The Conversation

The shortest manhunt in history

In response to Priorities, Priorities: NSA Launches Probe into PRISM Leaker:

Looks like it won't take long to find the big NSA leaker: his name's Edward Snowden, and he's a disgruntled Obama voter who worked for the CIA and defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.  

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. "I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me."

Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in." He added: "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."

He decamped for Hong Kong to escape the U.S. government's reach, after lying to his supervisor and claiming he needed a few weeks off for epilepsy treatments.  In another UK Guardian interview, he professes himself to be a big fan of Bradley Manning - a "classic whistleblower" who was "inspired by the public good."  If he wasn't the main source for the PRISM story, it might have been someone he worked with.

He sounds like a dicey character, and I'm not a big fan of these self-appointed Wikileaks-style guardians of truth.  They're very picky about whose secrets they disclose.  The net effect is that instead of governments deciding what knowledge should be classified, freelance hackers make that decision... but there are still secrets.  I don't trust either Barack Obama or Julian Assange.  And I don't like the idea that only brutally oppressive regimes will henceforth be able to keep secrets.  That seems like a dangerous imbalance of intelligence and counter-intel power.

But what we've learned this week is chilling, regardless of the source.  The indiscriminate nature of the cell phone data mining and PRISM are disturbing.  I think I'm ready to go along with quite a lot in the name of counter-terrorism, provided it's under due process and careful supervision, but this "spying on everybody" stuff is where I think I've got to hop off the security train.  (Likewise, I was fairly comfortable with drone strikes, right up to the situation that set off Rand Paul's famed filibuster.)  

I hear some people on the Right saying we should go easy on Obama because he realized what an utter fool he had been prior to reaching the White House, as soon as he started getting those presidential intelligence briefings, and we should congratulate him for growing up in a hurry.  I'm inclined to offer no such congratulations, because his ideology is still dangerous, he's never apologized to George Bush for attacking the positions he would later embrace, and he's taken a lot of this stuff much further than Bush ever did... even as he's high-fiving himself for killing bin Laden, breaking al-Qaeda's back, and winning the War on Terror.  

I'll say this much for Obama, though: he's incredibly lucky that his most of his mind-numbed followers don't mind being lied to, and didn't really mean most of the criticism they hurled at Bush in a desperate fury, particularly around the 2004 election.  Oh, what fun it would be to beam today's news back to the Kos Kidz of that era, and watch their heads explode.


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