A nuanced portrait of the government contractor who absconded with top-secret National Security Agency documents in May 2013.
Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor? In this sterling investigative study of Snowden’s theft of documents from the NSA, where he was contracted to work, and his subsequent alert to international journalists and flight to Hong Kong and then Moscow, investigative journalist Epstein (The JFK Assassination Diary: My Search for Answers to the Mystery of the Century, 2013, etc.) offers a multilayered examination of what Snowden’s theft actually entailed—and what it means for America’s national security. In his late 20s and suffering grievances over perceived incompetence by his superiors at the CIA, where he initially worked, Snowden had taken a speed course in international hacking and befriended many of the online hacktivists and otherwise disgruntled counterculture figures who gravitated toward Tor anonymity software and WikiLeaks. He was a restless high school dropout living with his single mother and finding in computer games a fantasy vision and a series of aliases. He also agreed with hackers expressing outrage over government surveillance overreach. In presenting the Snowden case, Epstein focuses on the discrepancies in the narrative that Snowden presented in his video made with journalists Laura Poitras and Glen Greenwald when he first arrived in Hong Kong (the two ultimately made the film Citizenfour), days before Snowden sought asylum in Moscow in June 2013. Of the million-plus files that he had hacked from the NSA, only a few were given to Poitras and Greenwald, as well as WikiLeaks, supposedly only as an act of whistleblowing. Yet the rest—the most sensitive material dealing with the NSA’s ability to conduct intelligence across the globe—was never accounted for. Had Snowden destroyed these files, or had he been lured by Russian intelligence to effect his espionage?
A wild and harrowing detective story and impressively evenhanded portrait of a very sticky case.