An Open Letter to Senator Diane Feinstein on Edward Snowden

By Paul Wermer

A constituent tells Senator Feinstein how her attachment to the Select Intelligence Committee she serves on has led to a serious misjudgment about Edward Snowden’s revelations.

Senator Feinstein:
Please count me as one of the many who endorse the call that Edward Snowden not be prosecuted.
As your constituent, I have previously written to express my concerns over excesses committed by our national security agencies, operating under claimed authorization from Congress to intrude into areas that I understood to be protected under the Bill of Rights.

Your office's repeated response was to assert that I had nothing to worry about, that my rights were fully protected and that I could trust the Intelligence Committees oversight.  Nonetheless, I felt constrained in the ways I expressed myself for fear that my comments would be misinterpreted by secret observers of my nominally private correspondence. I should note that this is not simple paranoia – a friend had his computer seized by the FBI because his e-mail address appeared in a criminal suspect’s e-mail directory. They had no relationship, other than an e-mail list.

This concern has affected the way I communicate with family, friends, colleagues and government officials at all levels - in short, it has restricted my freedom of speech by creating fear that that speech would be misinterpreted.
As I followed the news stories following Mr. Snowden's disclosures, three things became clear:
1) The scope of intrusion into our private lives was far greater than I imagined when I drafted my previous communications to your office on this matter.
2) Contrary to repeated assertions by members of the Select Intelligence committees, the vacuuming up of masses of data did not lead to any prevention of terrorist events.  In reality, targeted intercepts based on actionable intelligence led to all arrests.
2a) Comments from experts suggest that the quantity of information gathered by NSA actually hampers serious intelligence analysis.
2b) Because government controls on access are inadequate, no one knows how individuals with access have abused the information they have available.  There is evidence that intelligence data has been used to spy on lovers and/or spouses of people with access to that data – but no one appears to know how broad these sorts of violations are.
3) Had the Senate and House Select Committees on Intelligence faithfully executed their responsibilities, Mr. Snowden's revelations would not have been a shock to so many, and the credibility of the members serving on those committees would not have been so damaged.

Indeed, had the Committees faithfully executed the responsibilities that we, as citizens, entrusted to them, there would be a strong case that Mr. Snowden breached the public trust.   Instead, Mr. Snowden performed a valuable service to the United States by demonstrating the poor oversight of these powerful intelligence agencies, and the risks this poses to our civil liberties.  It appears clear – especially based on misleading communications from your office – that the Committee members are the ones who violated the public trust, not Mr. Snowden.
I urge you to join your voice with all of those arguing that Mr. Snowden should not be prosecuted.  It is clear that he discovered abuses threatening our liberties. He had the courage to act on his convictions by informing the public of these abuses and the threats to our protected rights.  Rather than prosecution, he deserves our commendation for the risks he took to protect our constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy.
Sincerely yours,
Paul Wermer