Table of contents
October 12, 2001: Patriot Act Passed
9/11 was an event that struck fear into the hearts of people around the world, and this was understandable. The government needed to be tough on terror and reassure citizens that they and their families were safe. The Patriot Act, however, was a clear exploitation of the fear that ensued 9/11. The Patriot Act was not mentioned often in “The Snowden Files”. When I conducted my own research of FISA and the event’s that led up to NSA’s unparalleled covert power, it was clear that the Patriot Act was the cornerstone of it all. It allowed government agencies to gather 'foreign intelligence information' from both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens. It removed the statutory requirement that the government proves a surveillance target under FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) is a non-U.S. citizen and an “agent of a foreign power”. In essence, it removed the legal barrier that required the explanation or even a warrant for surveillance orders. This specific provision of the act (with amendments in secretive courts) led to the data hoarding of The NSA we know and love today. The understanding of the event’s that to the Patriot Act and eventually, the NSA’s unprecedented power proves the main idea’s mentioned earlier. The very law is called “The Patriot Act”, this makes one feel inclined to conform to the regulations in order to prove their patriotism. However, who was this feeling of patriotism supposed to be for? Was it for George W. Bush and his notorious “War on Terror” or was it for the constitution and what it stands for? It is clear now that the act only furthered the agenda of the “War on Terror” rather than the American philosophy.
2007 - 2009: Snowden Posted to Geneva.
They say that one should never meet their heroes as it is sure to be a disappointment. Snowden’s hero was the American philosophy, the constitution, and most importantly the formidable agencies that protected American values. He was infatuated with the American way of life and the way these agencies protected his rights. However, when he was posted to Geneva under diplomatic cover for the CIA, he met his hero, and he was sorely disappointed. There was an incident during his time in Geneva where CIA operatives tried to recruit a Swiss Banker in order to get hold of secret financial information. Snowden witnessed the CIA do this by getting the banker drunk, encouraging him to drive home (which he ended up doing) and then having the Swiss police arrest him. The agent in charge of this case then offered to help and exploited the incident to successfully to recruit the banker. Snowden also made a statement about his time in Geneva, “much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what it's impacts is in the world. I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good” (page 37). This event changed Snowden’s perception of the American system. After this event “any decision to spill US government secrets was inchoate, an idea slowly forming in Snowden’s head” (page 37). This also relates to the idea of patriotism, Snowden was a patriotic young man who had faith in the system. That is until the curtain between what he thought of the government versus how they really carry out their duties fell. Without this event Snowden, perhaps, would not have questioned The NSA’s actions or even considered them through the Socratic Method they way he did. Perhaps he would have remained patriotic to his bosses and leaders rather than his constitutional rights.
January 2009: Formative Controversies
While filling in an annual CIA self-evaluation form Snowden detected flaws in the system and pointed them out to his boss. His boss told him to drop it but eventually allowed Snowden to test the system for any weaknesses. Using his proficient skills with computers Snowden surely found flaws and embedded some code and text in the software in a “non-malicious manner” to prove his point. His immediate boss signed off on it but then a more senior manager discovered what Snowden had done and was furious. Snowden, for his initiative, was rewarded with a derogatory report in his file. This event was also extremely important in a timeline of events as it taught Snowden that complaining upwards only led to punishment. This relates to the idea of having oversight for those in power. Similarly to Drake Thomas, Snowden raised his concerns about a problem and was met with punishment rather than acknowledgment.
June 9, 2013: Edward Snowden Revealed as Source
A vigilante like Batman masks his identity to protect the ones he loves. However, the hero of this story does the exact opposite. It is not common for a source to reveal their identity, especially if it’s on the scale of the information Snowden leaked. Snowden’s fear was the NSA figuring out what he was up to and “[sending] the CIA or any of their third-party partners to render [him]…that’s a fear [he] will live with for the rest of his life” (page 106). With him suppressed the truth of the NSA’s operations would never come to light. He would spend the rest of his life in prison, effectively rendering all his efforts futile. This was a possible outcome of the risk he was taking and he knew it. However, his biggest fear was his family and his partner Lindsay Mills being dragged down because of him. He knew that if he ran without ever revealing his identity it would be his family and loved ones who would suffer in silence. In order to shine the NSA’s spotlight away from his loved one’s revealing his identity was a must. Additionally, Snowden revealing his identity was critical to the way everyone perceived the enlightening information. It is a lot easier to comprehend a movement when there is a face to put to it. The formal interview that Snowden presented after the leak of the Verizon and PRISM article’s was a masterstroke in his plan to expose the Government’s actions. With the growing dependence on technology, it was a plausible yet far-fetched idea that governments or foreign agents could intercept anything one does on the internet. In fact, it was more of an urban myth or conspiracy theory that only the ones with tin foil hats truly believed. There was no way the government could consciously disregard the constitution that founded the fabric of that countries values right? However, having a credible, well spoken, and sane person presenting this information with detailed accounts of his findings made it a lot easier to digest the information. This event in the timeline is extremely important to both of the main ideas mentioned earlier. Snowden came into the public eye facing scrutiny from many (of course including the government) but praise from countless others as well. An iconic statement he made, in his initial interview, sums up his motive as he said “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.” - Edward Snowden.
