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Snowden says his mission has been accomplished

Edward Snowden gives 14 hours of interviews to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, one of the reporters who has been given access to his documents. The article summarizes much of what he has done but in the excerpts below, I give some bits that describe how and why he did what he did and what his life is now like in Russia.

Snowden offered vignettes from his intelligence career and from his recent life as “an indoor cat” in Russia. But he consistently steered the conversation back to surveillance, democracy and the meaning of the documents he exposed.

“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated.

Snowden is an orderly thinker, with an engineer’s approach to problem-solving. He had come to believe that a dangerous machine of mass surveillance was growing unchecked. Closed-door oversight by Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was a “graveyard of judgment,” he said, manipulated by the agency it was supposed to keep in check. Classification rules erected walls to prevent public debate.

Toppling those walls would be a spectacular act of transgression against the norms that prevailed inside them. Someone would have to bypass security, extract the secrets, make undetected contact with journalists and provide them with enough proof to tell the stories.

By his own terms, Snowden succeeded beyond plausible ambition. The NSA, accustomed to watching without being watched, faces scrutiny it has not endured since the 1970s, or perhaps ever.

The cascading effects have made themselves felt in Congress, the courts, popular culture, Silicon Valley and world capitals. The basic structure of the Internet itself is now in question, as Brazil and members of the European Union consider measures to keep their data away from U.S. territory and U.S. technology giants including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo take extraordinary steps to block the collection of data by their government.

By temperament and circumstance, Snowden is a reticent man, reluctant to discuss details about his personal life.

Over two days his guard never dropped, but he allowed a few fragments to emerge. He is an “ascetic,” he said. He lives off ramen noodles and chips. He has visitors, and many of them bring books. The books pile up, unread. The Internet is an endless library and a window on the progress of his cause.

“It has always been really difficult to get me to leave the house,” he said. “I just don’t have a lot of needs. . . . Occasionally there’s things to go do, things to go see, people to meet, tasks to accomplish. But it’s really got to be goal-oriented, you know. Otherwise, as long as I can sit down and think and write and talk to somebody, that’s more meaningful to me than going out and looking at landmarks.”

Former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden predicted that Snowden will waste away in Moscow as an alcoholic, like other “defectors.” To this, Snowden shrugged. He does not drink at all. Never has.

But Snowden knows his presence here is easy ammunition for critics. He did not choose refuge in Moscow as a final destination. He said that once the U.S. government voided his passport as he tried to change planes en route to Latin America, he had no other choice.

It would be odd if Russian authorities did not keep an eye on him, but no retinue accompanied Snowden and his visitor saw no one else nearby. Snowden neither tried to communicate furtively nor asked that his visitor do so. He has had continuous Internet access and has talked to his attorneys and to journalists daily, from his first day in the transit lounge at Sheremetyevo airport.

Snowden must be driving the top echelons of the NSA and the Obama administration batty, wondering what else is going to emerge. His calmness and sense of self-assurance must be infuriating to those who are used to careerists who are eager to please them and would never think of defying those in power. The fact that he can so openly and easily get his message out now and is exposing them as liars while the US government cannot get their hands on him, must be galling.

Serves them right.

Comments

  1. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Well, I hope he’s right.

    So far I see a bit of outrage in the populace but not a whole lot more than that so I am not sure that if he stops now this thing will have legs. Maybe that will depend on court decisions. We saw how in the 2000s the courts shut down the AT&T case and similar cases and through Nacchio in jail and ignore cases due to standing that they couldn’t find since all the documents even ones that had leaked were still claimed to be secret.

    Will courts rule differently now?

    Will Congress take up this issue with any real meaning?

    I do find it interesting that at the same time a few old spies suggest amnesty that Snowden says his mission is done. I think he’s done a great job so far and deserves the benefit of the doubt but the timing seems suspect as if his claim his mission is done is a response to the overture of amnesty.

  2. says

    So far I see a bit of outrage in the populace but not a whole lot more than that so I am not sure that if he stops now this thing will have legs.

    I have no problem with the attitude that, since he’s guaranteed that all the information will get out, he considers his job is done. He did, after all, do this for a democracy. He may feel that, now that the democracy knows the lengths to which it’s government goes to violate citizen’s privacy, it’s their own lookout to change it or accept it.

