NSA Whistleblower Is Revealed, Flees To China As News Of DoJ Investigation Announced (VIDEO)

Is whistleblower Edward Snowden really a selfless patriot willing to take the heat to expose wrongdoing or…. something else? More to come. Much more.   Photo by Ewen MacAskil/Guardian @TheTimesUK

Is whistleblower Edward Snowden really a selfless patriot willing to take the heat to expose wrongdoing or…. something else? More to come. Much more. Photo by Ewen MacAskil/Guardian @TheTimesUK

Since the explosive reveal of the NSA phone records program by Barton Gellman at The Washington Post and, shortly after, Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian, global media has been exhaustively covering the spectrum of response (ours here at Addicting Info tapped both the Huffington Post‘s cheap shot on the story and the stunning New York Times take down of the president), as well as digging deeper to discover what, exactly, has been going on and why. But like any good drama, the search for “whodunit?” became the driving plot point. Since we knew from the get-go who “dun” the records collecting, the one mystery was who leaked the story. Now we know. The Guardian bookended its big “get” with another this past weekend, revealing with a dramatic June 8 video and interview that the whistleblower is 29-year-old Edward Snowden:

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world’s most secretive organisations – the NSA.

Clearly the writers have breathlessly claimed not only their bragging rights, but their analysis of Snowden as someone noble and history-making; the rest of the world remains a bit more circumspect. As stories crossed the media this past weekend either excoriating an administration “flirting with fascism” (as one commenter put it), or taking the less hysterical view in hopes of inspiring a reasoned conversation about the balance between security and privacy, most were wondering how on earth a former NSA security guard who never got a high school diploma (he did ultimately get a GED) ended up with access to top-secret NSA programs.

It seems his sense of patriotism started with a 2003 enlistment in the army, where he entered a training program to join the Special Forces, claiming a sense of obligation to “help free people from oppression.” The Guardian gives us the timeline from there:

He recounted how his beliefs about the war’s purpose were quickly dispelled. “Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone,” he said. After he broke both his legs in a training accident, he was discharged.

After that, he got his first job in an NSA facility, working as a security guard for one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland. From there, he went to the CIA, where he worked on IT security. His understanding of the internet and his talent for computer programming enabled him to rise fairly quickly for someone who lacked even a high school diploma.

By 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland. His responsibility for maintaining computer network security meant he had clearance to access a wide array of classified documents.

That access, along with the almost three years he spent around CIA officers, led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.

Snowdon described the kinds of seedy manipulations we’ve seen in every movie about the CIA and its methods for gathering information, but it was later, in 2009, when he took a job working for a private contractor who assigned him to an NSA facility, that he really got “hardened,” watching as “Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in.” From there it wasn’t much of a leap to justifying his decision to leak internal, secret information about an agency he now considered “an existential threat to democracy.”

Beyond The Guardian‘s anointing of Snowden as historically significant (which he will, no doubt, be), certain well-known libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) leapfrogged from Snowden’s reveal to their own position at center stage (one need only look at this title at In The Capital to get the gist: NSA Leaks Put Rand Paul In the Spotlight As He Plays For His Base). Daniel Ellsberg himself has echoed The Guardian with his own declaration of Snowden’s “heroism,” while other – less vaunted, perhaps – media figures raised the flag high:

beck tweet on Snowden

But others are less convinced; in fact, many consider him a traitor to the same democracy he says he’s willing to sacrifice his very freedoms for, seeing him as a young man who, on the surface of things, appears to be a passionate champion of democratic principle, yet had no compunction about exposing national security programs, an act many in the intelligence community say jeopardizes America’s anti-terrorism efforts, putting years of painstaking work at risk and, therefore, American security at risk. The very day the New York Times published its scorching critique of Obama in light of Snowden’s leaks, the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, declassified the phone records program with the intent of showing its limits in terms of how it impacted American citizens. He also made clear his opinion of the damage done by Snowden:

He called the disclosure of a program that targets foreigners’ Internet use “reprehensible,” and said the leak of another program that lets the government collect Americans’ phone records would change America’s enemies behavior and make it harder to understand their intentions.

