Key figure in Petraeus case urges national debate on electronic surveillance
Privacy advocate and author Jill Kelley’s quest to make government snoopers of private emails accountable for their actions comes in the wake of the release of the Oliver Stone movie “Snowden.” The film portrays former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden as a whistleblower who leaked classified documents in an attempt to reveal pervasive NSA surveillance techniques.
It also comes just as emails hacked from former Secretary of State Colin Powell led the news for a week.
Kelley told AMI Newswire that stronger electronic privacy protections would not come about without a full-fledged national debate on the issue.
“The release of ‘Snowden’ should be the catalyst for our presidential candidates to bring this debate center stage to win the votes of millions of Americans,” she said in an opinion piece provided to AMI.
Meanwhile, legislation designed to better protect private emails from government monitoring has yet to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee — even after a version of that bill passed the House earlier this year.
Kelley, a Tampa, Florida resident who served as honorary ambassador to the U.S. military’s Central Command Coalition, which includes Afghanistan and the Middle East, said her difficulties began to unfold in 2012, when she was cyberstalked by a person later identified by authorities as former CIA Director David Petraeus’s mistress, Paula Broadwell.
Broadwell was apparently jealous of Kelley’s friendships with Petraeus and other American military brass, according to Kelley, the author of the self-published book “Collateral Damage: Petraeus, Power, Politics and the Abuse of Privacy.”
Although Petraeus resigned as a result of the affair and later pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information, Kelley said the government engaged in electronic overreach in her case by reading her private emails to Marine Gen. John Allen, leaking negative information about her to the tabloid press and ultimately damaging her family’s reputation.
“Nobody in government can be held accountable for intrusive electronic surveillance,” Kelley said. “You cannot sue the government for ruining your reputation if they leak your emails — even if the rumors weren’t true (as in my case). And forget an apology.”
Allen, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing over his communications with Kelley. But he later retired from the military to help care for his wife, Kathy, whose health had taken a turn for the worse.
Kelley said she eventually had to drop a civil lawsuit aimed at holding the government accountable for its intrusive email searches because “the lawyers basically abandoned it.”
A key problem is that current privacy laws governing email communications are either out of date or have been eroded over time, she said. Congress should pass the Email Privacy Act this year as a way of balancing the need for security and respect for privacy, Kelley said.
Although that legislation passed the House of Representatives unanimously earlier this year, it has been stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where some senators had sought to attach amendments to it. Supporters of the bill, which was authored by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), said the amendments would negate the bill’s privacy protections.
The current law pertaining to email privacy generally allows emails that are more than 180 days old to be subject to warrantless searches. The Email Privacy Act would require government agencies to get a warrant before calling on email providers to divulge the contents of private citizens’ electronic communications, regardless of how old the email is.
Asked about the status of Lee’s bill in the Judiciary Committee, spokesman Conn Carroll emailed AMI a two-word response: “No movement.”
Kelley characterized her story as a testament to the potential damage and harm from government surveillance that Snowden warned Americans about. “Unfortunately, I have to be the poster child,” she said.
Although the movie “Snowden” paints the former NSA contractor, who eventually fled to Russia after releasing 1.5 million classified documents, as a hero and principled whistleblower, members of the House Intelligence Committee last week blasted him as a “serial exaggerator and fabricator,” and as a disgruntled former employee whose actions damaged national security and put active-duty U.S. troops at risk.
The committee compiled a 36-page classified report on Snowden and the effects of his disclosures, but lawmakers also provided a news release and unclassified executive summary of the report.
“Although he claims to have been motivated by privacy concerns, the report finds that Snowden did not voice such concerns to any oversight officials, and his actions infringed on the privacy of thousands of government employees and contractors,” the House panel’s news release said.
In a letter sent to President Obama last week urging him not to pardon Snowden, panel members said the former NSA official failed to make use of many legal avenues to express moral concerns with U.S. intelligence activities.
“Mr. Snowden’s claim that he stole this information and disclosed it to protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties is undercut by his actions …” the letter said. “The vast majority of the documents had nothing to do with programs impacting individual privacy interests, but instead pertain to military, defense and intelligence programs of great interest to America’s enemies.”
The lawmakers’ efforts came just prior the debut of the Oliver Stone film and just after Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, announced a campaign in conjunction with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to get Obama to pardon Snowden.
Meanwhile, Kelley characterized the email surveillance and related privacy concerns as one of the most important constitutional issues of our time.
“Our government must relinquish their powers, since knowledge is power, and our emails can be used as ammunition to the extent they hold our personal thoughts, political beliefs, religious views and darkest secrets,” she said.