Articles and books on, reviewed by Alan L. Chrisman
It’s been a year now since Edward Snowden fled with thousands of copied U.S. government files. The debate is still on whether he is a whistleblower or has committed espionage. Recently there have been several articles and books about just how he did it and possibly his motivations.
Vanity Fair magazine in their May issue had a long well-researched article with the timeline and his background. And Snowden certainly seems like an unlikely James Bond, although the company who produced the James Bond films has announced they will make a film about him. But it sometimes does read like a cloak-and-dagger narrative, with encrypted messages, code names and a secret rendezvous with only the few journalists he trusted. And one of those is Glenn Greenwald, who’s an American living in Brazil but working for The Guardian newspaper, who has just released his new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and The U.S. Surveillance State. Luke Harding’s earlier book, The Snowden Files, provides interesting information as well.
As I said, Snowden is an unlikely spy. He actually comes from a long history of military men and both his father and grandfather were in the Coast Guard. Also Snowden was only a high school drop-out and mainly self-educated on computers, although he took some advanced community college courses. But this 20-something, computer geek got hired by the U.S. government and received security clearances. U.S intelligence services budgets ballooned, reacting to 9/11, and they hired thousands of computer workers, mostly contracted through private companies that became a billions of dollars government gravy train. At first Snowden was hired as a basic computer technician but later part of his job was to find flaws within the system to prevent foreign hackers. But when he suggested changes, this conservative but bright young man, felt ignored by his supervisors, which may have been part of a personal motivation for doing what he did. And he began to have reservations about the whole U.S. government spying system, gathering massive amounts of information even on its own citizens. And he saw what had happened to several whistleblowers before him, some charged under an out-dated Espionage Act of 1917.
So on May 17, 2013 Edward Snowden left without telling his family, or even his girlfriend (who seemed to be just the opposite of this quiet computer nerd; she a free spirit, often posting half-dressed photos). He flew to Hong Kong alone and found himself holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room, purposely signed in under his own credit card, so he wasn’t working for a foreign power, and afraid he could be tracked down any time. There he met with the only three journalists he trusted, including Greenwald, warning them not to bring in their cellphones, because he told them the government could even hack in through their cellphones and use them as a microphone. They noticed that whenever Snowden did have to leave his hotel room he had placed a glass of water and a napkin near the door to tell if someone had entered while he was away, a trick right out of an old spy movie.
He hoped to possibly seek asylum in Iceland, or Ecuador. That other most prominent whistleblower, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, was in exile in Ecuador’s embassy in London. But he knew he had to get out of Hong Kong, and the U.S. would soon revoke his passport. Amazingly, there was a typo error on his detention form, and he managed to slip by at the Hong Kong airport. Also the Hong Kong government evidently, not wanting to get in the middle of China and the U.S., had decided they just wanted rid of him. Assange (although he was not that happy that Snowden would soon be eclipsing him as the latest whistleblower media darling) sent one of his assistants and his rumoured girlfriend, to accompany Snowden. They boarded a flight to Moscow with a route through Cuba to Ecuador, or at least that was to be his plan.
But as we know, he got stranded in Russia where he is still, hoping to one day, to be accepted by another country (or who knows, even work out a deal with a future U.S. administration). He now finds himself, ironically, a guest of Putin, not exactly known as a respecter of human rights and opponent of the West, so some have accused Snowden of treason. But Snowden maintains that although he escaped with his laptops, he actually didn’t leave Hong Kong, with the data, but has entrusted those files to those few reporters he trusted and their outlets, like The Guardian, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. And so far, they have published only small parts of that information (supposedly he copied perhaps upward of 50,000 to 200,000 files), which of course has had earthquake reverberations, not only in the security areas but in everybody’s daily lives And we now know that the government is listening in to all of us, not just supposed threats. At one time the N.S.A. had wanted all phones, computers and devices sold, to contain a secret chip so the government could eavesdrop. It had been rejected, but they had found other ways to do it since, Snowden revealed. Even meta data can reveal much more about us than we realized. Snowden said that with as little as someone’s e-mail that he and the N.S.A. could hack into anyone in the world. The Obama administration had to admit they had tapped into even allies like Germany’s Merkel.
So there is no such a thing as privacy anymore. Big Brother is already here. The Canadian spy agency, CSIS was reportedly listening in to WiFi at some Canadian airports and is sharing all kinds of information with the U.S. It was bad enough that corporations and search engines were recording our every click and selling it to commercial interests, but now also our phone conversations and electronic messages are potentially being monitored as well and by our own governments. There are especially whole younger generations for whom this new media has become ubiquitous and dependent on, without perhaps even thinking about what once was private. But as I said, all of us must now be on guard. In Julia Angwin’s new book, Dragnet Nation, she advises us to use 30 to 40 characters for our passwords and even cover names for our e-mail. What’s it going to be like in the coming age of thumbprint and facial recognition and drone technologies which hackers are learning to invade as fast as they are being invented? Snowden’s journalists have hinted that what he has given them and they’ve released so far is only but the tip of the iceberg and there are more possible shock waves to come. Yes, Edward Snowden is an unlikely James Bond but we owe him a large debt of gratitude for making us aware of what we’re each going to have to deal with , whether we all agree with his motives or not. And it should make an interesting film and all the above books and articles are recommended.