“The unauthorized disclosure of a top secret U.S. court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation,” Clapper said of the phone-tracking program. [Source]

But it’s not only the expected government officials who see Snowden as less than snow-white, even some in the media are asking if the man is really a hero or… something else. While this, too, was predictable, the facts as they’re slowing coming out, with much more to come, are both confusing and revealing. For example, Slate wonders how an unaccomplished high school dropout with few credentials and little experience could have had such easy access to important classified information (which actually makes the government look bad… hiring this guy?). Time Magazine makes a similar point:

Snowden claimed vast powers to both initiate surveillance and shut down the U.S. programs: “I had full access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world,” he told the Guardian. In a video posted on the website, Snowden claimed that “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.”

Now, that’s worrisome.

Other sources, both liberal and conservative, are asking the same basic question we are here: is the man a hero or a traitor?

From American Thinker:

Is this really a whistleblower? Snowden swears he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Well, that’s a bunch of hooey. Breaking the law is wrong. Breaking your oath of secrecy is wrong. Breaking the trust of your employer is wrong. If he really believed he did nothing wrong, he’d come back to the states voluntarily and see if a jury of his peers agreed with him.

An unscientific poll at Business Insider puts “hero” at 67% (as of this writing) but the site itself is a bit more circumspect:

Whether or not Snowden should be regarded as a “hero” for exposing what he believes is horrible intelligence gathering abuse by the U.S. government, however–as some are already suggesting he should be–remains to be seen.

Internationally, the South China Morning Post posts a collection of tweets that make clear that opinion is varied, but the paper asserts that a majority of Americans give Snowden a “thumbs up”:

The response on social media to the unveiling of NSA’s biggest intelligence leak source, Edward Snowden, has been divided with some calling him a traitor, however the response to his coming out has been overwhelmingly positive, with the majority calling him a hero.

And then, of course, there’s Donald Trump:

“I don’t think you have any winners here,” Trump argued. “I didn’t like him. To me, he looks like a grandstander. … At the same time, I mean, that’s a lot of information that people are getting, and that our government is getting. … Where does it stop? It’s a mess.”

Donald Trump calling someone else a “grandstander.” That’s a story in and of itself!

The one thing we do know for sure is that there will be more to know as the story develops. The Department of Justice is investigating but, as expected, “declining further comment” until there’s more to tell. Booz Allen, the contractor for which Snowden was working at the time of the breach has denounced the act as “shocking and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation” of company policy.

Snowden, meanwhile, left his “very comfortable life” (which included a yearly salary of around $200,0000), fleeing his Hawaiian home on May 1,to land, initially, in a luxury hotel in Hong Kong (which he has reportedly now checked out of to locations unknown). His reasons for going to China have been scrutinized:

He chose the city because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”, and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government. [Source]

There have been many a raised eyebrow at his assertion of China’s “spirited commitment to free speech” but we’ll leave that to another day. And though the U.S. can seek his extradition from there via a 1997 treaty, whether China would actually refuse to extradite him is another story… that will remain to be seen. But Snowden has stated he’s thinking of heading to Iceland, another place where he has allies in the form of Icelandic legislator, Birgitta Jonsdottir and the director of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, Smari McCarthy, who’ve issued a “statement of support” for Snowden. It seems he actually has to physically be there, however, to avail himself of Iceland’s asylum privileges, so Snowden watchers are waiting to see how that unfolds.

Here in the States, the general mood is snarly and anticipatory. The conversations swing between the “horrors” of privacy violations and the squeamishness of aggrandizing a criminal. It will play out, investigations will reveal more, and as they do, we’ll be better able to ascertain the scope of the damage – on both the privacy and security fronts – and whether Edward Snowden is a noble, selfless crusader or something far more nefarious.

As for the question: Ttraitor or truthteller? Hero or villain? I’m the “too soon to tell” camp.

Here’s the video:

Related Article: No Prisoners: Fox News Analyst Wants To Execute Whistleblowers Manning And Snowden