The Snowden Files AudioBook
This is a Review of the Unabridged version of The Snowden Files Audiobook which was used as the basis for the film Snowden. I summarized Luke Harding’s words, to make it easier for you to understand.
Running time of 10 hours. 8 CDs. If you have no time to read the physical book, need assistive technology to read, or a burning desire to listen to an AudioBook while performing other work (aka Multitasking).
NSA has been jokingly called the “No Such Agency.” There was a source inside the government who had easy access to “Highly classified NSA information that was of a Global importance.
Q raised: “Spying on US citizens?”
The UK equivalent of the NSA is the GCHQ, who has a close relationship sharing of information with the U.S., during 2013.
Using technology to spy on people was beyond the law, via continental databases using Electronic Mass Observation (EMO), a gathering technique. EMO encompasses credit card information, personal data, and anything related to CyberCrime, aka “hacking.” If you know what computer hackers are, this was the old terminology. The new term is “CyberCriminal.”
The idea of Deepthroat, from the X-Files series, is mentioned in the AudioBook. The Source (as Edward Snowden is called) would take a trip from Rio de Janeiro to Hong Kong, to meet with Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for The Guardian. The Mira Hotel located in Kowloon was the meeting point for The Rendezvous. This meeting included Greenwald and a documentary filmmaker (Laura Poitras), who had pointed the Source to Greenwald. But, The Source didn’t show.
The alternate plan was to reappear later the same morning, in between a corridor separating the Mira Hotel and the nearby restaurant. After exchanging their scripted lines, all 3 walked to Room 1014, and Greenwald thought the young man was the son of The Source or perhaps his Personal Assistant. The filmmaker had been communicating with The Source for 4 months, prior to this meeting and felt she knew him well enough, at last, his online self.
During the interview, Mr. Snowden identified himself as a 29-year old, NSA contractor, who was based out of Kunia, Hawaii. As a Systems Administrator, he had access to a lot of sensitive information. Two weeks before the Rendezvous, he had quit his job, bid his girlfriend farewell and jumped on a plane to Hong Kong, carrying 4 heavily encrypted laptops. The laptops held information from NSA & GCHQ’s internal servers, marked as “Top Secret,” “Top Secret Strap 1” (UK’s version of Super Top Secret), or “Top Secret Strap 2” (Topmost Secret). Snowden was about to give them “the biggest intelligence leak in history.”
Having only left the hotel room 3 times since he had checked in, there was some room service that needed to be performed, amidst the barrage of questions from Mr. Greenwald. After some questioning, Snowden turned out to be a legitimate whistleblower.
Being situated in the middle of the Pacific (Hawaii-based location), allowed undersea connections to be tapped by either country. According to Snowden, most of Silicon Valley, California was involved in transmitting personal information (Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Steve Jobs’ Apple).
- The NSA claims it had direct access to these corporations’ servers.
- James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, is discussed as having lied to Congress and thereby, committing a felony.
- Other software violations include backdoors in encryption software, that allows unauthorized access to make secure bank payments, weakening the system for everybody.
As Snowden told his story, it sounded like Huxley or Orwell’s tale of “Big Brother Watching” everyone, all the time, and storing the data indefinitely. He made his choice by deciding to protect individual’s privacy, as the weeks following The Rendezvous, would catch the attention of the White House and the International public. Snowden tried for asylum in South America, but he got detained in Moscow.
Q raised: Is there a balance between security and civil liberties? Freedom of speech and privacy?
Answered: It involved Republicans, Democrats and even President Obama conceded that the issue needed to be addressed.
At this point in the story, Snowden’s U.S. passport was cancelled, and he was charged with espionage and upon his return from Russia, he could stand trial for his CyberCrimes against the U.S. The fight among the media on “who would get Snowden’s story first” resulted in The Guardian’s computer being bashed inside their own basement.
Movie Tie In
Chapter 1 – The True Hooha
Exterior: Ellicott City, near Baltimore (December 2001)
“Nothing at last is sacred, but the integrity of one’s own mind.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The True Hooha was an 18-year male, an Avid gamer, impressive IT skills, and of sharp intelligence. His real identity is unknown, but in cyberspace, everyone who posts uses an Anonymous name. He wanted to know how to create a website, being his own host, and wanted to know what he needed? This was posted around 11am on a Saturday morning. At 2am, he was still online. He had a conflicting background, as he said he was unemployed, a warrior, but had State Department clearance codes. Apparently, he had no college degree, was prolific in computers, and constantly online (everywhere in the World). He was opinionated in chatrooms and had little patience for dumbf**ks.
