Former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore talks about national privacy issues Friday during the Freedom Conference in Steamboat Springs.

Photo by Scott Franz

Former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore talks about national privacy issues Friday during the Freedom Conference in Steamboat Springs.

Freedom Conference speakers debate national privacy issues, impact of NSA leaks


— Two conservative speakers participating in a debate about national privacy issues at The Steamboat Institute's annual Freedom Conference gave very different answers when asked whether they thought National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was a traitor or a patriot.

"Edward Snowden is a traitor to the United States of America," former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore told a large audience at The Steamboat Grand.

Before answering, Gilmore held up a newspaper front page with pictures of Snowden and Vladmir Putin under the headline of "Comrades."

Gilmore said Snowden "was given the most confidential trust of the people of the United States," and he betrayed that trust.

He added that the leaks from Snowden has caused this country's enemies to change their behavior.

Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, who debated Gilmore on privacy issues, did not label Snowden a patriot, either.

But he did say his leaks have spurred an important dialogue.

"If it wasn't for him, this panel today wouldn't be here," Kirk said. "He really opened a dialogue and a discussion about this agency that for so long has been unknown."

Kirk said Snowden should be judged by a jury of his peers.

The growing power of the NSA weighed heavily on the hourlong debate.

Both speakers spent much of their time talking about how they thought the country should balance privacy and security in future, especially as threats from terrorists and other conflicts with countries loom.

Gilmore and Kirk agreed that the NSA needs to be held more accountable in the wake of reports that its power and capabilities have grown throughout the years.

Both also said oversight has been lacking.

Some critics say the agency's spying powers are going too far.

Kirk said the agency has created a sense of paranoia among Americans.

But Gilmore stressed that with the U.S. still facing serious conflicts from countries like Iran, China and Russia, and threats from non-states like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the U.S. needs to maintain its intelligence and eavesdropping advantages.

He said the government needs to continue to be able to "understand what the enemy is doing and what they are thinking."

"The loss of that advantage would be catastrophic to this country and the safety of this country, and that is the danger we face," Gilmore said.

He said it was a "false choice" for Americans to have to choose between either a strong security system that "spies on everybody" or to have total liberty.

"There are ways we can reform our NSA operations to protect the American people," he said.

Kirk called for more oversight of the NSA and said conservatives need to "lead the charge against the abuse of power."

"The NSA is probably the most powerful agency we've ever seen," he said. "We have to ask ourselves one final question: Do you trust the federal government, and do you trust the people running it?"

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Eric Morris 2 years, 8 months ago

Freedom conference with one tyrant and one squish on greatest patriot of our lifetimes. Edward Snowden=Freedom Fighter. Anyone that criticizes him or dissembles about him should be 1000 miles from anything associated with freedom. Good thing, because it looks like from the photo Gillmore never left the friendly confines of the imperial city.


Eric Morris 2 years, 8 months ago

Peter, I was in the military. Being in Kuwait and Iraq opened my eyes to the fact that "Truth is Treason in the Empire of Lies." There have been no proven instances where NSA spying "saved" us and there have been no proven instances where Snowden's disclosures harmed anyone except the lying NSA leaders. I happen to hate a lying government violating its own supposed controlling document, the constitution. I don't hate America; it is a beautiful geographic place with many good, productive people.


rhys jones 2 years, 8 months ago

I had occasion to stroll through the Grand last night, and I saw a smattering of those arrogant bastards. I see the caste system is alive and well in America: They are the Ruling Class, we are here to serve them with our labors, taxes, and offspring, and don't think it's any other way.


Eric Morris 2 years, 8 months ago

Peter, please don't thank me for being a servant to a global empire, and a mercenary to boot. See page 10 here how Kuwait jails twitter critics and page 13 how I was a mercenary supporting the Emir because the USG is paid $200 million per year to house US troops.

Even the new head of NSA says Snowden did no harm. Like an alcoholic only claiming two drinks, a self-serving spy saying little harm means no harm.

Finally, voting does no good as Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama all bomb Iraq and support NSA, TSA, CIA, and all the others who spy on and harass you.


Eric Morris 2 years, 8 months ago

Peter, I am not an ingrate but regarding thanking people for service I do not like the knee-jerk reaction that people give when hearing I was a member of the military. I wish people would think deeply about what the military does. I have found that instead of defending our freedoms it helps erode them, that opposite of the Navy's tag line it is not a global force for good, and it offensive rather than defensive. It antagonizes and creates enemies then fails in its most basic function against those same enemies, such as allowing its own HQ to be attacked on 9/11. It does nothing to defend our own border.

Please name a war or police action that was necessary to defending you and making your life better. I'd even argue that WWII should have been a limited defensive one in the Pacific to prevent another Pearl Harbor; the USG did much to provoke that attack with sanctions. We merely traded Hitler for Stalin in Europe. Both were mass murderers.

I joined for the same reasons most people join: sense of duty, patriotism, and money. In the end, I learned the only good of my "service" to others was nothing and to me was the money. The USG protect the Sauds, who beheaded 19 the same or a few days after James Foley. I recommend "Legacy of Ashes" as a good book to demonstrate that CIA meddling is really bungling and causes much more harm to everyone than good. The military just surfs in the wake of that meddling.


Eric Morris 2 years, 8 months ago

Regarding how to defend: the Swiss were surrounded by two World Wars and were never attacked. Who attacks Costa Rica?


Eric Morris 2 years, 8 months ago

I have read the same book and have many similar views to you. Regarding Snowden, there is no proof whatsoever he has committed treason, or that anyone other than the journalists (and maybe his lawyers) have any of the documents.

I'd submit an even better example of non-interventionism helping lead to peace is Sweden. It was very active in attacking and being attacked until the end of the Napoleonic era. It avoided the deadly and costly wars of the rest of the 19th and full 20th centuries. It began dipping its toes back into warfare by being in Afghanistan and even Libya recently. Guess what, it has now been the target of a terrorist attack (Thank God unsuccessful), and Russia has been playing bear cub fights with it also. I'd submit the last sentence of consequences is related to its recent actions in Afghanistan and Libya.


Eric Morris 2 years, 8 months ago

Regarding Time article, my point about the alcoholic and self-serving spy must have been missed. I think if the spies had found real harm they would have leaked that all over "Meet the Press" through unnamed senior administration officials. Here is the complete takedown of that meme:


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