We can debate for a long time whether or not Edward Snowden is a hero or a villian when it comes to the disclosure of government spying practices on Americans.
The closest similar incident was Daniel Ellsberg, when he released the Pentagon papers, which showed the government had systematically lied to the American people about the Vietnam War. But it's only close. This really is a different matter.
While it may be a revelation to most Americans, we seriously doubt the general concept of what was going on comes as much of a surprise to any foreign intelligence organizations.
We've come a long way from the Zimmerman Telegram of WWI when President Wilson famously objected to U.S. spying by saying, "Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's mail."
Today, everybody spies on everybody, friends and enemies alike. Knowledge is power and knowing your enemy's intentions (or for that matter, your friends') is vital in the cutthroat world of modern diplomacy.
So, as national security secrets go, we doubt there's little in concept that our enemies don't already know we're doing (if they didn't, then their spying on us isn't very good).
No, the real concern is what it means in the long run for civil liberties in the United States. What do the American people find appropriate, and what goes over what is admittedly a very blurry line?
The ability to provide "secret" surveillance on Americans actually goes back decades, and has been growing ever more intrusive thanks to legislation passed by Congress and approved by every president since Carter. But it really got legs with the Patriot Act, passed in the halls of fear that followed 9/11.
Fortunately, neither presidents Bush nor Obama have been the type to misuse the powers given them (at least not greatly). But Bush had Cheney and Obama has Holder and men like that don't seem to be as constrained. Still, what we know, so far, that has gone on has been fairly mild compared to the full powers available to a modern executive branch. But imagine what these powers would be like in some other administration, say that of Nixon, John Mitchell and J. Edgar Hoover. Don't say it can't happen. There's another Nixon out there, some day. Would you want him to have these powers? To go after "domestic enemies" with the vigor we currently go after foreign ones?
Power will, eventually, always be abused. That's why our Constitution puts so many brakes on the power of government.
We need to completely rethink what capabilities we want the executive branch of this government to have over the ordinary lives of ordinary Americans.
And we can begin by repealing the Patriot Act.
Our greatest security lies in our freedoms, not in their restrictions.
-- Kelly Everitt