June 23, 2013 - Present: Snowden’s Asylum
On June 21, 2013, the US Department of Justice formally indicted Snowden with “theft of government property, two counts of violating the Espionage Act through unauthorized communication of national defence information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person”. Snowden had two options, stay and face these charges in court or run. Snowden felt as though with the charges presented he would not be able to make a case for himself in front of a jury. This is due to the fact that the Espionage Act does not have a clause for public interest or a Whistleblower, rendering Snowden unable to use intent as the defence. This defence was probably his best bet but was now not of any use. One of Edward’s lawyers, Albert Ho, believed that “Snowden might eventually prevail in a battle against US extradition. But in the meantime, he would sit in jail while the Hong Kong courts considered his asylum case”(page 217). Snowden needed Asylum but the chances of getting asylum soon in Hong Kong were slim as the legal turmoil could carry on for years. He left Hong Kong on June 23 for Ecuador with a planned layover in Russia. This plan was put on hold in Russia. He was stranded at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow because US authorities rescinded his passport. He was however granted temporary asylum by Russia as they considered his application for permanent asylum. He was then eventually granted long-term asylum. Just this year on January 18 Russia extended Snowden’s asylum till 2020.
Before I read “The Snowden Files” I knew who Edward Snowden was and had a faint understanding of what he was responsible for. Reading this books gave me an in-depth understanding of the events that lead up to the leak and what followed afterward. The book was interesting and extremely informative. Going into great details at times to explain the legalities of the events I learned a lot about how the American legal and national security infrastructure operates. Furthermore, reading this story has made me a lot more conscious about my own personal privacy when using The internet. For example, I have made a conscious, effort to put tape over my webcam since reading “The Snowden Files”. Considering that Canada was a part of the countries involved in the leaks, it is logical to believe that to some degree (all-though never disclosed) Canadian government agencies might have a similar surveillance program in place. Overall “The Snowden Files” was definitely worth the time I took to read it!
The strongest point of “The Snowden Files” has to be the nature of the story it tells. Most true crime novels have a clear criminal and revolve around the trial and crime of that individual. With the way the Snowden Files is presented, in the point of view of a journalist, one can easily make the argument that the government is also to blame or to some extent is the offender. The government was infringing on the 4th amendment (or section 8 of the Canadian Charter) and this creates adds an interesting dynamic to a classic genre. Because of this alteration to the structure of a conventional true crime novel there are a lot of more topics and underlying issues for readers to look into. If one thinks about a book after reading it or applies it somehow to their own life, I think that proves the media was effective. In my opinion, 'The Snowden Files' does exactly that.
Even though “The Snowden Files” was a great book overall it had some flaws. The first flaw was the author’s assumption that every reader would understand the American criminal system and legalities. Although similar to the Canadian system there were still key differences in the American system that I found myself researching in order to understand the context of the book. Perhaps this is the fault of the reader rather than the author as the target market may have been those who live in America and understand the system. I also feel as though Luke Harding could have spent more time developing Snowden’s character or explaining his job as a contractor a bit better. Harding seemed to skip the details of Snowden’s day-to-day job before the leak and I would have liked to learn more about that. Furthermore, I feel as though he spends more time than necessary developing the character and providing the backstory of the journalists involved with the story. For example, he spends nearly a complete chapter giving an extensive backstory of Glenn Greenwald. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Harding himself is a journalist and he felt the need to credit those who broke the story. I understand this sentiment to respect the work of other journalists, however, for a reader having the majority of a chapter dedicated to one of the supporting characters can become redundant and boring.
Rather than separating facts from opinion, Luke Harding tends to conjoin the two together to portray Snowden as a heroic yet modest person. There are not any real experts on this case as there is no forensic evidence or hard scientific data that would require an expert. Therefore, as the source’s for his information Harding repeatedly cites other article’s and other journalist’s coverage of the story. This is because he never had the chance of personally speaking to Snowden and the most he could do was provide other’s perception of Snowden to prove his own points. This may sound a bit like hearsay but Harding was very skilled in doing this. For example, when he wanted to make the point that Snowden was not after celebrity status or fame he quoted MacAskill saying “His instinct is to be friendly. He is really shy” he then provides his own observations as he wrote “When MacAskill took a few snaps of Snowden he was visibly uncomfortable” (page 111). This uses both Harding’s opinion and perception of Snowden incorporated with someone who was up close and personal with him. This conjunction causes the reader to view Snowden exactly as Harding portrays him.
There is definitely a bias Harding brings to the story due to his own background as a journalist. It seems as though he makes no effort to mask this bias either. He does not often quote officials and government statements about the case which discredit Snowden unless painting the officials as antagonists. For example, when he writes about the journalist’s looking into legal repercussions for themselves, he states “The Espionage Act was a curious piece of legislation written during the first world war. It made it a crime to furnish, transmit, or communicate US intelligence material to a foreign government. The statue was rather vague. It was unclear…case law wasn’t much help either” (page 125). This makes one feel empathetic to the journalist’s plight and paints US law’s as misleading or unclear. Furthermore, not once does Harding present Snowden in the light of a traitor as he is perceived to be by many. Ultimately Snowden did sign a contract and take an oath to protect his country no matter what. Arguably, the massive leak of information left American intelligence vulnerable to foreign agents such as China or Russia and gave them a peek into the heart of America’s secretive operations. In light of these facts now could argue that Snowden was in-fact a traitor but this side to him is never shown by Harding. Personally, I concur with Harding as I think the government should not have done as they did and I definitely have views similar to those of Snowden. Regardless, as an informed reader, it is important to keep in mind that I very well may not have gotten the complete picture with the author’s bias background and approach to the story.
I would definitely recommend this book to others. The person who I would recommend this book to is my mom. She is very interested in the current state of American politics with Trump in office and is very well informed about the legal infrastructure in America. She has already seen the movie on Edward Snowden and I think she would enjoy the book even more. Generally, though, I think Harding’s intended target audience is millennials. The book tends to present a point of view that is not of conventional patriotism but rather one that is rebellious to the system, I think this book would be great with millennials who are well informed about politics. Furthermore, someone with conservative political views would not enjoy or relate to the book as well as someone with liberal views would.
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