Euphorias of SIGINT: Edward Snowden and the Passion of Glenn Greenwald

In May of 2014, I was asked to review Glenn Green­wald’s book about Edward Snow­den. For a vari­ety of rea­sons I was unable to pub­lish it. Enough time has passed that I feel post­ing this text here will cause no one any heart­burn.

The prob­lem with Glenn Greenwald’s account of Edward Snow­den, as told in his new book No Place to Hide: Edward Snow­den, the NSA, and the U.S. Sur­veil­lance State, is that we have no way of know­ing it is true. Ordi­nar­i­ly, when a jour­nal­ist writes an account of her source, it is rea­son­able to assume she is large­ly telling the truth. But ordi­nar­i­ly, jour­nal­ists do not angri­ly, even vicious­ly defend the moral good­ness of their sources with such fer­vor. In tra­di­tion­al jour­nal­ism, a source is a source — nec­es­sary to the sto­ry, but not the sto­ry itself.

Snow­den, so Green­wald writes, ini­tial­ly went by the online nom de plume Cincin­na­tus (Gell­man said last year he also went by the name Ver­ax). Using a sup­posed ref­er­ence to Lucius Quinc­tius Cincin­na­tus, Snow­den, it seems, was try­ing to chan­nel the Roman aris­to­crat famous for vol­un­tar­i­ly relin­quish­ing dic­ta­to­r­i­al pow­er after sav­ing the Repub­lic.

It’s not with­out coin­ci­dence that Cincin­na­tus is also the name of Nabokov’s hero in Invi­ta­tion to a Behead­ing, who is await­ing his exe­cut­ing for the inde­fin­able crime of “gnos­ti­cal turpi­tude.” Nabokov’s Cincin­na­tus does not fit in with his name­less soci­ety, and ago­nizes in prison where his only out­let is writ­ing, through which he cre­ates an ide­al world where he can belong.

Though Snow­den, per­haps, meant Cincin­na­tus to con­jure images of the great Roman hero, it is Nabokov’s ver­sion of Cincin­na­tus that bears far more rel­e­vance to Snowden’s lone­ly exile in Rus­sia.

Or so we might think. Greenwald’s account of how he came to meet Snow­den — through furtive mes­sages online,– has shift­ed con­stant­ly, as has Snowden’s. The first ver­sion Green­wald told of Snowden’s flight from Hawaii to Hong Kong did not make any sense, and jour­nal­ists quick­ly poked it full of holes, iden­ti­fy­ing lit­tle white lies, half-truths, and cal­cu­lat­ed omis­sions that sub­tly altered Snowden’s sto­ry (and made him less saint-like in the process). This was accom­pa­nied by Green­wald pub­lish­ing a con­tin­u­ous string of mis­lead­ing sto­ries about NSA pro­grams that were qui­et­ly cor­rect­ed with­out pub­lic acknowl­edg­ment by The Guardian’s edi­tors. The ini­tial run of sto­ries on the PRISM pro­gram includ­ed phras­es like “direct access to servers” that sim­ply were not (and could not be) true. After one ded­i­cat­ed writer demon­strat­ed that the PRISM sto­ries in both the Guardian and Wash­ing­ton Post were wrong, they were lat­er edit­ed with­out com­ment by both news­pa­pers.

This con­tin­ued to oth­er pro­grams. Green­wald and I once had a friend­ly rap­port on Twit­ter, after he backed off an ear­ly round of false­ly accus­ing me of hid­den inter­ests in the Wik­ileaks scan­dals. I lat­er broke off Twit­ter con­tact with him when he open­ly lied about my views of the inter­ven­tion in Libya (I opposed that war vocif­er­ous­ly; he argued that I secret­ly sup­port­ed it due to my alleged neo­con­ser­vatism). Still, when I tried to ask Green­wald about some rather large holes in a sto­ry about XKEYSCORE, a favorite tar­get of his relent­less threat infla­tion, he ignored my email and lat­er pub­licly denied I ever emailed him. When I asked his edi­tor at The Guardian, Janine Gib­son, she declined to com­ment.

What is Green­wald so afraid of, that he and his edi­tors con­sid­er him above the very sort ques­tion­ing that he sub­jects oth­ers to?