  3. wtfwhateverd00d says

    @Nathaniel,

    Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t begrudge him stopping now, and I think the position you postulate is quite reasonable.

    I am hopeful it will be successful, it’s just that, like Eeyore, i have my doubts.

  4. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    “He did not choose refuge in Moscow as a final destination. He said that once the U.S. government voided his passport as he tried to change planes en route to Latin America, he had no other choice.”

    Oops. He would have been an easier target in Latin America than in Moscow…

  5. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    I give some bits that describe how and why he did what he did …

    Or at least his own current opinion of that.

    … and what his life is now like in Russia.

    Ah yes, Russia that bastion of freedom and tolerance and openness – NOT!

    Pussy Riot and the Arctic 30 are free now plus Putin’s erstwhile b/millionaire political rival.Which is good but .. Gee ya reckon the Soichi winter Olympics might ‘splain that?

    You run from the Free world to hide in an unfree Totalitarian dictatorship. What does that say about what you have done eh?

    Actions speak louder than words, Mr Snowden.

    Russia is not a good place. Too full of homophobes and run by a really dictatorship tomake youany kinda saint as some would have it.

    Come back and face the music and consequences of your actions,Snowden – then you (& ditto Assange) may earn some respect for that much at least.

  6. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Typo fix :

    Russia is not a good place to seek to hide in. Too full of homophobes and run by a really nasty dictatorship, too nasty and ugly to make you any kinda saint as some would have it.

    I think.

    But, hey, if folks here are anti-American/ Western enough to think that’s okay ..?!?

  7. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @4. Lassi Hippeläinen : “Oops. He would have been an easier target in Latin America than in Moscow…”

    Well, I dunno.

    The Latin American dictatorships and the Russian dictatorship – both strike me for one as very much police states. Hell’uva lot more police states than the US of A or any other Western nation.

    I also wonder what the KGB (or whatever they’re called now) has gained from him already. And What use they’ll put his info too.

    A good one that helps the world? I doubt that.

  8. Frank says

    StevoR,

    I doubt that anyone here would argue that Russia is a model democracy. It is not. However, Mr Snowden does not face prosecution in Russia, as he does in the US. If I were in his place, I think I would probably stay in Russia too, despite all of the problems with its government.

  9. cp3o says

    StevoR – Come back and face the music and consequences of your actions,Snowden – then you (& ditto Assange) may earn some respect for that much at least.

    I somehow doubt that either Mr Snowden or Mr Assange give a flying fart for your idea of respect.

    When your subtle ploy fails how will you proceed? Have you considered a really clever, grown-up and irresistible line such as “I double, double, double dare you to come back scaredy-cat” I mean – who could resist such a deep, classy statesman-like appeal?

  10. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ cp3o : *I* won’t proceed in *any* way against Snowden or Assange. It’s not my business or role to do anything there. I can and do express my opinions and what I think of their conduct and that’s all. Justl ike everyone else here.

    The United States government, OTOH has been wronged badly and has a legitimate greivance against them, I think, and will probably act – and one day bring them to justice. Fair enough too on their part.

    PS> Oh & yeah, probably most people out of junior high school could resist that.

  11. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @9. Frank :

    However, Mr Snowden does not face prosecution in Russia, as he does in the US. If I were in his place, I think I would probably stay in Russia too, despite all of the problems with its government.

    (Shug) Guess that’s where we’re different people I guess.

    I would never be in Snowden’s place to begin with – but if I now was I’d turn myself in and make a plea bargain or something hoping for – but not expecting – some sort of leniency and be very sorry for the crimes I’d committed.

  12. doublereed says

    LOL at leniency. StevoR you are adorable.

    Snowden should just lay low for another year or so until public opinion sways more his way and people realize what a service he actually did. The fact is that history is on his side. He just needs to dodge the crazy immediate fallout that would result in him getting tortured and killed by our so-called justice system.

    I wouldn’t be too surprised that after a little while, America just grants him a full pardon. But the longer he can wait and not be tried in America, the better it will be for him.

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