Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Man Who Lost His Name

I don't often dabble in political topics on my blog.  It's not something I like doing or seeing done in public fora.  But this week, after watching several promos about an upcoming interview on NBC News later tonight, I can't let this pass without comment.  Apologies in advance if I offend anyone's views or sensibilities.

Many in our country, and likely other countries as well, have gone through a full range of emotional reactions about a young man who decided his individual mission should be to expose his country’s deepest secrets.  His stated motivation from the beginning has been that the U.S. government has violated its basic charter to preserve and protect its citizenry as guided by the Constitutiona view I don't personally share.  Such a grand motivation assumes a certain righteousness that no one else working in the government (or knowledgeable of its inner workings) could ever possess. 
I believe the single person who might ever have made such a claim of pure righteousness chose not to set himself apart in such a way.  Instead he simply challenged anyone who is guiltless to cast the first stone.  To me, the young man who betrayed his country’s trust is now a man without a country.  He is a liability wherever he lands and the country which might opt to claim him is rare indeed. 
As for the damage done to national security, is there a cost to restore the level of protection for systems and data which trusted authorities are responsible to protect?  Yes.  Will the recovery take time?  Yes.  Will the locks to the kingdom be rekeyed and the new keys secured?  Yes—they no doubt already have been.  So, what else is left to do?  What is to become of the man without a country?  The answer is largely up to him.  He will decide if or when he will return to face his fate in his homeland. 
But what about the value of anything he has to say?  Very likely, there’s not much.  With each passing day, week and month, anything he revealed or plans to reveal continues to become less relevant.  As soon as his treason was exposed, the government would have immediately implemented defensive procedures.  First, every effort would have been made to determine what was lost.  Second, anything and everything that could have been changed would have been changed to blunt the impact of the revelations. 
And yet some seem to believe there is entertainment value in an interview.  Perhaps.   For at great expense and with considerable effort, a U.S. news agency has arranged an interview with the young traitor.  But what is the story to report?  Personally, I would be surprised if there is a story or if anyone is interested.  So, move along—there’s nothing to see here, right? 
But wait.  There may be a story after all.  Instead of the focus being the interviewee, the real story may be the details of what it took to arrange the interview in the first place.  How long did the negotiations take?  Who should do the interview?  How would all the media gear be transported into the country without creating a stir?  What location would have the lowest profile for the interview?  Would extra security be needed?  Would there be cover stories and aliases for the news crew?  How long would the interview team stay before and after the interview?  Would they be transported in and out of the interview location under cover of darkness or in plain sight?  And what was the Quid Pro Quo exchanged between the U.S. and Russia to allow the interview to happen?
The only other possibility that an interview might be of value would be to create opportunities during the interview for the young traitor’s narcissism and ego to kick in.  For example, he might inadvertently reveal something that would otherwise be left to conjecture.  Is there a crack in the purity of his motives?  Did his ego get in the way of rational decision making?  In front of millions or even billions in the TV audience, will he come across as a true patriot or will he appear flippant, foolish, arrogant, untrustworthy and irrelevant?  And maybe in all that will he have any regrets?
Personally, I have struggled mightily with the question of whether I will watch the interview or not.  My feeling is that the possibility of any value coming out of the interview is very likely a craps shoot.  Anyone in the Intelligence business, whether collecting, processing or disseminating, understands that failure to protect data and information held in the national interest is a failure to protect the interest of every American.  Anyone deliberately betraying that trust puts Americans at risk and is an affront to all who have been or are in the information security and facility security business.  The idea of watching the interview in hopes some value, or better yet even the slightest shred of satisfaction, will come out of it is indeed a bitter pill.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

To Junior: The Thanks Of A Proud Nation

Memorial Day always leaves me with conflicted emotions. It's not because I find it hard to intellectually understand that some have made, and will yet make, the ultimate sacrifice. And after 22 years as a military brat and another 20 years in the military myself, I totally get the realities of military service---life effects that may seem unacceptable to those who have not experienced them.

I even acknowledge there will never be 100 percent clarity of purpose when leaders must make decisions about what thousands of others are to do for the greater good. Missions are messy. And as "instruments of national policy", ours is but to follow and implement the best way we can, hoping our leaders are doing the same.

In terms of character, the oath of enlistment and oath of commissioning are essentially the same promise each military member makes to the nation they serve. Even after leaving the military, whether completing one stint or a career, wearing one's newly granted civilian status is neither easy nor complete---nor should it be. Yet among those who have served, you can see it in their bone-weary faces. There are few who would be happier and more relieved to return home, emotionally and physically spent, knowing they had done their best and glad that their burden can be set aside, if only for a while.

Sure there will always be grumbling about orders given. But, if called on again, likely almost all would take up the mantle once more and march on. Those unable to continue will stand in spirit behind all those who can and do. That is the unstated code not to be trifled with.

So, what is it that gives me pause on Memorial Day? In a visceral sense, it is hard to get my head around. It is just a deep, unfathomable feeling. But in truth, the conflicted emotions are fed by the discord that bubbles and boils as close as the TV remote or the never ending reports and interpretations of reports according to one's own world view. It is the constant din of disagreement, the ceaseless competition for a slice of the pie, swirling even as the distant combat continues. It is the masses apparently feeling no other option but to gnaw on bones tossed into the crowd by those who would incite riot.

And in the face of all that, how can an individual casualty among the thousands of dead and maimed warriors be understood and accepted? What of the mothers and fathers whose sons and daughters will no longer sit at table on Thanksgiving or find love or celebrate the lives of their children, born and unborn? For me, I think of an uncle I never knew: Alfred Washington Kirk, Jr., Private First Class, US Army. He was Jute or Junior to all who knew him.

Uncle Junior was a young man when he signed up, not much more than a boy, really. Born on August 10, 1923, he had yet to reach his 21st birthday when he died on a beach in the South Pacific. Junior had enlisted after Pearl Harbor, following two of his brothers (my dad and another uncle) who had joined up a year or two before him. Trading farm life for the company of thousands of others bound for an uncertain future, in less than three years, he fought what was likely his first and last battle on May 4, 1944. I can only imagine his final days and hours and minutes when, through serendipity, he became part of the nation's sacrifice.

When such loss is personal, the acceptance gets harder, even decades later. And yet, we go on in the knowledge that the totality of those losses are the price of freedom for all those left behind. Shouldn't the sacrifice of the few who we hold so close to our hearts call us to a common purpose that transcends our differences? Don't we owe the fallen at least that much, that they did not die in vain? Thanks hardly seems enough and yet it is all we have. Junior, I am humbled by your sacrifice. You and all your brothers and sisters in arms, who made the ultimate sacrifice then and since, were taken from us way too soon.