In April 2006, he provided a few photos of himself at an amateur modeling shoot. In 2009, the chat entries fizzled away. In February 2010, he mentions “pervasive government surveillance,” as one of his last posts. May 21st, 2012 was his last post, before he disappeared into Cyberspace.
The True Hooha was Edward Snowden’s online avatar. A year after his last online post, he re-appears again in Hong Kong with his story.
Ed’s Beginnings (Disc 1 Track 6)
Edward Joseph Snowden was born on June 21, 1983, aka as “Ed” to his friends. His father Lonnie “Lon” was an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, and his mother Elizabeth “Wendy” spent Ed’s childhood in Elizabeth City, NC, where there is the largest naval base situated along the coast. Lon is a “thoughtful, articulate conservative” and a Libertarian in his political views.
Ed has an older sister, Jessica.
Ed relocated with his family to MD. He commuted between MD & Washington D.C. during his school years. Interesting to note that Ed only attended Arundle High School for 1.5 years, before he fell ill with glandular fever (missing school for 4 or 5 months), and his parents drifting apart. He failed to finish high school.
In 1999, at the age of 16, he enrolled at Arundle Community College, studying computer courses and earned a GED.
In February 2001, Wendy filed for divorce, taking only 3 months to be finalized. Ed was living with a roommate and then with his mother in Ellicott City, a housing development project, with friendly neighbors, most of whom worked at The Facility.
At this time, Ellicott City was one of the biggest employer of Federal Government workers. What’s kind of amazing was the portrayal of the government hiring mostly people with math degrees. The description of the NSA Building and how to get there by driving is described nicely!
“The Internet was the most important invention of this century.” – Ed Snowden
In 2003, Ed posts “I’m an MCSE, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, without a degree or clearance, who lives in Maryland, read that as unemployed.”
Ed wants to join Special Forces (Disc 1 Tracks 7-8)
Meanwhile, Snowden Sr. had relocated to PA and was about to remarry. Ed was seriously thinking about a career in the military because of 2003’s war invasion in Iraq, and wanted to join Special Forces as they “had an attractive scheme.” In May 2004, he enlisted and reported to Fort Benning, GA. Basic training was 8 to 10 weeks long, followed by an Advanced Infantry course, and then a Suitability test. Although physically fit, his vision was poor and he had narrow feet (not having boots to fit into at Boot Camp).
Ed’s reason for joining the military was to save people from oppression, but his superior officers’ goal was “to shoot Muslims.”
During Infantry training, he broke both legs. After a month, he was discharged from the US Army.
He was able to find work as a Security Specialist at the University of Maryland (2005), starting as a Security Guard and then moving back into IT (an NSA operation on-campus location). The program gave advanced language training to the IC (Intelligence Community).
In mid-2006, Ed landed a job at the CIA! He has numerous posts detailing his viewpoints about having an educational designation (high school diploma, college degree) and where it leads to (career, money, prestige). Foreign travel and generous perks were the appealing factor to Ed and “The State Department is the place to be right now.”
One the perks was Top Secret access to classified information.
In 2007, on his first foreign tour, Ed was sent to Geneva & Switzerland at the age of 24. His new job was to maintain the CIA’s servers, looking after computer security for US diplomats based in Geneva, and maintain the HVAC systems. Telecom Systems Communications Officer was his official job title. He was loving his new job, as this was the first time living abroad, and there were a whole lot of different spies and secrets lurking inside the city. About 1/3 of all the citizens were foreign, most were wealthy, with a small migrant class.
His diplomatic cover was located in the center of town. Nice description of where he lived!
Apparently, Ed had mixed feelings about the Swiss lifestyle, complaining about the prices and lack of water inside of restaurants. He also complained about the Metric system, the affluence of the people (“The f**kin McDonald’s workers make more than I do!”), the organization of the European transit system and the importation of non-European workers.
Official Movie Trailer #2
Ed’s Geneva Adventure (Disc 1 Track 9-10)
In Geneva, he was exposed to different radical views. His Estonian friend recalls meeting Snowden in the City at an event, Free Tibet movement. His friend was educated, and had a left-winged political view. It was ironic that Ed was accused of being a Chinese Spy. While in Europe, he had participated in Chinese events due to his martial arts club, had an interest in Palestinian politics and the US’s roles in international affairs.
- One of their takeaways is the giving of passports to Chinese immigrants, with the forthcoming Beijing Olympics.
- Another big discussion was the New World Order, and the effect of Facebook and Social Media in how people govern themselves. As far as films go, this theme was also explored in Jason Bourne, so please visit my other Film Review. Ed describes his friend as a “Super Nerd, thanks to the US government.”
- His friend understood Ed’s occupation as an IT person inside the U.S. Embassy, but it was a traveling job, as safe platforms had to be maintained. Ed never truly told anyone what his job was.
