Some secrecy is necessary to operate a government

How does America feel about the hacking and release of private information?

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has had his emails hacked. There is strong indication that the Russian government has been involved in this hacking. The results pretty much qualify as gossip and are primarily embarrassing. Powell suggests that Donald Trump is a national disgrace, Hillary Clinton is greedy, and former Vice President Dick Cheney is an idiot.

My sense is that the public finds these revelations more titillating than disturbing. The effort to disrupt our national elections through the release of private and illegally obtained information should cause all of us concern.

At the same time, the way people have responded to this leak has been pretty dramatic. One network anchor deleted his entire email account. A pediatrician was astonished after he wrote an article defending artificial sweeteners and his emails were demanded of him. Health interests were determined to find links between him and companies that make drinks using artificial sweeteners. There was no link. (Confession: I love Diet Coke.) The bottom line is that millions are scanning their emails to find anything that may be compromising, humiliating or career threatening.

Simply put, everyone is vulnerable. Most are worried more about gossip than they are about classified information. Tommy Vietor, a former spokesperson for President Obama's National Security Council, says they sometimes would send snarky or rude messages that would be uncomfortable if they surfaced. The truth is everyone has sent emails they would not want released, including innocent messages that could be misinterpreted.

Visit NCR's Online Classifieds to learn about job opportunities, conferences, retreats and more.

There seems little to be done about this issue other than to be careful about what one sends in emails. That may be easy enough for most of us to do after the fact. Yet, I am troubled by a sense among some that there should be no secrets and that any revelation of private comments or data is somehow a noble thing. Are we better off now that we know what Colin Powell privately thinks about some public figures?

Would your mother-in-law be better off if she knew what you were saying about her privately? All of us will at times share our deepest thoughts about others with family and close friends. It would be difficult to imagine not doing that. If these private thoughts were shared with others, we would often be embarrassed and feel as if we had been betrayed.

I believe there is and needs to be a zone of privacy in both our private conversations and in the operations of government and business. All business and government cannot be conducted with 100 percent transparency. It is often people getting together in private, whether it be in at the capitol, city hall, or meetings with international leaders, that can lead to deals that may make our world better. Serious negotiations cannot be conducted in public. That brings us to Edward Snowden.

A movie is now being released which portrays him in a favorable light. He is seen by some as a hero and others as a traitor.

The U.S. House Select Committee on Intelligence has issued a report following a two-year inquiry which condemns what Snowden did. It insists that the materials Snowden stole were largely about military, defense, and intelligence programs of great interest to our adversaries. The report calls him a traitor who willingly betrayed his colleagues and his country, it and says he was essentially a disgruntled employee. His claims are seen as self serving, false and damaging to national security.

The committee members all signed a letter to President Obama urging him not to pardon Edward Snowden.

While I think the label of traitor may be a little harsh, I do believe he is a misguided individual who failed to recognize the enormity of what he did. He somehow convinced himself that it was right to expose everything that was going on in the government. He can not be considered a whistle blower because he indiscriminately released everything he had. If he truly believed the surveillance program was damaging the values and interests of our country, then he should have released that information only.

A public trial might well be the best way for our country to be part of a serious and productive conversation on how the revelations of Edward Snowden should be understood.

I repeat: A government cannot operate in the 21st century without some secrecy. That secrecy is being destroyed by the likes of Edward Snowden and the hacking of government agencies and officials throughout the country. If there are dangerous secrets or plots that need to be revealed, then by all means the public needs to know. However, to sit in judgment over a cache of hacked or stolen data and to choose to release that data to create havoc deserves universal condemnation.


Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here

Advertisement