Secrets and spies

By Bob Franken
For those who turn to this space for the highly creative idea in the face of controversy, you’re in luck once again. The issue is massive government cyberspying on Americans, largely by using a puppet court to force Google, Facebook and the others to turn over their data about our so-called private lives. So here’s the brainstorm: Why not get rid of the middleman and nationalize all of these companies, make them an official part of our national-intelligence apparatus. We can call the entire thing “Snoople.”

This, of course, is the polar opposite of an earlier scheme, which would be to privatize our espionage operations. The flaw with that one is that to a large extent we already have, since so much of the work is done by contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton.

That’s the giant consulting firm whose proudest achievement was hiring Edward Snowden. How were they to know that they were employing such a versatile young man, one who was not only skilled in the technical aspects of highly classified operations, but also brilliant in the equally dark art of public relations. Snowden, after all, has made Booz Allen a household word and finally given government prying into its own citizens’ lives the attention it deserves.

Dick Cheney re-emerged to appear on Fox News (where else) to defend these operations as “very important to gather intelligence on your enemies and stop the attack before it is launched.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because he’s offered the same justification for torture. He made it clear that he has little regard for President Barack Obama, but they are in the same “whatever it takes” camp. Right there with them is Republican Congressman Peter King, whose latest gem is to argue that journalists (full disclosure: I am one) who publish classified information should be charged as criminals.

Apparently, some of those at the Justice Department agree. One of their agents who was investigating a leak was able to get a judge’s permission to track Fox News reporter James Rosen after filing an affidavit charging Rosen had “aided, abetted or conspired” with his source, in violation of the law while going through the normal routine of preparing a story.

Don’t our leaders have to take an oath to either “preserve protect and defend” or “support” the Constitution? What part of the First and Fourth Amendments don’t they understand? Apparently, the “freedom of the press” and prohibitions against “unreasonable searches and seizures” concepts are a bit too complicated for them.

Let’s pause right here. This is when we’ll hear a chorus of apologists in unison chanting that it’s just not that simple, that in these dangerous times there must be a balance. They certainly are correct about the mortal threat from terrorists, but let’s dust off that Benjamin Franklin quote that “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” That says it all.

Democracy can be a pain. It requires a special ingenuity to protect our unique experiment in freedom. The Constitution is more than a nicety. This dilemma deserves our full attention and study. In the future, if you want to research these issues, you can Snoople them.

© 2013 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Synd., Inc.