“The One True Hooha” is the name that Edward Snowden used on online gaming forums a decade ago. The New York Times put together something of a profile on Snowden yesterday, painting him as personally ambitious and someone with a great interest in China – he studied Mandarin and martial arts among other things.
The Atlantic has a very interesting comparison between Snowden and one of the people he calls (and I call) a hero, Daniel Ellsberg. They list several differences but there are two that ring out to me – what Snowden revealed, as troubling as it may be, is legal. And Ellsberg remained in the U.S. to face the consequences of what he did, Snowden fled.
What does it all mean? I don’t know. I don’t think the full story is out there yet. I’m not rushing to judgement. I have a lot of conflicting thoughts.
I mean, is anyone really surprised that the U.S. government is doing this? And while I’d like to say that I’m disappointed that Obama continued this program that Bush started, how many times has he promised to shut Guantanamo?
Maybe I’m less shocked because I’ve become inured to it. My family was investigated by the FBI in the 1960s – they went door to door in the building we lived in asking our neighbors about us. I did stuff as a teenager that I’m convinced led to the KGB having a file on me. And as someone who works in IT, I know full well that anything I type on the Internet, anything I put on Facebook or search on Google, is available to anyone in the world, regardless of what “privacy settings” I’ve selected. Anything I buy from any online shop or any store with a “member card” goes into a database that can be mined.
And why did Snowden choose Hong Kong? I still don’t get this. If he thinks he will eventually receive asylum in Iceland, why didn’t he just go there? Why choose a place that has never known democracy and that is part of a country that has ruthlessly oppressed its citizens for 5,000 years, a country that is famous for spying on its citizens and jails dissidents without trial?
Snowden may be a hero. Maybe. But I see no basis for Hong Kong to deny extradition, if the U.S. should request that, which it likely will.
I try to put myself into his shoes. I work in IT. I’ve worked as a contractor. I could have easily been placed in a position with a company with values opposed to my own. Snowden signed all sorts of papers pledging to keep his mouth shut about what he was doing. I suppose one could argue that he signed those papers before he got the access he got and that he was so shocked by what he discovered that he decided this took precedence over whatever he signed.
But why did he choose to allow himself to work for U.S. intelligence agencies? Why not banks? Why not Wal*Mart? He went where the money was. I’ve seen reports saying he was earning anywhere from $120,000 to $200,000 a year – not bad for a high school dropout with a GED.
And what about Booz Allen Hamilton? What guilt do they have in this? I would say that they’re so anxious to fill these positions, which are tremendously profitable to them, that they’re not properly vetting candidates. “Okay, this guy can spell UNIX, we can bill him out to the NSA at a 300% mark-up, what more do we need to know?”
From the Times article:
His disclosures have renewed a longstanding concern: that young Internet aficionados whose skills the agencies need for counterterrorism and cyberdefense sometimes bring an anti-authority spirit that does not fit the security bureaucracy.
“There were lots of discussions at N.S.A. and in the intelligence community in general about the acculturation process,” said Joel F. Brenner, a former inspector general of the agency. “They were aware that they were bringing in young people who had to adjust to the culture — and who would change the culture.”
Mr. Brenner said that with such a buildup after the Sept. 11 attacks, “you’re going to have some sloppiness and some mistakes.” It is remarkable, he said, that “disloyalty” of Mr. Snowden’s variety is so rare.
I think it took a lot of courage for Snowden to do what he did. But I think he did it wrong. I think if he truly wants to be a martyr then he should go to the airport today, get on a plane to Los Angeles, surrender to the authorities and get the trial started. Let’s get this all out in open courts.
Let’s let the rule of law decide and not the rule of mobs.
(I reserve the option to change my mind on this 62 more times in the coming days.)