NSA snooping: Necessary defensive tool, or time for a revolution?

The fleeing man’s whereabouts are unknown. What fate should befall him when he pops up is an open question depending on whom you ask. “Hero. Traitor. Whistle-blower. Spy. What to call NSA Leaker Ed Snowden?” asked ABC News on Monday night. The battle lines are being drawn in the scandal over the National Security Agency (NSA) vacuuming up private information on millions of ordinary, everyday Americans. Unlike most controversies in the nation’s capital, the belligerents in this showdown don’t fall into predictable partisan camps.

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Liberal California Sen. Dianne Feinstein sounds outright hawkish when she declares of Mr. Snowden that, “What he did was an act of treason,” and insists of the NSA activities, “It’s called protecting America.” This is novel positioning for a senior member of her party. In recent decades, Democrats have typically defended those who divulged government secrets at the expense of defense and intelligence operations, and that is still – for the most part – true. Today, however, the lion’s share of overt intra-party division on the leaking issue is on the Republican side of the aisle.

The NSA revelations have various factions of the conservatarian coalition twisted up like a pretzel. On one side of this argument are the civil libertarians, a rapidly growing constituency in the modern GOP. Its most articulate spokesman is Sen. Rand Paul, the rising star from Kentucky, who has the added pedigree of being the son of recently retired longtime Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the idealist who put libertarianism on the political map. “We fought a revolution over issues like generalized warrants, where soldiers would go from house to house, searching anything they liked,” Sen. Paul wrote this week in The Wall Street Journal. “Our lives are now so digitized that the government going from computer to computer or phone to phone is the modern equivalent of the same type of tyranny that our Founders rebelled against.” The senator has vowed to challenge NSA practices all the way to the Supreme Court.

On the other side of the security fence are pragmatic, establishment Republican leaders such as House Speaker John Boehner, who has called Mr. Snowden “a traitor,” and Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “The problem with this is, if you tell our adversaries and enemies in the counterterrorism fight exactly how we conduct business, they are not going to do business the same ever again. It makes it more difficult [for us],” Mr. Rogers said on Sunday. “Taking a very sensitive classified program that targets foreign persons on foreign lands, and putting just enough [information] out there . . . it’s dangerous to our national security and it violates the oath which that person took.” No doubt about that.

We at Rare enjoy a snicker when the left suffers intra-family squabbles, such as when blue-collar labor unions duke it out with snooty environmentalists over industrial policy. The NSA leak case is no laughing matter, however, and the right is pitted against itself when it needs to put up a unified front for the national interest. Fortunately, there is common ground that can bring elephants together – and that is accountability. Both sides of the conservative-libertarian debate want to defend freedom and are generally supportive of checks on government power. Edward Snowden, whether inappropriately or not, has exposed what many are characterizing as a secretive shadow government apparatus operating outside of the constitutional system of checks and balances. Certainly Congress can put some limits and controls on the excesses of the executive branch.

Now there is the messy business of what to do about the unfortunate Mr. Snowden, who Politico brilliantly tagged as “the slacker who came in from the cold.” It wouldn’t be a surprise if he simply disappeared at the hands of “the dark side” of the cloak-and-dagger intelligence fraternity, as Rare Deputy Editor Jim Robbins set forth in his article, “Will Obama put out a hit on the NSA leaker?” But if the mole manages to emerge into the light of day, what next? You tell us what should happen to NSA leaker Edward Snowden by taking today’s Rare Poll.

Written by Editor-in-Chief Brett M. Decker for the Rare Editorial Board

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