by Frederick P. Hitz , Senior Lecturer, Batten School of Public Policy
Now that the filmed story of Edward Snowden’s betrayal of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) efforts to capture hostile communications between terrorists abroad and persons in the US. has come to a theater near you, it seems appropriate to re-visit the extraordinary threat to US National Security this represented, and why efforts were made to prosecute him for his actions. It is indisputable that any evidence we as a nation might accumulate to forestall or prevent a future 9/11 is a national security priority for the US as a nation. In that sense, there can be no sympathy for what Mr. Snowden freely confesses he was trying to do. If he had been successful in eliminating this NSA program, the US would have been more vulnerable to cyber-attack than it is currently. The only issue is whether as a non-employee of the US Government, i.e. an employee of a consulting company working for NSA, he is shielded in some fashion from personal responsibility for his criminal act. I don’t believe so and as a 30-year employee of the CIA, this would be the height of absurdity. Obviously, the threat to national security is identical if it comes as the consequence of the act of a contract employee with access to top secret information as it would from a career employee with access to the same information. If the careerist is not permitted to reveal top secret information, neither is a contractor who is a non-US Government employee with access to the same information. This seems rudimentary, irrefutable, and elementary.
The question to me is whether top secret information of this importance should EVER be made available to a contracting entity if that body of individuals is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts or the rules that seek to protect classified information.
Surely, that cannot be. But if that argument is going to be made, then perhaps we as a nation should consider whether there is a body of information that is too sensitive to be exposed to individuals who are NOT bound by the rules on secrecy classification that bind regular US Government employees who undergo a rigorous background investigation before they are exposed to top secret materials.
In my view, if the US Government is NOT prepared to enforce the same restrictive standards of access to classified materials to contractors as it does to its own employees then we had better get out of the business of sharing these sensitive classified documents with outside contractors, despite the alleged savings to the US taxpayers this might afford. As a matter of fact, I have great concern about the general advisability of using contractors i.e. non-US Government employees in the extraordinary number of Intelligence Community activities they are currently involved in beyond NSA. I don’t agree with the practice of non-CIA employees working in line jobs in the Agency that were formerly restricted to fully cleared in-house government employees.