suntimes
TOUGH 
Weather Updates

Edward Snowden: The slacker who came in from the cold

storyidforme: 50587741
tmspicid: 11384294
fileheaderid: 5197458

Updated: July 13, 2013 6:33AM



Think you’re a loser just because you dropped out of high school and never finished the military training you began?

Think you’re a dud just because you work as a security guard even though you dreamed of becoming a global savior?

Well, don’t beat yourself up. You, too, can become an international super spy like Edward Snowden.

Snowden, 29 and possessing all the qualifications to become a grocery bagger, instead gets hired by the National Security Agency as a security guard, after dropping out of high school and the Army.

This naturally brings him to the attention of the Central Intelligence Agency, which hires him and sends him to Geneva, Switzerland, with diplomatic cover and a high security clearance.

With all that on his résumé, he gets scooped up by defense contractor colossus Booz Allen Hamilton, which assigns him to work at an NSA facility in Hawaii for a reported $200,000 per year. This allows Snowden to rent a house near the beach for him and his girlfriend.

Not that Snowden wasn’t carefully vetted. Booz Allen, which was paid 1.3 billion U.S. tax dollars in the last fiscal year to safeguard U.S. intelligence secrets, issued a statement Sunday: “Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, has been an employee of our firm for less than three months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking. . . .”

He worked there less than three months? A guy with hardly any qualifications is earning $200,000 a year with access to classified information after less than three months?

Is this the American dream or what?

Some would think this is not a bad life for a guy who has been a total slacker. But this is not what Edward Snowden thinks. He has still not saved the world nor become an international celebrity.

So first he leaks classified information that reveals our government is collecting information on all phone calls made on the Verizon network and then leaks classified info that reveals the government collects Internet data on foreigners from companies like Google and Facebook.

The U.S. government has two contradictory responses to the leaks. First, it says, the stuff Snowden has leaked is no big deal and the media are guilty of “hyperbole” in their reporting on it.

On the other hand, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, “For me, it is literally — not figuratively — literally gut wrenching to see this happen because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities.”

So take your pick.

In any case, Snowden flees the United States to a luxury hotel in — wait for it — China.

True, it is Hong Kong, a fabulous city brimming with soaring skyscrapers, marvelous restaurants, a glamorous nightlife and people of copious wealth. And true, Hong Kong operates as a “semi-autonomous region” of China in which people have more rights.

But as James Fallows of The Atlantic recently wrote: “Hong Kong is not a sovereign country. It is part of China — a country that by the libertarian standards Edward Snowden says he cares about is worse, not better, than the United States.

“It has even more surveillance of its citizens. . . . Its press is thoroughly government-controlled; it has no legal theory of protection for free speech; and it doesn’t even have national elections.”

Oh, well, small slip-up. But at least Snowden can live there as a political refugee even if the United States wants him back, right?

Uh, probably not. Regina Ip, a legislator and former security secretary in Hong Kong, told the Wall Street Journal that “We work very closely with U.S. authorities” and Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong as a refuge is “really being based on unfortunate ignorance.”

But Snowden never claimed to be a genius. Maybe the history of modern China was not on his GED exam.

It appears that what Snowden really wants to be is a superhero in his own comic book. In dealing with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, Snowden assigns himself the code name “Verax” and Gellman the code name “BRASSBANNER.”

“I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” he dramatically writes Gellman. And later: “There’s no saving me.”

He also writes Gellman that the U.S.
intelligence community “will most certainly kill you” if it thinks Gellman’s murder might stop the leaks from being published. Gellman, an experienced and distinguished reporter, said he did not take this “literally.”

But Edward Snowden does not live in a literal world. After the comic book there could be a movie, a “Snowden Ultimatum” kind of thing. (Matt Damon is 42, but he could play 29.)

Sunday, from his Hong Kong hotel room, Snowden continued to communicate with — the still alive — Gellman.

“There’s no precedent in my life for this kind of thing,” Snowden wrote. “I’ve been a spy for almost all of my adult life — I don’t like being in the spotlight.”

Which is the trouble with spies. You can’t believe a word they say.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.