The Patriots, The Paranoid, The Zealots
Today most newspapers are running front page coverage of a crime committed over 50 years ago. The crime was breaking and entry and burglary of a FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania. The justification voiced by the “criminals” was to expose illegal FBI practices and in particular to expose the hand of J Edgar Hover in instigating the wholesale investigation of Americans without probable cause.
The early 70’s was a time of anti Vietnam War protests and cold war fears. Many in government saw it their solemn duty to protect the rest of us from an enemy crouched and hidden in the shadows. There was not an extra mile that these public servants would not go to execute what they saw as their duty.
Were these officials patriots, paranoids, or just zealots?
With the fullness of time Americans have come to know that Hover’s FBI did in fact exercise measures which were not lawful or were not necessary. Due process was an overlooked protection and instead giving way to prevention at any cost. Act now, ask questions later.
The more recent “whistle blowers” (Bradley Manning and Eric Snowdon) have brought civil disobedience back into the spot light. Both claim their intentions were to show government illegal extremes which were being kept from American’s knowledge through secrecy classifications. Manning’s “Wikileaks” disclosures caused embarrassment over very petty and trivial matters. He was caught and the military threw the book at him.
Snowdon was cleverer. He skipped town and subsequently has released highly classified but equally suspect classified information. Much of Snowdon’s information many people guessed was being done but no one had proof.
In both cases, the public debate has been about the disclosure information, that is was it damaging to reveal or not. Surprisingly there has been no charges brought against anyone over how these two very low level individuals could have gotten access to this information. In other words, if this information was truly so highly classified, why were there not greater access controls?
Just as with the FBI break in 50 years ago, Wikileaks and the NSA disclosures probably contained some information that should have been kept secret. The problem, however, that the bulk of the revelations paint an unflattering picture of those running the FBI, the State Department and the NSA.
The question of whether government agencies are patriots, or are composed mainly of paranoids or zealots is a question we must ask regularly. The overuse of secrecy is a dead give away that some excess is taking place.
This 50 year old FBI break in is an important reminder. Manning and Snowdon may deserve a second look with respect to just how serious their crimes may have been.