More than three weeks since fleeing Hong Kong, and six weeks since leaking a trove of security-related documents, Edward Snowden remains holed up in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. The former US government contractor’s exposure of sweeping intelligence gathering at home and abroad unleashed a frenzy of media coverage, with Snowden’s self-aggrandizement and mercurial personality winning the lion’s share of attention. Members of Congress have been quick to express their shock and dismay at his outrageous behavior. Doing so makes it easier to avoid the hard fact that they all knew — or should have known — about the lax oversight of these programs. I certainly did when I was in office.
The lack of supervision cuts both ways; even as a contractor at Snowden’s level can obtain and release vast amounts of classified information, government agencies’ appetite for still more data keeps growing. What little talk of reform may have broken through the din in Washington has yielded little substantive action. That’s not to say that nothing will ultimately change, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Republicans who readily supported the creation of these initiatives under President Bush are unlikely to change course. Democrats who should know better are happy to now give their own president a pass.