Snow­denism as a Move­ment

By now the sto­ry of how Green­wald met Snow­den is famil­iar: after a series of anony­mous mes­sages, Green­wald, along with Lau­ra Poitras and Ewan MacAskill, trav­eled to Hong Kong, where they released doc­u­ments Snow­den had sent them that con­tained explo­sive evi­dence that the NSA was engaged in mass sur­veil­lance in the Unit­ed States. It is the stuff of jour­nal­is­tic leg­end, and nev­er before, not even in the Wik­ileaks pub­li­ca­tions of 2010, has so much inti­mat­ed doc­u­men­ta­tion of the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty come to light.

The ori­gin of those doc­u­ments and their pre­sumed effect on the world are laid out in lawyer­ly detail in No Place to Hide. It is many things — an account of how Edward Snow­den came to leak an untold (and frankly uncount­able) num­ber of doc­u­ments from the NSA, details of how the NSA spies on ter­ror groups and for­eign coun­tries, vicious­ly per­son­al­ized crit­i­cism of main­stream Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism, and a vig­or­ous defense of Greenwald’s rather rad­i­cal views on pri­va­cy and gov­ern­ment.

Glenn Green­wald is right about some things. In pub­lish­ing a court order which uses the For­eign Intel­li­gence and Sur­veil­lance Court to sub­poe­na the meta­da­ta about phone calls col­lect­ed by Ver­i­zon about its cus­tomers in the Unit­ed States, Green­wald and Snow­den revived an oth­er­wise mori­bund debate about the ten­sion between pri­va­cy and nation­al secu­ri­ty. If the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment real­ly was col­lect­ing all of U.S. tele­pho­ny meta­da­ta, that would indi­cate a trou­bling act of sur­veil­lance by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. It could enable the cre­ation of a vast data­base that could be used to polit­i­cal­ly oppress dis­si­dents, sup­press speech, and cow peo­ple into sub­mis­sion to tyran­ny. Though legal under a prece­dent estab­lished by the Supreme Court in 1979, it is a tru­ly prob­lem­at­ic pro­gram and it demands pub­lic scruti­ny.

The only prob­lem? For meta­da­ta to be tru­ly effec­tive and scary — to have a huge dataset for iden­ti­fy­ing ter­ror­ism or to hor­ri­bly abuse inno­cent peo­ple — then the agency must col­lect every­thing. It doesn’t. At best, it gets around 30% of Amer­i­can phone meta­da­ta — so lit­tle, in fact, that the col­lec­tion in the first place prob­a­bly does not help very much in terms of coun­tert­er­ror­ism, and cer­tain­ly is not any good for the acts of tyran­ny Green­wald sup­pos­ed­ly fears – that is, the tyran­ny hap­pen­ing in places like Rus­sia and Chi­na.

Yet before exam­in­ing whether the pro­gram made sense, whether it was a real or the­o­ret­i­cal con­cern, or whether it was even legal, Green­wald jumped imme­di­ate­ly to scream­ing tyran­ny. The many times fed­er­al courts have found meta­da­ta col­lec­tion legal, from 1979’s Supreme Court case Smith v. Mary­land to round after round of low­er court find­ings, are absent from Greenwald’s retelling. The 215 pro­gram, as it is known, is sub­ject to lay­er upon lay­er of over­sight and has even result­ed in the NSA scal­ing back projects the FISA Court found too expan­sive, but you’d nev­er learn that from Greenwald’s work.

He may be cor­rect in iden­ti­fy­ing pro­grams that could pose prob­lems if they were unreg­u­lat­ed and immune from judi­cial review. But Green­wald choos­es to ignore the very sim­ple fact that these pro­grams are actu­al­ly tight­ly reg­u­lat­ed and sub­ject­ed to con­stant review. More­over, the dam­age done by these leaks has been estab­lished by clas­si­fied mil­i­tary stud­ies as “grave,” but that does not seem to faze Green­wald or his exu­ber­ant sup­port­ers. The simul­ta­ne­ous over­selling of what the doc­u­ments say, com­bined with the extreme amount of dam­age they’ve done to U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty, is a poi­son pill to Greenwald’s entire intel­lec­tu­al arti­fice.

