The NSA relies on many contractors | June 11
Choice of profit or professionals
Somewhat lost in the furor over the surveillance of citizens' privacy by the massive NSA program to sweep up and store personal communications is the fact that this function has been increasingly outsourced to private industry.
There has been little discussion of the system that allows defense contractors, whose primary allegiance is to profit, to hire employees with questionable credentials or backgrounds in the primary pursuit of a greater share of bloated defense spending. The transition of critical security functions from a middle-class professional government workforce to private sector opportunists has resulted in the loss of professionalism.
The somewhat-rare private enterprise employee who questions the legality or ethics of a program in which he or she is engaged has no means of addressing his or her concerns (such as consulting an inspector general). As noted in the current case of Booz Allen Hamilton, the choice was to resign or, due to conscience and a lack of a credible sense of the big picture, to go public and disclose classified information that could result in harm to us all.
We need to reprofessionalize our national security functions with citizens having a longer perspective, and who have outlets to address concerns that are not available in private industry.
Thom Kenning, Valrico
The NSA relies on many contractors | June 11
Information not secure
Personal phone records and email records retained by the National Security Agency are not secure, and never will be. As an information systems manager for almost 50 years, I know someone in "the back room" (actually thousands of someones in the case of NSA) has access to the personal information of all American citizens, even up to and including the president.
When such systems are developed, tested and run by the technical staff, these staffers must have access to information contained in these systems to ensure they are working. During this testing and maintenance activity, many citizens' personal records are retrieved. Our personal records will be accessible by these "back-room technicians" again and again.
Jay Hall, Tampa
Obama defends U.S. spy efforts | June 8
So President Barack Obama now welcomes a debate over the issues of security and privacy. No reasonably thinking American can object to the importance of both, even if there is disagreement on the balance between the two. And a debate on the subject is important, given the conditions we live in today.
However, every American of my generation and younger has learned to distrust government and the politicians who run it. Strip away the niceties of language: The reason is that government lies. Lyndon Johnson and his administration lied about the Gulf of Tonkin. Richard Nixon and his administration lied about government abuse and excess. Bill Clinton lied under oath. Now James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, lied when he said in March that his agency was not "wittingly" collecting information on the American people. Obama Attorney General Eric Holder either lied to a FISA judge or the Congress about James Rosen's role.
If the president had really wanted a debate, it should not have taken a criminal act of leaking to generate it. Simply telling the American people the truth would have accomplished the same thing.
Peter D. Klingman, Tampa
Outrage is misplaced | June 12, letter
The political "dance macabre" that is taking place is amazing. I find so many "conservatives" siding with the president on this issue of eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. I find it equally amazing how many so-called "liberals" like myself are beyond angry and disturbed by the government's prying into people's lives via their emails, phone calls and other previously private parts of their everyday lives.
How can anyone think of Bradley Manning as an enemy of the state, let alone seditious, when he was answering to the inner, moral voice that told him to speak out against the inhumanity and violence that he observed?
Ron Thuemler, Tampa
Afghan attack kills 3 from U.S. | June 9
Last week, three Americans were shot and killed by one of the Afghans they were training. This will continue as long as we are in Afghanistan. We have lost 2,100 troops to date.
Can anyone seriously believe Afghanistan will ever be a functioning democracy? When we leave in 2014 at a cost of many more lives and millions of dollars to a corrupt regime, Afghanistan will likely revert to the Islamic tribal society that has existed for centuries. When will we learn that we cannot impose our form of democracy on those who don't want it? We have failed in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan to date.
We should save those lives that will be lost between now and 2014 by leaving Afghanistan today or as soon as logistically possible.
Harold H. Dean, St. Petersburg
Roadways may get flowers | June 10
Let this idea bloom
My wife and I have, on many occasions, enjoyed the beautiful wildflowers along the shoulders of many of the roads in North Carolina. It was therefore a nice surprise to read of Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham's proposal to encourage such natural beauty along his county's highways.
We only hope that this idea will "grow legs," no pun intended, and that it will spread into Pinellas and beyond. Nothing would do more to beautify our state highways.
Julian Fant, Treasure Island
Finally, on the 500th anniversary of "La Florida" (the land of flowers), we are getting the message. Florida has so many beautiful native plants that can be showcased as part of ecotourism.
As the article mentioned, other states have been planting wildflowers along highways for decades. With grant money available, it is a win-win situation. Tourists do not go home and show pictures of the latest overpass or six-lane road. They see our beautiful native wildflowers and go home and ask about doing the same in their area.
I will praise the commissioners every time I see the roadside flowers. This is their positive legacy that will be enjoyed by everyone.
Susan Watson, Dover