It took a few days, but America is starting to get a few answers about the guy who leaked details on the National Security Agency's highly classified surveillance programs. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have published lengthy biographical profiles of Edward Snowden, and the questions we should be asking are: "Who hired this weirdo? And how many more weirdos like him have been entrusted with top-secret clearance?"
While many people have been screaming about the NSA's program as the negation of Fourth Amendment privacy rights, the sad truth is that we don't know whether the NSA is or is not illegally spying on American citizens, because the guy who leaked this stuff cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Snowden lied to his employer, after all, and those who have been briefed about the NSA program say he's lying about that, too. Questions about Snowden's veracity have been mounting in recent days, with Kevin Drum of Mother Jones (who is certainly no neocon warhawk) noticing a distinct whiff of bovine excrement about Snowden's claim that the NSA program gave him "direct access" to the servers of Google and other firms:
I want to know how far I can trust Edward Snowden. He's supposed to be a technical guru of some sort, but apparently he didn't understand this. Or, if he did, he didn't bother clearing it up for either Glenn Greenwald or Bart Gellman, who both went with the "direct access" phrase in their initial stories. If it's the former, I wonder just how much he actually knows about NSA's capabilities. If it's the latter, I wonder about his motivations. ...
Snowden has made several other dubious statements, including the suggestion that he could order a wiretap on anyone he wanted, and that he had access to any CIA station. Put this all together, and I think it's reasonable to ask just how much we can trust what Snowden is saying.
Frankly, I don't think we should trust Snowden at all, and if Snowden is utterly untrustworthy, how did he get top secret clearance? The issue isn't about an omniscient Big Brother, but about an incompetent Big Government. How can we trust an agency that didn't know one of its trusted operatives was living a secret online existence?
Between the time he first signed up at the site as a 17-year-old and the time he last commented in May 2012, Snowden left nearly 800 comments scattered across the Ars Technica forum. Much of what Snowden discussed was his interest in online role-playing video games, but he also talked occasionally about sex and religion, and shared advice about working for the government in the computer field.
In a 2006 comment at Ars Technica, he called his girlfriend “amazing,” describing her as “one of those who even wanted it more than me, sometimes, and would kind of sadly paw at my man-totem like a cat after it has killed the prey.” Snowden, 22 at the time, boasted of having “sex marathons from sundown til sunrise,” advising that establishing a “comfort zone” would ensure that ”the sex will be better, longer, and more available.” ...
At a time when he had reportedly been hired by the CIA, Snowden advised that the State Department was “understaffed” with computer specialists. Those with “specialized IT skills … can go anywhere in the world right now” in the State Department, Snowden wrote in July 2006. “Oh, and bonus? Yeah, working in IT for the State Department guarantees you’ll have to have a Top Secret clearance.”
After leaving the CIA a few years later, however, Snowden seemed disillusioned and suspicious toward government. In a comment on an Ars Technica article about surveillance software developed by Cisco, Snowden expressed concern about “how little this sort of corporate behavior bothers those outside of technology circles.” Criticizing what he called an attitude of “unquestioning obedience,” Snowden suggested that such surveillance had “sneaked in undetected because of pervasive government secrecy.”
Maintaining his own personal secrecy was a priority for Snowden, who asked in forums about using proxy servers to hide his online activity. In 2003 he commented, “I wouldn’t want God himself to know where I’ve been, you know?” ...
Geeks like that have top secret clearance? Be afraid. Be very afraid.