With such an unre­li­able nar­ra­tor con­trol­ling the sto­ry, can we trust his ver­sion of Snowden’s evo­lu­tion to leak­er? Trust­ing Green­wald is essen­tial to believ­ing his ver­sion of events. Despite hav­ing them in his pos­ses­sion, Green­wald still, almost a year after releas­ing the first few slides, declines to pub­lish the remain­ing slides about the PRISM pro­gram, which mon­i­tors inter­net traf­fic. He won’t say what those doc­u­ments con­tain. It’s a safe bet that Green­wald will nev­er dis­close infor­ma­tion that paints the NSA in a pos­i­tive light — treat­ing a sub­ject fair­ly and with­out bias is not his role, he argued in a recent exchange with the New York Times for­mer edi­tor Bill Keller. Rather, Green­wald sees his role as expos­ing a sys­tem he feels is unjust, in order to hold the pow­er­ful account­able.

It is an appeal­ing call to arms, yet Greenwald’s entire mythol­o­gy of Snow­den relies on both his and Snowden’s reli­a­bil­i­ty in dis­clos­ing their own motives and behav­ior. Green­wald can­not con­struct his tale of an evil, out-of-con­trol NSA tram­pling the law and vio­lat­ing pri­va­cy rights with­out omit­ting sym­pa­thet­ic doc­u­ments or mem­os. Ele­vat­ing Snow­den to sec­u­lar saint­hood is essen­tial to build­ing absolute faith that he and he alone can be trust­ed to leak the right doc­u­ments at the right time. Accept­ing his ver­sion of the agency and its pro­grams requires an absolute faith in the moral inten­tions and intel­lec­tu­al fair­ness of a guy who said leak­ers “should be shot in the balls five years ago, but now thinks it entire­ly appro­pri­ate to steal hun­dreds of thou­sands of top secret doc­u­ments and then flee to Rus­sia.

The myth-mak­ing of Snow­den by the jour­nal­ists who cov­ered him and his leaks is almost unprece­dent­ed in mod­ern jour­nal­ism. One jour­nal­ist became so enam­ored of the felo­nious spy as to make a George W. Bush-style ulti­ma­tum to his fel­low jour­nal­ists, demand­ing they choose whether to be “with Snow­den” or against him. The idea that jour­nal­ists sim­ply cov­er the sto­ry — are the sources cred­i­ble, are claims ver­i­fi­able, do doc­u­ments tell the sto­ry being told in the papers, and so on — is not sim­ply dis­missed, but active­ly denounced. Greenwald’s fan club insists that  one must sup­port Edward Snow­den as a moral per­son and not just as a source of doc­u­ments that should be assessed. Skep­ti­cism, or even a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion based on the same set of doc­u­ments, is out of bounds.

When main­stream jour­nal­ists write of their sources in this way, Green­wald screams, quite often on Krem­lin-con­trolled media, that they’re hope­less­ly incom­pe­tent and cor­rupt.

The relent­less hagiog­ra­phy of Edward Snow­den, which is tak­en to such an extreme as to bor­der on satir­i­cal, per­me­ates Greenwald’s account. From the grandiose pro­nounce­ments more suit­ed to a bod­hisatt­va, to the clever way he avoids ever dis­cussing who pays for Snowden’s lifestyle in hyper-expen­sive Moscow for the past year, to who pro­vides the met­al detec­tors vis­i­tors appar­ent­ly must pass through before see­ing him in per­son, Green­wald is not inter­est­ed in telling Snowden’s sto­ry per se — he is pro­mot­ing Snow­den as a sav­ior. Green­wald often mocks those who sug­gest Snow­den is brief­ing Russ­ian intel­li­gence offi­cials, but in cor­re­spon­dence (pdf) with the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, Snow­den open­ly admits he is in dis­cus­sion with them, and is self-financ­ing. Snow­den wrote he wasn’t wor­ried that Russ­ian offi­cials want­ed to speak with him (“that’s their job” he explains), but he is deeply intol­er­ant of U.S. offi­cials also doing their jobs to pro­tect the coun­try. [edi­tor’s note: Snow­den recent­ly recant­ed even that ver­sion of whether he spoke to Russ­ian intel­li­gence, and now appar­ent­ly claims he nev­er spoke with them at all.]

So what could pos­si­bly inspire this bizarre chain of events?

The Apoth­e­o­sis of Amer­i­ca-Hatred

From his writ­ing, it is dif­fi­cult to pin down what Green­wald believes in, apart from a fair­ly extreme sense of indi­vid­u­al­ism. He writes pol­i­cy papers for the right-wing lib­er­tar­i­an Cato Insti­tute on the dan­gers of drug pol­i­cy, but then gives speech­es on the “cor­rup­tion” and “moral rot” of Amer­i­ca to a Social­ism Con­fer­ence.

