By Greg Miller – truthdig
Read a Truthdig excerpt from “The Snowden Files” here.
The denunciations of Edward Snowden have been accompanied by an unconvincing refrain—that there was a way for him to force a debate on the U.S. surveillance programs that troubled him without exposing America’s espionage capabilities to the world. Snowden’s leaks raised “legitimate policy questions,” President Obama said in a recent interview with the New Yorker magazine. But “the benefit of the debate he generated was not worth the damage done, because there was another way.”
It’s hard to see this supposed alternate path. Was Snowden supposed to raise his misgivings—now shared by many Americans—with spy agency officials who built the programs? Appeal to the secret court that approved them? Or turn to congressional oversight committees that have responded to his revelations by fighting to keep the surveillance operations intact?
The course that Snowden chose instead—surreptitiously stockpiling thousands of classified files, leaking them to news organizations and finally fleeing first to Hong Kong and then Russia—has been polarizing. He has been condemned as treasonous and hailed as courageous. Either way, his story is one of the most compelling in the history of American espionage.
“The Snowden Files” by Luke Harding, a correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, which broke the initial Snowden story, is the first to assemble the sequence of events in a single volume. The book captures the drama of Snowden’s operation in often cinematic detail but doesn’t necessarily enhance our understanding of the magnitude and impact of the leaks. It is most successful when focused tightly on its then-29-year-old protagonist, whose youth and low station in the spy world were so at odds with the caliber of the material he accessed that his journalist contacts, upon meeting him for the first time, shook their heads in disbelief. Snowden comes across as almost icily composed. He seems to have been undaunted by the challenge of outmaneuvering his employer, the National Security Agency, the largest spy agency in the world. He choreographed his encounters with journalists and revealed himself to the world largely on his own terms.