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Is government transparency the only way to stop security leaks?

President Obama’s arrival in the White House was supposed to herald the beginning of the “most transparent administration in history.” History, however, will record that it has instead presided over the most massive invasion of personal liberties due to its unchecked surveillance and information gathering programs.

Because of this, succeeding administrations will be subject to more frequent leaks and disclosures by whistlebowers until such time transparency is restored in government. How soon it happens depends on many factors, not the least of which is the acknowledgement that there are about five million staffers involved in working with classified documents. There are bound to be others following in the footsteps of Edward Snowden.

That’s the assessment of a recent article in the Guardian a few days ago. Transparency is coming whether the government likes it or not. But the whole issue has been so mismanaged and is so obfuscated that even the NSA will not acknowledge information which they’ve already leaked to the press.

One wonders if transparency will ever come, but interesting new revelations came about with Laura Poitras’s latest documentary, CITIZENFOUR, which debuted at the New York Film Festival last Friday. As Snowden talks to Poitras about the fallout of his disclosures on his own life, he maintains the belief that the government’s pursuit of him will serve to empower others to mimic him. Like the mythical Hydra, he says,

They can stomp me if they want to, but there will be seven more to take my place.

Indeed, in the dramatic conclusion of the film, Snowden learns in real-time on-camera that Poitras and former Guardian reporter, Glenn Greenwald have a new source. The new source gave Greenwald’s journal, The Intercept , information about the US government’s massive Watchlist – containing those with terrorist affiliations. That list is upward of 1.2 million names- most of whom have no connection to terrorism, and is governed by the same bizarre secrecy by the NSA that we mentioned in the first part of this article and which has been recently ruled unconstitutional. In fact, a federal judge also ruled last week that people on a no-fly list were to be restored to flying status – that being on the list without a stated reason or even acknowledgement of such a list was a violation of one’s Fifth Amendment right to due process.

Recently, The US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) took the unprecedented step of banning millions of intelligence employees from talking to the press about any topic, be it classified or not. Additionally, the government’s Draconian “Insider Threat” program is haunting government employees every move. Again, these machinations are occurring while the president purports to be a champion of transparency and declassification.

Some other than Snowden have raised the alarm about other whistleblowers potentially waiting in the wings. Around the time of the initial Snowden revelations last year, Greenwald told Newsweek:

“Government and businesses cannot function without enormous amounts of data, and many people have to have access to that data.”

It is at this point in the documentary – during the second act- that a then obscure Snowden in Hong Kong makes his prophecy about “wannabe followers.”

Yet, without a misstep, the government’s predictable response to every new leak is to become more secretive. They cry for more prosecutions and impose increasingly pernicious restrictions on government employees who already work under a microscope.

The author of the Guardian article (Trevor Timm) is of the opinion that since it has taken about a year for Snowden’s revelations to reverberate into the public consciousness, that it will take time for other leakers to percolate their data through channels and into the light of day. That is, unless the government shifts gears and becomes more transparent in the way it conducts its operations. Time will tell.


Stan Ward Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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