A Whole New World

CHAUTAUQUA – The government and journalists have opposing views when it comes to national security and the public’s right to know.

That was made clear by Alberto R. Gonzales, who spoke at Chautauqua Institution about “The Ethics of Privacy” on Friday.

Gonzales, who was nominated by President George W. Bush as the 80th attorney general in 2005, wrapped up the institution’s third week of lectures alongside interviewer Ken Gormley, dean of Duquesne University School of Law.

Much of the conversation revolved around topics associated with the information age and the war on terror following 9/11, and how the aftermath of the attacks has shaped the future of privacy in the United States.

Gonzales provided a view from the opposite side of Jill Abramson’s lecture at Chautauqua on Wednesday, which was titled “The Secrecy Complex and The Press in Post-9/11 America.”

Her lecture elaborated on the balancing acts of newspapers, national security and what the American public needs to know.

“Jill Abramson said ‘Secrets don’t stay secrets’ and that is absolutely true,” Gonzales said, referring to the fact that, in the age of WikiLeaks, an organization which publishes classified information, it has become more difficult for the government to hide the ways it tries to enforce national security.

Another topic of conversation was Edward Snowden, a former government employee who leaked various documents to journalists in 2013 confirming the American government’s implementation of global surveillance programs like wire taps.

“They, terrorists, knew we were monitoring them, and when they read about it on the front page day after day, it reinforced in their minds to be careful,” Gonzales said, adding that the release of confidential information was and is a blow to the government. “At some point, someone is going to get hurt. We are going to be damaged.”

Gormley asked Gonzales if American citizens should have the right to go public with information they believe creates questions about American policy and actions in the military sphere.

“Your representatives, the people you elect, make sure certain kinds of information should be protected, and there are laws that prohibit the unauthorized exposure of classified information,” Gonzales said. “If you’re upset about it, there are ways to make your concerns known to appropriate officials.”

Gormley also asked Gonzales if he believes the world will ever return to the world that existed before 9/11, to which he replied he did not believe it would ever be the same with the ways technology continues to rapidly change.

“We are fighting a different kind of war. We don’t live in a world now where the enemy is holding a musket – think about it. Now the enemy has the capability to inflict serious damage on a number of people very, very quickly,” Gonzales said. “The need for the executives to act quickly now is greater than ever before.”

He said that although America is a great country, it is not the most popular in certain parts of the world.

“People want to do us harm, and that was true before 9/11,” he said. “There were attacks against this country by terrorists, and I regret to say those attacks will continue. It’s not a questions of whether there will be another 9/11. There will be another 9/11, – the question is ‘When?’ I fear it’s a matter of time.”

Someone in the audience asked if America is in a perpetual state of war, which garnered a round of applause.

“I don’t know when the war on terror is going to end,” Gonzales replied. “We didn’t know when the Cold War was going to end but it ended. At some point the war on terror will end I know it hasn’t ended today.”

He concluded that the measures the government takes to protect the country are still necessary.

“We need to ensure that those measures are consistent with the Constitution as verified by the other branches of government,” he said.

Gonzales served as attorney general until 2007. He recently became dean of Belmont University’s College of Law. He formerly held positions as Texas Supreme Court justice and secretary of state.

Next week, Chautauqua Institution will host a lecture series titled “Emerging Citizenship: The Egyptian Experience,” which will focus on citizen responsibility in the 21st century.