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Question & answer with Gary Ross

Friday, November 8, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Laura Sellers-Earl
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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 
mwholden@bsu.edu

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 should be.

Ross said these opinions are his own and are not reflective of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


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