Question & answer with Gary Ross
Friday, November 08, 2013
Posted by: Laura Sellers-Earl
Special agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland
Security and author of "Who Watches the Watchmen: The Conflict between National
Security and Freedom of the Press.”
By Matt Holden
Ball State University
Q: Is Edward Snowden a traitor or a patriot?
A: Edward Snowden
signed a non-disclosure agreement as a federal contractor. Having a security
clearance is a privilege and not a right. In the non-disclosure agreement there
are certain additional requirements including not disclosing classified
information to people who are not authorized to receive it, including members
of the media. So certainly he violated the nondisclosure agreement and he
certainly violated the law.
Q: If Snowden hadn’t leaked that information, what wouldn’t we know now?
A: This is an
important distinction that needs to be made: In a democracy there needs to be
some oversight of what the intelligence community is doing. There’s this
concept called "proxy monitoring” where there is certain sensitive information
that the United States needs to keep secret in the interest of national
security. In this case, that whole
process was skewed and Snowden went directly to a member of the media, which in
turn got the information to the public. There have certainly been cases where
people have brought information to inspector generals’ offices and followed the
proper processes under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act.
I think President Obama mentioned that even though what Snowden did was
undesirable it has led to a discussion in the public that maybe needed to
occur. It goes back to that Pew (Research) poll which talks about what he did
was a violation of law, but it has led to some needed discussion about what the
intelligence community is doing on behalf of the public.
Q: What is a reasonable expectation for privacy for the public these days?
A: It seems like the
general public now are voluntarily giving up more of their privacy. People are
on Facebook and Twitter talking about what they had for lunch or what music
they like. There’s a term called the "digital wake” now compared to five or 10
years ago people’s digital wakes have grown immensely. On the other side with
National Security it becomes a balancing act between what is reasonable for the
government to help protect against in terms of national security versus what
would be considered unreasonable. A great example of this is the Boston
bombing. There have been some discussions about cameras and the public being
watched here in the United States, while over in Great Britain this is already
the case. I think the Boston bombing is a good example of how this can be used
because these cameras were in place and there was a lack of privacy. This is
all part of a public debate that’s going on right now between the cost and the
benefit. You have to be able to look at the benefit and then weigh it against
the cost, but certainly there is some perceived cost involved by having this
lack of privacy.
Q: National Security has changed since 9/11, but has
continued to evolve. What is the future of it?
A: Back during World
War II, the type of enemy we had was an enemy that was very easy to find, but
very hard to kill. Now the paradigm has certainly changed where we have enemies
that are very easy to kill, but very hard to find. So the government has become
a lot more reliant on intelligence and the intelligence community whose job it
is to provide information to the policy makers and decision makers to help them
make informed decisions on behalf of the public. There’s going to be a greater
requirement for the intelligence community to collect more information, so
there’s a greater quantity. With increases in technology there’s probably an
increased quality of information as well. It’s going to require the
intelligence community to improve their capability to support the decision
makers and the policy makers by collecting the information so they can make the
correct decision, whether it’s treaties, drone strikes, or new policy and
strategy. We have to do more with less and become more agile. In order to be
more agile, you need better intelligence so you can make better decisions and
put your assets where they need to be.
Q: How do you see the availability of information
changing in the future?
A: As technology
improves, I don’t see it decreasing. It’s only going to continue on the same
path it’s on now. My estimation is there is only going to be more information
available not just for intelligence but for the general public. Then the
question becomes if that information is out there, is that something that law
enforcement and the intelligence community should be looking at or if they have
the authority to be looking at it. I think what’s important is to realize the
people in the intelligence community that work for all the 16 agencies, when
they get up in the morning their job is to protect the country and protect the
public. After 9/11 we learned that there were things we could have been doing
that we haven’t been doing… and a lack of information sharing. We want to go
right up to that line in order to prevent the next terrorist attack. If we go
short of that line, people might say, ‘Well why didn’t the intelligence
community do enough to prevent x, y or z from happening.’ But then the opposite
side of the coin is if we go past that line, then the public says, ‘What is the
intelligence community and the government doing?’ For the intelligence
community we have to rely on our general councils and rely on our (attorney
generals) to tell us what we have the authority to do and what we don’t have
the authority to do. I think employees don’t want to have it happen - that we
weren’t able to prevent something because we weren’t able to do enough.
Certainly people on the other side may say we’d rather be a little less safe
but have the intelligence community doing less, and this is the discussion
that’s going on in the public right now. I don’t know the answer, and people
through all branches of government are trying to determine where that line
Ross said these opinions are his own and are not reflective
of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.