|Download PDF of this full issue: v43n2.pdf (20 MB)|
By Michael F. Cascanet
Whistle blower Patriots or Anti-American Spies? PFC Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are both low-level operatives in a bloated US Intelligence system consisting of several million military, homeland security, state department and civilian contract workers who hold top secret security clearances. Manning and Snowden compiled and caused to be published classified documents, as Daniel Ellsburg did with the "Pentagon Papers" during the Nixon administration. Ellsburg is correctly remembered as a patriot while Manning is awaiting a long prison sentence and Snowden is running from prosecution as a traitor.
It is impossible for me to argue in this article whether the release of these documents by Manning and Snowden caused any harm to the intelligence gathering community or to the security efforts of the United States. For one, such a discussion would take thousands of words. For another, to make such an argument using the facts would require full access to top secret classified documents, sources and methods which, of course, are unavailable to us.
Rather, I will argue a few key generalities about the Manning/Snowden affairs that are obvious to me as a former low-level Army Security Agency translator/cryptanalyst/foreign language voice intercept operator in the 1970's. My experience, the historical record as it applies to Daniel Ellsburg, as well as the historical record of executive branch overreach from Nixon to Obama in the security realm, all suggest that most of the real mistakes and infractions of the law for which we as a country are ready to imprison Manning and Snowden, rest squarely on the shoulders of the managers of the US Intelligence community.
A key commandment of the intelligence community when I was a member of it was called "need to know." Besides having the proper clearance, I was required to have a clear "need to know" in order to acquire any information from the intelligence community besides the very limited raw information that I was privy to in my day-to-day military operations. Several times during my tenure as a Cambodian linguist I formally requested background information about a certain topic and was denied access. Even in my own Army Security Agency overseas facility where I worked with the French linguists who translated Cambodian diplomatic radio traffic, I was not allowed to read their daily transcripts. All of that was denied me by the NSA under "need to know." Another example was that on the first of the month sometime in 1972 a Cambodian field command that I had been decrypting, translating and forwarding to NSA changed its cypher key. In other words, the "secret" writing they had been using to hide the text of their message so that only the writer and the intended reader could understand it I also knew and could use it to reconstruct their message in Cambodian. When the Cambodians changed the key I asked NSA for the new one and was again denied under "need to know." I was cleared enough to translate their messages but not to have the key to decrypt it. Bottom line, I found out that it wasn't a violation to crack the code myself, and so I did which allowed me to send translations of their radio traffic in English to NSA.
Need to know was a pain, but it was also the law. It prevented one person from gathering tons of information that if disclosed, might be detrimental to the security of the US.
Manning and Snowden gathered thousands of pages of documents of military, diplomatic and homeland security importance. The blame for that lies not with them, or any other PFC or GS-5 with a clearance. The fault for that lies with the President, the Director of Homeland Security, the Director of the NSA, The Secretary of Defense, and whoever else allowed such low-level workers with a top secret security clearance to access such a broad and deep portion of the US Intel data base.
Homeland Security has grown way too large. There are too many civilian contract workers in the security mix. The NSA and CIA have been allowed to carry out programs (data mining, domestic phone intercept, domestic internet intercept, drone missions, rendition, third party torture) that are unconstitutional.
What happened to "need to know?" What high ranking government civilian leader or military general grade officer decided to ignore "need to know" as a key intelligence commandment and give open access to tens of thousands of classified US documents to E-3's and contract civilians?
Why are Manning and Snowden subject to imprisonment while not one of their senior officers, supervisors, executive branch bosses or congressional overseers questioned or accused?
Michael F. Cascanet, CPT, CA, USAR (Ret.) Active duty US Army Security Agency 1971-1973, SP4, Cambodian Linguist @7th RRFS, Thailand. US Army INSCOM, 1975-1979, SSG, Chinese Mandarin Voice Intercept Operator @USAFS Korea. US Army Reserve 1980-1996, CPT, Signal Officer, Civil Affairs Officer @Liverpool, NY. Drafted out of college 1971, Top Secret, SI security clearance 1971-1979. Secret security clearance 1980-1996.