All of the focus on Edward Snowden and clemency, pardon, whistle blower status or jail misses the real point. Namely, the NSA is conducting what amounts to illegal surveillance on collection of telephone data of persons not to mention surveillance on everyone in the world, including everyday people, world leaders and perhaps even U.S. elected officials. Setting aside for the moment the issues surrounding Edward Snowden’s legal dilemma, more focus needs to be placed on the issue of NSA surveillance. Specifically, now that we have the information provided by Snowden, what are we going to do about it?
This week, the release of journalist Betty Medsger’s new book on the FBI break-in of its offices in Media, PA over 40 years ago highlights the point even more. Medsger’s book, The Burglary, The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, reveals the identity of several of the anti-war activists who on March 8, 1971 were ordinary middle class people much like Edward Snowden, and broke into the FBI’s Media, PA offices with a crow bar and took with them suitcases full of files implicating the FBI’s illegal activity. Medsger was the Washington Post reporter at the time and the first to write about the contents of the files. At that time, the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was suspected of conducting massive surveillance and other illegal tricks, including blackmailing efforts on Martin Luther King, Jr and spying on ordinary citizens. The activists who broke in were much like Snowden except in one major area. Their identities were unknown. Three are still unknown but five have come forward now. And despite the FBI’s ability to crack cases, the FBI was never able to learn the identity of the burglars.
Their work efforts did not go unknown. The anti-war activists sent FBI documents to various news outlets and several elected officials including Senator George McGovern (D. SD) and U.S. Representative Parren Mitchel (D. MD). Just like the present day NSA surveillance, the FBI surveillance had also gone beyond mere intelligence gathering of information to illegal surveillance on law abiding citizens and organizations who may have differed in their views of the government. One tactic included sending an illegal wiretap of bugs placed in the hotel rooms of Martin Luther King, Jr. of his entertainment with women in his hotel rooms. The intent was to destroy people’s lives along with the surveillance.
The anti-war activists committing the FBI break-in remained silent even after the statute of limitations had passed in 1976—the time period expiration by which the government must charge them with a crime. One of the activists, Keith Forysth stated this week that they remained silent of their identity to place more focus on the documents and less on themselves. As a result of the release of documents, major improvements, reforms and guidelines to the FBI and its data collecting and surveillance, over many years of time, were implemented.
This leads to the question of whether too much focus is placed on Edward Snowden and not enough on the NSA’s illegal activities. It also leads one to question whether the focus on Snowden is taking away from what should be the real focus—our liberty and Constitutional freedoms are being whittled away by a runaway out of control NSA. The data that so far has been revealed by Snowden should have everyone regardless of political affiliation outraged. But for now, the public is mostly focused on Edward Snowden’s legal debacles.