Edward Lucas: The Snowden Operation

Some of my most respected colleagues tell a story that goes like this: Edward Snowden had a well-paid post inside American intelligence, as a contractor for the NSA. Disillusioned by the discovery that his employers and their allies engaged in mass collection of details of private communications, he took a cache of secret documents detailing this appalling behaviour and shared them with media outlets across the world. The noble crusader was bravely risking his career and freedom in the pursuit of truth and transparency—a sacrifice that has made him a worthy candidate for man of the year awards,1 and for canonisation as a secular saint.

This book tells a different story. My reading of the facts is that Snowden is a 'useful idiot'.2 His theft and publication of secret documents should be seen not as a heroic campaign but as a reckless act that has jeopardised our safety and played into our enemies' hands.

The damage wrought by Snowden's revelations takes five forms. It weakens America's relations with Europe and other allies; it harms security relationships between those allies, particularly in Europe; it corrodes Western public opinion's trust in their countries' security and intelligence services; it undermines the West's standing in the eyes of the rest of the world; and it has paralysed Western intelligence agencies.

All these are bad. And as it happens, they are also all Kremlin priorities: if Vladimir Putin were writing a 'to-do' list for his officials, it would have all these five points on it. Yet this aspect of the story has been largely unexplored.3 One reason is that the public has a superficial and glamourised view of espionage, fed by Hollywood thrillers and spy novels. Outsiders simply don't understand what intelligence agencies actually do. Nor do they understand the necessarily secretive and often cynical deal-making at the heart of diplomacy. That ignorance may be healthy. But when it is breached, people are shocked...


No comments:

Post a Comment