The Snowden Files

The story of this whistleblower reads like a Dan Brown thriller with a slightly longer time frame. High paced action, secrets and danger all feature heavily in this true-life account of a man who risked everything to expose the sinister operations of the National Security Agency (NSA).

It begins rather innocuously as a somewhat embarrassing character exposé based on internet forum chats Snowden had as a young man. Most people from our generation would arguably be horrified if contrived and superficial chatlogs from our awkward teenage years were quoted ad nauseum, but apparently Snowden lost the privilege of having these logs be lost and buried in the internet forever. Hot Asian girls and kung fu aside, Snowden, with little formal education but for being an autodidact tech virtuoso, quickly rises through the ranks of the intelligence community as he flits across Europe, bemoaning the extortionate price of hamburgers in Geneva and the bungling stubby-fingered typing skills of the diplomats that inhabit the city. The personal anecdotes are the best aspects of the book for someone who is not passionate about the intelligence-gathering aspect of the controversy. They are entertaining precisely because you feel that they are not actually supposed to be funny.

It is questionable whether this information on Edward Snowden is really useful for someone interested in his motives for leaking the secret NSA files. It probably isn’t. However, the last part of the book solidly details his motivations and thoughts behind the decision to become a whistleblower. One of the most interesting parts of this book is the story of how The Guardian, later collaborating with The New York Times, went about publishing the material provided by Snowden. This was done with the utmost regard for ongoing intelligence operations and they arguably tried to exhibit information that they felt the public deserved to know. This all happened at breakneck speed and with fears that Snowden could be apprehended in his Hong Kong hotel room at any moment. The book also cogently describes the reasons why the leaked NSA secrets are so damning to the intelligence community. The journalistic gumption it took to handle this information, notwithstanding the spooks overseeing an Orwellian computer-smashing affair at The Guardian headquarters, is laudable and also rather comedic.

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