Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What was once a whisper of conspiracy or the subject of a blockbuster movie was revealed to be merely a shadow of the real world we live in. Global Surveillance had become the real world reality.
We see very early on how Snowden was hooked from his first experience with a computer as a child, his technological inclination was apparent. Being from a military family, it seemed only natural for him to follow in their footsteps. One would think that a straight entry into Military IT would be the first option he would jump for, but despite his Destiny being foreshadowed, life isn’t always so straightforward.
After struggling through school, Snowden enlisted in the Army and went through Bootcamp; it was here that he sustained an injury which was bad enough to have him leave. After the rough period of feeling like a ‘reject’, he picked himself up and eventually returned to the Army as a System Administrator. Despite not having completed the course of his education, the events of 9/11 meant that the Government needed to pivot itself to face the new challenges they faced. The world had changed, and they needed the children of the future to steer them through it. Snowden was hired by the NSA (though as a Contractor) with little difficulty. His Destiny had finally caught up with him.
Being a System Administrator means that you have both the overview and visibility of pretty much the entire Computer Systems, Data and Network. If there was a clearance level that existed, he had to have it to do his job. He was perfectly placed to satisfy his own curiously, ironically, what he found did not satisfy him.
Snowden had the skills the NSA wanted, the had the aptitude and capability to bring the Agency into a new era. As such he rose quickly and his hard work landed him roles across the world, including Switzerland, Japan and eventually Hawaii.
Over his time at the NSA, Snowden began to see that the Agency was lying to the Government as to its actions and capabilities. People were being spied on at a level unprecedented in human history. Despite his subtle attempts to point this out to colleagues, he was met with an indifferent response. Thankfully for us, this was not enough for Snowden, he could not sit quietly while he saw what he knew was injustice and transgression, he could not be a part of a system that was carrying out unheard of levels of surveillance against the world. He realised that his loyalty was expected to be towards the NSA, not to the country he had signed up to serve. Knowing that going through the ‘Chain of Command’ would only stifle his protest and bring potential danger to himself, he made the choice to show the American people and the world what was happening around, and to, them.
After ingeniously copying the files to some ‘off the grid’ machines, he then transferred them to SD Cards in order to remove them from the building. Reading how he done this was riveting, I could feel some of the unbelievable tension he must have felt. Leaking a single PDF document would have earned him up to a decade in prison, so how about the hundreds he was actively copying for that very purpose? He knew himself to be working for an Agency that deemed itself above the law, who knows what might have happened to him had he been caught?
Of all the things people say about Edward Snowden, it is undoubtable that we all share one thing in common. Whether you think of him as a Hero or a Traitor, he took on what he perceived to be injustice against his country, and against the entire world. He took on the greatest Superpower the world has thus far seen and from their underbelly too. All for what he believed was the greater good of the world. He risked literally everything, a job in Hawaii, large amounts of money, an easy life and blue skies for what he believed in. He could have easily turned his head to what he saw as injustice and furthered his own interests, indeed many of his colleagues did. He decided to stand up alone, not even confiding in his plans to his partner until she saw everything in the news so as to protect her.
Call him what you want, but a coward he is not.
What has happened since then? I used to think that the world simply endured a faux outrage and nothing happened, but this book was able to put things in a slightly more positive perspective. The fact that we are aware of the reality had led others to campaign for tougher privacy laws, and in that respect, much more has been done. While only a fool would believe that the problem has gone, we are moving towards a higher sense of awareness concerning our privacy, despite there being more people willingly giving their data away. The fight against unjust surveillance is not over, but to solve a problem, first you need to be aware that a problem exists.
The global conversation, though not as intense as it was at the apex of the leaks, continues today. Edward Snowden was simply the man who initiated the exchange.
Reading this book has given me a much deeper appreciation of the entire ordeal Snowden went through to show the world what was really going on. The real miracle here was that he did it successfully and has a somewhat resemblance of freedom. We must salute the sacrifice he made and move forward to make sure that innocent people have their right to privacy detected. He will no doubt go down in history for his actions, having made for himself a permanent record indeed in its pages.
That same history will be the judge as to his legacy.
Very well written book, and I highly recommend it.
Permanent Record by Edward Snowden