Edward Snowden's idealism lacks political purpose.by Matthew Wolfson / June 14, 2013 / Leave a comment
Edward Snowden’s preferred moniker is Verax (“Truthteller”).He is known more generally as ‘‘the 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA’s history.” He believes that “the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life comes from the reasonable fear of omniscient state powers kept in check by nothing more than policy documents.” He rejects “a society that does these sort of things” as “not something I am willing to support or live under.’’ In a conversation with the journalist Barton Gellman, he warned that the US government “will most certainly kill you if they think you are the single point of failure that could stop this disclosure.” This is not, in other words, someone in danger of underestimating his place at the centre of the historical moment. Nor is this perception unjustified: predictably, he has become a figure of inflated proportions, hovering between the sharp distinctions of hero and traitor.
But Snowden’s story is significant in another way. To read his interviews and trace his history is to recognise an increasingly familiar social type: the disaffected American, who drifts through society and fearlessly assesses it, though not in terms that suggest concrete or sustained engagement with its complexities. In 2004, having dropped out of high school and having failed to complete his first stint at community college, he joined the Army “to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression.” After four months as a training recruit, he concluded that his trainers were not interested in “helping anyone” and left. In 2007 he began working in information technology security for the CIA in Geneva, and in 2009 moved to a private company in Japan. By May 2013, he had been working for defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii for less than three months. He calls himself “a spy for almost all of my adult life.”
This personality type tends toward extremes: his loyalties are unanswerably broad (“freedom,” “world I love”) and his rejections equally so (“a society that does these sorts of things” is “not one I am willing to support or live under”). The style here is self-aggrandising…