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Tech Talk Live Blog

All About Trust

Mike Williams


Everyone in IT is consigned a certain level of trust. Some more than others.

“Snowden” opened over the weekend. This movie is the account of Edward Snowden, the cybersecurity worker who copied and disclosed classified information acquired during his work as a U.S. government contractor. Among the information released were details of government surveillance programs that likely included mass interception of civilian communications. He has been called a whistleblower, a hero for individual liberty, and a patriot for exposing apparent abuses of government authority. He has also been labelled a traitor for the potential damage he has caused to U.S. national security, as he was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Since the information release, it is believed that Snowden has remained in Russia, having been granted a 3-year asylum.

That was in June 2013. Where is he now?

The movie will likely try to paint Snowden in the best light possible, a man who tried to serve his country in the Army, until a training injury led to his discharge. Snowden later served as a cybersecurity specialist for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), followed by contract work for Dell, which took him to the NSA (National Security Agency). This work brought Snowden into contact with information about various surveillance programs of dubious legality. He claims that he tried to raise his concerns through the proper channels, but was repeatedly ignored. A public release of information was his last hope to shed light upon the atrocities being committed by these shadowy figures.

We have seen this movie before. The unwitting hero stumbles across the deep conspiracy and fights against all odds to pull back the curtain and expose the evil-doers. (Wasn’t that the plot of “The Net”?) This time it is a little different. U.S. military leadership has claimed that only a small percentage of Snowden’s released documents dealt with domestic activities; that the majority of his disclosure was related to military capabilities and procedures, the release of which has enabled terrorist groups to change their tactics and protocols to avoid surveillance.

In an interview with the Guardian, Snowden claimed that he had done nothing wrong. Sadly, good intentions do not negate illegal activity. Even if he had been ignored by superiors at the NSA, he had plenty of options prior to a public breach. Did he have any contact with his own elected legislators, a congressional oversight committee? Exposing intrusion against the civilian population is commendable, but not at the price of risking those in the field.

It has been suggested that Snowden should be granted a pardon by President Obama. The end of Obama’s final term is swiftly approaching, and that is when the more controversial pardons are usually granted. This writer is reminded of the Hero of Saratoga, none other than General Benedict Arnold. Perhaps he thought he was doing the right thing, but his actions were still treasonous.

Why the movie at this time? Is he attempting to find favor with another country in order to gain asylum as his time in Russia runs out? If he truly did nothing wrong, then why not return to the U.S. and stand trial before a jury of his peers?

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