Who Edward Snowden is, what he leaked, and how the media covers it
Snowden: Who is he? What we know:
The details of Edward Snowden’s personal life have remained a relative mystery. Snowden has served as a security guard for the National Security Agency (NSA) and worked in information-technology for the CIA, which stationed him in Geneva, Switzerland. After leaving the CIA in 2009, Snowden worked for private contractors and was assigned to NSA offices in Japan and Hawaii through technology consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton. It was from this position in Hawaii that Snowden collected NSA documents before fleeing to Hong Kong to leak the documents to Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian.
What exactly did he leak?
Snowden collected documents regarding the NSA’s and Britain’s Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) mass-surveillance programs, which have since been published by the U.K’s Guardian newspaper and domestic paper, the Washington Post, along with others. Some of the most notable leaked programs are as follows:
- PRISM. This program, funded by the NSA, allows the government access to private data from major U.S. technology companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
- Tempora. Operated by GCHQ, the Tempora fiber-optic cable-tapping network is said to create an Internet buffer to collect online data flowing in and out of the U.K. Tempora has the ability to collect data for three days, while storing basic name and location, information, date and timing metadata for up to thirty.
- Upstream. Similar to Tempora, the NSA’s Upstream is an alleged mass-interception network comprised of four programs by the code names of Fairview, Stormbrew, Oakstar and Blarney. Upstream collects short term data and longer term metadata from U.S. fiber-optic cables.
- Bullrun and Edgehill. The NSA’s Bullrun and GCHQ’s Edgehill are highly sophisticated decryption programs, allegedly being exercised to decode privacy and security protection surrounding services such as online banking, medical records and email.
- Collection of phone metadata and international phone tapping. The first leaked document published by The Guardian stated that the NSA is collecting phone records from major phone carrier, Verizon, on a daily basis. “The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing,” reads the article, which was published on June 5.
Leaked documents also contained information regarding phone tapping and metadata collection on an international level, particularly regarding U.S. monitoring of the phone activity of thirty-five world leaders. President Obama has recently denied any knowledge of the tapping of allied leaders such as German Chancellor, Angela Merkel.
Why is this such a big deal?
As former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell stated in a 60 Minutes interview with John Miller, “…this is the most serious leak, the most serious compromise of classified information in the history of the U.S. intelligence community,”
Snowden as “villain.”
The ultimate Snowden critique boils down to accusing the former contractor of putting his own narcissistic views of what is right and wrong above the protection and credibility of the very government he was supposedly working to protect. Others criticize the former NSA contractor for fleeing the country instead of facing the consequences of his actions.
Anti-Snowden sentiments in the media: Fox News
Fox News has emerged as a leader of the anti-Snowden movement. On June 8, Fox News strategic analyst, Ralph Peters, spoke with “Fox and Friends” host, Brian Kilmeade, stating that the NSA programs Snowden released had harmed no law-abiding citizens. Peters goes on. “…We need to get very, very serious about treason,” said Peters. “And oh by the way, for treason, as in the case of Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden, you bring back the death penalty.” “Fox and Friends” continued their anti-Snowden remarks in an interview with Fox News legal analyst, Peter Johnson Jr., using a caption reading: “‘Hero’ turned villain, Snowden leaks give terrorists the upper hand.”
“We see him as a felon, a fugitive, a person who has given up American secrets,” said Johnson. In another interview conducted on October 10, Johnson mentions Snowden as a law breaker and violator of the Espionage Act and suggests that it is “appropriate to make an example out of him” to discourage future whistleblowers. Johnson goes on to refer to Glenn Greenwald as “almost a flack and the alter ego for the media, for Mr. Snowden who’s incommunicado.”
Snowden as “hero.”
Snowden supporters champion the 29-year-old for his bravery and willingness to give up a seemingly comfortable life to shed light on government corruption. Snowden is praised by many for answering to a moral calling that supersedes the values thrust upon society by governmental bodies.
CNN and NBC, taking the middle ground?
CNN has emerged in the middle ground regarding the Snowden NSA leaks, but has dedicated substantial time to interviews with The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald. Anderson Cooper conducted an interview with Greenwald on October 29, in which few biases were portrayed (on the part of Cooper) and ample time was given to Greenwald to defend his support for Snowden’s acts. CNN has also published and broadcasted multiple stories and interviews investigating the personal wellbeing of Snowden as he settles into his life in Russia. In an October 11 interview with former U.S. intelligence officials, a “new developments” banner reading; “An American Leaker in Russia: Snowden said to be learning the language, dating” was included.
In contrast, on June 10, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin openly disapproved of Snowden’s decisions. “There are channels for whistleblowers inside agencies, through Congress, through the courts, not through Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian. That’s not what you’re supposed to do.”
MSNBC/NBC has appeared on both sides of the Snowden support spectrum as well. On June 18, NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams published a media analysis “Why Edward Snowden isn’t a whistle-blower, legally speaking.” The piece covers a variety of legal documents that do not support Snowden’s actions: “Those who believe he has shed light on improper government actions say he deserves to be called one. But there seems little doubt that he cannot claim legal whistle-blower protection.”
11 days later, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry openly voiced her disapproval over Snowden’s current foreign status. “Here’s my beef with Ed Snowden – once you’ve decided to be a defender of those ideals, you have to be prepared to face the consequences,” said Harris-Perry. “That is the whole point of civil disobedience, to show that you are willing to risk your own freedom, your own body, in order to bring attention to something that needs to be known.”
In contrast, an October 28 MSNBC article “Former NSA supporters join critics in calling for reform” chronicles the shift in Congressional support for NSA crackdowns in light of information reveeled through Snowden’s leaked documents.
Tremors from the establishment.
The leaking of these previously secret documents call the credibility and transparency of the Obama administration and NSA into grave public question. On the governmental level, federal officials have expressed concern that removing the veil which has protected NSA monitoring programs will prompt terrorist groups to change their security plans in order to combat U.S. intelligence abilities. Most concerning for the administration is the tension the leak has caused within foreign relations.
Mr.Snowden, where are you?
On July 30, Snowden received a one-year asylum agreement from Russia, which has allowed him to leave the Moscow airport where he had been hiding for over a month. In an interview with the New York Times, Snowden stated that he has turned over all of his collected documents to the journalists he met with in Hong Kong and has not brought any additional copies into Russia, although this statement has not been confirmed. Snowden’s specific whereabouts are currently unknown, we can only wait and see what comes next in this saga.
Katelyn Harrop is sophomore journalism major who thinks Edward Snowden is totally dreamy. Email her at kharrop1[at]ithaca.edu.