Knowing it all

Alan Duff

Sept. 11, 2001 is a day our whole generation will remember for the rest of our lives. I can remember exactly where I was and what class I was in when the planes crashed. I’m sure all of you reading can remember where you were as well. As Americans, our sense of security went with the towers and it seems we still haven’t recovered it. The very next month the Patriot Act was signed into law and the political trend of putting national security above all of our liberties has continued to this day.
Last week I began discussing the idea of national security and this week I hope to explain how it influences the federal government’s decisions about information, knowledge and control. WikiLeaks’ release of classified information has now brought national security into direct conflict with the rights of press and freedom of speech.
Since 9/11 the term “national security” has been used to justify many policies that would have otherwise been considered ridiculous. In 2005, President Bush said in a speech that the Patriot Act was “a highly classified program that is crucial to our national security.”
Allowing organizations like the FBI and CIA to wiretap electronics and search homes without warrants, the Patriot Act was supposedly intended to protect and secure American liberties. Some of those very liberties that the Patriot Act took away are the ones that are supposedly being protected by the act.
Security versus privacy is also an ongoing issue with the airlines and the TSA. Though the American public accepted the heightened security that came with the post 9/11 world, there has been a recent backlash against the full-body screening machines and pat-downs. Critics have argued that it is an invasion of privacy while the United States has once again cited national security as the reasoning for implementing the new procedure.
The National Security Strategy released by the Obama administration states that among the national interests of the United States are “the security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners” and the “respect for universal values at home and around the world.” However, the WikiLeaks release of classified documents involving procedures in Guantanamo Bay and the 2007 Baghdad air strike reveal that the United States doesn’t always follow its stated set of values.
If the government is to maintain a national policy that both protects its citizens and respects universal values, a re-assessment of its actions must be made. Operating under the assumption that the information will remain classified permanently is both ignorant and insulting to the American public.
I would hope that the United States is past the point of committing actions like the detention of Japanese-Americans in internment camps, but recent actions at the Abu Ghraib prison have proven otherwise. The best policy for national security may be one of ensuring that the United States will never be ashamed of its actions and decisions should its citizens learn about them. By following the values of the National Security Agency, better known as the NSA, that names “integrity,” “transparency,” “accountability” and “respect for law” as a vital part of the organization, the United States can do just that.
Though WikiLeaks has released several security-related documents, the United States should still refrain from citing the excuse of national security to stop WikiLeaks. Our First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect the press that praises the government or mainstream ideas; instead, it exists to protect the ideas that go against the grain of the government and maybe even the populace. We would do best as a nation to remember our origins and how unpopular democracy was back then.
The United States should try and keep its citizens safe; that is why the NSA exists. But our government shouldn’t try to stop WikiLeaks from revealing American human rights violations. Who are they trying to protect themselves from then? We the people?