Sunday, May 25, 2014

Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide

A few months ago I favourably reviewed (here) Guardian journalist Luke Harding's The Snowden Files. It was the story of whistle blower Edward Snowden and the Guardian's heroic role in disclosing the data he extracted from the NSA (National Security Agency) while working as a contractor for the US Department of Defence.

Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for the Guardian at the time, and the one trusted journalist sought out by Snowden to facilitate the publication of the story, also builds in this just released book a dramatic narrative around all the events, issues, personalities and conflicts associated with the whole, incredibly dangerous enterprise. 

It's a beautifully written story of passionate, courageous journalism and a gripping read.

Edward Snowden himself is portrayed as an amazing young man. His courage, integrity, intelligence, strategic and media sense, and utter commitment to honesty is inspiring.

He did not want to go to prison, he said. 'I'm going to try not to. But if that's the outcome from all of this, and I know there's a huge chance that it will be, I decided a while ago that I can live with whatever they do to me. The only thing I can't live with is knowing I did nothing.' (p51)

Greenwald's passion and obsession with exposing the truth, doing justice to Snowden, and not giving an inch to subservient, 'government embracing' media is a lesson to all so-called political journalists.

He outlines in detail all the NSA's surveillance systems, including how Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and other tech companies were compliant and cooperative despite their denials.

'Taken in its entirety, the Snowden archive led to an ultimately simple conclusion: the US government had built a system that has as its goal the complete elimination of electronic privacy worldwide...The [NSA] is devoted to one overarching mission: to prevent the slightest piece of electronic communication from evading its systemic grasp.'

Threats against Greenwald by government spokespeople and establishment-defending journalists, who refused to refer to him as a journalist, resorting to handles like 'co-conspirator' and 'activist', were, and continue to be, shameful.

The absurd personal attacks on Snowden by the mainstream press, even quality press like the New York Times, the New Yorker and CNN, were lazy and dishonest lies.

Greenwald gets very reflective in the latter third of the book. He asks how and why the establishment protects itself, and reviews the literature on the psychological effects of the awareness of surveillance on people as they go about their normal lives.

The final chapter, The Fourth Estate, is an insightful essay on journalism and its relationship to the instruments of government and power. It's also a damning indictment of so much of contemporary journalism which has stooped to be little more than a mouthpiece for government interests.

No Place to Hide is a seriously good and worthwhile book. It's also a riveting read.

(Apologies for the lousy cover image above. It's Penguin's 'Commonwealth' edition and it's a strikingly bad cover anyway. And there's no photo of the author nor any index. Cheap.)

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