The only com­mon thread link­ing the two togeth­er is a deep, almost vis­cer­al hatred of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment and an extreme (not least in its selec­tive­ness) form of lib­er­tar­i­an­ism. Green­wald also believes strong­ly in the pow­er of his own unique brand of “adver­sar­i­al jour­nal­ism.” He’s explained his phi­los­o­phy as “Peo­ple say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for doc­u­ments to prove it,” with the rather obvi­ous excep­tion of Edward Snow­den and any­one else who agrees with Greenwald’s views of the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment. That any­thing at all, whether law or social norm, might get in the way of his jour­nal­ism is, to Green­wald, an unfor­give­able attack on the very idea of free thought and speech.

While this may sound sim­i­lar to the sov­er­eign cit­i­zen­ship move­ment, where­by indi­vid­u­als assert their right to live in the Unit­ed States with­out pay­ing tax­es or obey­ing any laws, it is more like a sov­er­eign jour­nal­ism move­ment — where reporters, though unelect­ed and sub­ject to zero demo­c­ra­t­ic account­abil­i­ty, espe­cial­ly when pri­vate­ly fund­ed by bil­lion­aires, nev­er­the­less have the right to set­tle issues like nation­al secu­ri­ty, polit­i­cal dis­course, and even the right to hold dif­fer­ing opin­ions (Green­wald and his fol­low­ers rou­tine­ly try to shout down, harass, and oth­er­wise intim­i­date those who don’t share their opin­ions, which is a brazen attack on the very speech they say they defend).

Gone is Kennedy’s admo­ni­tion to ask what you can do for your coun­try, replaced here by an inchoate mix­ture of threat infla­tion about a tyran­ni­cal police state called Amer­i­ca so extreme that it can only be called para­noid. In Greenwald’s uni­verse, the gov­ern­ment is not filled with bureau­crats try­ing to achieve dis­crete nation­al secu­ri­ty goals focused on ter­ror­ists; instead, Greenwald’s fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is the liv­ing embod­i­ment of what George Orwell depict­ed in 1984 (a cliché, he admits on page 174, but the “echoes” of it are “unmis­tak­able”).

Despite Greenwald’s unequiv­o­cal dec­la­ra­tion that Amer­i­ca is a tyran­ny defined by the nation­al secu­ri­ty community’s politi­cized abus­es, he can­not muster any evi­dence that this is, in fact, the case. Last Octo­ber he said that a panoply of lawyers and friends told him he could not vis­it the Unit­ed States from his home in Brazil because Amer­i­ca is such a tyran­ny that the author­i­ties would arrest him for polit­i­cal crimes. Yet when he came to the U.S. to receive a jour­nal­ism award, no one touched him. Amer­i­ca may be a tyran­ny in Greenwald’s imag­i­na­tion, but it sure does let him trav­el and speak freely any­way. (It goes with­out say­ing that Russ­ian and Chi­nese dis­si­dents are nev­er treat­ed so non­cha­lant­ly when they return home.)

In a recent inter­view on NPR, Steve Inskeep asked Glenn Green­wald if there was any evi­dence that the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency had used its mas­sive col­lec­tion capa­bil­i­ties to “black­mail peo­ple or ruin their rep­u­ta­tions, or oth­er­wise coerce and threat­en them.” He demurred at first, going on a some­what tan­gen­tial dis­cus­sion of abus­es the U.S. gov­ern­ment con­duct­ed of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens in the 1960s and 1970s. Inskeep pressed him again: was there evi­dence of abuse?

No,” Green­wald said.

This sort of hand­wav­ing is ram­pant in No Place to Hide, in which past abus­es like the CIA’s mon­i­tor­ing of domes­tic civ­il rights groups, cur­tailed by the Church Com­mit­tee decades ago through the checks and bal­ances built into the very struc­ture of the gov­ern­ment itself, are used in sup­port of charges that the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty is active­ly engaged in abus­ing cit­i­zens or vio­lat­ing the law today. By refer­ring so con­stant­ly to Frank Church, Green­wald does not prove the gov­ern­ment is out of con­trol; he rein­forces that it has sig­nif­i­cant­ly less lee­way to sur­veil and abuse cit­i­zens that it did in the ear­ly 1970s.

