Friday, 14 June 2013

Be still, my beating heart!

Goodness me!  Here we are in Hong Kong, the centre of world attention.  For in our midst, lurking now unseen, is the World's Greatest Grass.  Edward Snowden, the guy who blew the lid off US electronic spying: either a traitor or a hero, takes your pick.
And... and the same time, he's been interviewed by Glenn Greenwald, who I feel I just about know, from reading him at length in the recent stoush he had with the redoubtable Sam Harris.  He's in town too!  Be still, my beating heart!
My own view of Snowden: rather more on the critical than the heroic.  There's no doubt he broke his contract and that in so doing, he has endangered his countryfolk.
This sort of thing has been going on since forever -- I was myself in intelligence assessment in the early 1980s, when we got regular "product" from the US's NSA.  It was called "Sigint", for signals intelligence, and I think even the name was classified then, as I think was also even the existence of NSA = "No Such Agency"...  We, then as now, and as the Europeans then as now, valued the product.  Not for its capacity to intrude into private lives, but for indications of possible dangers.  And that's even truer now.
When you think about this guy Snowden, what he's said in sum, is this: he doesn't believe the US has done anything illegal (it hasn't), but he doesn't like it because it might.  So he's stepping up to leak it all. But any possible intelligence that comes from meta-intelligence-mining that needs to dig into actual content of emails, still needs, as it always did, a court order.
In the US 56% of people support the NSA.
Interestingly serial "whistle blower", the New York Times, seems to think so too, at least from the evidence of columnists David Brooks and Tom Friedman.  (Though maybe it was just professional jealousy that they weren't the ones with the scoop..).
As to what will happen to Snowden: my guess is the US will seek extradition, that HK will go through the legal process, which will take a year or more.  And that, in the end, he'll be sent back.  2016 is my guess.  So he'd better find himself some comfy and cheaper digs than the Mira Hotel he was in before.  Settle in for the long haul, Mr Grass.