Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Before Edward Snowden

If you want to know why Edward Snowden leaked classified information and fled the country, the answer may be living in Oregon.

Diane Roark

Diane Roark (Photo by Tom Patterson)

Working in Congress as a Republican staffer for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Diane Roark tried every way she knew to warn her federal government colleagues that warrantless wiretapping was occurring, even though it was likely illegal and unconstitutional.

Roark is no loopy lefty. In her government role, she pushed for funding for the National Security Administration to monitor phone calls, emails and Internet use by possible foreign terrorists. A political conservative with a Glenn Beck book on the cabinet in her home office, she never bargained for these tactics to be used against American citizens.

She also didn’t believe that her warnings would be ignored, dismissed or turned into a reason for federal agents to raid her house in Stayton and confiscate her computer, papers and a printer/fax machine.

James Risen, The New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking the story about the use of warrantless wiretaps against American citizens, calls Roark a “hero.”

In an interview this week with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air, Risen said, “[Roark] is a very modest person. She now lives quietly in Oregon. She retired from the government, but to me, she’s one of my heroes. She’s a woman who tried to put a stop to the NSA program early on, but she never went to the press. She never went outside the system. She tried to do it within the system, and she kept getting knocked down and blocked.

“She went all the way to top of the government. The only thing she could get for all of her troubles was an FBI raid on her house because they thought she was leaking when she wasn’t. And so it’s a really, I think, a heroic story by her.

“Her case shows why people like Snowden had to leave, had to go out of the country or had to take measures to avoid prosecution because someone like Diane tried to go through the system. And she was constantly shut down and questioned and persecuted for years.”

Two years ago, Willamette Week wrote about Roark. The story focused on the raid in 2007 when the FBI knocked on her door at 6 a.m. and searched her house for anything that might implicate her in media leaks.  The story noted Roark had filed suit in U.S. District Court to get back her personal property, which was never returned. Roark has never been charged with leaking information.

Roark told Willamette Week that when she first encountered warrantless searches of U.S. citizens, she thought it was a rogue operation. It wasn’t until later, after confronting many of her governmental colleagues, she learned that the program called Stellar Wind was widely known inside the intelligence community and apparently sanctioned by top-level federal officials in Congress and the Bush White House.

Roark recalls the NSA director telling her bluntly that the agency “had the power” and “didn’t need” warrants.

Frustrated, yet loyal, Roark retired and returned to Oregon in 2003. She says she didn’t talk to the press. Two years later, The New York Times unmasked Stellar Wind. Since then, she feels she has been under investigation, despite doing nothing illegal.

“Anything they want to cover up – and they have a lot they could cover up, including just plain incompetence –they can say they’ll seize all your stuff,” Roark told Willamette Week. “I just don’t understand why nobody cares about the Constitution.”

snowden.siWhile this doesn’t justify Snowden’s actions, it may explain them. If government officials ignored the Constitution, maybe he figured he could ignore the Espionage Act.

Roark probably wouldn’t brook what Snowden did. She may view him as a coward or even a traitor. But sitting on her porch in Oregon, dealing with breast cancer, she probably has a clearer idea than most of us what made him do it.’s_listening_to_diane_roark.html

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