More­over, Green­wald has been promis­ing for a good 10 months now that the biggest, juici­est rev­e­la­tions have yet to come, but so far he’s been unable to pro­duce any evi­dence, for exam­ple, that the NSA is employed to harass polit­i­cal oppo­nents (ear­li­er in May he repeat­ed his promise). His book cer­tain­ly doesn’t have any­thing of the sort, unless he meant the unre­mark­able news that the NSA inter­cepts some inter­net routers to install track­ing bugs (bro­ken by Der Spiegel last Decem­ber).

Greenwald’s cam­paign against the NSA is defined by such slip­pery log­ic, unsup­port­able rhetoric, and dou­ble-stan­dards. In that same NPR inter­view, Green­wald allowed that no one would real­ly object to the NSA using its vast pow­ers to eaves­drop on Osama bin Laden, but his book is devot­ed to expos­ing, and thus neu­tral­iz­ing, the very tools the NSA would use to do such a thing… and that’s when he’s not attack­ing the very idea of “ter­ror­ism” as a social­ly con­struct­ed fic­tion used to per­se­cute Mus­lims.

Nowhere in his book is a straight­for­ward leg­isla­tive his­to­ry of how the NSA’s col­lec­tion pow­ers came to be — where they began, how they evolved, espe­cial­ly after 9/11, and where they are now. At one point, Green­wald asserts that the NSA began mass col­lec­tion on Amer­i­cans at the same time as the 2008 finan­cial crash as part of an elite con­spir­a­cy to oppress cit­i­zens — a non­sense claim, as the NSA has been min­ing the rich veins of meta­da­ta since at least the STELLARWIND and Trail­blaz­er pro­grams of 2001–2, to say noth­ing of broad pro­grams like ECHELON where­in the NSA gath­ered phone calls and emails in the 1990s. (It seems Pres­i­dent Obama’s elec­tion was a rad­i­cal turn­ing both for Snow­den and Green­wald, as the year 2009 seems to hold deep sig­nif­i­cance for both when explain­ing why they came to hate their own coun­try so much.)

Beyond the con­cep­tu­al lev­el, it is clear Green­wald has seen in Snowden’s doc­u­ments an oppor­tu­ni­ty to sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly attack Amer­i­can state­craft. His book, title aside, ulti­mate­ly isn’t even about Edward Snow­den — for Green­wald, Snow­den is the cipher through which he chan­nels his own hatred of the U.S. gov­ern­ment, sup­port­ed by a few dozen doc­u­ments cher­ry-picked from an archive of hun­dreds of thou­sands. This is the oth­er side of Greenwald’s and Snowden’s unspo­ken leak­ing agen­da — they aren’t as con­cerned with vio­la­tions of pri­va­cy so much as with the very act of spy­ing itself. That is why so few doc­u­ments Snow­den stole actu­al­ly relate to pri­va­cy issues, and why so many relate to meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies used to spy on ter­ror­ist groups, for­eign hack­ers, and oth­er gov­ern­ments.

When viewed as an attack on Amer­i­can spy­craft, and thus state­craft, many of Snowden’s and Greenwald’s non-pri­va­cy leaks make more sense. That’s why Snow­den released files iden­ti­fy­ing IP address­es belong­ing to China’s People’s Lib­er­a­tion Army that are mon­i­tored by the NSA. It’s why Snow­den pushed out oper­a­tional details of how the Unit­ed King­dom and the Unit­ed States tried to mon­i­tor Russ­ian offi­cials dur­ing a trade con­fer­ence (Green­wald resist­ed any call to con­demn Russia’s inva­sive mass sur­veil­lance of the Sochi Olympics). It’s why Green­wald timed his leak of NSA activ­i­ties in Brazil to dis­rupt his­toric trade talks between Pres­i­dents Dil­ma Rouss­eff and Bar­rack Oba­ma. It’s why Green­wald leaked embar­rass­ing (and often fac­tu­al­ly incor­rect) leaks about NSA activ­i­ties to coin­cide with Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry’s trips to France, Ger­many, Italy, and Fin­land.

In fact, the act of spy­ing is so out­ra­geous to Green­wald that he near­ly pre­cip­i­tat­ed a war between Aus­tralia and Indone­sia sim­ply because of the idea of a west­ern coun­try spy­ing on a non-west­ern coun­try was too abhor­rent for him to coun­te­nance. Legit­i­mate­ly oppres­sive coun­tries — like Rus­sia or Chi­na — are nev­er tar­gets for such scruti­ny or out­raged by Green­wald or Snow­den. Only Amer­i­ca and her clos­est allies deserve scruti­ny and con­dem­na­tion even though the U.S. is the only intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty in the world that is sub­ject to judi­cial, leg­isla­tive, and exec­u­tive over­sight.

