30 Apr Review – Snowden: A Biography
Snowden, Ted Rall, Seven Stories Press, 2015
In graphic novel form, this book looks at the life and motivation of Edward Snowden, one of the most famous, or infamous, people in the world.
Snowden grew up in Maryland, just a few miles from the headquarters of the National Security Agency, or NSA. It was the sort of community where one learns not to ask their neighbor, or their spouse, just what they do for a living; it’s probably secret. An attempt to join the Army after 9/11 was not successful. As a CIA employee, he was stationed for a time in Switzerland. He was exposed to other systems of values, and began to wonder if America was really the “good guys.”
He left the CIA, and joined the NSA, eventually becoming a systems administrator, or sysadmin. He spent some time in Japan, which further removed any notion that America was on the side of the angels. As a sysadmin, he had access to all sorts of classified files that detailed America’s surveillance plans. Whenever he had a chance, he downloaded file after file onto flash drives.
Here are a couple of examples. An NSA program called “Captivated Audience” lets them track you through your smartphone and listen to conversations in your home, even if the phone is Off. “Gumfish” allows the NSA to take a picture of you, at any time, using the camera in your laptop. Smart TVs, those that allow streaming of web content, have a camera that the government can activate at any time to watch anybody (like the telescreens in Orwell’s “1984”).
Now working in Honolulu for an NSA contractor, one day Snowden hopped a taxi to the airport with his flash drives. His next stop was Hong Kong where he leaked his information to a couple of journalists. After the worldwide bombshell, he was planning to fly to Latin America to ask for asylum. While in the air, his passport was revoked. He also knew that if he flew through the airspace of a US ally, the ally would force the plane to land. Snowden would be arrested, handed over to American authorities and “disappeared” (like Bradley/Chelsea Manning). Snowden got as far as Moscow, where he remains today.
Say what you will about Edward Snowden (he is a hero or he is a traitor), this is an excellent, and very easy to read, look at why he did what he did. It’s very highly recommended.