, Salem, MA


June 15, 2013

Column: Stop outsourcing government secrets

Aside from questions about the legality, constitutionality, ethical propriety and necessity of the federal government’s intrusion into the Internet and phone records of untold millions of Americans, two things about the recent National Security Agency controversy seem abundantly clear: The intelligence community — our first line of defense against faceless terrorists — needs less reliance on outside contractors and far better vetting of those it does hire.

It seems appropriate to ask how Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old high school dropout, has a resume that would allow him to make a reported $122,000 a year from Booz Allen Hamilton, a Virginia consulting firm, at a time when tens of thousands of college graduates with good academic records are either going back to school or waiting tables to make ends meet.

Depending on one’s point of view, Snowden either courageously blew the whistle or traitorously disclosed the scope of the nation’s eavesdropping activities. Whether he was one of those unschooled geniuses who can bypass the normal path to fame and fortune is yet to be determined. To his apparent thinking, he chose to be a martyr for liberty — and I’m certain others think him so. There is, after all, a touch of messianic fervor in most who follow this road.

The electronic age has produced any number of billionaires who chose to skip the process of building their empires in the usual fashion — extensive education and experience. Normally, they are college dropouts who had a better idea. Bill Gates comes to mind, as does Mark Zuckerberg, although there are still questions about whether the idea for the social network Facebook was strictly his. And in the early 20th century, when relatively few Americans attended college and many didn’t complete secondary education, there were mechanical geniuses like Henry Ford and the Wright brothers.

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