In his capacity as a National Security Administration (NSA) contractor, Snowden enjoyed top-secret clearance. As a systems administrator, he had access to enormous amounts of secret material. So, when in 2013 James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the intelligence community does “not wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans, Snowden knew it to be a lie. Warrantless intercepts of international phone calls and email traffic of U.S. citizens was not all Snowden uncovered.
by Bill Blair
According to a recent New York Times story, Army Sgt. Gary Rose of Huntsville, Ala., soon will receive his overdue and long-denied Medal of Honor for combat gallantry during an enemy encounter in 1970 that officially never existed.
The riveting account of his four-day ordeal in the jungles of Laos and the valor he demonstrated reads like a Hollywood superhero script. Blown off his feet, wounded, and eventually shot down after his helicopter was hit by enemy fire, this extraordinarily brave medic “went back in repeatedly until everyone was out,” according to the Times. He is credited with caring for 51 wounded soldiers.
Sgt. Rose’s nomination for the Medal of Honor was turned down because, according to the military, U.S. forces were not in Laos. Had his heroics taken place just over the border in Vietnam, he most likely would have received the award decades ago. But Sgt. Rose was part of Operation Tailwind, a top-secret bombing incursion into Laos.
It appears that with its acknowledgment of Sgt. Rose’s heroics, the Army slowly is coming clean with the American public. Apparently, U.S. forces did invade and bomb Laos during the Vietnam War. Not that Laotians need to be told that.
They continue to harvest the 30 percent of unexploded U.S. ordinance for its scrap value, a behavior that comes with tremendous risk to life and limb.
Since that war’s end, more than 12,000 people, many of them children, have fallen victim to bombs that litter the jungle floor. A visit to one of Laos’ five COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) centers, a not-for-profit that makes low-cost orthotics and prosthetics, reveals the lingering human cost of the United States’ unacknowledged misbehavior.
It is because of the U.S. military’s Secret War in Laos, a war during which 2 million tons of bombs were dropped during 580,344 missions over nine years, and the military’s stubborn refusal to admit its overreach, that America needs whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden.
One may brand him a traitor and clamor for his head; or applaud his initiative and hope to see him nominated for the Medal of Freedom, but I suggest that sinner or saint, he is precisely what our neo-Orwellian world of state surveillance needs.
In his capacity as a National Security Administration (NSA) contractor, Snowden enjoyed top-secret clearance. As a systems administrator, he had access to enormous amounts of secret material. So, when in 2013 James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the intelligence community does “not wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans, Snowden knew it to be a lie.
Warrantless intercepts of international phone calls and email traffic of U.S. citizens was not all Snowden uncovered.
Thanks to his efforts, we know the NSA hacked the phones of 35 world leaders, many of whom are elected leaders of allied countries — notably, Germany and Brazil. As for those who are not quite heads of state, in a one-month period in the spring of 2013, 124.8 billion telephone data items and 97.1 billion computer items were collected by the NSA. In France alone, the agency intercepted about 3 million pieces of data per day.
One of Big Brother’s party slogans in George Orwell’s “1984” reads, “Ignorance is Strength.” In other words, leadership fortifies its hold on power when it keeps the masses in the dark about how it operates.
The U.S. government adopted this political strategy more than 50 years ago during the secret bombing campaign of Laos. Post-9/11, at least until the release of the Snowden files, the government continued its ignorance-is-strength strategy of power maintenance.
To some, Snowden is a brave whistle-blower; to others, he is a cowardly snitch.
Whistle-blower or snitch, we all are better off knowing when our government plays loose with the truth. Had our government acknowledged the truth of its Secret War against Laos, or had someone who was privy to that information made us aware of their deception, Sgt. Rose long ago would have received the medal he so richly earned.
Sgt. Rose deserved better. The citizens of this country deserve better.
That is why Snowden matters.
Bill Blair is an adjunct professor of travel and tourism at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury. He lives in Litchfield.