believe that either of them meant to harm our country, and I suspect both of them honestly believed they had a moral duty to speak out about what they believed was wrongdoing. But both cases involve the problem of distinguishing motive from function. That is, even if their motives were noble and just, the function (result, in this instance) of what they did was potentially very harmful (the road to hell is paved with good intentions sort of thing). So how do you decide what to make of such individuals and situations? Should they be punished for the results of their actions or praised for their good intentions? I know of cases where good intentions seem to win, as in the case of missionaries, for example. I have seen at first-hand examples of how missionaries with the best of intentions created almost irreparable damage to those they were attempting to help, and certainly there are myriad other examples of when “The best intentions of mice and men often go astray.”

Unfortunately, in both of these cases, no objective judgments will prevail. There seems little doubt (to me at least) that Bradley Manning will not get a fair trial as no less that the President himself has already declared him guilty. Similarly, as some in position of power and influence have already declared Snowden guilty of treason, there is no reason to suppose he will fare any better (if and when they catch him). Ironically, as they will both be punished in the here and now, they will probably both go down in history as martyrs to the causes of freedom, decency, and justice.

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