Last Tuesday, PBS’s Frontline premiered the first half of their four hour documentary covering the history of the NSA over the past 15 or so years, the programs that the agency had implemented in the wake of September 11, and the people who had risked their lives to try and tell registered voters in the United States that their country was officially out of control.
“We came to the conclusion, independently but consistently, that it was no doubt in our mind it was a proper use of the President’s powers..” – former General Counsel to the NSA Robert Deitz
In chronological order we are introduced to a cast of characters and events that took place in the immediate moments after the Twin Tower attacks, following a narrative of an administration and a bureaucracy in crisis. And it’s from this intricately pieced together picture that we’re able to gain a deeper, more astute understanding of what the catalyst was that set off one of the largest intelligence gathering operations in the history of American government.
“They got rid of the code which was designed to encrypt the data of U.S citizens.”
The NSA is Made of People
Sometimes in this scandal, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the government as a single entity with a united purpose to control all information coming into or going out of this country.
In reality, there were a number of individuals who actively spoke out against what was only referred to as “The Program” up until then. However because none of them were willing to risk their freedom to dismantle it, all the unclassified documents did was stay on the news cycle for a few days then quickly, quietly drop off into nothing for the next eight years.
At one point Edward Loomis, a member of this select group of early whistleblowers and a man who worked as a cryptographer for the agency since 1964 during the height of the Cold War, breaks down into tears at the thought of what he “could have done” to save those who were lost on 9/11. He sputters through his interview claiming he “tried to get those changes implemented, I tried and tried again and they just wouldn’t do it,” in reference to the programs that could have prevented the attack.
Whether these are the tears of Loomis himself or those of a nearby crocodile, it’s hard to say, though you could see that our national tragedy was something he felt like he could have, and should have, been able to prevent. Saving 2,996 lives with those towers kept standing strong as a pair of monuments to the power of American ingenuity and the spirit that helps us get things done.
If there’s anything that Frontline is good at (besides being one of the last great white hopes for journalism in this country), it’s giving you all the facts with just a touch of emotion, and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions from the information available at the time of broadcast.
The plight of these people reminds us that sometimes it’s not about what you know, but what you’re willing to give up that makes someone take the leap from government shill to internationally wanted whistleblower. Luckily enough we had Snowden, who himself didn’t have much to lose in order to give millions of citizens a second chance at understanding what their tax dollars were being spent on at a base in the southeastern corner of Maryland.
The Human Element
It’s hard not to react with anger in the moment something happens. It’s human nature to want to feed the emotion that makes the most sense at the time we’re feeling it, rather than think too far ahead about what the implications of those irrational actions might be after we’ve already swung the bat for the farthest fence on the field.
The documentary teaches us that although years of unrestricted power obviously went to the heads of people who were just powerful enough to take advantage of the position they’d been handed in our post 9/11 world, it was many of those same individuals who were also convinced they were doing the right thing for their country during a time of international war. They went to work every day assured that what they were doing was helping to serve their country, and to keep the members of their nation safe from those who would seek to do them harm.
Of course, this doesn’t discount for the lies the agency has told in the time since the Snowden leaks first dropped, and certainly doesn’t excuse the reaction of the Obama administration who was supposedly in the know the whole time. Multiple sources in the piece confirm that Obama spent about two days thinking about it before handing down the decision to continue the programs put in place by members of the Bush administration, essentially renouncing any street cred he may have had as a Constitutional lawyer up until that point.
And on that last tidbit of a cliffhanger, we’re left with a brief interlude to the intro of Snowden and his background, along with the wait of another week until part two goes live next Monday, May 20th.
VPNCreative will be here with another write up soon after the show premieres, ready to clue you into everything you need to know about Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the programs they created to watch the world while the world watches them right back.