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No Place to Hide Paperback – 13 May 2014
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The author tells the story of how he found out (he met Edward Snowden in Hong Kong) and how he helped bring this fact from the shadows to the front page of every newspaper and the floor of US Congress. The classified documents you see here are truly, profoundly disturbing. You get to read an intercepted text sent by the Prime Minister of Mexico, you see the “victory lap” presentations that confirm EDS, AT&T, Qwest, H-P, Motorola, CISCO, Qualcomm, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Verizon are in strategic partnership with the NSA; you discover that Hotmail, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple can send all your email, chats, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP calls, file transfers, logins and Social Network details to an NSA system called PRISM; you see what embassies and consulates in the US are monitored and how. You get to read a self-congratulatory email detailing the “hands on (literally!!) SIGINT tradecraft” of opening computer network devices while they are in transit to their buyers ,such as routers and servers, carefully re-sealing them and sending them on.
My favourite is the GUI on page 157. Line 1 is “query name”, line 2 is “Justification,” line 3 is “Additional Justification,” line 4 is “Miranda number,” line 5 is “Datatime,” “Start” and “Stop,” line 6 is “Email Username” (yup, that’s ALL YOU NEED), line 7 is “@Domain” (example: @google.com) and line 8 is “Subject.” Thus armed, Edward Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, 29 years old claims “I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.” Absolutely all verifiable claims the man has made have been verified, which from my angle is QED. Oh, and in case you think the “Justification” is a big deal, we’re not discussing authorization here, merely justification. If you must ask, authorization has apparently NEVER been withheld on anything by the relevant secret courts, and the book has the stats to back up that claim.
If you want any proof that the guys who put this together are halfwits, I offer two pieces of proof: First, the names of the sundry projects. You really could not come up with more meatheaded names if you tried. I’d respectfully suggest “atomic apple pie,” they don’t seem to have used that one yet. Not in these leaked documents, at any rate. Second, our five closest allies, the “five eyes” are the five countries that use English as their official language. My interpretation (and I would be relieved if you could convince me otherwise) is that these rocket scientists, who work for the secret service, don’t speak foreign languages. It’s basically so second class, you want to cry. I would not hire these guys to water my flowers.
The author then goes into a long analysis on why a government that spies on its people without a warrant is not only making a big mistake, but is also in violation of the principles our republic is built upon. This is the meat of the book, needless to say, and it’s very convincing.
Much as the sundry Alan Dershowitzs of our planet might disagree and might go out of their way to construct pathological examples where it makes sense for a state to know who I call after 11pm and if it’s my wife and if her other call was to an abortion clinic, everybody sensible is sold on the fact that our privacy is sacrosanct in the absence of a proper warrant, a warrant obtained in a verifiably just way by an independent executive branch. Really,
The guys who take the other side of the argument are so desperately in the minority that if our system is supposed to be democratic, then the case is closed.
The question that does not get raised in the book is much simpler: if Edward Snowden can download the president’s email from anywhere, if agents can turn on my mobile from far away and listen in on my conversations, Stasi-style, WHAT ARE THE ODDS THAT ONE OF THE THOUSANDS OF OPERATIVES WITH SUCH ACCESS ARE NOT SPYING FOR THE BAD GUYS? How do you build a Frankenstein like that and then contain it?
Have we built the absolutely ultimate spying machine for our enemies?
Where does Edward Snowden live now, boys and girls? Yes, yes, I know, he’s well-behaved, but can the Einsteins at the NSA vouch that Vlado and his peace-loving friends are not listening in on absolutely everything using our own fancy technology? All it takes is to buy out a less-principled 29 year old high school dropout. A million dollars? Two million? A hundred? What’s that compared with the man-years we plough in per annum?
The other thing I found a bit disingenuous was the bit about Snowden’s self-sacrifice. He jumped to Moscow. He easily could have turned up for his day in court, like Bradley Manning did, and wait for the presidential pardon.
And let’s hope said president is indeed the president of the US. How much easier could we possibly make it for them?
No 5-star rating can possibly do justice to the importance of this book. Greenwald's arguments and revelations punch right to the core and make you step back and see the bigger picture in all its frightening clarity. Perfectly balancing the issues of mass surveillance, the role of journalism, and the human aspect of the story, the book for me was impossible to put down.
The opening two chapters read like something out of a spy thriller, all the more exciting for being true. Learning about the initial contact and meeting in Hong Kong is fascinating, and also revealing of character. Greenwald doesn't dwell on tabloid-type stuff, but at the same time realises that small details go a long way in painting a picture of the 29 year-old who gave up everything for the sake of what he believed in.
The second half of the book moves away from the action, first to unpick the key documents themselves (the clarity with which it does this is admirable to say the least), and then to a discussion of what these documents mean for us and what they say about our governments.
The book is also a rallying cry for the absolute necessity of true investigative journalism, and the bravery and importance of whistleblowers. Thank you Greenwald for living what you preach.
It does sometimes feel like a screenplay waiting to be produced but aside from the style (possibly the ego) of the writer this is well worth reading.
The implications of such mass surveillance are worth thinking about properly and this book lays bare the scope of US ambition. It also is quite frightening in the way it documents how the US administration has lied about surveillance when specifically asked by those authorities to whom it is supposed to be accountable!
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