While a series of Obama administration scandals have left many Americans questioning the trustworthiness of government officials and bureaucrats, NBC News decided to use the recent National Security Agency leaks by Booz Allen contractor Edward Snowden to bash the role of the private sector in assisting with intelligence gathering. [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
Chief medical editor Nancy Snyderman summed up the network's smear campaign during a panel discussion on Wednesday's NBC Today about the NSA snooping controversy: "...the number of contractors who aren't government workers, who are hired because they're young and geeky and they have computer skills....But they also are rather unmoored, they don't have a sense of patriotism, they don't really belong anywhere, so their sense of right and wrong is very different than how we see it."
In a report for Monday's Nightly News, senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers cited author William Arkin, who fretted: "What once started a process of augmenting and fighting the war on terrorism has now become an industrial system. It's an industrial system that works on profit motive."
Myers warned: "Near the NSA's huge complex in Fort Meade, Maryland, there are now office buildings full of contractors. According to the government, almost 5 million individuals now hold security clearances. 1.4 million of them top secret."
She then explained: "Many contractors have intelligence or military experience, but others are 20-something technicians like Edward Snowden." However, according to a biography of Snowden posted on NBCNews.com: "He spent four months in the Army reserves, from May to September 2004 as a special forces recruit to a 14-week training course, the Army said."
Another sound bite was included of Arkin proclaiming: "They're not motivated necessarily by patriotism, they're not motivated necessarily by a scar of 9/11. This is a job."
Here is a full transcript of the June 12 panel discussion on Today:
MATT LAUER: We're back now at 8:37 with Today's Professionals. And here to tackle some of the stories that have you talking, Star Jones, Donny Deutsch, and Dr. Nancy Snyderman. Folks, good to see you, good morning.
Let's start with this NSA surveillance program. I think most people know the fundamentals of the story right now. This guy Edward Snowden has leaked classified documents uncovering this government surveillance program. Simple question, is Edward Snowden a traitor who deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law or is he a whistleblower who deserves the protection of the law? Why don't I start with you, the lawyer.
STAR JONES: He's a criminal. There's no question whatsoever. When you sign on to this sort of job, you sign on knowing that you may not release classified information, period. You are a criminal. I don't know whether or not you are a traitor or a whistle-blower, that is to be determined by a courtroom. But you will end up in a courtroom.
LAUER: He says he thinks it's important for people to know this program is in existence and allow public debate on the program. Does that change anything?
JONES: It's important – it's important for ice to be in ice water, but that is still not the point. He is a criminal.
DONNY DEUTSCH: He is a traitor with a capital "T." You know, they're not spying on 35 million Americans, they're not looking that I'm calling you last night saying, "How was dinner?" This is only looking if there's 70 calls to Yemen. This protects us and the American public is not entitled, I don't believe, to know everything the government is doing to protect us. We – this is reality, this is the new world, and unfortunately this man made us a lot less safe because maybe potentially the next terrorist attack that we were going to get, we might not get now because people know what's going on. Shame on him.
NANCY SNYDERMAN: I also don't agree – think that he's a whistleblower, but I think it goes to something that's even more interesting, and that is the number of contractors who aren't government workers, who are hired because they're young and geeky and they have computer skills that no one that we know has. But they also are rather unmoored, they don't have a sense of patriotism, they don't really belong anywhere, so their sense of right and wrong is very different than how we see it. But I think he absolutely crossed the line. We put people in office to come up with these ideas and then we should – we trust them.
LAUER: 30 seconds to wrap this up. Anybody else surprised in reading some of the articles about this, that 1.4 million people in this country have top secret clearance?
SNYDERMAN: I was shocked by that.
LAUER: That's a big number.
JONES: That number is huge.
DEUTSCH: And these are people that are in the private sector, they're not working for the government. But to me the big picture is I'm not doing anything wrong, I don't mind if there's cameras on me.
SNYDERMAN: Ooh, now that takes it to a whole different level.
DEUTSCH: That's the world we're in kids. You want to be safe?
JONES: I'm not asking you to violate privacy, I'm not asking for that, but you must follow the law.