No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think Greenwald’s book is a must read if you have any interest in the Snowden story, and the role of investigative journalism and its relationship to political power and the media. Greenwald is clearly a professional writer: his narrative is both lucid and compelling, and focuses on three areas that roughly correlate to sections of the book.
The first (and most exciting) section of the book goes behind the scenes to look at how Greenwald first came into contact with Snowden, and worked to publish his Guardian articles about the NSA wiretapping program. It is a riveting story, that provides a lot of insights into what motivated Snowden to do what he did. Snowden comes off as a very ethical, courageous and intelligent individual. Particularly striking was Snowden’s efforts to make sure that the documents were not simply dumped on the Internet, but that journalists had an opportunity to interpret and contextualize the documents to encourage constructive discussion and debate.
In sixteen hours of barely interrupted reading, I managed to get through only a small fraction of the archive. But as the plane landed in Hong Kong, I knew two things for certain. First, the source was highly sophisticated and politically astute, evident in his recognition of the significance of most of the documents. He was also highly rational. The way he chose, analyzed, and described the thousands of documents I now had in my possession proved that. Second, it would be very difficult to deny his status as a classic whistle-blower. If disclosing proof that top-level national security officials lied outright to Congress about domestic spying programs doesn’t make one indisputably a whistle-blower, then what does?
This section is followed by a quite detailed overview of what the documents revealed about the NSA wiretapping program, and their significance. If you are like me, and haven’t read all the articles that have been published in the last year you’ll enjoy this section.
And lastly the book analyzes the relationship between journalism and power in our media organizations, and the role of the independent journalist. The Guardian comes off as quite a progressive and courageous organization. Other media outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post don’t fare so well. I recently unsubscribed from the Washington Post, after vague feelings of uneasiness about their coverage — so it was good to read Greenwald’s pointed critique. After just having spent some time reading Archives Power I was also struck by the parallels between positivist theories of the archive and journalism, and how important it is to be aware and recognize how power shapes and influences what we write, or archive.
Every news article is the product of all sorts of highly subjective cultural, nationalistic, and political assumptions. And all journalism serves one faction’s interest or another’s. The relevant distinction is not between journalists who have opinions and those who have none, a category that does not exist. It is between journalists who candidly reveal their opinions and those who conceal them, pretending they have none.
The only reason I withheld the 5th star from my rating is it would’ve been interesting to know more about Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong, his negotiations to seek asylum, and his relationship with Wikileaks and Sarah Harrison. Maybe that information wasn’t known to Greenwald, but it would’ve been interesting to have a summary of what was publicly known.
One thing that No Place to Hide really did for me was underscore the importance of privacy and cryptography on the Web and the Internet. This is particularly relevant today, exactly one year after Greenwald’s first Guardian article was published, and as many people celebrate the anniversary by joining with the Reset the Net campaign. I haven’t invested in a signed SSL certificate yet for inkdroid.org but I’m committing to doing that now. I’ve also recently started using GPGTools w/ Mail on my Mac. If you are curious about steps you can take check out the Reset the Net Privacy Pack. In no place to hide Greenwald talks quite frankly about how he found cryptography tools difficult to use and understand, and how he got help in using them — and how essential these tools are to his work.
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