on May 13, 2014
It is 4 AM and I have just finished reading, in one sitting, the Kindle download of a book that I only intended to skim because I thought that I knew the full story. What was compelling was encountering the courage and decency of this whistleblower and that of the few brave journalists willing to honestly tell his story. That and the justifiable contempt for those in the housebroken media and compromised government who felt the need to besmirch the character of those willing to bear witness to crimes that almost everyone else in a position to know chose to ignore. The result is a page turner survey of just what the Snowden leaks tell us about the creation of the modern surveillance state and a reminder of the deep wisdom of this nation's founders in insisting on the Constitution's Fourth Amendment. This is a brilliant book that you will want to pass on to that neighbor absolutely convinced that the hollowing out of liberty has made us safer. Glenn Greenwald reminds us just why the Guardian and Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in publishing the documents that Edward Snowden made available and how outrageous it is that his effort to inform the public of attacks on their freedom has left this brave young man a hunted fugitive.
on May 14, 2014
A brief note before you purchase this book:
This is not a book written for the purpose of telling you the US government is watching your every step and every move, everyone knows that. And the author did not waste time replicating news articles you've already read through the media outlets. I finished this book within 5 hours, and thought it was well written and well worth your time.
Greenwald, one of the original journalists who revealed Snowden's leaks last year, did a remarkably good job on going over the history of U.S.'s surveillance tactics. In his new book, No Place to Hide, Greenwald briefly goes over his adventures/experience on meeting with Edward Snowden and revealing US's NSA surveillance program. Greenwald explains the difficulties and obstacles that were involved before the story went live, mostly by reluctant lawyers, and news agencies such as NYT and Washington Post. For those curious, Greenwald also explains in detail the true intentions of Edward Snowden.
Later chapters of the book reveal Greenwald's opinion on the recent NSA leaks, and his classification of US as a surveillance state.
Keep in mind that Greenwald was previously a columnist, and his writing style of a columnist is clearly seen throughout the book. This is not merely a book with facts, but a book with opinion, with logical and concrete evidence that not just the U.S., but other state actors are well, are progressing into what George Orwell wrote in his infamous 1984 novel (Orwellian state).
Greenwald ends the book by warning the consequences involved as we progress into the Orwellian state and the issue of journalists not being journalists, but being government puppets instead.
This is a highly recommended book for those who wish to read into detail one of the biggest government leaks in the history.
on May 15, 2014
No Place to Hide is about a dangerous idea -- the right to be let alone. It's not a puff piece meant to rouse one side or another. It's a nuanced story about how the Snowden files went down and why it matters. The book doesn't fatten the pages or waste time. It's factual. It's well-written and well-edited. It's a satisfying read.
No Place to Hide is about journalists, editors, lovers, a filmmaker, a whistle-blower, and the world's most influential newspapers, and television corporations. It is about a group of people who were cursed to live in interesting times, who were faced with decisions few of us will ever make. They had to learn to trust each other. It's a book about a group of people who were courageous enough to defend "the right to be left alone . . . the right most valued by a free people."
Greenwald tells a fascinating story about how each person put their professional careers and their personal freedom on the line, and in the case of Edward Snowden, his life on the line to expose documents to the entire world, so we can all decide what is true and what is not.
Greenwald's book includes high intrigue and an exotic locale, Hong Kong. It could be compared to an international thriller, and it is all that but it is more. It's like reading history as it happens, as it is lived, and that is thrilling.
on May 17, 2014
I've been following the Edward Snowden saga since it started, and following NSA, the IC, and the national security state since the early 1990s. I had to read this book, as Glenn Greenwald had a critical role in bringing Snowden's materials to the public, and I wanted to see if he had anything new to say.
In one way, the book is very good. If you aren't terribly familiar with the situation, he provides a decent overview, and some new slides which illustrate what NSA has been doing (particularly since 9/11) and why it's bad. A particularly strong area is explaining why the "terrorism" justification is only a pretext, and the true purpose of domestic surveillance is controlling political and cultural rivals.
