Every little kid wishes he could be James Bond. Smart, tech-savvy, wins all the ladies, jet sets around the world on dangerous, world-saving missions. Recently, former Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Devine, visited one of my classes. According to him, a CIA spy’s real life is not far off. He also joked about the glamorization of the stacks of paperwork operatives have to complete afterward.
Devine’s visit re-sparked my interest in covert intelligence. Up until the fiasco of Edward Snowden this past summer, my knowledge of spying extended as far as Covert Affairs, the Bourne movies, and Mission Impossible. Obviously, there are many questions surrounding the practice. Is it ethical? Is it not endangering and trivializing the lives of operatives? And most recently, what is the difference between spying on another country and spying on your own citizens?
During his visit, Mr. Devine discussed the protocol and organization of the CIA, the progression of his career, and even shared some anecdotes about his time working for the Agency. The entire class was mesmerized by the exceptionally accomplished man sitting in front of us musing about the cover of his new book, called Good Hunting, named after the good luck phrase operatives would often say to each other before missions. However, the class did notice the turn of his countenance when a certain question was brought up by yours truly. With a CIA director sitting in front of me, I could not resist asking him the question that everyone had on their mind: what effect has Edward Snowden had on the covert operations and intelligence-gathering and can the damage be reversed?
After asking that question, I desperately hoped I had not touched a nerve. After all, it is one of the most contentious topics right now. But also, I had no idea how he would respond. Would he answer my question semantically, carefully avoiding a controversial response? Or would he answer genuinely, based on his actual opinion? Thankfully, he was not offended, and gladly for me, he answered candidly. Devine believed that Snowden should be tried as a criminal, because he divulged information he was not allowed to divulge and the damage he has inflicted to the international community is extensive. He concedes that Snowden acted on ideology, a strong motivator for many whistleblowers, but with such an impractical perspective, nothing positive could have come out of his actions. I was content with the answer, not because it was well-versed or because I actually agreed with his opinion, but because he did not hesitate to express his personal opinion, not the opinion of the government he once worked for.
But as I said, I do agree with Devine. As a fairly idealistic person myself, I sympathized with Snowden at first. He thought he was incredibly noble in revealing the NSA’s surveillance techniques. However the blowout that succeeded changed my opinion entirely. The damage exacted on secret intelligence for not only the United States but for every country is immeasurable. As a result, every country is paranoid about other countries’ information gathering practices and every country has a new perspective about the United States. Numerous diplomatic meetings have been cancelled because of the incident, and in the future, I can definitely understand why leaders will no longer cooperate with Americans.
The topic is controversial for a reason. There are many who applaud Snowden for what he did, and maybe they choose to ignore the effects his whistleblowing will have with foreign relations. In the end, no matter what anyone believes, Snowden has no doubt changed American foreign policy and foreign countries’ foreign policy to the U.S.