It’s time to Break It Down!
Edward Joseph Snowden demanded, and is receiving what Andy Warhol famously deemed his “Fifteen Minutes of Fame.” A month ago, hardly anyone outside his family, school associates, neighbors, and employers had heard of the Elizabeth City, North Carolina native. Then schiznit happened!
The former technical writer and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee, who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) confessed that he released classified material on top-secret NSA programs, including the PRISM surveillance program to The Guardian and The Washington Post in June 2013. Snowden, who turns 30 in concert with the Summer Solstice, on June 21st, is currently in hiding. His last know whereabouts was Hong Kong, one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China.
The dossier on Eddie is unarguably a curious amalgam. He studied computing in High School in Ellicott City, Maryland; failed to graduate. He attended Anne Arundel Community College, in order to amass the necessary credits to attain a high school diploma; failed to complete. After earning a GED he enlisted in the United States Army with the hope of affiliating with the Special Forces; discharged after four and a half months…did not complete a single unit of training, and, not surprisingly, was awarded no medals.
Still, despite what would likely appear to be for most folks, a staggering list of underwhelming academic and professional endeavors, Snowden managed to fashion an alternative universe filled with an impressive array of occupational achievements, including:
- NSA security guard for a covert facility at the University of Maryland
- IT security at the CIA
- Served as diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland; responsible for maintaining computer network security
- Left the agency in 2009 for a private contractor inside an NSA facility on a United States military base in Japan
- Worked for defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton for less than three months as a system administrator inside the NSA in Hawaii, when he left the US in May 2013
- Earned $200,000 per year
Booz Allen Hamilton fired Snowden on June 10th, 2013 “for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy.”
Beginning last month, the pace quickened for Snowden and his exploits. Key points along a rapidly unfolding timeline include:
- May 1 – Moved out of the home he shared with his live-in girlfriend, Lindsay Mills
- May – Sought and received permission for temporary leave from NSA, ostensibly to receive treatment for epilepsy.
- May 20 – Flew to Hong Kong and began living in The Mira Hotel.
- June 6 – The Washington Post and The Guardian published Snowden’s revelations
- June 9 – The Guardian made Snowden’s identity public at his request.
- June 10 – Representative of The Mira reported that Snowden checked out at noon
So the question at hand is what is all the fuss about, really?
In a word, PRISM; codename for a clandestine national security electronic surveillance (and data collection) program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) since 2007. In documents released by Snowden, he described the program as capable of surveilling live communications and stored data. The range of intel NSA can obtain using PRISM includes:
- Voice chat
- voice over IP conversations
- file transfers
- Login notifications
- social networking details
The original stories on the leaked data indicated that PRISM involved data collection from major internet services providers.
TechCrunch reported on the reactions of several of those companies, including:
- Microsoft: “We provide customer data only when we receive a legally binding order or subpoena to do so, and never on a voluntary basis. In addition we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers. If the government has a broader voluntary national security program to gather customer data we don’t participate in it.”
- Yahoo!: “Yahoo! takes users’ privacy very seriously. We do not provide the government with direct access to our servers, systems, or network.”
- Facebook: “We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers. When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law.”
- Google: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door‘ into our systems, but Google does not have a backdoor for the government to access private user data.”
- Apple: “We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.”
- Dropbox: “We’ve seen reports that Dropbox might be asked to participate in a government program called PRISM. We are not part of any such program and remain committed to protecting our users’ privacy.
In other words, depending on how you view it, the companies consistently deny, either their involvement in PRISM-related data mining, or, stick to the government’s party line that the tool collects only meta data, and that the resulting information is critical to maintaining optimal national security, and does not track American citizens living in this country.
Ed Snowden’s story is much more nuanced and complex than can be completely addressed in a blog post. Suffice it to say, from what we have been told; the exposure arising from this leak may be evidence of the single most damaging link in history. If that is true, there is a certain irony that the data became available because of an insider’s whistle blowing, rather than some external espionage plot.
It is said that Rome, and most former great Empires, met its demise due to internal factors, not external forces. This post certainly does not profess to presage America’s demise as the final Superpower. However, it does identify and elevate the daunting nature of what may be an unraveling threat in the fabric of our democracy.
Opinions vary widely on Snowden’s actions, and the efficacy or lack thereof of those actions. Some folks have lauded him as a hero, while others have lambasted him as a heinous criminal of the first magnitude, and still others suggest he is a traitor. At this time, he is definitely a fugitive. Ultimately, I anticipate that as his story unfolds, many minds may change from their initial assessment.
Mr. Snowden stressed that PRISM stoked his concern about the erosion of personal privacy. Many of the people who support the leak have expressed similar concerns. In his response to this position, President Obama submitted that, “You can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and 0 inconvenience.” In the world in which we live today, that assertion sounds very plausible.
In all probability, we are in the early stages of Edward Snowden’s 15-Minutes. As the sands drain from the hourglass, get used to the conversation…”Edward Snowden Blows the Whistle: Now What?
I’m done; holla back!
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