However, if you're completely familiar with everything published to date, there really isn't much new in this book. The only new material, aside from yet more slides about classified programs, is a bit more detail into how the pre-publication review process worked (or didn't work), and some inside baseball about the media itself. This is interesting, but ultimately not compelling. It's a pretty short book, too.
If you are deeply interested in the media and its handling of the national security state, or just want to read everything possible on the topic, sure, this is a good enough book.
If you are a general interest person who just wants an overview of the Snowden situation and its import, I would recommend the PBS Frontline "United States of Secrets", which is an excellent overview with much stronger interviews with Thomas Drake, William Binney, etc. than I'd seen in the media before.
on May 17, 2014
I confess to being among those who regard the reach of the surveillance state with a tired sense of inevitability: I've long since grown accustomed to the notion that the government can, and does, record everything. It's not that I do not value privacy; I just feel that worrying about government snooping is futile. Glenn Greenwald's new book on Edward Snowden confirmed my fears, and moved me a notch or two off my sense of resignation.
I've watched Greenwald's career with a puzzled sense of suspicion and envy. He reminds readers that he was a constitutional and civil rights lawyer for a decade, before leaving the law for journalism. That's a barren boast. I practice in those areas as well. Frankly, you don't accomplish much in those areas in a brief decade at the bar: Greenwald left the law just about the time it was for him to show the world he could so something other than take a deposition or second chair a more seasoned lawyer. I've often wondered if he left the law because he could not cut it.
But his work with Edward Snowden makes me a fan. He took a difficult stand on the grounds of principle, and helped change the debate about privacy worldwide by publishing the material given him by Snowden. This most recent book tells the story of how they met, what Snowden released, and the world's reaction to it. It is a powerful indictment both of a government brazenly living outside the boundaries of the very law it purports to uphold, and of feckless mainstream journalists too embedded in privilege to serve as watchdogs. Greenwald to the Fourth Estate: Shame on you!
What is reported here is both common and endlessly surprising. The National Security Agency has more than 30,000 employees, and tens of thousands more private contractors spread throughout the world. The goal of the agency is to capture every bit of electronic communication worldwide. Agents even go so far as to intercept, and open, boxes of computer hardware shipped overseas to implant monitoring equipment to route information back to the NSA. Not only does the agency do all this, its representatives then lie to Congress about it. We the people take it all in stride, like supine sheep, afraid lest the terrorists sprout from our collective unconscious and destroy us.
We are being trained for blind obedience in a climate of fear, with power corrupting those who wield it, and voices of dissent demonized and either ridiculed or prosecuted when they speak inconvenient truths: The Obama administration, inaugurated promising transparency, has brought more criminal prosecutions under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined. Even journalists are now regarded as criminals by a government intent on spying on everyone while keeping secret the scope of what it does.
Greenwald is unsparing in his criticism of both the government and the fourth estate. Jeffrey Toobin, legal commentator for CNN and The New Yorker, is roundly scored: Could it be that Toobin, with his insider sources on the Supreme Court and elsewhere, has grown fat, sassy and complacent now that he has become part of the very infrastructure on which he reports? Ditto for David Brooks, who plays coffee-table intellectual as columnist for The New York Times and PBS NewsHour.
This was a fabulous read. It is written in sober, plain-spoken prose. It tells a compelling story about a man our government will prosecute as a criminal, but who is, in fact, a closer cousin to the men we revere as founders of this republic than any of his critics. After reading this book, I am more convinced than ever that Edward Snowden deserves the Nobel Peace Prize: His acts of conscience have changed our perception of the world, warning us that the surveillance state is out of control. I am grateful to Glenn Greenwald for heeding Snowden's warning.
on May 14, 2014
I, too, thought I already knew the story, but Greenwald tells it as a coherent whole, with elegance and passion. Read it, you will learn what is the matter with our government, our press and why Edward Snowden is truly a hero for our time.
