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Edward Snowden is not a spy. He just saw a lot of things that shocked him when he worked for the NSA. And he turned whistleblower because he feels that people need to know about the things that affect them. He even made sure that he left a trail for the agency to follow so they would know what he took and where to tighten security. But the NSA didn’t pick up on it and are as careless with our data as they have always been. A recent article in Wired shows a rare glimpse of Snowden and how this sober idealist turned whistleblower out of love for truth and society.
Greek Mythology and Noble Intent
Snowden loved Greek mythology when he was growing up. The stories showed him how to tackle problems. And he learned that what people did about those problems is what defines them. Working his first job, he had not yet turned whistleblower. He was far from it. He believed so heartily that the government had the people’s best interests at heart. He never for a second thought that the government could lie. This is why, with the 9/11 attacks and war in Iraq, he signed up to join the Special Forces in the fight to free oppressed peoples. Snowden now reflects on this as the time that he believed in government propaganda.
Though Snowden believed in doing his part to fight the good fight, his time in the army was cut short by a training accident. Obtaining a high security clearance, he went on to work at top-secret facilities, including the CIA. At the global communications division of CIA headquarters, he got the chance to do what he really loved – computer engineering and networks. But this is also where he discovered that government agencies are not as classy as they appear to be.
Eager Analyst Turned Whistleblower
The CIA was also his first experience with moral concessions. He was trained by the agency and given a sweet assignment in Geneva. He observed countless agents put assets in dangerous positions just to earn points with the agency. It was dangerous for the people they manipulated and dangerous for the reputation of the country. Yet they did it because they could get away with it. Since it was still war time when he was on assignment in Geneva, Snowden saw a lot. His position in network and engineering also gave him free access to a lot of information. He saw warrantless wiretapping and the illegal torture of enemy soldiers. Many CIA agents were against the war because of what the US was doing. Snowden almost turned whistleblower at this point. But he chose to put his faith in Obama’s principled promises instead.
Obama was a great disappointment, needled to say. The promised got swept under the rug as the new president turned in the opposite direction. He began to question what happens when elected officials simply turn their backs on their word. Snowden was still digesting all that he was seeing when he landed a job as a technical expert with Dell in Japan, for the NSA. 9/11 brought in a surplus budget for intelligence work, and by 2010 the NSA had outsourced a lot of work to companies like Dell. In Japan, he taught top level gents in the military and government how to best secure themselves against hackers out of China.
But Snowden again had access to a lot of data, and he was now learning about mass surveillance. And he watched as drones belonging to both agencies carried out assassinations. Soon he learned how the NSA could track anyone they wanted through their mobile phones. He was still with Dell when he returned home, now promoted to working on CIA tech issues. By 2012, he was lead technologist in Hawaii. This is where Snowden finally took the last steps and turned whistleblower.
The NSA had been passing raw data to Israeli intelligence. This means actual communications content, unfiltered. It was not being edited to protect names or any other personal information. The agency was putting a lot of Americans in real danger by doing this. It wasn’t just that their privacy was being violated by a simple lack of oversight. It was that there were millions of citizens of Palestinian and Arab descent who had relatives in Palestine. These people could become targets of Israel because of what was in the communications that were being regularly handed over.
The NSA had also been monitoring what pornography certain political radicals were into. Snowden discovered that this was being done to get leverage. The document came from Keith Alexander, the NSA director, and named six specific targets. The NSA wanted something to blackmail people who couldn’t be accused of terrorist involvement. It reminded Snowden of how the FBI tried to deal with Martin Luther King in the 60’s. And it shocked him that the government that said this was wrong fifty years before was doing it again. Or still doing it.
Frank Church, a senator in the 70’s, turned whistleblower after discovering illicit NSA spying. This brought about reforms like FISA after the people found out. Snowden remembered this and turned whistleblower because he knew that once again the abuse must be brought out into the open for it to stop. He said that the people have to protest their own when the government clearly isn’t doing so. He turned whistleblower to wake us up to what is happening again, to give us the signal that it’s time to take up the banner.
Snowden took years to decide whether it was the right thing to do before he turned whistleblower. Be he had no trouble at all accessing the information he needed once it became clear. He was able to download almost anything he wanted to about NSA surveillance. It was open to anyone with a high level of clearance. When he got another assignment with Booz Allen Hamilton. This gave him access to the last bit of intelligence to complete the lot. He was now learning about international cyberwarfare efforts the connections between domestic and foreign surveillance. When he learned about MonsterMind, there was no longer any question about what he should do. He turned whistleblower for real and soon people everywhere were reading about PRISM and Turbulence.