Have We All Been Fooled By Edward Snowden?

Author: July 6, 2013 10:49 am

Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblowers

At this point, the Edward Snowden saga seems to be running out of steam. The latest is that Venezuela and Nicaragua (out of at least 27 countries he asked) have offered him asylum so the story is almost at an end for now. The U.S. government will probably keep trying to extradite him so that they can prosecute but that may be years in coming. IF he  manages to find asylum in the first place.

Through this whole business, I’ve remained of two minds about Snowden’s tale. While I am certain that what he has reported is true, I’m unsure of motivation. With what I have just read, though, I think I’m getting a clearer picture. One I will try to paint for you.

Snowden used to post on a website called Ars Technica: it’s a site for professional techies (“alpha geeks” is what the site says). He frequented the Internet Relay Chat rooms quite a lot, shooting the breeze with whoever happened by. This began when he was stationed in Geneva in 2007: an IT guy for the CIA in a foreign land, he probably enjoyed this little bit of home. His posts – under user name TheTrueHOOHA – from that time show someone who is decidedly unworldly: he complained about almost everything in Switzerland, from the price of food to the women. Over the years, he changed from an insulated, opinionated American into an opinionated, snarky ex-pat. One of the biggest changes in his opinions is what he thought of leakers. Back then, he was not a fan. In January of 2009, the following exchange took place in the chat room:

SNOWDEN: HOLY SHIThttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/washington/11iran.html?_r=1&hp


SNOWDEN: Are they TRYING to start a war? Jesus christ they’re like wikileaks

User19: they’re just reporting, dude.

SNOWDEN: They’re reporting classified shit

User19: shrugs

User19: meh

SNOWDEN: moreover, who the fuck are the anonymous sources telling them this?

SNOWDEN: those people should be shot in the balls.

Well, he’s sure done a switch since then, eh? I bet he would rather that his balls remain unshot now. He went so far as to wish the NYT would go bankrupt. He also had no problem with Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, saying:

SNOWDEN: these are the same people who blew the whole “we could listen to osama’s cell phone” thing the same people who screwed us on wiretapping over and over and over again [sic] Thank god they’re going out of business.

User19: the NYT?

SNOWDEN: Hopefully they’ll finally go bankrupt this year.yeah.

He was gung-ho for it when Bush was president. Which brings up an interesting point: his opinion of such programs abruptly changed when Barack Obama took office. In the chat room, which Ars Technica calls “Officially unofficial” – the online equivalent to “the back room occupied by drinkers who feel the front (of the bar) is just too stuffy for them,” Snowden felt free to speak his mind even if everyone in the room would disagree with him. And he could be ugly about it.

Snowden revealed that he was a Ron Paul supporter and championed a return to the gold standard along with short selling stocks. Social issues also reveal a Libertarian bent when it came to personal freedoms. He also bought into Obama conspiracy theories such as the one that said Obama was going to devalue U.S. currency, leading to higher unemployment, something he saw as a “correction” and “a necessary part of capitalism.”

His disdain of President Obama and his policies was apparent and he bitched about them with “increasing frequency.” But there are two issues where, I believe, where Snowden’s true colors shine very clearly. This is one:

SNOWDEN: save money? cut this social security bullshit

User11: hahahayes

User18: Yeah! Fuck old people!

User11: social security is bullshit

User11: let’s just toss old people out in the street

User18: Old people could move in with [User11].

User11: NOOO

User11: they smell funny

SNOWDEN: Somehow, our society managed to make it hundreds of years without social security just fine

SNOWDEN: you fucking retards

SNOWDEN: Magically the world changed after the new deal, and old people became made of glass

SNOWDEN: yeah, that makes sense

User11: wow

User11: you are just so fucking stupid

SNOWDEN: yeah, [User11]. and you’re quite a gem

User19: and magically, life expectancy has doubled in the last 100 years.funny how that works.

SNOWDEN: [User19], you don’t think modern medicine has something to do with that? no? it’s social security? wow. I guess I missed that.