Just one piece of advice, buy the book and not the Kindle edition. I found the documents very difficult to read on my Kindle. It was frustrating and a squint-inducing.
on May 16, 2014
Just finished Greenwald's book. First and foremost lets set aside political beliefs and talk brass tacks. This is a well written book and a very fast read. The beginning of the book almost reads like a spy novel despite the fact that it's clearly not fiction. I have to admit I really could not put it down. The back half of the book delve deeply into matter of privacy and the implications of government surveillance. I'm not going to regurgitate and argue doctrine here. That's for the reader to decide herself. But what I will say is that Greenwald builds a very strong case. He does not try to hide the fact that he has some strong bias against the surveillance state, and like a prosecutor going for conviction the evidence drops like bombs over Dresden.
What I wish Greenwald tried...and this is my major criticism... is this: OK, there are things that are very very broken. What do you suggest? It's not enough to "build and win" you case that constitutional rights have been violated. Got that... well done. Now, that the house is on fire, and the NSA is...let's say... guilty as charged. What are we to do about it?
In my mind this is a definite 5 star book. It is thoroughly engaging and likely to generate some very meaningful dialogue about the implications of the surveillance state. But it's a big nasty complicated world out there. Well done for shedding light into darkness. Say, now that the house is on fire, how bout putting that big brain to work to some up with some solutions.
on May 25, 2014
Not to be a spoiler, but the last chapter is the hardest to read. It shows the decline of democracy and press freedoms in Amerika since Reagun and the Death of Kennedy which seems have been a turning point in America's Trajectory as a leading Representative democracy with a social conscience..
Still and excellent and entertaining read that leaves on much better informed that without it. Good Job Glen!
Many thanks to Mr. Snowdon for his sacrifice. I feel the coming and current debates are absolutely critical to recovering a functioning democracy in North America. Pray for us.
Glenn Greenwald was approached by Edward Snowden in December of 2012. They finally met in Hong Kong in June of 2013. Why the long delay?
Most important was the question of security. Snowden had to be sure that their communication could be secured, and he knew very well the many ways in which it could be compromised. He attempted to coach Greenwald on the intricacies of encrypted email, and was ultimately not able to do so.
In the meantime Snowden contacted another journalist whom he trusted, Laura Poitras, and she and Greenwald eventually found themselves together with Snowden in Hong Kong, where he revealed his identity.
The meeting in Hong Kong took place despite several obstacles. The administrative and legal apparatus of the Guardian newspaper, and other publications involved slowed things down, imposed administrative hurdles, and threatened the anonymity of Snowden himself. Even after it became clear what a huge story that was, the self-protective instincts of the publications involved delayed publication time after time.
It came down to fear versus greed: eventually, the Guardian's greed for a monumental scoop overcame its fear of legal consequences and they were the first to publish. The first article was on the ways in which the NSA had compromised Verizon and other telecommunications companies, forcing them to reveal metadata collected on not only foreigners but US citizens. The second article, the following day, was on the PRISM program, which compromised virtually all of the major Internet providers in the United States, forcing them to give the NSA backdoor access to Internet traffic.
The book is very much about the media itself. The message is that government intimidation has been effective in restricting what the media will report. This is an era in which media holdings have become increasingly consolidated. They have much more the character of business, and less interest in investigative reporting, especially stories that are adverse to government. Greenwald is especially hard on the two publications that hold themselves out to be at the vanguard of investigative journalism, the New York Times and the Washington Post. To a large extent they are captive of the government they are supposed to keep honest.
Snowden was unusual as a source in that he was a patently intelligent, rational, balanced human being. It would be hard to tar him with the same brush as Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. He had had extraordinarily wide access, and in fact had come to the conclusion that the NSA's activity had to be exposed a couple of years prior to actually revealing it. This gave him time to change jobs, taking a pay cut to join Booz Allen in a position which would give him access to more complete data on the story that he wanted to tell.
Once the Guardian newspaper appreciated what they had, they at least offered him protection and they released the story in the sequence and the style that Snowden had requested. It was calculated to have a maximum of impact, the maximum leverage to awaken the world public to the dangers being posed to their privacy. Snowden intended the story to minimize his own personality. He knew from observation that there would be vituperative attacks against his person, and he wanted to make the data itself the story. That is why he chose Greenwald and Portias to tell it.
