Story’s not about Snowden: It’s about the truth

By Jayson Jacoby June 28, 2013 09:38 am

I don’t think Edward Snowden is a traitor.

Nor am I convinced he’s a hero.

But I’m far less interested in the man, and in any meaningless labels which might be affixed to him, than I am in the information he made available.

And it seems to me that the details Snowden has divulged about the U.S. government’s domestic surveillance programs are details which we, the American people whom the politicians are always prattling on about as though we’re all the best of pals, deserved to know.

That our government has apparently collected data about how pretty much every citizen uses the telephone and the Internet, for instance, is a pretty significant revelation.

It gets my attention when even members of Congress seem genuinely surprised to learn how muscular the government’s information-gathering capabilities are.

To be sure, I doubt this is anything like as sinister as it sounds at first glance.

The feds have neat computers, sure, but it’s not as if there’s some guy in an off-the-rack suit with a crewcut listening in every time my dad and I kick around the Ducks’ chances for a national championship in football.

Still and all, the realization that such a thing could conceivably happen, were we to inadvertently utter the wrong combination of words, ought to be troubling to any American who still holds to the quaint notion that the government had better have an awfully good reason for nosing into our business in such a blatant way.

Some of those who’d like nothing more than to see Snowden give his next TV interview from inside a federal prison argue that just such a reason exists, that being to protect Americans from terrorists.

This of course is a worthwhile goal.

And I don’t begrudge the government unleashing its formidable array of technology in the pursuit of that goal.

It’s a question worth debating, though, whether officials have employed these tools with reasonable precision, akin to a surgeon delicately wielding a scalpel, or whether they’ve just swung a sledgehammer and never mind if something, like say our civil liberties, gets squashed.

Except we can’t have a debate if we don’t know what we’re arguing about.

And although I doubt we know everything today, we know rather more than we did before anyone, save his friends and family, had ever heard of Edward Snowden.

So he deserves credit, if not adulation.

Federal officials, from President Obama on down, have lashed Snowden with the predictable verbal rope, accusing him, among other nastiness, of risking American lives.

This could be true.

But so far neither the president nor any of his acolytes has backed up the allegation with evidence that would convince me were I sitting on a jury.

They’ve said repeatedly that the surveillance strategy has foiled terrorist plots.


What they haven’t proved, in my estimation, is that the broad nature of that strategy was necessary to its success, whether the government has struck a balance between security and privacy — indeed, it’s not clear whether the government even strived to do so.

This is quite a conundrum, to be sure.

Government officials have an awesome responsibility, and a difficult one. It’s beyond dispute that the cacophony would be even louder were terrorists to exploit a hole in America’s defenses that was later shown to be one that could easily have been plugged.

Ultimately, I think that were federal officials able to explain, in a cogent way, why such tactics as mining “metadata” are integral to thwarting terrorist plots, then a strong majority of Americans would give at least a grudging approval.

But as any 5-year-old knows who has been nabbed by his mom, hiding in the closet with chocolate smeared on his lips, talking your way out after you’ve been caught is considerably more difficult.

No government ever earned the trust of the people — nor, indeed, deserved it — by acting as though the people themselves could not, to quote a famous cinema Marine, “handle the truth.”

. . .

I was walking on B Street near the railroad tracks the other day when a voice hailed me.

It belonged to Mike Borisoff.

He had an idea, and it was a good one.

With all the recent rain — better than two inches in a week — there’s apt to be a lot of standing, stagnant water in Baker City yards, Mike said. Buckets. Old tires. Kids’ wagons.

And stagnant water — especially stagnant water warmed by what’s forecast to be a major heat wave — is the perfect incubator for mosquitoes. It would be a good public service, Mike suggested, to encourage people to find these sources, and to dump them out.

He’s right. So now I’ve done it.

You can thank Mike for missing out on all that fun scratching.

Jayson Jacoby is editor 
of the Baker City Herald.