Friday, October 24, 2014

Review of No Place To Hide

Edward Snowden's leak of NSA documents caused a great deal of controversy and shock, however I was not surprised.  I always thought the NSA was spying on whomever it could.  Glenn Greenwald's latest book, No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. describes exactly how Snowden leaked his documents and what they mean.  Greenwald makes no attempt to separate his personal views and experience from the NSA, Snowden or surveillance in general.  As a reviewer, I will follow Greenwald's lead and inject my personal opinion into this review.

At less than 300 pages, the book didn't take me that long to read.  However, there were only five chapters so I found my attention span stretched further than usual.  The first chapter deals with how Snowden contacted Greenwald, Greenwald's reluctance and ignorance to indulge in cryptographic technologies, his discussions with a friend and how he dealt with The Guardian (the UK newspaper which he chose to initially publish the leaks to).  The next chapter explains exactly how he met Snowden in Hong Kong and is full of praise for Snowden.  The middle chapter contains many documents which show the extensive surveillance the NSA commits on US allies and  US citizens and how US technology companies have allowed the NSA to do so.  The penultimate chapter explains why surveillance is bad with some interesting rhetoric, including references to historical figures.  The last chapter explains the problem with the state of journalism and why so many journalists have condemned Snowden and Greenwald.  Lastly an epilogue explains the harassment that Greenwald's husband faced; having his computer stolen (in Brazil) and being detained after a flight (in the UK).

I appreciate the courage Glenn Greenwald has, but his book is far from perfect.  I was slightly surprised it was published (after my research, I discovered the publisher is one of the oldest in the USA).  I noticed several errors/typos: JKF airport (meaning JFK), 2012 Boston Marathon Bombing (it happened in 2013!) and image is used where imagine should be used.  Perhaps the editors at Metropolitan Books were scared of the NSA and neglected to examine the book thoroughly.  The book also demonstrates that while some people cannot explain Snowden's behavior without claiming he hates America or is working for China or Russia, others are willing to criticize the NSA.  A bipartisan bill to defund the NSA was narrowly defeated in congress.

All of the controversial claims in No Place To Hide are substantiated by documents, Greenwald clearly establishes that the NSA collects massive amounts of information most of which is outside of its legally established mandates.  He counters variations of the 'if you have nothing to hide, you don't need to worry about being watched argument' but does little to speculate on what harmful activities the NSA may be committing.  Snowden was only a contractor for the NSA, so the information he had access to was limited.  An astute reader may remember events that occurred amidst the 2008 Presidential Election which the NSA may have been involved in: