A movie critic, reviewing John Wayne’s 1968 gung-ho film, The Green Berets, said that Wayne had reduced the complex issues behind the Vietnam war to the simplicity of a barroom brawl.
In the same vein, the American news media displays a genius for ignoring the complexities of a major news story and focusing on just a single, sensationalistic aspect of it.
Take the Paula Deen scandal. The media universally focused on Deen’s admitted use of the “N-word”–and utterly ignored far more important aspects of the story.
According to the complaint filed in the lawsuit, employees at the restaurant were routinely subjected to violent behavior, racial and sexual harassment, assault, bettery and sexual discrimination in pay.
Similarly, in covering the odyssey of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) employee turned mass secret leaker, the media have followed the same path.
Following Snowden’s disappearance from the United States, the media focused their attention on charting the almost daily whereabouts of Snowden.
Would Snowden receive amnesty in Hong Kong? In Russia? In Cuba? China? Venezuela? Nicaragua?
For the moment, he has settled on Russia, whose president, Vladimir Putin, is keeping a protective eye on him.
Yet even though he has momentarily obtained asylum, there’s no guarantee it will last.
Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the international terrorist better known as “Carlos the Jackal,” can attest to that.
By 1994, he had spent almost 20 years on the run from the French Intellilgence agents. They were seeking him for a series of terrorist attacks across France–and for the 1975 murders of two counter-intellilgence agents and their informant.
Carlos “The jackal”
After living in a series of countries that had no extradition treaty with France–such as Syria, Iraq and Jordan–he settled down in the Sudanese city of Khartoum.
He felt utterly safe, since he had been accorded official protection by the Sudanese government. But he had misjudged his protectors.
French and American Intelligence agencies offered a number of deals to the Sudanese authorities. In 1994, Carlos was scheduled to undergo a minor testicular operation in a Sudanese hospital.
Two days after the operation, Sudanese officials warned him of an assassination plot–and moved him to a villa for protection. They also provided him with bodyguards.
One night later, the bodyguards entered his room while he slept, tranquilized and tied him up–and slipped him into the custody of his longtime pursuers.
On August 14, 1994, Sudan transferred him to French Intelligence agents, who flew him to Paris for trial. He is now serving two sentences of life imprisonment.
There is no guarantee that any nation that guarantees the security of Edward Snowden today won’t decide, in the future, to betray him.
And, eventually he will run out of secrets to spill. That’s assuming that Russian and/or Chinese Intelligence agents haven’t already helped themselves to the secrets on his laptop.
As Mr. Spock once famously said during an episode of Star Trek: “Military secrets are the most fleeting of all.”
So where does the significance of the Snowden story lie?
In the fact that Americans have become too lazy or fearful to do most of their own spying.
Yes, that’s right–60 to 70% of America’s Intelligence budget doesn’t go to the CIA or the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
Instead, it goes to private contractors who supply secrets or “soldiers of fortune.”
One such contractor is Booz Allen Hamilton–which employed Snowden and gave him access to the super-secret NSA.
The outsourcing of government intelligence work to private contractors took off after 9/11.
This was especially true after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003–and found its Intelligence and armed services stretched to their furtherest limits.
The DIA estimates that, from the mid-1990s to 2005, the number of private contracts awarded by Intelligence agencies rose by 38%.
During that same period, government spending on “spies/guns for hire” doubled, from about $18 billion in 1995 to about $42 billion in 2005.
Many tasks and services once performed only by government employees are being “outsourced” to civilian contractors:
- Analyzing Intelligence collected by drones and satellites;
- Writing reports;
- Creating and maintaining software programs to manipulate data for tracking terrorist suspects;
- Staffing overseas CIA stations;
- Serving as bodyguards to government officials stationed overseas;
- Providing disguises used by agents working undercover.
More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman, warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries:
“There are two types of armies that a prince may use to defend his state: armies made up of his own people or mercenaries….
“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure; for they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal.
“They are brave among friends, among enemies they are cowards.
“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”
Machiavelli, on meeting Edward Snowden, would no doubt find his judgment confirmed.