The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man
By Luke Harding
Guardian Books (2014)
The Snowden Files is the fast-paced thrilleresque account of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s dramatic escape from US capture in Hong Kong, following his leak of thousands of computer files documenting Orwellian NSA surveillance activites. Earlier this year, this book was remade as the motion picture Snowden.
Published in the UK, The Snowden Files provides substantial background on the NSA’s British counterpart GCHQ, whose spying on innocent civilians is even more egregious than the NSA’s, owing to the country’s weaker civil liberties protections. In fact, the NSA relies on GCHQ to engage in certain types of snooping (on Americans) that are expressly forbidden in the US.
When Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald first broke the story that Internet giants Google, Facebook, Apple and Yahoo were secretly turning over vast amounts of customer data to the NSA, his editors were forced to release the story online from the Guardian’s New York office to avoid prosecution in Britain. Shortly after the story’s release, British police destroyed all the hard drives in the Guardian’s London office – in the belief they continued copies of NSA files Snowden had released.
I especially appreciated the book’s epilogue about Snowden’s life in Russia, as it dispels much of the western propaganda about his selling NSA secrets to Russia, his refusal to learn Russian (he speaks enough to do his own grocery shopping and is working to improve his fluency), and his (non-existent) job with a Russian tech company. At the time of publication, Snowden supported himself through savings and speaking fees.
Four other government whistleblowers (Coleen Rowley, Jesselyn Radack, Ray McGovern and Thomas Drake) visited Snowden in Moscow in 2013, and the book recounts their meeting.
The book’s major shortcoming is its embarrassing fact checking lapses – for example the assertion that Putin “invaded” Crimea in 2014. Most independent sources confirm that in 2014 the legislature of the Autonomous Republic Crimea held a referendum in which 95.5% voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The referendum was triggered when a US-sponsored fascist coup seized the government in Kiev.