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6/11/2014
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Should Edward Snowden Come Home?

The Interop Book Club debuts with "No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State" by Glenn Greenwald.

I’m launching the Interop Book Club with “No Place To Hide” by Glenn Greenwald. “No Place To Hide” details Greenwald’s encounters with Edward Snowden, the now-infamous leaker of NSA documents that detail many of the agency’s surveillance efforts, including programs that target American citizens.

Because I can’t have all of you in my living room to discuss the book (the snacks and wine alone would bankrupt me), I thought I’d try it online instead. You can participate by sharing your comments and questions below, and engaging with other participants both here and through social media.

I’ll post updates on the book as I read it to keep the conversation going. And if you happen to attend Interop New York this fall, I’ll host an in-person meet-up for book club participants (with snacks).

I chose the book because I’m alarmed by Snowden’s revelations. The NSA’s capability and willingness to gather huge troves of information on American citizens, often in concert with major telephone and Internet companies, should trouble anyone concerned with civil liberties and a free society. I wanted to find out more about Snowden and the information he exposed, and about the people Snowden chose to help him disseminate the documents.

Snowden and Greenwald are polarizing figures. Many have called Snowden a whistleblower, a patriot or even a hero. Others are repelled by Snowden's actions; venture capitalist Marc Andreessen called Snowden a textbook traitor in an interview on CNBC.

As for Greenwald, he fiercely believes that his efforts to share Snowden’s revelations, particularly around domestic spying, are unambiguously right and just. For Greenwald, the stakes are immense:

“Converting the Internet into a system of surveillance…turns the Internet into a tool of repression, threatening to product the most extreme and oppressive weapon of state intrusion human history has ever seen.”

While I share Greenwald’s anxiety about the rise of a surveillance state, the fact is he can be bombastic and aggrandizing. Michael Kinsey, reviewing Greenwald’s book in the New York Times, writes “Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss… .”

But personalities aside, Greenwald’s book raises a host of compelling questions. I’ll kick off the book club with this one:

Should Edward Snowden come back to the United States to face the consequences of his actions?

I ask because there are several points in the first couple of chapters of the book where Snowden acknowledges the gravity of actions, and says he is prepared to deal with repercussions. According to Greenwald, Snowden wrote “I’m not afraid of what will happen to me. I’ve accepted that my life will likely be over from my doing this. I’m at peace with that.”

Greenwald says Snowden insisted over and over that he was at peace with the consequences of actions, be it “a lengthy prison term” or something worse.

I think Snowden could demonstrate the strength of his convictions by returning to the United States to face trial. His presence in Russia casts instant suspicion on his motives. Is he really an idealist who wanted to expose mass domestic spying, or just a spy?

Snowden certainly didn’t help his case by appearing on Russian television in April to ask Vladimir Putin if Russia spied on its own citizens. Putin, of course, gleefully answered in the negative. Snowden later defended his participation in what was clearly a Russian publicity stunt by claiming he wanted to get Putin’s lie on record. Snowden may have achieved this rather dubious goal, but at great cost to his own credibility.

If Snowden returns to the U.S., he dispels suspicions about his motives and demonstrates that he truly is willing to accept the consequences.

Certainly he would face trial and likely be convicted of a multitude of crimes. He would likely spend a very long time in jail. However, as a prisoner of conscience in the United States, Snowden becomes a much more potent figure. I think the gravity of his sacrifice would carry more weight with Americans who might otherwise dismiss what he’s done.

And what he’s done is expose, in detail, a surveillance apparatus that can reach into the most private corners of our lives.

Greenwald reports that Snowden’s greatest fear wasn’t capture. It’s that “people will see these documents  and shrug. The only thing I’m worried about is that I’ll do all this to my life for nothing.” Let’s hope not.

