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Sunday, July 7, 2013
Few people know or remember who Matthias Rust was. Matthias Rust? On May 28, 1987, then only 18 years old, he piloted a small, rented Cessna airplane in Berlin, flew into the then-Soviet Union by mistake, ran out of fuel and landed in the middle of Red Square. He was arrested for hooliganism, disregard for aviation laws and breaching the Soviet border. But he was soon released.
In my mind, this incident, more than President Ronald Reagan, brought the old Soviet Union down. For in spite of all its air defenses, missiles, jets, all the medals on the chests of its generals and sophisticated radar, Rust landed his tiny plane in the heart of Red Square.
Rust claimed he wanted to create an imaginary bridge to the East and reduce Cold War tensions. His actions led to the dismissal of many senior officials, including the defense minister and the head of Soviet Air Defense. Rust was the biblical David who slayed Goliath and showed the Soviet Union to be a paper tiger.
Say what you will about whistle-blowers Edward Snowden, age 29, and Bradley Manning, age 22, (the range of opinion goes from patriots to traitors to treasonous spies) who are accused of giving up knowledge of National Security Agency techniques and information on how the U.S. conducted the Iraq war. The U.S. government has gone after these two Davids with a vengeance, saying that they hurt the security of the U.S. and are traitors. But the people who oversaw them are still there and wearing their medals.
A much larger issue is involved here than addressing their motives. At issue are the people who allowed these events to happen, kept their jobs and weren’t dismissed. It brings into question the fact that more than 1.5 million people have top security clearances and at least half of them work for outside contractors. Given this reality, it is statistically impossible to keep any secrets.
In other words, in spite of passwords, directors of agencies with lots of military fruit cocktail on their chests, and little transparency, these two Davids went out and slew Goliath. Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine, couldn’t believe any of this and told Roll Call, the congressional newspaper, “I’m just stunned that an individual who did not even graduate with a high school diploma, who did not successfully complete his military service, and who is only 29 years old, had access to some of the most highly classified information in our government. . . . It’s also troubling to me when I have heard that his salary was something like $200,000.” Actually, for the taxpayer it’s worse than that, as his employer was probably charging the government $500,000 to $600,000 for his service.
The various whistle-blowers, leakers or whatever you want to call them have passion in what they do, something that is lacking for most people in government, regardless of their branch. Sorry, I grew up with these people in Washington, D.C., and know their mentality quite well. I have gone to college with them at Georgetown and stay in touch with a former national security adviser, an NSA analyst, a CIA cartographer, and I dated a CIA agent for years. In spite of their competence, they, like most Americans, just go to work and wonder what they will grill on weekends.
So in order for the U.S. to keep secrets, it needs to cut down the size of a national security apparatus that is no longer manageable. Secondly, for screw-ups like this, someone has to fall on his sword. There have to be consequences for incompetence. Yet we concentrate our public efforts on the leakers and do not deal with the systemic problem.
Of course, nothing will change, as the federal government rarely admits mistakes, and we will be treated to the virtual reinvention of the legend of David and Goliath.
Weather JournalEarly mix, then ice storm Sunday