Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have been outspoken critics of the recently revealed NSA surveillance programs for some time now. In fact, with few exceptions, they’ve been the only real critics of these secret programs within our entire government. While their willingness to vocalize their concerns is commendable, their criticism has been largely reduced to vague and cryptic sound bites. According to them, the information in question is classified and it’s illegal to publicly acknowledge the details. In lieu of explicit commentary on what they believe to be an egregious abuse of power, they have chosen instead to say what they can, when they can, without actually “breaking the law”.
In the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, they have continued to ambiguously proclaim that what the public has learned is just the fringe, and that some of the statements the NSA have released in an effort to clarify its parameters and limitations are blatantly spurious. In spite of these remarks, the Senators continue to practice restraint, claiming they aren’t permitted to unequivocally decry the statements and programs because it would be criminal to expose them.
I am calling on Senators Wyden and Udall to dissent and openly criticize the government and NSA, with full disclosures concerning what they know about how these programs operate, and the ways in which the government has obscured the truth. It’s easy for me to espouse courage and justice in this scenario, that’s true; I’m ignorant of what these men know and am not threatened by the consequences of exposing classified secrets. I fully acknowledge the difference of opinion I might have if I was in their shoes. But in the interest of indulging this fiction, I’ll simply state that this is no time for pusillanimity.
Consider for a moment the power that revelations of government abuse- illuminated by Congressmen who sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee- would have. Think about the uproar that would ensue, if in fact Wyden and Udall became whistleblowers. They would unquestionably become the most prominent expositors of government malfeasance in US history. Currently, they’ve been relegated to infrequent enigmatic declarations warning of an indiscernible breach of trust. But the breadth of the overreach remains opaque. Pertinacity is needed by those who possess the facts. Acts of conscience must be accompanied with the temerity necessary to endure the demonization efforts of the government and media that are inevitable.
Do we not deserve to know exactly what the scope and scale of the government’s capabilities are? Shouldn’t the debate about privacy and security be transparent, so that we may have a share in how our lives are monitored? What right does Wyden, Udall, or any other government official have, to withhold this information from those who have elected them? They’d shout “National Security” or that we need to protect ourselves from “The Terrorists”, but these are just stock responses, spewed thoughtlessly by government officials when they run out of ground to give. It’s the political equivalent of telling your children not to do something because you “said so”.
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I’ll simply ask Senators Wyden and Udall: who do you stand with? Is it the government and their secrets, or the American people? Wyden and Udall swore to uphold the Constitution; but what if the government is subverting the ideals within? What if it is the NSA that is behaving unconstitutionally? Does that not mean that it is the government- not Wyden and Udall- that has betrayed its oath? What logic can be spun to justify the continued silence of these Senators, if in fact the government is perverting the Constitution?
This is what distinguishes genuine whistleblowers like Daniel Ellsberg, Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake, and Edward Snowden: the consequences of inaction frightened them more than what would result from civil disobedient acts of conscience. In all of the aforementioned cases, these men were willing to risk everything, and did. In the cases of Manning and Snowden, we don’t quite know how their stories will end. What we do know is that they are unflinchingly courageous, and that their integrity- which sells for so little in politics- is something our government officials should aspire to. I think Senators Wyden and Udall have a unique opportunity to make history for the right reasons. They should seize it.