The Swiss views on liberty are discussed, and that prostitution is legal.
Ed was also a Speed Freak, meaning that his ownership of a dot blue BMW gave him license to drive “180 km/h from Munich.” He also raced motorbikes in Italy. One of the perks that Ed enjoyed was not paying for parking tickets; he didn’t pay them and cited “diplomatic immunity” as reason for not paying his parking violations.
His desire to travel to other parts of Europe was also fulfilled by the job. He went to Sarajevo (listened to Muslim views from his hotel room), Bosnia, Republic of Romania and Spain (opinions of their food and their women). While playing the Stock Market, he watched as the 2008 market crash happened, and lost more money than he made, from abroad rather than from inside the U.S.
His views of Capitalism and Free Market stood true. His views on Unemployment (12% rate at the time), and how politician Ron Paul had an impact on Snowden (economics, war, and Ed’s approval for 2008 election). As far as politics goes, he wasn’t an Obama supporter, but he didn’t hate the guy either (“We need an idealist, first and foremost. Hillary Clinton, I think, would be a pox on the country”). Which, as of this Hubpage writing, is ironic, as Ms. Clinton is running for 2017 Presidential candidacy.
However, once Obama starting serving in office in 2009, Ed was quick to dislike his ways of fixing the country. The Second Amendment (Right to Bear Arms), Affirmative Action, existence of Social Security system, and US Officials leaking information to newspapers are discussed.
- In January 2009, there was information about a secret Israeli plan to leak secrets to Iran. The AudioBook goes into some detail about President Bush’s handling of this, as well as New York Times’ basis of research for event coverage.
- The idea of covert government operations, secrecy and the handing off onto new generation of presidents, ethical coverage by the NYT, violating National Security measures, who controls the foreign policy, and the appointment of a new CIA Director (Leon Paneta).
This type of “selling your story” is seen in another movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, starring Tina Fey. No, it’s not a comedy, although filed as such at your local retailer-of-choice. The movie is based on a book written by Kim Baker, a female reporter who was based in Baghdad. Selling your story is one way of getting out of Baghdad, as Ms. Baker and her female colleague had experienced.
Ed’s Japan Adventure (Disc 1 Track 11-12)
Wikileaks, which Ed criticized in 2009, would come back later on, as his story unravels. He said that the CIA had information on people, not machines, and that he didn’t want to endanger anyone.
- Maveny Anderson, another friend, described Ed as “experiencing a crisis of consciousness” from his Geneva stint.
- Different methods of CIA information extraction are discussed.
Ed was waiting for Obama to reverse some of the actions that the Bush Administration had done. Shortly after taking office, it is reported by this AudioBook, that Obama had not taken to fixing the wrongdoings overseas, approximately 2014. As of this Hubpage writing, I believe the time span of 5 years allowed the journalists and filmmakers enough time to tell their stories, while President Obama is still in office. Depending on your POV, is it time to “make it right?” or “time to tell the story.”
Ed also had a falling out with one of his Geneva colleagues, and went straight to New York Times’ reporter James Riesen. According to Mr. Riesen’s report, Snowden was up for an internal promotion, but challenged a superior (two levels above) with an email spat, and that spat lost him the promotion. During his annual self-evaluation, his first-level superior told him to “drop it” (fixing the HR application software) but allowed Ed to see “if it was susceptible to hacking.” He embedded some non-malicious code into the Personnel Application software, and when the second-level superior found out about it, he entered a DeRog (Derogatory Entry) into Ed’s file.
In February 2009, Ed resigned from the CIA, but his personnel file was never shared with his next employer, the NSA.
In his job shift, he was to work as an NSA contractor on a U.S. military base in Japan. At this time in modern history, there was a huge demand for Post 9-11 out-sourced security consultants. The former NSA Director Michael Hayden, moved between government and corporations. Snowden was on Dell Computer’s payroll, because he exhibited high-level internal government access and outstanding computer skills.
On a similar filmmaking note, one of Jason Bourne’s plotlines involves Social Media Giant Aaron Kapoor, who serves as a government contractor, and how CIA Director Dewey used the Agency to help Kapoor’s company Deep Dream launch itself from a business incubator program. These political-social themes are being explored as of the current writing of this Hubpage.
Ed had spent 1.5 years studying Japanese language, and had been fascinated from his youth with the country and its culture, which “shaped my moral outlook.”
- Between 2002 & 2004, Ed worked as a Webmaster for a Japanese Anime website, where he improved his language and technical skills.
- In 2009, he enrolled in a summer school in a Tokyo-based campus, affiliated with the University of Maryland’s University College.
