The Snowden case indicates that it's probably time to reconsider the efficacy, to say nothing of the desirability, of the post-9/11 national security leviathan.

It remains to be seen if the Snowden affair will shift focus on the controversies of the U.S. national security. Photo: Reuters

Now that NSA leaker Edward Snowden, after having been marooned in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport for over a month, has received temporary asylum in Russia, several U.S. Senators have spoken out to condemn what they view as unwarranted intransigence from the Russian government over the matter. In so doing, they draw attention away from problems far more pressing than Mr. Snowden’s exact whereabouts.

Speaking on CNN, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said if Russia continued to harbor Mr. Snowden, “it will have serious consequences for the United States-Russia relationship.”

He seemed unable to understand President Putin’s motives, noting that, "allies are supposed to treat each other in decent ways, and Putin always seems almost eager to put a finger in the eye of the United States... that's not how allies should treat each other."

Leaving aside for the moment that the U.S. and Russia are most definitely not allies (and it's certainly news that Mr. Schumer thinks so), there was a certain irony to Mr. Schumer's lament for surely the U.S. government would immediately hand over a defector from the FSB, SVR, or GRU if Mr. Putin so demanded.

But Schumer was not alone among his Senate colleagues who claimed to be puzzled as to why the Russians simply won’t cooperate and hand Mr. Snowden over to U.S. authorities. Magnitsky bill co-sponsor Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) stated, "It is hard to understand Russia's response... we have a very important relationship with Russia... we don't understand why Russia didn't cooperate with us on a matter of homeland security.”  And not to be outdone, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) sputtered, "...Putin is exactly what he is: an apparatchik KGB colonel that has no interest in the same values and principles that we hold."

All of this is, sorry to say, simply another example of the unerring ability of certain U.S. Senators to generate more heat than light when it comes to difficult issues involving the U.S. and Russia. It also – not coincidentally - serves as a distraction from one of the principal problems the Snowden case raises about the post-9/11 national security complex. The issue that the Senators should be addressing is: how were such obvious misfits like Snowden and, before him, Pfc. Bradley Manning, able to penetrate the U.S. national security apparatus with such ease and then do so much damage?

On the whole, Congress would rather not address this issue because they, by voting to extravagantly fund the massive national security apparatus time and again since 2001, have helped to create the problem. The post-9/11 national security leviathan, which consists of, inter alia, 17 federal intelligence agencies and organizations, requires hundreds of thousands of individuals to staff it. In light of the cases of Messrs. Snowden and Manning, it has become increasingly clear that the government has created a significant problem for itself.

This was bound to happen given the sheer numbers involved. Consider the following from the groundbreaking 2010 report by the Washington Post’s Dana Priest and William Arkin:

 - Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

 - An estimated 854,000 people, nearly one-and-a-half times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

This report is already three years old. Since then, the number of clearances issued has continued apace. According to a report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence this past January, roughly 4.9 million people currently hold security clearances, out of which around 1 million are outside contractors, 480,000 of whom hold a top-secret clearance (Mr. Snowden was a contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton and held a top-secret clearance).

So the conversation that needs to be going on should be focused less upon largely alarmist privacy concerns or Mr. Snowden's exact whereabouts, but rather on whether the national security structure, as it stands right now, is actually supportable.  If the U.S. government needs to depend upon the likes of Snowden and Manning to help it achieve its national security aims, then it's probably time to reconsider the efficacy, to say nothing of the desirability, of the post-9/11 national security leviathan.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.