Part of the plan was to reveal Snowden as the source after the first few stories were published. Once this was done, the rest of the media quickly figured out he was in Hong Kong and descended on his hotel. It was a scene of chaos, and Snowden escaped with a disguise, going to save houses in Hong Kong and rather shortly thereafter attempting to escape to Latin America via Russia. That plan being foiled, he remained in Russia. The book does not concern itself at all with his exile there.
Chapter 4 delves into the breadth of NSA surveillance and the need for it. The NSA's stated objective, per the book, is to read absolutely every communication throughout the world, giving themselves the power to sift through them. This is done in the name of thwarting terrorism, although there is little evidence given anywhere that the NSA has been effective in satisfying this mission. What they have managed to do, quite successfully, is to dampen criticism of governments. They make citizens reluctant to join movements such as Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party which threatened the powers that be.
Chapter 5 documents Greenwald's own treatment in the year since the story came out, and especially the way that members of the media, David Gregory by name, attacked his standing as a journalist and his right to protect his sources and publish the documents he received. Both the United States government and the British government have been quite severe in their treatment of him, and abusive in their treatment of the Guardian newspaper which published him.
Snowden has taken refuge in Russia. He cannot be at ease with what the Russian government has done in Ukraine, but on the other hand, this book documents the growth of a totalitarian mentality within the supposed democracies of the West. It begs the question of how different Putin really is. We would like to think that the West is a citadel of democratic values and protections. This book tells quite a different story.
I followed this story from a distance as it unraveled, not wanting to waste time following the personal drama involved. Although written in the first person, clearly from his individual perspective, I found that it filled in the story as I knew it quite well, and provided a plausible account of both actors and actions.
NO PLACE TO HIDE: EDWARD SNOWDEN, THE NSA, AND THE U.S. SURVEILLANCE STATE was released in Kindle on May 13, 2014 after a publishing delay. The hardbound version got to me 48 hours ago. I had been looking forward very eagerly to this book and have to count myself a little disappointed in it for a couple of reasons: one understandable, one I could not have anticipated for all the supercomputers at Fort Meade.
The book is not a difficult read. Author Glenn Greenwald is by training an attorney and by choice an activist with "little guy" concerns, more recently the dangers posed by the NSA to a polity over which it holds immense if implied power due to its continuing mission to track virtually everything that goes on in our electronic communication, telephonic and data both, the justification being an anti-terrorism crusade. He writes quite well. The first part tells the story of how an NSA contract employee, Edward Snowden, grew increasingly concerned at how he saw the NSA operate and strive to stretch its already extensive surveillance of domestic traffic by U.S. residents, even in cases where no foreign connection was evident nor any suspicion of terrorism. Snowden carefully contacted Greeenwald, who lives in Brazil, and after some delay (which Greenwald self-deprecatingly admits was his fault due to not having installed a certain kind of encryption software), Greenwald agreed to meet with Snowden in Hong Kong along with Greenwald's friend and fellow activist Laura Poitras, accompanied by a journalist from THE GUARDIAN, the British newspaper underwriting the cost of the trip. Snowden brought with him an enormous compendium of secret NSA documents on thumb drives, "the tip of the iceberg" but a huge amount nonetheless. This narrative is covered efficiently and well, with no major discrepancies between Greenwald's account in this book and the same story told by GUARDIAN journalist Luke Harding in his book published earlier this year, THE SNOWDEN FILES. Not too long after, Edward Snowden wound up in Russia, an uneasy sojourn based on no small part on the United States' refusal to let him fly to the small number of other countries that would have him.
At that point Edward Snowden became the world's largest journalistic hang-fire. Greenwald has promised another huge burst of revelations from Snowden; meanwhile, the author's task in this book is to explain (at least in part) what the huge mass of data already released means, and to do so without impinging on the privacy of individuals mentioned in those data. Greenwald's method in this book was to offer a kind of paper- (or Kindle-) based "slide show" in book form with selected screen-captures of NSA documents as illustration. There are good and bad aspects of this approach. As presented by Greenwald, it certainly gives an impression of the NSA as beaver-ready with cyber-innovation: programs, programs to add to programs, programs to reconcile or combine earlier programs. This reviewer was struck by the macho, gung-ho tenor of program names, names like COLLECT IT ALL, PRISM, MUSCULAR, BLARNEY, and OLYMPIA. This does not give the picture of a spy agency forced, reluctantly, to turn against its own citizens or capture the keystrokes of foreign leaders: they do all that accompanied by great (secret, in-house) promotion and training programs. However, as some other reviewers have remarked, Greenwald is sometimes better at chronicling the alphabet-soup than explaining it.
