Edward Snowden's disclosures, the New York Times reported on Sunday , "have renewed a longstanding concern: that young Internet aficionados whose skills the agencies need for counterterrorism and cyberdefense sometimes bring an anti-authority spirit that does not fit the security bureaucracy."
Agencies like the NSA and CIA -- and private contractors like Booz Allen -- can't be sure that all employees will obey the rules without interference from their own idealism. This is a basic dilemma for the warfare/surveillance state, which must hire and retain a huge pool of young talent to service the digital innards of a growing Big Brother.
With private firms scrambling to recruit workers for top-secret government contracts, the current situation was foreshadowed by novelist John Hersey in his 1960 book The Child Buyer. When the vice president of a contractor named United Lymphomilloid, "in charge of materials procurement," goes shopping for a very bright ten-year-old, he explains that "my duties have an extremely high national-defense rating." And he adds: "When a commodity that you need falls in short supply, you have to get out and hustle. I buy brains."
That's what Booz Allen and similar outfits do. They buy brains. And obedience.
But despite the best efforts of those contractors and government agencies, the brains still belong to people. And, as the Times put it, an "anti-authority spirit" might not fit "the security bureaucracy."
In the long run, Edward Snowden didn't fit. Neither did Bradley Manning. They both had brains that seemed useful to authority. But they also had principles and decided to act on them.
Like the NSA and its contractors, the U.S. military is in constant need of personnel. "According to his superiors . . . Manning was not working out as a soldier, and they discussed keeping him back when his unit was deployed to Iraq," biographer Chase Madar writes in The Passion of Bradley Manning. "However, in the fall of 2009, the occupation was desperate for intelligence analysts with computer skills, and Private Bradley Manning, his superiors hurriedly concluded, showed signs of improvement as a workable soldier. This is how, on October 10, 2009, Private First Class Bradley Manning was deployed . . . to Iraq as an intelligence analyst."