Monday, October 27, 2014

The Snowden Files by Luke Harding

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man Radio and TV coverage of the Snowden leaks were spotty. This book helped to fill in the details, background, and what happened since Snowden showed up in Moscow. Snowden himself, and his girlfriend Lindsay Mills, are fleshed out a little more, and I learned why an American would go to British journalists, the Guardian, with the information he had purloined. It turns out the British, specifically their top-secret telecommunications monitoring arm, GCHQ, collaborated with the NSA: “We have the brains: they have the money. It’s a collaboration that’s worked very well.” [Sir David Omand, Former GCHQ Director] No shortage of egoism and despotism to go around, then.

Snowden was a right-wing libertarian in early writings on the web as a user he called ‘TheTrueHOOHA’. It was frankly unsettling for me to read/listen to his thinking as a teen, and see his progression to action. To use his words, he would like to be viewed as a patriot who believes in the right to privacy enshrined in the U.S. constitution. When I’d first learned of his leaks, I was startled. Listening to his first interview on TV, I was admiring. After reading this book, I am unsettled.

Luke Harding, a Guardian reporter, outlines the Snowden action for us with a minimum of sensationalism but with some incredulity at the scope of the revelations. And the news is pretty sensational. Harding gives a little background into Snowden’s early development, and his foray into working as a U.S. government contractor specializing in the protection of U.S. government communications. Snowden’s amazed and amazing reach into the lives of others via their private data transfers must vindicate the paranoid. While I have my doubts that any world leader or business executive thought their telecommunications were truly secret, Snowden’s revelations are startling in the scope of the data collection and in the holes in the system, e.g., a relatively low-level contractor had access to the material.

I should probably state from the get-go that I do not fear my government. I grew up in an age where inaction was much more to be expected than action; incompetence and bureaucratic bungling was much more common than overreach. I was not subject to the kind of totalitarian control experienced in Eastern Bloc countries, the Soviet Union, or China, but we have those examples to know it can happen. I believe the president and his minions who claim that the government is not listening to the communications of private citizens. They simply do not have the capacity, nor the interest, to do that. However, they now apparently have the means, and individuals within governments can have a deleterious effect upon the stated objectives of government. Snowden has shown us a place where an individual might have an outsized effect to his purported role.

Knowing just what I know now, if I had to make a judgment on Snowden’s fate, I might say he should go to court congruently with the leadership of the NSA and the GCHQ. I don’t think it would have been possible for him to “go up the chain of command” to protest this data collection. It is ridiculous to contemplate that anyone would have listened to him, given the reaction from our fearless leaders upon learning of his revelations. But I wish things had gone differently…for him and for us.

I listened to the Random House Audio version of this title, very ably read by Nicholas Guy Smith. I had a look at the paper copy as well, and found it concise enough that the momentum never lagged. Since Guardian reporters were the ones that initially broke this story, it is reasonable that they are the ones to write the details of what happened and the follow-up. I can’t imagine there is a person out there who wouldn’t be interested in this topic. Inform yourselves. This is going to be a political topic for some years to come.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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