User11: hurr wait a second, life expectancy has shot up in recent times along with the dissolution of the communal family unit in exchange for the nuclear family

User11: gee i guess we might need to create a safety net for the sudden glut of helpless elderly????

SNOWDEN: they wouldn’t be fucking helpless if you weren’t sending them fucking checks to sit on their ass and lay in hospitals all day

User11: you are so goddamned stupd*pid


SNOWDEN: my grandmother is eighty fucking three this year, and you know what? she still supports herself working as a goddamned hairdresser


“Fuck old people”? An objectivist view if ever there was one. The other issue is the Second Amendment:

User: the restrictions were made to appease the conservatives to get another bill passed. fucking cons.

SNOWDEN: See, that’s why I’m goddamned glad for the second amendment. Me and all my lunatic, gun-toting NRA compatriots would be on the steps of Congress before the C-Span feed finished.

Very interesting. Snowden is a gun nut as well as an Obama hater. He also has been an outspoken advocate of the very thing he has become famous for revealing, cheering the security state network and insisting that it needed funding, even in the face of draconian budget cuts. He was particularly upset by Obama’s choice for the head of the CIA:

SNOWDEN: Obama just appointed a fucking POLITICIAN to run the CIA!

User11: yes unlike every other director of CIA ever

User11: oh wait, no

SNOWDEN: I am so angry right now. This is completely unbelievable.

Ars Technica has opened a new forum thread called  Edward Snowden—NSA Leaker and Arsian (does anyone know what ‘arsian’ means?) where users who remember interactions with Snowden are not very complimentary. One wrote, “He was kind of dick.” Posts like this make a good argument for his dickishness:

“The fact that you’re posting on a gaming forum makes me cry. I hope someone tosses you in a burlap sack and beats you with reeds. You’re a filthy little ragamuffin who lacks any semblance of taste. You loved Halo and own an Xbox. You pre-ordered “Mary-Kate and Ashley: Sweet 16 Licensed To Drive.” You are the sole reason I write these posts. I hope you’re killed by a drunk driver on Halloween.”

This new information has me pondering exactly who this guy is: is he the concerned whistle-blower? Or did he have an ulterior motive to spill what he did? His background isn’t really CIA or NSA material, so say a few people I’ve spoken to who actually have worked for a government contractor. So why was he hired? And why did he pick now to speak out? This has never smelled right to me, which is why I have withheld judgement. But these new revelations create even more questions. Is this whole thing a ruse to make the President look bad? If so, who is funding it – who is paying for all his travel and hotels? Or is Edward Snowden, a man who has completely destroyed his own life, just stupid? I still don’t know but this new information gives me a lot to think about. How about you?


facebook comments:


  • “He was gung-ho for it when Bush was president. Which brings up an interesting point: his opinion of such programs abruptly changed when Barack Obama took office.”

    Did yours? I seem to remember a time when liberals cared about civil liberties and were appalled by the Patriot Act. Do you mind sharing what your original opinion was on the Patriot Act, and whether or not it changed? That would be an article with reason and substance, quite unlike this rant.

    There’s a few (perhaps subconscious) incentives I see behind this article. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    1. You wish to discredit Edward Snowden. The popular opinion around the globe is that he took a stand for the people against the Obama administration, while the administration wishes to paint him as a traitor. You feel a loyalty to this administration because you’ve defined yourself firmly (in your mind and the minds of your followers) as a devout liberal. Perhaps for the exact same reason Republicans jeered at Democrats and defended Bush’s policies, you feel the need to defend Obama’s. Or perhaps you really do support Obama’s policies, and also supported Bush’s policies! Because the policies that made Bush infamous have been continued and expanded upon by Obama.

    2. You’ve been struck very deep by the sudden drop in support for this administration. After defending the administration on Benghazi and Fast and Furious, and ridiculing conservatives for criticizing Obama, you’re facing a scandal that can’t be spun as a Right vs. Left ordeal. What bothers you is that Obama’s support has dramatically dropped all around, with citizens and governments around the globe holding him accountable, the Left especially. Not wanting to argue for the programs (because you realize you sound like a neo-con or you simply can’t) you go after the character of the whistleblower.

