29-year-old ex-IT guy Edward Snowden is not in a good position right now.
He’s stuck in Hong Kong, waiting to be interrogated by Chinese officials.
These Chinese officials are going to ask him to turn over thousands of secret documents he stole from the NSA, a client of his former employer, Booz Allen.
If Snowden does what these Chinese officials ask, he’ll reveal American security secrets to one of America’s biggest security threats.
If Snowden does not hand over documents to China, he may face extradition back to the United States where life in prison is a very real possibility.
Meanwhile, Snowden is apart from his beautiful, live-in, pole-dancing girlfriend. She’s in Hawaii. She’s been writing on the Internet about how she feels “lost and alone.”
Snowden is also now out of his job at Booz Allen, where he was getting paid $200,000 per year.
Snowden got himself in this position by using his systems administrator’s access to the NSA’s network to download thousands of secret files onto a thumb drive, and then handing over the contents of this thumb drive to reporters at The Guardian and The Washington Post.
And for what reason did Snowden do this?
He was hoping for a revolution.
Snowden told The Guardian that he believes the documents he leaked reveal that “the NSA and the intelligence community in general is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible.”
He said the documents show that, through an Internet spying program called PRISM, “Any analyst at any time can target anyone … I sitting at my desk certainly have the authorities to wiretap anyone — from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President.”
He said his hope is that these disclosures will force “the public” needs “to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.”
There are two major problems with Snowden’s plan.
One is small. One is big.
The small problem with Snowden’s plan is that the information contained in his documents appears to be false or incomplete.
The big problem with Snowden’s plan to shock the American public into an anti-surveillance revolution is that the documents he leaked contained only old news.
There is a report out today from the AP saying that it has been “known for years,” that there is a program which “copies Internet traffic as it enters and leaves the United States, then routes it to the NSA for analysis.”
In fact, the American public has known that the NSA has extensive Internet-spying programs since 2000.
That’s when 60 Minutes reported: “If you made a phone call today or sent an e-mail to a friend, there’s a good chance what you said or wrote was captured and screened by the country’s largest intelligence agency.”
The 60 Minutes report exposed the existence of a program called Echelon, through which the governments of Canada, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand worked in coordination to spy on each other’s citizens on the Internet.
If you read the transcript from that 60 Minutes episode, Echelon sounds like a more invasive program than PRISM.
60 Minutes is a massively popular news program. 10 million, sometimes 20 million people, watch it every Sunday. Even more watched it back in 2000.
And yet, the American public reacted to 60 Minutes’s expose with a yawn.
Since Snowden’s leaks, lots of people have passed around an old quote from Benjamin Franklin.
It reads: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
It turns out the American public disagrees with Benjamin Franklin on this count.
We are willing to trade a little online liberty for a little offline security.
This is not irrational. We do not live in the world as described by George Orwell’s book, 1984. In 1984 the war the government uses as excuse to spy on its people was fake. In our world, the war kills people at marathons, in office buildings, and on bases in Texas.
The point is this.
If any leaks on the NSA’s Internet-spying powers was going to shock the American public into action, it was that 60 Minutes report 13-years ago.
It did not.
And so, the sad, final truth is this.
If, back before he dropped out of high school, 16-year-old Edward Snowden had just managed to see that 60 Minutes report and witness the collective yawn that followed, he might have, 13 years later, decided that the American public would never share his fear of surveillance.
He might still be living in Hawaii with his beautiful, pole-dancing girlfriend, working a job with a $200,ooo salary.
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