Commentary Magazine


Contentions

NSA Leaker Is No Hero

That didn’t take long. The official who leaked top-secret information about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs to fight terrorism has now come forward in the pages of the Guardian to revel in his role “as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning.”

Edward Snowden is described as a 29-year-old high school dropout who worked (ironically) on computer security for the CIA before becoming a highly paid contractor at Booz Allen, making a reported $200,000 a year working for the National Security Agency in Hawaii. The Guardian story presents him as a martyr for some kind of libertarian world view: “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.’ ”

He claims he is willing to sacrifice a comfortable lifestyle in Hawaii “because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.” In reality, of course, the United States is the greatest champion of liberty the world has ever seen–this is, after all, the nation that defeated Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and has championed democracy from Libya to the Philippines, freeing untold millions from oppression.

But that’s not the only delusional aspect of Snowden’s justifications. It turns out he is not so willing to accept the consequences of his actions. On May 20, having downloaded all the Top Secret documents he intended to leak, he took a flight to Hong Kong, where he has been ensconced in a hotel room ever since. Why Hong Kong? According to the Guardian, “he chose the city because ‘they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,’ and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.”

In point of fact the latter justification is considerably more compelling than the former. One wonders if even someone as ignorant and delusional as Snowden could possibly imagine that Hong Kong–ruled by a Communist dictatorship in Beijing–is more of a haven of “free speech and political” dissent than is the United States, which happens to be one of the freest countries in the world. Freedom House rates Hong Kong as only “partly free,” and getting less so all the time, as Beijing consolidates its control over what was once a genuinely free British colony.

It is a cardinal irony that Snowden, a self-styled martyr to Internet freedom, has taken refuge in a country (China) that does more to restrict the Internet than any other major country and has far more intrusive electronic surveillance than anything the NSA could possibly dream up. If he thinks he can elude Chinese intelligence by typing in passwords with a bag over his head, he is deeply ignorant of how sophisticated the Chinese government is in tapping into cell phones and computers. They don’t even need physical access to download everything he has in his hard drive.

That the Guardian is glorifying this misguided and malevolent individual does him no favors: He needs to see a psychiatrist or a minister rather than to be granted access to the front pages of the world to blow some of the U.S. government’s most important intelligence-gathering activities.

The fact that the CIA and NSA employed him for years—and then allowed him to leave the country with Top Secret documents–suggests that major modifications are needed in their security procedures. The intelligence community has been mostly focused on checking out employees with overseas family or friends on the assumption that they are most likely to be compromised by foreign intelligence services. But Snowden, like Bradley Manning (and, for that matter, like Robert Hannsen, Aldrich Ames, the Walker family and other high-level spies), is a homegrown traitor who managed to escape the tightest security. It is time to readjust the assumptions on which U.S. counter-intelligence operates–and time, too, to make the most strenuous efforts to move Snowden out of China and bring him to justice for the serious crimes he has committed.

Far from striking a blow for political liberty and freedom of expression, he is unwittingly helping the most illiberal individuals in the world–jihadist terrorists–to more effectively attack us.