(Author’s Note: There will be a follow-up story posted from the Montco DFA event. I went there to hear what Kevin Strouse’s positions on the NSA would be.)
Correction: Kevin Strouse spent 8 years in the CIA, 6 of which were in counterterrorism.
On Thursday, August 1, Montgomery County DFA hosted an intimate talk with 8th Congressional District Candidate Kevin Strouse, attendees tested the first-time candidate on multiple issues. Strouse responded to tough questions on issues including the Affordable Care Act, economic regulations, the NSA controversy, environmental issues, climate change and much more. Progressives seemed to be impressed with the tone Strouse responded to attendees and the direct answers he gave to persistent questioning. If he advances past the primary, Kevin Strouse is a solid progressive who has a chance to snag Mike Fitzpatrick’s highly contested seat. In the last election, the 8th Congressional District was one of several districts that voted for Barack Obama, but chose to keep an incumbent Republican.
At this point, Strouse is shaping up to be the frontrunner in the local primary by out-fundraising Shaughnessy Naughton $254,000 to $89,000. While this is Strouse first run for public office, he has a strong resume and family history in the area. Veterans organizations have endorsed the candidate for his three tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Iraq. On top of that, Strouse spent 6 years in the CIA; four in counter-terrorism and 2 years in financial crimes. When the meeting began, Strouse explained that it was government obstructionism coupled with budget cuts and budget deadlines affecting his work at the CIA that pushed him into the race for Pennsylvania’s Congressional 8th District.
Because of Strouse’s service as a CIA agent and Army Ranger, I was curious about his positions the recent NSA revelations and the conversation
. Pertaining to the NSA, the crowd raised questions about the leaker, Edward Snowden, how the leaks have been unveiled, feelings on the national conversation the leaks have sparked, his experience with those in the NSA and CIA and the privatization of our national security spectrum.
The debate over the NSA programs, reforms, feelings of Snowden, feelings over the program is anything but simple. Politico reported on July 26th that half of the country approves of the NSA programs. Glenn Greenwald reported that for the first time since before 9-11, concerns about civil liberties outweighed concerns on terrorism. On August 1st, Quinnipiac released a poll showing that Edward Snowden is still considered a whistleblower. The Justin Amash and John Conyers amendment, followed up by Al Franken’s legislation in the Senate, showed that the NSA debate is just beginning.
Instead of focusing on the leaks or programs themselves, the crowd was more interested in Strouse’s positions and possible solutions to the issue. Defending the need for this conversation, Strouse believes “regardless of how things have been rolled out, what I do see is an opportunity here, and when you boil this down to its most basic question. We are back in the days of John Locke, where it’s the balance of liberty and security.”
Even though Strouse welcomes the legislative debate happening around the NSA leaks, he is in favor of keeping some programs and defended friends and former colleagues saying “I do know some people who work in the CIA and NSA, here is what I will tell you. Of everyone that I knew, not a single one joined because they wanted to spy on Americans.” At the meeting, the candidate didn’t offer any concrete legislative solutions to curb NSA spying programs, but agreed that this is something the “American people as a whole need to come to agreement on.” Because of his support for some security programs, the main issue he was displeased with was the lack of oversight and the bulk collection of metadata. He stated:
“what does make me nervous is maybe not today, but ten, twenty years later, everything they’re collecting is permanent. And there are plenty of examples of that information being used – or could be used for political reasons. And I don’t think the safeguards are there.”
“Americans we think that we need to rein these programs in, whether that’s more oversight to narrow the scope of what they can do or to scrap them altogether.”
Another issue that was brought up during the meeting but hasn’t received much attention was the massive shifts of privatization that has occurred within the NSA. On July 11th, Reuters’ David Cohen agreed with Ted Koppel who said in an NPR interview:
“We are privatizing ourselves into one disaster after another. We’ve privatized a lot of what our military is doing. We’ve privatized a lot of what our intelligence agencies are doing. We’ve privatized our very prison system in many parts of the country. We’re privatizing the health system within those prisons. And it’s not working well.”
When pressed on the privatization of our surveillance apparatus and the conflicts of interests that occur when contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton – or others – with global geopolitical aspirations, the candidate acknowledged that “[privatization] mushroomed during the Bush years when there were two wars going on..[that] has to be part of the conversation.” Again, the candidate is open for discussion on the NSA debate, but didn’t offer concrete legislative reforms.
With the possibility of the NSA debate getting settled before the 2014 mid-term elections, it was enlightening to see a candidate with prior experience in the CIA take a respectable stance on the recent NSA developments. Our follow up article will summarize other issues that were brought up during the meeting.