Drew is formerly editor of Network Computing and currently director of content and community for Interop. View Full Bio
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TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 2:13:33 PM
Re: Could Snowden Get A Fair Trial?
I'm not debating what legal definition of treason is. My point is that he is nothing like Benedict Arnold or the dude that sold secrets to Russians for years, for money. I have to believe you see the difference. But I agree that won't save him a treason conviction.

I have a problem with general statement he "broke vow to keep secret" and "it was classified". How would anyone know what they have vowed to to keep secret until they see it? If NSA was working with criminals in baby trafficing and it was classified, would you have to keep that secret also? These laws made a lot more sense when you could actually trust the government was trying to do the right thing, worked for the people. Those days are long gone, look no further than the WMD's we never found in Iraq.

People like you are certainly entitled to the view you have, and you may be the majority in this case. To me, it just refreshing to see someone with the guts to do something they thought was right, for no personal gain for themselves. I'd like to think I'd act like that if circumstances dictated, not bury my head in sand. My favorite analogy here is Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. If you helped the Jews, you were a traitor and a criminal. Which side was right back then, those who allowed the Nazi government to execute their "laws" or those who tried to help?

As far as naive that NSA was collecting data on scale they were, how would anyone on outside expect that? To be honest, I was surprised they had the talent to do it.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 1:51:24 PM
Re: Could Snowden Get A Fair Trial?
The definition of treason is pretty straightforward, and he certainly meets it. He stole a vast amount of classified information after vowing to keep it secret, shared it with foreign governments, including geopolitical adversaries, and damaged US security and relationships. Anyone who didn't think the NSA was watching this data is naive -- the entire mandate of the agency is to intercept electronic communications. What lala land are people living in? 

Wholesale dumping of classified information is illegal and puts all of us at risk. Our system offers legal options to disgruntled employees and contractors -- there are federal whistle-blower laws. They can go talk to their congressperson. They can even very selectively leak data to the press then have the integrity to stay around and take responsibility. He did none of those. 

 

 

 
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 1:27:19 PM
Re: Could Snowden Get A Fair Trial?
Interesting Lorna. I watched that interview and had opposite opinion, that he seemed much more normal than I thought he would be. To me, he genuinely seemed to think he was doing right thing and that he was one of few people in a position to do anything about it. He definitely knew if he did this it was going to ruin any chance of normal life. I think he expected the public to come down heavily on his side but think he was smart enough to know that wouldn't keep him out of jail.

He is certainly not a traitor in any traditional sense, where someone was clearly aligned with a known enemy. He was trying to help us, the unknowing public, what was going on. It is certainly a legitimate debate whether he accomplished that or not.

But one argument I reject is examples of "damage done" being things like US getting made fun of by foreign powers for spying on German leader cell phone. If you don't want to be embarrassed, don't be doing things you should not be doing in first place. Serves them right, seems like justice to me.

 
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2014 | 1:00:20 PM
Re: Could Snowden Get A Fair Trial?
I think he could get a fair trial, and that he'd be convicted of treason. He has gone WAY beyond just exposing a few NSA programs. He broke the promise he made when he was granted a TS clearance and has given information to Russia and others that has damaged our ability to protect our citizens. From watching the recent Brian Williams interview, I think he's delusional and very, very taken with is own importance. I don't see him ever voluntarily returning to answer for his actions.
ClareCM
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ClareCM,
User Rank: Strategist
6/11/2014 | 12:50:45 PM
Great topic
I haven't read the book yet but I am looking forward to it.  My initial impression is that Snowden has already sacrificed quite a bit to get the information out about how much the government spies on us. So right now I'm on the "hero" side of the debate.  But I feel like I need to know more about whether some of the information Snowden leaked could endanger important operations, so I'm glad to learn more about this topic.  I do agree that coming back to the U.S. would make him more of a martyr.
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
6/11/2014 | 11:32:18 AM
Could Snowden Get A Fair Trial?
As a follow-on to my original question of whether Edward Snowden should come back to the U.S. to face the music, do you think he could get a fair trial here?
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