Snowden just wrong

To the Journal editor:

The Edward Snowden affair has posed difficult national choices. The National Security Agency has been collecting massive amounts of telephonic and Internet communications to detect terrorist links.

In this global collection effort, the communications of American citizens necessarily get caught up in the wide sweep of data and this makes many Americans uncomfortable.

Mega data collection is viewed as an inherent violation of privacy and it is said that the U.S. government must make a better case for its collection in the struggle against terrorism.

Over the years, we have had a succession of self-appointed guardians of democracy and privacy beginning with Daniel Ellsberg and the leaking of the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s. Edward Snowden is only the latest.

Congress sought to deal with the problem of leaking by setting up a whistle blower mechanism whereby potential violations of the law can be confidentially reported to Congress and the people’s representatives can deal with the problem without exposing state secrets.

Snowden did not avail himself of this mechanism and therefore deserves no presumption as a defender of democracy. Plain and simple, he committed an illegal and treasonous act.

The succession of leaks, in recent years, has done incalculable harm to our anti-terrorism efforts. First the revelation of cell phone monitoring caused terrorists to abandon the use of cell phones.

Next the disclosure that the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications was being used to monitor bank transfers caused terrorist networks to abandon the world’s formal banking system.

We are losing the ability to monitor terrorists’ conversations or to follow the money.

Now, with the Snowden revelations, terrorists will not use email, Facebook or Twitter. These leaks are destroying our technological advantage.

As a nation, certainly we will need to weigh the costs against the benefits of this new technology. But Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, said in congressional testimony that more than 50 terrorist operations have been disrupted around the world since 9/11.

There is no reason to doubt his testimony. Although opinion polls currently show American public sympathy running slightly in Snowden’s favor – public opinion is fickle.

Given another 9/11 type event, the public will weigh the benefits and costs of these programs very differently.

Jesse W. Wright