As the book progresses, and especially enters its final chapters, I feel the book goes a little astray. While Greenwald does offer substantiation (such as opinion polls) that Democratic supporters of Barack Obama got a good deal more comfortable with the NSA's reach after George Bush left office and their candidate went in, in my opinion he took it a little too personally. I did not mind at all re-reading the story of how his partner, David Miranda, was held up at Heathrow Airport for the nine hours British law allows without arrest--it was terse and to the point. However, I do think Greenwald's attempts to shame media figures generally known to be liberal (Lawrence O'Donnell, Ruth Marcus) for sticking to the administration's side of things and not Greenwald's were a little overdone--especially after he had already shown that party affiliation is not a predictor of whether one is pro- or anti-NSA reform so much as how much support the sitting President is apt to receive. I had rather Greenwald had written something to the effect of what he spoke in a recent interview, that it will take a coalition of conservatives and liberals to reform the NSA.
I could not have anticipated my surprise--and then some--at finding my hardbound book, despite its delay, contains neither endnotes nor index! These materials are available at Greenwald's own website, but I looked long and hard in and out of the book to see WHY they are missing from it. Production delays, desire to trim budgets? Certainly if this heralds in a new generation of non-fiction issue books without Endnotes or Indices, the publishers picked a very poor time to inaugurate any such change in a book that assumes a readership among the best-informed citizenry. As for myself, I found the lack of a hardcopy index very annoying. I am a frequent consulter of a non-fiction book's index (to verify, as here, that a reference to "Laura" did indeed mean Laura Poitras) and even having such information on a screen nearby was a nuisance.
Several of my fellow Amazon reviewers have asked which book: this one, or Luke Harding's THE SNOWDEN FILES, is the better read. I wish I didn't have to answer that question, but the person who intends to buy and read only one is probably better served by THE SNOWDEN FILES. It tells the same story of Edward Snowden's whistle-blowing and document release in much the same manner with no significant deviations. For Americans, it may err a little on the UK side of the US-UK cooperation in highly intrusive spying, but it is easier to follow, including some points which may be considered pedantic but are actually vital in explaining trans-national spying--where telecommunications cables leave the ocean and hit the mainland, for example. And if Luke Harding has a bone to pick with NBC News, the Washington Post or the New York Times, we don't hear about it. THE SNOWDEN FILES is paperback (and cheaper), but it has notes and an index, and runs a little longer in text.
But perhaps the better question to ask is how we got to the conditions that created an Edward Snowden, anyway? Edward Snowden may be the "big bang" of worldwide awareness of how deep the NSA's tentacles run, but the story does not begin with him -- far from it. The NSA was formed in 1947 and carried for most of its history the proviso that U.S. citizens were not to be subject to its scrutiny. This held fairly well--until 9/11/2001. The PBS/Frontline documentary, "The United States of Secrets," is just about to broadcast its last chapter and probably will have when you read this (Tuesday, May 20, 2014). This three-hour documentary tells the story of how the NSA went from an agency with its "holy writ" not to intrude on the domestic lives of Americans to one that relishes doing just that. Usually pbs dot org offers downloads of this series, and Amazon is taking pre-orders for its DVD, which is to be released in late July. I heartily recommend it. I also recommend the books of observer James Bamford, who has spent most of his career showing how and why the NSA exceeds its authority, and why that is wrong.
At this point in our nation's history, probably no one book or documentary can tell the whole story. Here are some others I found particularly helpful:
The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World's Most Wanted Man (Vintage)
Frontline: United States of Secrets
The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America by James Bamford.
And lest I forget, a final thank-you to Ryan from Oregon, whose review emboldened me to write this one.