But, in Japan, “his online activity dries up.” Why?
- The AudioBook suggests this was a turning point in Snowden’s career, from “a disillusioned technician to proto-Whistle Blower.” He had access to large amounts of NSA information, from their “Data mining activities.”
- Between 2009-2012, Ed was appalled by Obama’s handling of the policies that “I thought were being reigned in.” During this timeframe, he also found out the extent that the NSA went to, including recording every conversation, professionally and personally. The Congressional “checks and balances” failed, because no one was adhering to the Privacy standards. It basically was free reign for certain government agencies.
- Ed left Japan in March 2012, and was a “whistleblower in waiting,” while relocating to Oahu, Hawaii.
Chapter 2 – Civil Disobedience (Disc 1 Track 13-14)
Henry David Thoreau’s quote starts the chapter.
This chapter continues with Ed’s journey to the NSA Cryptological Center in Kunia, Hawaii, where it is 1 of 13 main hubs located outside of Fort Mead, for Centralized system backup. A great description of the shared logo for NSA/CSS Hawaii-Kunia!
Around the same time when he left Japan, Ed donated $250 to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign from an address in Columbia, MD as “an employee of Dell Computers.” In May 2012, he donated another $250 to the campaign, from an address in Waipahu, HI, as a “Senior Advisor for an unstated company.”
When he landed on-island, he had a definite plan in mind for revealing NSA documents, knowing that it could lead to long-term incarceration.
- His plan was quite simple: to make contact with credentialed journalists who were interested in Civil Liberties. Ed’s purpose was to show selected documents to journalists, and allow the journalists to interpret the ramifications of such documents to the public. The Fourth Estate is talked about.
- His new job title in Hawaii was NSA Systems Administrator, which allowed him access to all types of sensitive documents.
- The only unsure portion of his plan was How to leak the secret documents to the journalists?
o An email was out of the question.
o F2F meeting was difficult, too, as any trip had to be cleared with his superior 30 days in advance of the trip.
o Ed didn’t know any reporters. At least not personally.
He enlists the help of his girlfriend of 8 years, Ms. Lindsey Mills, to aid in his quest, and she meets him on “The Gathering Place” (Oahu, Hawaii) in June 2012.
o Ms. Mills grew up in Baltimore, MD, graduating from Baltimore Institute of Art, and had been living with Ed in Japan. Her job history was varied, with “Pole Dancer” being one of her occupations and her love of self-photography, which she regularly posted on her blog, wearing next to nothing.
o They rented a 3 bedroom, 2 bath bungalow at 94-1044 Eleu Street in Waipahu, a former sugar plantation site. Great description of the property!
o And the neighbors’ description of Snowden (Rod Uehara) as a “private person,” and they assumed that he was military of some sort, just like most of the retirees in that neighborhood.
Ed had a daily commute up Kunia Road, about 7 miles away from The Hole, a traveling time of 13 minutes by car. Great description of his house, relative to the rest of the island. Pearl Harbor plays a role not only on December 7th (Pearl Harbor Rememberance Day), but also FDR’s building of intelligence infrastructure. After World War II, its purpose changed from an underground charting area into a Navy command center, reinforced to withstand chemical-biological-radiological attack.
The historical significance of why “The Hole” was built is discussed. It is known today as the Kunia Regional Security Operations Center (ARSOC), hosting the NSA’s Systems Cryptological Group, consisting of military from each branch of service, as well as civilian contractors. Somewhere along the line, the name changed from The Hole to The Tunnel.
The Tunnel had 2 main spying targets: the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and North Korea. Spying on the Chinese enters as another theme, as to why Ed was stationed on Oahu, due to China’s rising power as a nation. The NSA’s mission was two-fold: to keep any eye out for China’s military frigates and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) computer networks.
Ed brings knowledge of Chinese computer networks, and taught a class in Chinese Cyber Intelligence to Department of Defense senior officials on how to withstand a cyberattack from Beijing. Ed had access to every Chinese target that the NSA wanted. The Japanese were now American intelligence partners, as were the South Korean president, Thailand and Tokyo delegates. Thailand and Philippine counter-intelligence operations were also coordinated inside The Tunnel.
Book-isms from Disc 1
“Thank God for wars.” – Ed Snowden
“Practical and doctrinal.”
“Maverick and right wing views.”
“A lucrative, revolving door.”
“Leadership is about being the first to act.”
“A pre-natural degree of cunning. And a cool head. And some extraordinary good fortune.”
“Freedom isn’t free.”
Would you read this AudioBook?
Oxymoronic expressions (not that they’re stupid, just Oxy)
If you liked reading my AudioBook Review, please click below to goto Disc 2.