Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Review: Permanent Record by Edward Snowden - 352 pages- Macmillan-(17 Sept. 2019)


“It is hard to think of a greater stamp of authenticity than the US government filing a lawsuit claiming your book is so truthful that it was literally against the law to write,”

Edward Snowden

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
― George Orwell, 1984

The ink on Edward Snowden’s new book had barely dried when the US government sought to block the proceeds of his memoir Permanent Record.

The US Department of Justice filed suit on Tuesday against Edward Snowden and his publisher Macmillan. The aim of this vindictive move was to stop Snowden receiving any money made from the publication of his new book. US Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger stated, “This lawsuit will ensure that Edward Snowden receives no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.” Snowden's publisher Macmillan is also being sued “solely to ensure that no funds are transferred to Snowden, or at his direction, while the court resolves the United States’ claims.”

Snowden who has over four million Twitter followers is widely respected for his whistleblowing act and in some quarters is regarded as a hero said the book was written not for monetary gain but in order to set the record straight regarding his release of data that showed the US government had systematically and secretly tapped the internet records of every single person on the planet. In doing so successive, US government had violated constitutional rights on a massive scale.

As Snowden intimates in the book, the surveillance apparatus exposed has no real parallel in history. Companies like Verizon, Google and Yahoo helped the US government collect billions of emails, phone calls, texts, videoconference and webcam recordings.

One writer said that it “allows the surveillance agencies to draw social and political profiles of every person in the US and hundreds of millions of people beyond America’s borders”.

The book itself contains no “secrets” it still nonetheless takes the breath away at the extent of spying the US government undertook. While not implying in the book  Snowden has uncovered through a series of leaks “the very advanced framework of a police state, both illegal and unconstitutional. The National Security Agency (NSA) and the US spy network are engaged in the collection of virtually all communications and the assembling of vast databases for the purpose of monitoring the personal, social and political activities of the entire population”.

As Snowden graphically puts it in an interview “All of your private records, all of your private communications, all of your transactions, all of your associations, who you talk to, who you love, what you buy, what you read—all of those things can be seized and held by the government and then searched later for any reason, hardly, without any justification, without any real oversight, without any real accountability for those who do wrong”.

On a human level, this point was hit home in the book when Snowden was spying on someone and was watching his target through his computer. The target had his son on his knee all the while Snowden was spying on him.

As Snowden notes he could “actually see you write sentences and then backspace over your mistakes and then change the words and then kind of pause and think about what you wanted to say and then change it. Moreover, it is this extraordinary intrusion not just into your communications, your finished messages but your actual drafting process, into the way you think.”

One overarching aim of the lawsuit is to try to deter people from buying the book and discussing content such as the one above but as As Edward Snowden tweeted “Yesterday, the government sued the publisher of #PermanentRecord for—not kidding—printing it without giving the CIA and NSA a chance to erase details of their classified crimes from the manuscript. Today, it is the best-selling book in the world.”

Snowden’s book is a cross between a novel, spy story and biography, and this makes it a cracking read. Reading the book, one is struck by a certain degree of irony. Although carrying out one of the most audacious revolutionary acts this century Snowden's early life would appear to have been the inspiration for the film The Truman Show.

Snowden grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. His family was all involved in the military or federal government in some capacity. Snowden himself becoming a trusted CIA employee and NSA intelligence contractor.

There is a lot to admire about Snowden. On a personal level, the fact that he was prepared to sacrifice everything to expose illegal US government spying shows he was a man of courage and principle. On a more broader level, Snowden was radicalised by the multiple wars carried out by the US government during his most formative years. In this sense Snowden is not alone.

The life experience of the 30-year-old Snowden reflects that of an entire generation. “The disaffection with and growing opposition to the existing social and political set-up reflected in the evolution of Snowden’s views is not simply an individual process, but part of a change involving millions of his generation. It is this fact that accounts for the extraordinary level of anger and fear within the state apparatus that has been generated by his actions”.

From reading his book, his whistleblowing was as much an act against the massive invasion of privacy as it was against a quarter-century of wars. It would appear that Snowden very consciously fought to oppose these wars in the one way that was open to him and that was whistleblowing.

Kevin Reed supports this sentiment adding“ millions of workers and young people are entering political struggle today—facing a crisis that will challenge and shake up their views about the nature of the US military, the two-party system, the unions, bourgeois nationalism, etc.—Snowden’s book provides an insight into the internal process by which one young intelligence worker came to act, on the basis of principles, against the entire military-intelligence establishment of the American government”.[1]

There is much to like about this book. While Snowden had a reasonable idea what would happen after he released his files nothing really prepared him for how fundamental his life would change. Once the files were released he planned to go to one of few countries that he would feel safe in that being Ecuador.

To do so, he had to fly via Russia while in the air Snowden’s passport was revoked by the US Department of State. Snowden lived at the airport in Russia for 40 days after which he was given asylum by the Russian government.

One striking aspect of the book is the degree of confidence Snowden has shown in his actions. There is not a moment of doubt despite the years of threats and calumny by the US government. His courage and principled stand is not just a reflection of his personal courage but because he knows he has widespread support.

As Glenn Greenwaldy states  “Snowden seemed to derive a sense of strength from having made this decision. He exuded an extraordinary equanimity when talking about what the US government might do to him. The sight of this twenty-nine-year-old young man responding this way to the threat of decades, or life, in a super-max prison—a prospect that, by design, would scare almost anyone into paralysis—was deeply inspiring. And his courage was contagious: Laura and I vowed to each other repeatedly and to Snowden that every action we would take and every decision we would make from that point forward would honour his choice.” [2]

It would be pointless to hope this book gets a wide readership as it is already selling bucketloads throughout the world. It is hoped that the new generation of workers and students reading the book act upon his courageous and selfless action. In his book, he is refreshingly frank about the emotional crisis his whistleblowing caused to his family and partner Lindsay. While had to abandon his girlfriend without any warning it is comforting to know that their relationship was as strong as his principles.

Further Reading

A Quarter Century of War: The US Drive for Global Hegemony 1990-2016 Paperback – 27 Jul 2016-by David North  (Author)- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quarter-Century-War-Hegemony-990-2016/dp/1893638693












[1] US Justice Department sues Edward Snowden to block proceeds of memoir
Kevin Reed-23 September 2019- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/09/23/snow-s23.html
[2]No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State
By Glenn Greenwaldy-(p51)