Wyden Deserves Our Support on Surveillance Reforms

Paul Evans

There is no cheap, or easy way to secure the United States of America. And any – and all – that say so are incompetent, liars, or traitors – or all three. Increasing reliance upon private contractors for priority defense requirements is a disaster in waiting.

Ron Wyden is fighting an important battle for our present and future security. He deserves our support.

With a little help from most of the delegation from Oregon, Senator Wyden is leading the charge against private contractor services within the intelligence community (and within the US DoD). And as a person who has been employed by a contractor that takes great pride in supporting our troops – I believe it is critical that we understand the true issues in play.

First, there is a fundamental difference between providing “operational” and “non-operational” services and support. There is a difference between a company that sells supplies, constructs buildings, and develops tailored tools for the military and those that use these tools in pursuit of US Foreign Policy.

Over time the walls between services and supplies were torn down. After WWII the rise of the Cold War established enhanced clandestine activities that from time to time required non-affiliated agency. Until recently the use of contractors in the “kill-chain” remained an exception to the rules.

In the past, exempting some of the alphabet soup of clandestine services, contractors providing “services and support” focused upon efficiencies of care, maintenance, and/or training programs associated with emergent equipment, logistics tools, and support activities that green eye-shaded budgetcrats in Congress, the DoD, and the White House believed “non-essential” combat related activities.

Bush/Cheney cast away previous understandings in pursuit of a semi-hidden perpetual warmaking capability. Inherent to this effort was a rethinking of the classic kill-chain relationship. Today the US DoD is dependent upon contractors for implementing a growing list of activities – including sustaining the vast intelligence community built in support of perpetual warmaking.

Many of us were concerned before Bush/Cheney: the stripping away of the most portable job skills and training hollowed out the value of military experience for post-service employment. Military officers spent time discussing the potential dangers of an unregulated private warfighting arm of the US DoD. Despite the dark logic of maximizing lethality of the warfighters in a complex 21st Century warfighting environment – the lessons of Rome echoed loudly.

After 9/11 the rules changed. We knew that most Americans would not be drafted to service; we needed help prosecuting the wars we were sent to fight. The obvious but too often ignored consequence of 9/11 is the radical transformation of the national defense community. It is significantly; tragically different than when I enlisted in 1992.

We have taken all flexibility from the hands of line commanders. Through contracted services, technology, and wars fought “on the cheap” we have a system now dependent upon contractors: a massive tail wagging a shrinking dog. Almost every kind of military function is now contracted – at least in part.

This includes operational, non-operational, and a troubling number of “in the kill-chain” activities. Like it or not, we have witnessed the rise of an emergent mercenary class within our national defense community.

Second, there is a difference between expectations associated with a contractor and a government servant. The market rules private business: duty to country and community is the standard for excellence within the public sector. Some may scoff at the thought, but the profit motive is the primary influence for all corporations that depend upon quarterly and annual returns. The government is supposed to be about effectiveness; the private sector is supposed to be about efficiencies.

There is no cheap, or easy way to secure the United States of America. And any – and all – that say so are incompetent, liars, or traitors – or all three. Increasing reliance upon private contractors for priority defense requirements is a disaster in waiting.

It makes sense to realize the strengths of the private sector in development of certain services and support for our warfighters: it DOES NOT make sense to “out-source” warfighting duties to men and women working for corporations that place the interests of the market (as opposed to the nation), first.

The US needs to determine whether we seek to remain a global power or not. We cannot sustain our influence through the existing structures and systems. Since 9/11 we have drifted into a “strength through weapons system” mentality that provides neither better, stronger capabilities nor the infrastructure necessary for global reach, global power.

We risk more than becoming a hollow force: we risk devolving into a brittle force – our national defense community has become dependent on a 21st Century Maginot Line (the wrong investments for the wrong strategies for the wrong threats).

There are alternatives to increasing our dependence upon private contractors. We can recast the force and rebuild a militia-centric strategy that showcases our ideals rather than frustrates them. And we can do it for less than we are spending now.

Third, Edward Snowden and Chelsea (Bradley) Manning are traitors: they knowingly disclosed classified information and placed their own interests ahead of our nation, states, and communities.

These two people are not whistle-blowers. They are not heroes. And they deserve what may come as a result of their actions. Both people knowingly and willfully made our nation weaker to our enemies as a result of their unauthorized disclosures. What must be remembered from this tragedy is that Snowden should never have been provided access that allowed him to fail us.

And yet, despite the means – the ends (a national conversation about secrets and the how, what, when, and why they are kept) remains a valuable enterprise for our Republic to struggle with. The undeniable lapses in judgment and public disclosure of our intelligence community warrant our immediate attention: the information brought to light is vital. And it appears that we have given too much license to the few on behalf of the many: we now risk losing the country we maintain secrets to “save.”

But the ends do not justify the means.

Some years ago, I joined the Veterans’ of Foreign Wars and the ACLU (on the same day). I did so because I believe both organizations defend the US Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. I am not opposed to men and women of conscience standing up to power – in fact I am energized by such actions – but standing up to power requires accepting the consequences for doing so. Heroes are rare because they knowingly do what must be done and welcome what comes as a result of doing so. We toss that term around these days without appropriate recognition of the value of sacrifice and suffering.

Today we honor the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the inspiring message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His message remains powerful because of the price he and others paid in pursuit of a More Perfect Union. Long before Dr. King was killed he had suffered harsh and often humiliating circumstances: he did so precisely because he understood the value of sacrifice within a community.

This past weekend Congressman John Lewis (a speaker on August 28, 2013) reminded our nation of the value of sacrifice and suffering. He remains a prophet of peace and progress because of his own brutal beating and the life-long suffering he has endured in pursuit of the dream.

We must not forget that courage – true courage – is best demonstrated through answering the call of history – doing what must be done in the moment – and then accepting the consequences whatever may come so that others may benefit from the lessons of that decision.

In this country, we hold our military and legitimate public servants to higher standards – because failure to do so invites anarchy and chaos (ref: certain contractor services in Iraq and the missing $7 Billion). Manning did wrong for what s/he believed to be a noble purpose. While I do not agree with it, I respect Manning far more than I can ever respect Snowden.

Snowden could have used his unique access to information to inform our nation while accepting the consequence of his actions. He could have been a hero – through courageously standing for reform and demonstrating the importance of the issues involved in the public spectacle that would have resulted from a trial. Rather than doing this, he fled the US and now resides in a nation led by a former KGB agent that views frustration of US Foreign Policy as the prime rational for Russia’s resurgence.

There is a name for those that know the right thing to do and opt instead to preserve their own personal liberties – and perhaps profit from doing so – but hero isn’t it.

Finally, the circumstances surrounding Manning and Snowden must not be forgotten. It is too easy to be distracted by the noise associated with the melodrama 24/7 cable news depends upon; there are real issues, significant threats to our security that must be dealt with.

Senator Wyden and all those that seek fundamental reforms to the structures and systems of our intelligence community and the private “contractorization” of our legitimate national defense interests must be supported by all that seek a better, stronger America.

Democratic societies cannot long withstand an environment where the interests of the market govern our national defense decision-making. And we have now realized the growing influence of private for-profit corporations within our national defense realities.

We can best celebrate today – and all the days that follow – through demanding our government live up to its ideals.

We can and must demand our government respect the rights of all people regardless of ethnicity, gender, or race – and defend our country from enemies at home as well as abroad.

Wyden deserves credit for maintaining focus upon this clear and present danger; he needs our help and we are honor-bound to provide it.

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