Treason, Oaths, and Policy Review

A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague. – Marcus Tullius Cicero


I hated having a security clearance.  I don’t like secrets and once joked that if you don’t want the world to know, don’t tell me.  Then one day my job required me to have a Top Secret clearance and when I was granted the clearance I took an oath and had absolutely no doubt that I would never repeat what I knew even when I realized most of it was already on CNN.

An oath must mean something and we should each recognize that we do not have all the answers or know how all the pieces fit together.  As a Captain, and a fairly senior official, I sat in meetings that sometimes left me shaking my head.  I realized that as much as I knew I didn’t have the full picture. The pieces I had were added to the pieces from other departments, and put together by subject matter experts, and then briefed to senior advisers and Secretaries.  The number of briefings, edits, clearances, and revisions slowly moved up the chain to the White House.  It could be frustrating, but it had a purpose.  Of course, there were many other levels, but the point is, there are those who see the big picture and have studied and been trained by the very best for many years before they can see how all the pieces fit together.  To be clear, a PFC or a low level government contractor doesn’t have a clue about the big picture.  It is the equivalent of having the person that cleans the floor in the operating room decide who needs brain surgery, letting that person choose the tools, and finally when to do the surgery.  The difference is that potentially many lives are put at risk by divulging classified information – real people die.  Just like the bomber pilot that never sees the victims of the bomb, the one with loose lips never sees the victims.

I did not like the Patriot Act, but I wasn’t elected and didn’t get to vote.  Once passed, my job as a government employee (an officer) was to follow orders and do my job.  The people elected Congress to pass laws.  Government employees take oaths to support and defend the constitution.  We are also supposed to refuse unlawful orders.  There are procedures to refuse an order or question an order.  If each individual can make his or her own decisions on what order to follow then there would be mass chaos and we would rapidly become a very large third world country.   Just imagine a country run by FOX news and MSNC where a bunch of self-righteous, talking heads, that have limited knowledge and whom have never worn the uniform of the United States make the decisions.  They have strong opinions, but for the most part have a limited perspective that more and more is biased by political ideology.

18 USC 2381 Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

When one flees to a foreign country and revels secrets that harm the United States it is disgusting, but not treason unless the person is either levying war against the U.S. or providing aid and comfort to a country with whom we are at war.  Treason is a high bar to reach.  It is one thing to make a public speech against the government or to release information to inform the public, and another entirely to do it to aid the enemy.

When we approach policy on how to deal with those that violate our trust or betray their oaths, be they elected official or government employee or contractor, the punishment should never be one’s life.  Taking a person’s life will not get the documents back or take back words.  Our values cannot be that our secrets hold more value than a human life.  Nor should our response be to make every action an opportunity for political finger pointing.  It should be taken as an opportunity to review laws and policies that left us vulnerable.

It is time to review laws and supporting policies related to:

  1. The process for evaluating a person’s access to classified information, the information that should be classified, and the hiring of contractors for jobs that should be held by a person who takes an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the U.S
  2. The hiring and firing a government employ or revoking a contract of a government contractor.  It should not be so difficult that people do not get ride of those that clearly should have been dismissed
  3. The Patriot Act and the access of the media to war zone must be examined.  It is important for the media to have access to ensure that we do not commit acts in war that we do not want to see the light of day.  It is also important to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens.

I doubt there are any of us that want every aspect of lives examined by the government, our ability to speak out of conscience totally restricted, or our jobs at risk for speaking when we shouldn’t have.  That is why we have Facebook, Twitter, and editors.

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