    3. You wish to paint this as a Right or Left ordeal, to get the Left back on the side of the administration. It’s not just that you’re trying to portray Snowden’s flip flop, but you really do wish to show your viewers his conservative view points. Again, you wish to focus on the character of the whistleblower rather than the information leaked, possibly because you see yourself facing the same criticism from the Left as Obama, should you take a stand for the Patriot Act.

    Also, you paraphrased the “He was kind of a dick” comment. The full comment was “I remember that guy. He was kind of a dick. But fair play to him for what he’s done.”

    I look forward to your response. I wish to know the extent to which you support the Patriot Act. Where did you stand on it during the Bush years? Cheers.

  • “Arsians” seems to refer to “Ars Technica.” Also, “Fuck old people” was not Snowden’s comment, according to the copy of the chat transcript you’ve included.

  • I read this and ended up agreeing with what he said.

    See, it turns out that people using foul language will make them seem like jerks to whiny assholes on the internet, but the only thing these logs prove is that… well.. he’s a goddamned Libertarian.

    Social Security is a ponzi scheme, and takes money away from people and disables their ability to save up for their own retirement. The money we currently pay to Social Security goes to things *other* than Social Security, such as bombing kids in Yemen.

    Nice try, Steelman. Guns are great. The NYT is a terrible newspaper. Social Security bankrupts our nation. Edward Snowden is still a hero.

  • Ars Technica has opened a new forum thread called Edward Snowden—NSA Leaker and Arsian (does anyone know what ‘arsian’ means?)

    since the forum is called ARS im gonna assume arsian is ARS-ian like hes a member of the ars group.

  • “Arsian” from context: Ars Technica user.

  • mmontgom001

    Let me break it down for you…about this time, 3 years ago, I was fresh out of college and a firm Democrat and Obama supporter, who was jumping through endless hoops to convince himself that Obama was a good guy who was just a victim of the big old meanie republicans. Then facts and common sense finally sunk in around early 2011 and I started to see everything in a different light. It had been building up for a while, but my actual 180 happened probably over the course of a few weeks. Now I’m an independent.

    An important thing to remember, here, is Snowden’s young. He probably felt one way a few years ago, but hit his breaking point after years of being involved with and exposed to it, or he just came across a piece of information that was just too damning for him to continue supporting the program, and that breaking point just happened to be during the Obama administration. People mature and change over time, and it’s perfectly feasible that a 180 can happen in less than a few years, especially with someone as young as Snowden, only recently entering his 30’s.

    On another note, I’m over people trying to morph EVERYTHING into a partisan issue when it’s just, plain irrelevant to the big picture. You flat-out stated that you believe what Snowden has revealed is true, so for something like this, does the motivation even matter that much? Would you even be asking these questions if he switched his views a bit earlier and outed the program at the end of the Bush administration? People need to stop putting their party over the collective well-being and just hold the government accountable, regardless of who’s in power. This “team sport” mentality is exactly what’s gonna be the death of this democracy.

  • So what if this guy had conservative beliefs, that should make no difference whatsoever. Unless of course someone is so blinded by political tribalism that the fact this guy is a bit of a dick is more important to them than the stunning revelations he has given about the whole surveillance state we live in.
    Plus a few convos online is hardly enough evidence to be able to accurately build up a picture of a person and his motivations.
    Maybe this whole anti whistleblower trip he was on was just a cover story while he gathered all the NSA info. Or maybe he has since changed political views. Or maybe he was just taking part in that oh so popular internet passtime called, trolling, just for the hell of it.
    Bottom line is none of this matters. It is the spying leaks that we all should be focusing on. Not ad hominem attacks on the leaker.
    Then there is this constant defending of the president in this matter. Are we just political followers or are we progressives? A real progressive would want the truth, and if an elected offical, even the POTUS is found out to be doing something that is wrong then we should have the moral strength to call him out on this.
    Letting this whole massive attack on our civil liberties and our right to privacy slide just to protect our favoured political party some embarassment is monstrous!
    As liberals we should stand for truth, integrity and social justice, not for playing political games. We need to mobalise and denounce these intelligence activities before familiarity breeds commplacency and we all just learn to accept that our government is spying on absolutely everything we do.
    Take heed of the risings in Brazil, Turkey, Chile, Bulgaria and Egypt. Together if we all took to the streets and voiced our disaproval we could force real change in these matters and find the correct balance between national security and peoples privacy with an effective system of oversight and a much more rigorous judicial system that requires individual warrants based on evidence before any surveillance can take place.
    Hell we could even work we some on the less crazy right wing over this and make it a truely national cry of outrage that trancends party politics.
    Would that not be something to see the people of America standing united for once?

