Sunday, March 9, 2014
By LORETTA TURNER
BIDDEFORD - I find perceptions with regard to Edward Snowden troublesome in that he is viewed as some kind of hero.
My view is one of a U.S. citizen who is by nature skeptical when it comes to invasion and/or misuse of private information by any agency of government, business, employer or professional that has access to what I consider mine, protected by law, and I would be alarmed if any of those crossed the line.
This is coupled with my having been involved in government intelligence, albeit decades ago, and continue to be with Maine's chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.
As for Snowden's actions, everyone I have known who has worked in intelligence with access to sensitive, highly classified information that deals with our national security must sign documents and swear to protect that classified information and the individuals involved.
When being sworn in, one is given an outline and information of what laws apply and what the consequences will be for breaking that signed agreement. Years ago, one could not divulge being employed by the National Security Agency.
Viewing Snowden as a hero not only contradicts this agreement, but causes immeasurable harm to people and organizations whose duty is to protect all of us.
If he truly did feel morally obligated to divulge that surveillance may have been illegally conducted on U.S. citizens, there are procedures in place. But to take classified documents and information that disclose how and what intelligence information is gathered or used is a criminal offense, punishable by up to life in prison, or worse, if lives are lost as a consequence.
That being the case, who in their right mind would take such extreme measures based on some "moral conscience"? When doubts arise with regard to what may be illegal gathering or use of intelligence, there are channels and places and people to go to within the highest levels of government, because we all know that things can happen. Further, it is the obligation of any person who is working in that environment to report suspected infractions.
In a world that has grown so complicated by constant new means of communication, it is imperative that our national defense continue to advance with technologies that are available. Today, those legal lines may not be as well defined as in earlier years, so we need constant oversight and updating.
Good, sound intelligence involves the collection and analysis of lots of information that is sent forward to those who would be able to act upon it. These activities are what make up 95 percent of intelligence work; the other 5 percent is the stuff of novels and movies.
What is true is that we cannot possibly survive without it, and steps have been and continue to be taken to safeguard the collection of data, the persons involved and the system, with time being of the essence. A breach can set us back years and potentially endanger all of us and our allies. We all depend upon it and those whose job it is to do that work, even if we cannot have access to it. How could we possibly survive without it?
Organizations like the Association of Former Intelligence Officers give us an opportunity to invite guests who are or have been active in the intelligence community, both domestic and foreign. Our guest speakers provide us with specifics of operations from years past to the present.
Members of the public are most often invited to our meetings, and we only ask that, whether or not they agree with what the speaker says or does, our guest be treated respectfully for allowing us an opportunity to hear what they have to say and ask relevant questions.
Guests have included Tyler Drumheller, who headed the Iraqi desk at the CIA; one of the men involved in the capture of Saddam Hussein; a trainer for the Department of the Navy's Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and a former female CIA spy captured and interrogated by the KGB, to name a few.
Loretta Turner is a resident of Biddeford and a member of the Maine chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (www.afiomaine.org).