Art by Peau Porotesano
The latest blockbuster hit “Snowden” weaves an over embellished narrative that the NSA is paying its workers to spy on individuals having sex in their homes, read their private texts, listen to their phone calls and pilfer through emails. I mean, how uncomfortable, right? Isn’t there a constitutional right to privacy or something?
The reality that the film attempts to portray is arguably not the case — it’s a dramatic and honestly entertaining, overblown version of the truth and here’s why.
Unfortunately, what the film does not talk about is all the other information Snowden leaked when he made claims to domestic surveillance overreach — he also exposed foreign intelligence operations. According to Fred Kaplan’s novel “Dark Territory” published this year, Snowden dumped all the information we had on Taliban insurgents, CIA recruits in Afghanistan, email intelligence from Iran and surveillance programs to track associates of known terrorists. This is arguably detrimental to our national security.
As described in “Dark Territory,”after Snowden’s data splurge, President Barack Obama created a task force of five qualified experts to, in short, review the charges of abuse in the NSA, uncover the salience as to why the NSA needed that data, and to provide a more effective and ethical way to do it.
The team knew that a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Service Act) court ruled that Section 215 of the Patriot Act allowed the NSA to access the metadata for only the purposes of finding people within U.S. borders that were contacting foreign terrorists. If there was evidence of terrorist contact, only 22 personnel from the NSA were allowed to request access to that metadata, with the approval of at least one supervisor stating the query was worthwhile. The search team also found that in 2012, the NSA only queried 288 phone records for related terrorist communications, which gave the FBI 12 suspected phone numbers, with zero terrorists captured as a result. The reporters found that, at worst, the NSA’s metadata collection was useless with a possibility for future exploitation. The other program that Snowden released to the world was called PRISM. In this case, PRISM (which monitors nine American Internet companies) successfully prevented 54 terrorist attacks and arguably saved countless lives.
The team of five experts ultimately advised the President of 46 recommendations to tighten the security of highly classified information and prevention of government overreach of the information.
The U.S. House of Representatives also released a report last month that details a two-year summary of an investigation into the repercussions of Snowden’s leak. What the report discloses is that most of the documents he released were not related to individual privacy interests, instead they pertain to our vital military, defense, and intelligence information that is “of great interest to our adversaries.” Snowden was blinded by his interest in the possible exploitation of American privacy rights which overshadowed the danger of releasing our military and defense intelligence to the world which includes our enemies. However, as I truly believe his intentions were for good and in pursuit of justice, his actions were wrong, unpatriotic, and careless.
Ultimately Snowden was wrong in stealing highly classified government documents and materials for the greater good of exposing what he perceived to be a major threat to the privacy of Americans. Maybe the evil was the secrecy of the NSA’s work for the greater good of national security. In exposing only the mere potential government overreach instead of bringing the problem up internally, he threatened our national security and degraded our international prestige.
Follow Sarah Neiman on Twitter: @sarahneiman