Set­tling Scores

At the end of it all, one is hard-pressed to see Greenwald’s book as any­thing oth­er than self-serv­ing score-set­tling. He cer­tain­ly does not under­stand the doc­u­ments Snow­den hand­ed him (or per­haps he treats them with a delib­er­ate obtuse­ness). If he had, then he would know the dif­fer­ence between a Pow­er­Point meant to “sell” a pro­gram or capa­bil­i­ty to deci­sion-mak­ers, and a pol­i­cy memo (or project report) that actu­al­ly detailed spe­cif­ic activ­i­ties and eval­u­at­ed their out­comes.

In case after case, Green­wald demon­strates an inabil­i­ty to dis­tin­guish between a capa­bil­i­ty that could pose pri­va­cy impli­ca­tions down the road and actu­al abus­es that have already tak­en place — and that’s when he’s not ten­den­tious­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ing doc­u­ments to begin with.

Green­wald cou­ples this amateur’s view of how the NSA and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty as a whole oper­ate with a vicious, smug per­son­al agen­da against reporters. A favorite tar­get is Meet the Press’ David Gre­go­ry, who had the temer­i­ty to ask Green­wald if he had com­mit­ted a crime. Rather than plain­ly answer­ing the ques­tion (“no I did not”), he instead attacks Gre­go­ry for dar­ing to ques­tion his holy mis­sion. Jour­nal­ism, in Greenwald’s appeal­ing­ly sim­plis­tic moral uni­verse, is only legit­i­mate when it agrees with his assump­tions and behav­ior.

It’s note­wor­thy that some of the most wor­ry­ing leaks about NSA data pos­si­bly being used inap­pro­pri­ate­ly haven’t even come from Snow­den and Green­wald, again, prob­a­bly because they had no idea what they have leaked (we don’t even know how many doc­u­ments Snow­den real­ly took, and again instead of plain­ly answer­ing the ques­tion, Snow­den elides it while Green­wald mocks those who try to fig­ure it out).

For instance, when it was revealed that the DEA is using sig­nals inter­cepts in “par­al­lel con­struc­tion to nab Amer­i­cans pos­si­bly involved in nar­cotics smug­gling, the doc­u­ments came not from Snowden’s archive but from dili­gent inves­tiga­tive report­ing at Reuters.

That seems instruc­tive. Despite his con­tempt for “objec­tive” report­ing, such report­ing still holds enor­mous val­ue. Despite his years of attack­ing insid­er report­ing based on exclu­sive access to shad­owy indi­vid­u­als dol­ing out doc­u­ments to dri­ve a nar­ra­tive, Green­wald has employed the exact same tack for tak­ing down the NSA.

His crit­i­cisms come almost like clock­work now: while in his book the “good” guys are man­ly, upright, cru­sad­ing heroes, all who don’t share his world­view are snivel­ing simps to the pow­er elite, too con­cerned with their own access and priv­i­lege to both­er rock­ing the boat. This review is almost guar­an­teed to elic­it a snide com­ment about secret sources of fund­ing, hid­den agen­das, and out­right name-call­ing (a com­mon tac­tic he employs to shut down debate on his pet top­ics).

Being an ass­hole is no crime in jour­nal­ism, but being a dis­hon­est hyp­ocrite is. Green­wald is so con­vinced of his own bril­liance, and the unim­peach­able moral­i­ty of his cru­sade, that he feels no need to treat his sub­jects fair­ly. Snow­den is a saint, while the NSA is a den of scoundrels. There can be no mid­dle ground. And with this book, no mid­dle ground seems pos­si­ble — every­thing is so neat, so clear­ly por­trayed in such sim­plis­tic terms, that the very gray moral­i­ty of inter­na­tion­al rela­tions, ter­ror­ism, secu­ri­ty, and even pol­i­tics can nev­er be con­tem­plat­ed.

I envy Green­wald. The world he con­structs has an appeal­ing sim­plic­i­ty I wish I could embrace. But I’m too attached to the real world for his fan­ta­sy.

Joshua Foust is a for­mer intel­li­gence ana­lyst and for­mer jour­nal­ist. The views expressed here are his alone & unrep­re­sen­ta­tive of any employ­er past or present.