Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world's most secretive organisations – the NSA.He got access to the information through his employer, Booz Allen and Dell, which does extensive military consulting with the US.
In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."
Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."
He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. "I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me."
Glenn Gleenwald interviews him in this video, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: 'I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things'
The Guardian reports that he is currently in Hong Kong. And he knows well the kind of world we live in now:
"All my options are bad," he said. The US could begin extradition proceedings against him, a potentially problematic, lengthy and unpredictable course for Washington. Or the Chinese government might whisk him away for questioning, viewing him as a useful source of information. Or he might end up being grabbed and bundled into a plane bound for US territory.One of the things that stands out to me about this is that Snowden was not a government employee, but rather a high-paid consultant for a major private consulting firm. He apparently decided to leak this information without regard for any obvious potential personal gain. But there are lots of governments, private companies and political entities of various sorts that will pay money for this kind of information.
"Yes, I could be rendered by the CIA. I could have people come after me. Or any of the third-party partners. They work closely with a number of other nations. Or they could pay off the Triads. Any of their agents or assets," he said.
"We have got a CIA station just up the road – the consulate here in Hong Kong – and I am sure they are going to be busy for the next week. And that is a concern I will live with for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be."
I don't need to be convinced that this massive surveillance will be abused for things other than legitimate national defense or law-enforcement concerns. It's the way police-state measures work. Some of the people with access to this information will use it for such things as seeking out insider information to let themselves profit illegally on financial transactions; digging up dirt on political opponents; blackmailing officials or Members of Congress to support some official's agenda as (in)famous FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was so well known for doing; pursuing personal or professional vendettas; even for sexual blackmail (e.g., "I know your brother is selling drugs but if you sleep with me I won't report it").
And some people who have access to this information as Snowden did will not be so self-sacrificing in how they decide to illegally share it. They will sell it, or give it away because they are being pressured in some way. This can't be a surprise to anyone who has ever read a spy novel or seen an espionage story in the movies or TV.
There are big downside risks in collecting and holding this kind of indiscriminately-swept information. Authoritarians like to talk about the "trade-offs" between freedom and security.
Conor Friedersdorf makes a similar point in What If China Hacks the NSA's Massive Data Trove? Atlantic Online 06/08/2013: "In the wrong hands, it could enable blackmail on a massive scale, widespread manipulation of U.S. politics, industrial espionage against American businesses;,and other mischief I can't even imagine." This sentence in his article caught my attention, too: "Think of all the things the ruling class never thought we'd find out about the War on Terrorism that we now know." The Atlantic is now using "the ruling class"? Wow!
There have been a number of good analyses of this massive-surveillance/domestic spying issue over the last several days, including:
James Fallows in 'I Cannot Figure Out Why This Was Classified to Begin With': What the PRISM leaks have in common with the Pentagon Papers The Atlantic 06/07/2013
Charlie Pierce, Civil Liberties Are Not Something You Trade Esquire Politics Blog 06/07/2013: "The American people are not being asked to 'trade' their civil liberties. They are being asked to surrender them, for all practical purposes, permanently."
Marcy Wheeler, Meet 3 PATRIOT Act False Positives Investigated for Buying Beauty Supplies Emptywheel 06/07/2013 (When I was getting the link for this article an ad was displaying saying, "2 people are spying on you." You don't say!)
Tags: domestic spying, edward snowden, obama administration