Dennis Marek: To Snowden or not to Snowden

August 19, 2018

I was in the CIA for a period of time. I was cleared way above just top secret and took a vow to not disclose many of the matters I was working on, or secret material with which I came in contact. I took that pledge of allegiance very seriously. I even had travel restrictions on where I could go upon leaving the agency for 20 years. Clearly what I knew is meaningless now, but I do have a sense of unending loyalty to my organization.

Thus when I read of Edward Snowden divulging ultratop-secret information that he had gained while working with the CIA and the National Security Agency, I assumed the worst. I believed that this was another case where money subverts the loyalty to one’s country. A spy. A traitor.

I wondered who paid him millions to divulge all this secret information about the United States ability to hack into almost everyone’s computer. They also were invading their telephones, texts, and lots of very private information. Clearly there were secret agents of ours whose cover was blown, and they had to get out as fast as they could or be killed. An arrest warrant was issued immediately after his release of information, but Snowden had made it from Hong Kong to Moscow. Again I felt great animosity against this man.

Rather quickly after the disclosure, President Obama admitted that we were hacking into many forms of communication and ordered a stop to the gathering of such intelligence from our own American citizens.

The secret service agencies including the CIA, FBI, NSA, and other military groups were totally embarrassed with what happened on 9/11. They were driven to make sure nothing like that was to happen again. Rules got bent. Secret wiretaping with orders from a secret court could be obtained without notice. It is said that even President Merkel of Germany had her phone and computer hacked by our people. The “war against terrorism” was on in full swing with no limits.

Two weeks ago my wife and I watched the movie “Snowden” for the first time. It was no great commercial hit. In fact, it failed to gross its $40 million budget. The movie was actually premiered in Canada, and not in the U.S.

We all know that movies can obliterate the truth or at least polish the story in other directions. I was sure that “Snowden” was no different. I watched on.

As the rest of the story came out, my attitude changed somewhat. Here is not a spy but a whistleblower. He wasn’t an Ames or Hansen who ripped us apart with selling secrets to the Soviets for years. Edward Snowden didn’t sell information to a foreign country. He didn’t even sell anything. What he did do was inform our own citizens and the rest of the word that their personal lives, their emails, their texts, and their computers were totally unsafe and in full view of the American intelligence community.

Edward Snowden is said to have an IQ of 145. He worked for the secret agencies for years both directly and as a contract agent. He helped hack information — and then one day he was sick of the treachery of our country toward its own citizens. He had a decision to make. He could quit. He could continue, but he knew he could only change what he believed was so wrong and so violating, if he put personal safety and personal comfort behind him and tell all.

In May of 2013, Snowden left his post at Booz Allen Hamilton where he was working as an NSA contractor in Hawaii and flew to Hong Kong. By June he had revealed thousands of classified documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill. The information was simultaneously revealed via the Washington Post, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the New York Times. Snowden fled that day to Moscow before he could be apprehended and probably killed by our own people. He has not been able to leave Moscow and has asylum to stay there for only two more years.

I had a chance to talk to a computer security guru last weekend. While he has mixed feelings, as I do, about Snowden, he shared with me how the entire communications and computer world reacted to the information leaked that day. Security was enhanced and improved to keep our own country or any group from hacking our files, our texts, and our communication. They were appalled by what Snowden revealed, and perhaps embarrassed by it. The industries quickly moved to secure their products.

So how do I feel now? A man who takes no money for what he does gets some points in my eyes. A man who professes that he did all this for America and its people’s freedom raises his stature some more. A man who gives up his country for Russia in order to spread the truth he had learned makes him more a whistleblower than a dissident, or a traitor. Maybe not a patriot as some called him, but he showed a lot more acceptable conduct than I first believed. He does have guts.

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