Doctor Bashir: What does Section 31 do, apart from kidnapping Starfleet officers?
Sloan: We search out and identify potential dangers to the Federation.
Doctor Bashir: And once identified?
Sloan: We deal with them.
Doctor Bashir: How?
As I mentioned briefly last night I am finding interesting corollaries in the current NSA leak story and what we are facing in our Global War on Terror in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I went back and watched again the season four episodes entitled Homefront and Paradise Lost. Tonight I also watched an episode called Inquisition in which Dr Bashir, the Chief Medical Officer of Deep Space Nine is abducted by the representative of a secretive entity of Starfleet Intelligence authorized in the original Federation Charter and accused of being a spy for the Dominion. It is a chilling episode because it shows the power of lawfully constituted organizations that are granted nearly unlimited powers and operate under the utmost secrecy.
What do we know? We know far less than what we think that we know, that much is clear.
So what do we know?
We know that a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, a 29 year high school dropout named Edward Snowden leaked Top Secret FISA Court orders and other information to writer Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian newspaper. Something that he did evidently after offering them to others including the Washington Post.
We know that Snowden had worked for the CIA and NSA contractors in various capacities for a number of years. We know that he worked for the Booz Allen Hamilton contract with the NSA less than 4 months with a Top Secret Clearance and had lied to both his employer and girlfriend about his whereabouts when he left his home in Hawaii.
We know that he was unable to complete Army Special Forces entry training in 2003 after some kind of training accident.
We know that he supported the Ron Paul campaign with a financial contribution of $500 and that Paul has praised Snowden’s actions.
We know that some of the documents that Snowden leaked have been released by the Guardian and the Post. Likewise we know that Greenwald promises the release of more leaked information this week.
We know that this Snowden fled to Hong Kong in early May and then authorized the release of his identity and actions after the release of them by Greenwald.
We know that the documents leaked show that the FISA court authorize the sweeping collection of phone and internet data from American citizens as well as others overseas.
We know that Snowden is claiming that he is acting in the best interests of the country and the Constitution.
We know that the revelation of the FISA documents shows that National Intelligence Director James Clapper may have lied to Congress about those activities.
What don’t we know? Simply put we don’t know the truth. Likewise there is a good chance that no matter what happens in this case, no matter what is revealed and no matter what happens to Snowden or anyone implicated in the documents already released or to be released that we may never know the whole truth. Yes we may learn aspects of these operations and some activities, but believe me the real truth will remain classified and covered. And frankly that may not be a bad thing.
There have been some who are lionizing or demonizing the young Snowden. People are rapidly forming their opinions as to him being a “hero” or a “traitor.” I don’t think that we know enough yet to render judgement. He may be one or the other. He could be both and he could be neither. I do think the question goes beyond him. The fact that he fled to Hong Kong, a territory controlled by Communist China which has been engaged in much espionage against the United States is troubling. It makes it look like he may not quite be the hero after all.
The fact is that Snowden’s release of Top Secret classified documents is illegal. That is a fact whatever his motives. No matter if his motives were pure and patriotic as he claims, or were done for other reasons that we do not know including the possibility that he is working with Chinese agents. The unauthorized release of classified data has been a crime for decades, even before we devised our classification system. Even before the Patriot Act and the Global War on Terror.
During the Inquisition episode, at the point that the Section 31 personnel determine that Bashir is innocent of possible cooperation with the Dominion and try to recruit him that the following exchange takes place.
Sloan: We’re on the same team. We believe in the same principles that every other Federation citizen holds dear.
Doctor Bashir: And yet you violate those principles as a matter of course.
Sloan: In order to protect them.
Doctor Bashir: Well, I’m sorry, but the ends don’t always justify the means.
Sloan: Really? – How many lives do you suppose you’ve saved in your medical career?
Doctor Bashir: What has that got to do with anything?
Sloan: Hundreds, thousands? Do you suppose those people give a damn that you lied to get into Starfleet Medical? I doubt it. We deal with threats to the Federation that jeopardize its very survival. If you knew how many lives we’ve saved, I think you’d agree that the ends do justify the means. I’m not afraid of bending the rules every once in a while if the situation warrants it. And I don’t think you are either.
The action of Snowden in releasing these classified documents appears to be criminal in that it broke long established law. However, criminality does not necessarily mean that he is a traitor. Could he be? The answer could be yes depending on his motive and what else may be released but quite possibly the answer could be no. For those that want to live in a world where everything is black and white that may be uncomfortable. But this messy world is the world that we live in, a world of infinite shades of gray, especially when it comes to intelligence and state secrets.
Now I can say that while I agree that Snowden broke the law I do not yet know if I can call him a traitor, nor do I know enough to call him a hero. One thing his actions have done is to spark a debate on the nature of the laws that our Congress enacted in the aftermath of the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks. The Patriot Act vastly expanded previous laws regarding surveillance, intelligence, economic, military and law enforcement measures including the work of the FISA courts. I do think that the authors meant well, but the law that they passed has great potential as a platform for totalitarianism.
Those laws were rushed to completion and passed with strong bi-partisan majorities in both the House and Senate. Those powers were renewed by both the Bush and Obama administration and Congress. One can make good arguments for security as well as the dangers inherent in these laws and the expanded powers of the intelligence community which not only can be used for good, but can be used for evil.
I think it is time that we had a real debate over these laws as a society. We may not like what we see, but we may decide to keep some laws and restrict other powers granted. That is something that we must do as a society if we are to retain any form of our republic. We cannot afford the bumper sticker and Facebook meme type of debate in this that appeals to raw emotion and political certitude and bypasses the real issues involved.
At the end of the episode when Bashir is back on DS9 talking with Captain Sisko and the other senior staff of the station the questions asked are so pertinent to what we are doing today.
Doctor Bashir: I can’t believe the Federation condones this kind of activity.
Odo: Personally I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t. Every other great power has a unit like Section 31 – the Romulans have the Tal Shiar, the Cardassians had the Obsidian Order…
Doctor Bashir: But what does that say about us? When push comes to shove, are we willing to sacrifice our principles in order to survive?
Captain Sisko: I wish I had an answer for you, Doctor.
Likewise, I wish I had an answer…