  • >Edward Snowden—NSA Leaker and Arsian (does anyone know what ‘arsian’ means?)

    Arsian is someone that uses Ars Technica. Ars-ian.

    Also, as many people in the Ars thread pointed out, and as Kender42 points out here, people can change their minds. Sometime radically.

  • Humanity got along quite well without computers for hundreds of years too.

    Big Dinero in an effort to make Obama “look bad”.

    Gee I dunno, who would’ve thunk it? Perhaps 100 million dollars flushed down a toilet wasn’t enough?

    • Computers were invented by innovative, private companies. Mandatory government retirement programs don’t seem explicitly comparable.

  • You suggest that Snowden was against leaks at the time of these 2009 chats and that this is inconsistent with his current position. But you left out the part where he said he was upset with the 2009 the leaks because they involved information that “is classified for a reason. It’s not because ‘Oh, we hope our citizens don’t find out.’ It’s because ‘This sh— won’t work if Iran knows what we’re doing.’”

    Compare that to his 2013 leaks concerning the NSA collection of ALL US citizen cell phone metadata. The reason that was secret seems to be in part because they didn’t want citizens to find out about it. They didn’t want public discussion and oversight of the program. That’s a real difference.

  • ohgoodgrief99

    I’ll bet that getting old and collecting social security is starting to look like heaven to this little punk. What a jerk.

  • Could it also be possible that he saw something that made him change his mind and ideals? I have seen people on the extreme on either side change their minds because of something they saw as truth.

    My own story is an example of this. I used to be a hard-core religious freak and then I went to school to become a priest and the more I went to my religious studies classes and actually read the bible, I began to see something at odds with my belief and then I became an atheist.

    • T. Steelman

      It’s possible but we’re talking only a few years, here. I don’t believe one can change so quickly unless one goes through some kind of traumatic or life-changing experience. I don’t see that in his history.

      I will continue to ask questions.

      • It doesn’t take a traumatic event to change someone like that. My views were changed rather dramatically by grad school. I was fairly libertarian and a strong supporter of “gun rights” but focused on social issues going in. Three years later, I was a pretty hard core democratic socialist who would like to see handguns banned outright and who viewed the world economic system through the lens of dependency theory. That was three years. Snowden took four years to go from those 2009 posts to being a leaker. If you haven’t had full, unrestricted access to IT systems, it’s hard to understand how much you can learn about an organization casually, even when you’re not motivated to do it, just by being in the systems. I can’t say that Snowden isn’t a plant or a troll or something, but from my own life experience, I don’t see anything at all odd about a young man going through this kind of change over three or four years. There’s nothing odd there. As an IT consultant myself, I can tell you that if you have certain niche skills, you will get bombarded with contact from recruiters wanting to put you on certain kinds of government contract work.

    • If one of the mods would approve the comment I submitted hours ago, you’d see that there’s an explanation that doesn’t require that Snowden underwent some great change. The 2009 chat logs make it clear that what he was angry about in those leaks was that they harmed foreign operations.

      SNOWDEN: That — is classified for a reason. It’s not because ‘Oh, we hope our citizens don’t find out.’ It’s because ‘This — won’t work if Iran knows what we’re doing.’

      When he released the 2013 documents showing mass surveillance of American citizens he said, “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest. There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

      Snowden evidently sees a difference between leaks meant to harm foreign intelligence and leaks meant to inform the public of secret domestic spying. I would probably agree with him.

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