Security and Freedom the Precarious Balance: Looking at the NSA Leaks and Terrorist Threats in Light of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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Odo: Am I the only one who’s worried that there are still Changelings here on Earth?

Joseph Sisko: Worried? I’m scared to death. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let them change the way I live my life.

Captain Sisko: If the Changelings want to destroy what we’ve built here, they’re going to have to do it themselves. We will not do it for them.

The current leaks of FISA documents regarding NSA data phone and internet collection programs including the PRISM program by ex Booz Allen Hamilton employee Edward Snowden have provoked a long needed debate. That debate is less about Snowden then it is about the broader issues that have been shunted to the side in the wake of the 9-11-2001 attacks and the passage of the Patriot Act.

Of course much of the debate right now is about Snowden himself, his actions, his loyalties, his motives and institutional questions regarding how he was given such broad access to Top Secret documents not directly related to his job. As important as the later is, the more critical issue is how we as a republic governed in a democratic manner balance legitimate security needs and individual liberty.

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I wrestle with these issues all the time as a Priest, historian, theologian, ethicist and Naval Officer. I am a civil libertarian who also happens to know a thing or two about National Security policy. The fact is that as much some pundits and politicians are ready to jump off the edge entirely on one side of the divide or the other, their previous political differences notwithstanding we see men and women lining up to praise or condemn Edward Snowden with little regard to the deeper issues involved.

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The real question is how we balance the legitimate need for security with freedom and regard for Constitutional liberties. The fact is there are terrorists in our midst. The Tsaraev brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing are a case in point. There are others who I am sure are interested in or capable of much more devastating attacks. Somehow we have to attempt to protect our people and way of life without destroying the Constitution and our liberties in the process.

In the Star Trek Deep Space Nine Episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost four Changelings from the Dominion reach Earth and in a series of relatively minor terrorist attacks create a chaotic situation. In response Starfleet officers take drastic action to convince the Federation President and Council to declare what amounts to Martial Law and the suspension of civil liberties on Earth.

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One of the Changelings takes the form of Chief O’Brien and contacts Captain Sisko, who due to his experience in the Dominion War and with Shape Shifters was recalled to Earth to assist Starfleet Command. The Changeling engages Sisko in a conversation near Starfleet Headquarters.

Changeling: Let me ask you a question. How many Changelings do you think are here on Earth right at this moment?

Captain Sisko: I’m not going to play any guessing games with you.

Changeling: Ah. What if I were to tell you that there are only four on this entire planet? Huh? Not counting Constable Odo, of course. Think of it – just four of us. And look at the havoc we’ve wrought.

The thing it it doesn’t take many terrorists to disrupt a society but at the same time the society’s response can dictate how deep the impact of the terrorists are on it. Terrorists create suspicion and tend to make people distrust others, in fact anyone that might be different than them. The response to terrorist attacks or threats is frequently disproportionately felt by regular citizens, anyone who has flown on a commercial airline in the United States since 9-11, the passage of the Patriot Act and formation of the TSA can testify.

While security at airports may be an inconvenience the fact is that the Patriot Act also gives Law Enforcement, Intelligence and Military agencies tremendous powers to collect human and electronic data on almost any citizen. Likewise the act increased the powers of these agencies under existing counter-intelligence laws. Some say that they have actually gutted the protections 4th Amendment and that may actually be a valid point.

The conversation between Sisko and the Changeling ends when the O’Brien Changeling comments “We do not fear you the way you fear us. In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.”

I think that really is what we have to watch out for in this War on Terrorism. It is far too easy to in our quest for security to destroy the very foundations of our governmental system. The sad thing is that history shows us how this can happen, wars without end and suspicions of enemies within and without have destroyed civilizations and transformed republics like Athens and Rome into tyrannies.

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Fear is an amazing thing. It triggers responses that are almost predictable. In the Homefront episode were civilian family members of Starfleet personnel are forced to give blood samples to prove that they are not Changelings masquerading as them Captain Sisko’s elderly father Joseph objects and eventually is able to avoid being tested, over the objections of his son who in in charge of the program.

Joseph Sisko: Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, what the hell has gotten into your head? You actually thought I was one of them, didn’t you?

Captain Sisko: I don’t know. I wasn’t sure.

Joseph Sisko: This business has got you so twisted around, you… you can’t think straight. You’re seeing shapeshifters everywhere! Maybe you ought to think about something for a minute. If I was a smart shapeshifter, a really good one, the first thing I would do would be to grab some poor soul off the street, absorb every ounce of his blood and let it out on cue whenever someone like you tried to test me. Don’t you see? There isn’t a test that’s been created a smart man can’t find his way around.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of what happens with Edward Snowden that we really need to look at and have a real discussion of what in the name of security we are willing to give up and what we are not. Technology has increased in ways that most people never imagined that it would be able to do, and that we could not imagine non-state terrorist enemies using against us.

Those are hard questions and they require a serious discussion. If we don’t have that discussion we will be the ones that destroy our way of life and republic and not any terrorist.

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As the Paradise Lost episode comes to its climax Captain Sisko confronts the Starfleet Admiral who has implemented the martial law degree on earth.

Admiral Leyton: You’ve always had a strong sense of duty.

Captain Sisko: My duty is to protect the Federation.

Admiral Leyton: That’s what we’re trying to do.

Captain Sisko: What you’re trying to do is to seize control of Earth and place it under military rule.

Admiral Leyton: If that’s what it takes to stop the Dominion.

Captain Sisko: So you’re willing to destroy Paradise in order to save it?

I think that Sisko’s final question is something that we need to ask those that would use the law, even bad laws to gain security but which ultimately could destroy us.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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3 Comments

Filed under national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, star trek

3 responses to “Security and Freedom the Precarious Balance: Looking at the NSA Leaks and Terrorist Threats in Light of Star Trek Deep Space Nine

  1. Rebecca

    An interesting reference is also made in this particular episode (Paradise Lost) because one of the officers reassigned was named…. Snowden. Caught me off-guard when I watched it. The parallels between that episode & what is happening these days is eery.

  2. Pingback: Security and Freedom the Precarious Balance: Looking at the NSA Leaks and Terrorist Threats in Light of Star Trek Deep Space Nine | My Daily Deep Space Nine Notes

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