No Place to Hide – Glenn Greenwald

  Summary (Amazon):  In May of 2013, Edward Snowden, a young systems administrator contracting for the National Security Agency, fled the United States for Hong Kong, carrying with him thousands of classified documents outlining the staggering capabilities of the NSA.’s surveillance programs–including those designed to collect information within the U.S. There Snowden arranged a meeting with Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, and so began the most explosive leak of classified material since the Pentagon Papers, over 40 years ago. No Place to Hide opens with Greenwald’s tense account of his initial cloak-and-dagger encounters with Snowden, then transitions into descriptions of the NSA’s vast information-collection apparatus, including a selection of the “Snowden files” with commentary on the alphabet soup of agencies and code names. And–in typical Greenwald style–the book is packed with his opinions on government snooping, its legality, and the impacts on our Constitutional freedoms. Whether you consider Snowden a whistleblower crying foul on government overreach, or a self-aggrandizing traitor who put national security at risk, Greenwald’s book is thrilling and enlightening, a bellwether moment in a crucial debate.

My Review (Spoilers–is this accurate in this case? Probably not)

Executive Summary: dry

Glenn Greenwald was the journalist who broke the NSA spying story that Edward Snowden discovered and then went on to write this book. This book is not a full publication of all the leaked documents, however, it does have some to back up the main points. The book is essentially split into 3 sections. The first section is very Snowden focused (and I thought the most interesting of the book). The second section goes more in depth into the data that was leaked, what it meant and what the affect of it is, and the third section was the after-effects for Greenwald and the others after the story broke.

Snowden repeatedly tried to contact Greenwald to have him set up a secure method of communication which Greenwald continued to neglect to do. Eventually Snowden contacted Laura Poitras, a filmmaker, who then contacted Greenwald and essentially told him to get it together or he was going to miss out on something big. Greenwald, who worked for The Guardian, received permission from them to travel to Hong Kong to meet Snowden. Greenwald, Poitras, and another Guardian employee traveled and met him. They were surprised that he was so young and so at peace with the situation.

They proceed to interview him for the documentary, ensuring to cover all their bases. They don’t want him to come off as a crazy person as that is the first thing that is always pointed out when someone goes against what is expected. Snowden had systematically acquired documents, organizing them and even creating lists of abbreviations and acronyms to make the organization more palatable. I found the description of him, his background, and his character to be the most interesting and unknown part of the story (to me) which makes sense as Snowden has been essentially in hiding for the last few years since the story broke and he rarely gives interviews.

The second part of the book focuses heavily on the data that Snowden acquires which essentially can be boiled down to the fact that the USA (and many others) is spying on its citizens as well as other public officials. While it has been in some cases brushed off as “if you don’t have anything to hide, why do you care?” but Greenwald goes into a lot of detail to discuss why even the metadata which seems fairly innocuous actually provides a lot of detail into people’s lives if it is put all together. Examples being that if you make a lot of phone calls to family members on a certain holiday, your religion may be deduced. Or if you make phone calls to certain medical professionals, your physical or mental health may be gleaned.

But it isn’t just “average” citizens who have been targets. World heads have been targeted to learn information about them, not strictly for terrorism prevention, but also for political gain. Angela Merkel (German Chancellor) equated it to the Stasi (secret service in Eastern Germany). There were reports of people’s personal information being tracked and then used against them to obtain additional information, as well as internal reports discussing how it would be possible to gain even more personal information about the American people.

Also interesting to note is that since the Patriot Act emerged (when the surveillance began), not one single case of using metadata collection has actually prevented an imminent terrorist attack. Aka, it’s all for naught.

After the reports began to break, US and UK officials began to really start to try to do the covering up and misinformation. So many “journalists” are fed information directly from the government itself that they were encouraged/forced to downplay the impact. Greenwald himself was suggested to be an accomplice as well as an activist or a blogger (rather than a journalist who receives special protection). Greenwald’s partner, David, had his laptop stolen very shortly after a Skype call with Greenwald mentioning a large encrypted file of documents he was going to send. At a later date, David was held at the Heathrow airport under the terrorism act. The Guardian was invaded by the British intelligence and security organization (GCHQ) and told to hand over all copies of the Snowden files. The Guardian asked if they could instead destroy it all while GCHQ officers oversaw. Obviously these were not the only copies of the documentation. None of this was published.

Snowden is still somewhat on the run. He has been in Russia since the USA rescinded his passport. He had hoped to move to somewhere in central America but he has yet to find a place that will grant him asylum.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

Like I mentioned, I found the book good to start out with but it began to drag during the middle section. It was a lot of details about the documents and was really dry to read through. By the time I got to the end section which I did find interesting, I was just ready for the book to be over. I did appreciate that the book was written in a non-partisan light, and I think that the story is one that needed to be told.


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Filed under 3.5 stars, Book Club, Book Review

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