Last night my husband asked me the question I only briefly touched on in my last post; how does the tech support contracted to our government have so much access to national security data that it could do what Edward Snowden did? This morning, John Hinderaker is asking the same question in “How Could a Goofy Techie Expose Our Government’s Incompetence?“, but therein he is going after the Obama administration for incompetence. But it is nothing new, nor is this limited to government. He who runs the computers runs the world these days. My husband’s question was really about how any young person can be in a position wherein if he says to himself, “I can change the course of world events.” then he can really do it.
Consider Bradley Manning, currently in court-martial for passing classified material to Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks. He is in the military, but had the same kind of power as Snowden. Do you know that he has a support website? The usual suspects, Daniel Ellsburg, among others, are part of his support “network” or fan club, depending on how you look at it. I have not really been following his trial. Why would we? Is his guilt much suspect? No, and people died because of the information that he leaked, which has to be an aspect of the depth of his guilt. So far, Snowden seems to have been more careful about what he has leaked to the press, or else Glenn Greenwald is a more responsible character than Julian Assange.
But how do these young fellows come to be in such a position that they have access to our nation’s secrets? This seems like a massive bureaucratic problem which is partly the case because we have a massive bureaucracy and “somebody” or rather thousands of somebodies must be hired to handle all the work. Hence, techies in various positions in government run our world. If some of them are idealists, young and manly, how do they resist the temptation to “change the course of world events” if they can? Their access to information is like a little lever that moves the Earth. How do we give them that kind of power? Given the complexities of modern data maintenance, how do we not?
Here is something from the Manning fansite that I found interesting, “Programs that Bradley Manning used weren’t prohibited: trial report, day 4″.
He also talked about the program Wget, which automates downloading from the internet. Shaver said the program wasn’t specifically authorized with a Certificate of Net Worthiness (CON), but that it wasn’t prohibited either, and not having a CON didn’t mean it wasn’t allowed….Madaras testified that everyone else in their Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) used mIRC, a chat program Bradley said he used. Madaras also confirmed that music, movies, and video games were on the shared drive that all analysts could access. They weren’t explicitly allowed, but they weren’t banned either…. He also confirmed that it wasn’t prohibited to explore the SIPRNet, the Secret-level, military-wide internet, for other regions of the world beyond mission scope. Bradley perused the State Department diplomatic database, and while others may not have done so, it hasn’t been established that this was a violation.
Certainly this doesn’t mean that these young men did nothing wrong, but all of that was available to them, “not prohibited” surely says something about the state of our governmental state, maybe a destruction of republican virtues on various levels and how that plays out. Our commenting friend, Bob Cheeks, sums up the moral of the citizen in judging this neatly with, “Snowden revealed the degree to which the state is collecting data on all Americans. I should think the word ‘treason’ is used more appropriately defining the state’s egregious acts.” Which feels right, but we asked government to do this to or for us through the Patriot Act. It is not illegal because we gave our government a free hand to do what it could to protect us from the terror threat. Silly us.