CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "The Snowden Files" reveals the astonishing extent of our government's spying on its own citizens, on people across the world and on leaders of at least 35 foreign nations, including allies like Germany, France and Great Britain.Edward Snowden, who became an analyst for the National Security Administration after leaving the CIA in February 2009, has infuriated many U.S. government leaders. Widely under attack - especially by a U.S. government that hopes to capture, try and imprison him - Snowden is a firm believer in rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.Snowden as portrayed in Luke Harding's new biography is not a radical left-wing ideologue, as some of his critics portray him. He is shy and has an aversion to cameras. Both right-wing libertarians and left-wing Democrats have supported his efforts.In 2008, Snowden himself voted for Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., running as the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate. Over his career, Paul served 11 congressional terms as a Republican.
In "The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man," Harding, a correspondent for the London-based Guardian newspaper, documents Snowden's feelings and beliefs, his access to federal security files and his courage that made him become perhaps the biggest whistleblower in U.S. history.Glenn Greenwald, an investigative reporter for the Guardian who previously wrote for Salon.com, played a major role in first bringing Snowden's secret files to worldwide attention.Greenwald's own new book - "No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State" - will be published in May.Harding calls Snowden's documents "the most significant leaks in U.S. intelligence history."After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush dramatically increased federal legal and financial support for secret spying.Snowden believes Obama is following in Bush's footsteps. "The Obama administration is afraid of ... an informed, angry public demanding the Constitutional government it was promised - and it should be. ..."America is fundamentally a good country," Snowden said. "We have good people with good values. But the structures of power that exist are working to their own ends, to extend their capability at the expense of the freedom of all publics.""Over the last decade, the U.S. has been secretly working to gather practically all communications entering and leaving the U.S," Harding writes. "The NSA's analysts were the most powerful spies in human history."
NSA surveillance routinely captured telephone conversations, e-mails, internet posts and computer chats, as well as personal banking and medical records of citizens across our nation.Snowden repeatedly makes clear he does not want to put any American lives at risk, especially those serving in the military, by revealing NSA documents.The Guardian began publishing Snowden's documents last June.
Other newspapers, including The New York Times - which published the controversial Pentagon Papers back in June 1971, also began publishing many documents Snowden made public.Snowden, Harding writes, believed "only a newspaper could begin the debate he wanted. And it wouldn't take place if the public remained clueless as to the extent of the state's suspicion-less surveillance."Harding writes about "the alarming frequency with which the [Obama] administration was exerting pressure on the Times's reporters, particularly those covering intelligence matters."Some major internet sites cooperated with the NSA, at least initially.
During the last six months of 2012, for example, Facebook gave personal data from 18,000 to 19,000 of its users to agencies that included the NSA, FBI and local police departments."The NSA," Harding argues, "has made American communications less secure."
For years, Washington leaders complained about cyber-espionage by Russia and China, Harding notes. "Now it appeared the NSA did the same thing, only worse."But the Silicon Valley companies that once cooperated with the NSA later began criticizing White House policies and "said the Snowden revelations had been a disaster for their businesses," Harding writes, especially in Europe and Asia.Eight companies - Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL - sent an open letter to Obama and Congress recently."The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual - rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines all the freedoms we cherish. It's time for a change," the letter stated.Snowden's revelations have made news throughout the past two weeks. Stories, particularly those in The New York Times, have revealed:Microsoft lost many customers, including the Brazilian government. IBM has begun spending more than $1 billion to build new data centers in foreign countries to ensure information is safe from NSA prying. Total losses could reach $180 billion.The Chinese government asked the U.S. to stop cyber espionage, after reports about the NSA hacking into computer systems of China's largest telecommunications company. American officials have long believed the company Huawei, is a security threat.The White House will soon unveil proposed legislation to end NSA's systematic collection of information about the calling patterns of all Americans.Former President Jimmy Carter said he believes Snowden's revelations about the NSA collecting massive quantities of data about American phone calls and e-mails are "probably constructive in the long run."
Most other newspapers in Great Britain - including the Sun, Daily Mail and Telegraph - attacked the Guardian for publishing documents leaked by Snowden.But many other newspapers around the world - including The New York Times, Washington Post, Der Spiegel in Germany, Haaretz in Israel and the Hindu in India - believed disclosures "stimulated legitimate debate over the role of spy organizations," Harding points out.The U.S. government indicted Snowden for espionage on June 21. Snowden, now living in exile in Moscow, recently met with four fellow whistleblowers from the United States, including former CIA analyst Ray McGovern.Talking to his visitors about the NSA's mass surveillance programs, Snowden said, "They hurt our economy. They hurt our country. They limit our ability to speak and think and to live and be creative."Recognizing spying and law enforcement can be legitimate, Snowden believes the NSA has become enmeshed in "a sort of dragnet mass surveillance that puts entire populations under a sort of an eye that sees everything, even when it's not needed."Ivan Eland, a senior fellow at the libertarian Independent Institute, based in Oakland, Calif., expressed the ongoing problems as well as anyone in a June 2013 column."The U.S. government itself generates most of the anti-U.S. terrorism - with its interventionist foreign policy - and then rides to the rescue with excessive spending on defense and homeland security and ... snooping programs and other restrictions on civil liberties."Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.