Rolling Stone has published an excellent, long piece on Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and the history of the NSA documents Snowden stole and released. Included are “from the beginning” backgrounds of both Greenwald and Snowden.
For example, on Greenwald, there’s this. After detailing Greenwald’s youth as a gay teen and a champion high school debater, the article moves through his law career to his move to Brazil and blogging:
But law, even in its purest, most civil-liberties-oriented variety, was an ultimately frustrating endeavor, full of “unjust rules” and even fewer judicious outcomes. More interesting, particularly after 9/11, were the egalitarian conversations that were occurring online. Greenwald discovered this world in the mid-1990s when, bored at work, he’d begun cruising the CompuServe message boards, including Town Hall, a conservative forum created by the Heritage Foundation and the National Review. Instantly seduced by the chance to debate pro-lifers and other social conservatives, Greenwald soon began spending hours in heated arguments with disembodied strangers. …
These free-form debates were occurring in the virtual world at precisely the same time they were disappearing from the general discourse, submerged, as Greenwald says, in the wave of “nationalism and jingoism” that followed 9/11. Greenwald first began to realize how much things had changed in the political culture after the arrest of Al Qaeda “dirty bomber” José Padilla. “The idea that an American citizen could be arrested on U.S. soil, and then imprisoned for years, not charged, and delayed access to a lawyer, that always seemed like one line that couldn’t be crossed,” Greenwald says. “It was more than the fact that it was being done – it was the fact that nobody was questioning it. That was a ‘What the fuck is going on in the United States?’ moment for me.”
In the winter of 2005, Greenwald, seeking to transition away from practicing law, went to Brazil. On his second day of what was a planned seven-week vacation in Rio, he met Miranda, a handsome 19-year-old Brazilian who was playing beach volleyball not far from Greenwald’s towel. The two have been inseparable ever since. “When you come to Rio as a gay man, the last thing you’re looking for is a monogamous relationship,” Greenwald says. “But, you know, you can’t control love.”
Within a year, Greenwald had decided to relocate to Brazil, where, unable to practice law, he tried his hand at political blogging. Greenwald’s first week as a blogger, in October 2005, coincided with the indictment of Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame leak case. Greenwald wrote a long post meticulously deconstructing the conservative argument against Libby’s indictment from a legal standpoint, which The New Republic linked to, driving thousands of readers to his site, Unclaimed Territory. Greenwald soon turned his attention to the explosive revelation that the NSA was spying on Americans under a secret, “warrantless wiretapping” program authorized by the Bush administration.
“But, you know, you can’t control love.” Even love of the job you’re about to do.
And on Snowden, this. After walking through Snowden’s own high school career and background and his various career-path questions, we find him joining the CIA. Doesn’t end well, though:
Back in Maryland, Snowden got a job as a security guard at the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language, a Defense Department-funded facility he would later describe as “covert,” though as The Washington Post pointed out, “its website includes driving directions.” He also re-enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College and burnished his computer skills. Then, in 2006, he landed a job as a computer technician with the CIA.
The CIA, with its air of entitlement and mystery, is the most elitist of U.S. government agencies. But the beauty of the IT sector, no matter where you were, as Snowden said, was its egalitarianism. “Nobody gives a shit what school you go to . . . I don’t even have a high school diploma,” he wrote in 2006. “That said, I have $0 in debt from student loans, I make $70k, I just had to turn down offers for $83k and $180k. . . . Employers fight over me. And I’m 22.”
In 2007, he was posted to the CIA station in Geneva. Mavanee Anderson, a young legal intern also stationed in Geneva, befriended Snowden and recalled him as thoughtful but insecure. “He talked a great deal about the fact that he didn’t complete high school,” Anderson later wrote in an op-ed for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “But he is an IT whiz – I’ve always taken it for granted that he’s an IT genius, actually.”
Snowden came to be bothered by much of what he saw in the CIA. He would later cite an operation to recruit a Swiss banker as an asset that involved getting the man arrested on drunk-driving charges. He also recalled, in an interview with The New York Times‘ Risen, the retaliation from a senior manager whose authority he’d once questioned. The incident arose over a flaw Snowden found in some CIA software, which he pointed out to his superiors. Rather than praising his initiative, however, one manager, who didn’t appreciate such enterprising behavior, placed a critical note in his personnel file, effectively killing Snowden’s chance for promotion. He eventually left the agency, “experiencing a crisis of conscience of sorts,” as Anderson remembered. But Snowden also learned a valuable lesson: “Trying to work through the system,” he told Risen, would “only lead to punishment.”
“Trying to work through the system would only lead to punishment.” Snowden’s lesson at the CIA. From there he goes to the NSA, which section is eye-opening in its own right.
I’ve quoted almost all I can. Please do read. There’s so much in the piece that I can’t begin to do it justice here. It’s truly a must-read. There’s a wonderful section, for example, in which Greenwald explains how he, talking totally Noam Chomsky–like, nevertheless becomes a regular on MSNBC. It’s a calculated method that worked. Find the paragraph that starts “As Snowden was navigating” and start reading.
For the Snowden’s leakage itself, start with the paragraph beginning: “In April 2012, while working for Dell”. This tells the story of what Greenwald calls “the mother of all leaks.” As I said, a wonderful, wide-ranging piece. (Did I mention that the author is Janet Reitman? Hope so.)
I do want to point out this, however. Among all of the consequences of Obama’s immediate 2009 betrayal of his soul-stirring 2008 “Yes We Can” ad campaign, count Snowden’s decision to blow the whistle among them. Yes, Snowden’s leak has its source in Obama 2009 (my paragraphing and emphasis below).
Prior to 2009, Snowden had considered leaking government secrets when he was at the CIA, but held off, he later said, not wanting to harm agents in the field, and hoping that Obama would reform the system. His optimism didn’t last long. “[I] watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in,” he later said.
As a result, he added, “I got hardened.” The more Snowden saw of the NSA’s actual business – and, particularly, the more he read “true information,” including a 2009 Inspector General’s report detailing the Bush era’s warrantless-surveillance program – the more he realized that there were actually two governments: the one that was elected, and the other, secret regime, governing in the dark. “If the highest officials in government can break the law without fearing punishment or even any repercussions at all, secret powers become tremendously dangerous.”
See, Mr. President. Just because you said you can, but won’t, doesn’t mean none of us can. We all “can” if we want to. “Forever Young” doesn’t have to mean forever innocent. It can mean forever active, always optimistic — and ready.
The piece is a paean to subversives, courage, and the times these men inhabit. Also, great journalism.
I’ll be writing more about Deep State in the U.S., what Snowden called “the other, secret regime, governing in the dark.” My definition of Deep State — “the part of the government that can’t be touched by the political process.” I have more than a few pieces in draft.
In the meantime, for past thoughts on Deep State, try this:
▪ Is the intelligence community running America? (first of several projected Tice pieces)
And from even earlier, this:
There will be a second part. Consider: What actual, non-establishment-approved candidate isn’t also running against the State and its power? What actual threat to the State doesn’t thus have the State as an opponent? What does that mean for democracy?
There’s an answer to the last question, and it’s not a phrase or a sentence. It’s a whole essay. For starters, it means that every viable candidate for president has passed State-inspection, and acquired no vetoes. Ponder that; who (of many) might have a veto? How might those vetoes be expressed, be acted on?
Remember, the NSA is the Pentagon. What do I mean by that? I don’t know. Tice tells us that the NSA spied on the Pentagon — Petraeus, for example, and anyone else three-stars or above. In 2005, they spied on Barack Obama — he had the orders in his hand. It didn’t stop there.
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