Glenn Greenwald is not just a reporter of facts. He is a tireless advocate for what the facts reveal and the implications for American and global citizens.
The revelations he published a year ago in The Guardian – unveiling the extent of the NSA's collection of communications in all digital forms of U.S. citizens and foreign leaders – was a bombshell that reverberated throughout the world. Greenwald's new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (Metropolitan Books), details the NSA operations, as well as the personal drama of contact, and then partnership, with Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor. The two ultimately disseminate the documents and tell the story of what those documents reveal about an agency overstepping its authority.
The first part of No Place to Hide reads like a thriller, narrating the high tension and frantic arrangements in the months leading up to a week-long meeting in a Hong Kong hotel room between Snowden and the author, an investigative journalist for The Guardian. Joining the two were a second journalist, Ewen MacAskill, who'd been at the paper for 20 years, and Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker. What follows is the now familiar tale of the conversion of a young Snowden who joins the military believing his efforts are patriotic to the nation, to an operative who ultimately believes he is acting as a patriot in service to the people.
Snowden, after his military service, begins his intelligence career as a security guard, works his way up in the CIA, NSA and among defense contractors to become an expert in cyber security. But troubled by the extent of the NSA's surveillance activities and questioning the program's legality, he eventually reaches a saturation point and decides to bring the agency's agenda to light. It's the nation that's gone rogue, Greenwald asserts, not the messenger.
In this book (and throughout his career), Greenwald relentlessly reminds us of the principles on which this nation was founded. His passionate advocacy aims to retrain our minds that these ideals – codified in the Constitution – matter. His argument, lucidly laid out, is a call to reason. It is, as well, a fearless affront to authority, especially an authority squandering its agenda on a scheme more dastardly than that of any Bond villain. Greenwald has little patience for the NSA's PR machine asserting its pretext, mainly the fight against terrorism, and chews right through its veneer to expose the deception.
He spends the second half of the book building a convincing argument of what all the documents portend: namely, that surveillance of this magnitude is an offense to this nation's guiding principles of liberty and the guarantees of privacy. These activities, he says, are a bloated abuse of power. They don't just steal the American conscience – distracting resources while self-perpetuating a ravenous bureaucratic hydra – but squander the American agenda into a cesspool of mismanaged, and ultimately inefficient and counter-productive, programs. The problem, as he sees it, is:
"…that there are far too many power factions with a vested interest in the fear of terrorism: the government, seeking justification for its actions; the surveillance and weapons industries, drowning in public funding; and the permanent power factions in Washington, committed to setting their priorities without real challenge."
But, Greenwald's probing raises important questions that may not be so easily resolved. Is it too late for anyone to care? Have we become so immune to the abuse of authority that this reasoned explication will fall on deaf ears?
Greenwald, formerly a Constitutional lawyer, lays out his exegesis as if to convince a jury, presenting arguments to counter every possible opponent. For those who argue that their own good behavior, for example, makes them immune from government intrusion, he counters: "...the true measure of a society's freedom is how it treats its dissidents and other marginalized groups, not how it treats its good loyalists."
And, his campaign not only targets the government, but the mainstream media which, he says, is often barely more than a mouthpiece for the elite. He cites numerous examples, particularly the practice of cowering at the possibility of legal problems, necessitating running items past government clearinghouses for approval.
Greenwald saves his loudest challenge for the current administration, which, he points out, has ramped up prosecution of whistleblowers and equated "adverserial investigative journalism with a crime."
This book is particularly satisfying because it unfolds like an algebra equation, positing a problem and then laying out a reasoned solution. The author's intent becomes quite clear early on: To pursuade the reader that confronting entrenched systems is vital to the democratic process, and the creativity of its citizens is stymied by surveillance – all so as to keep a ruling elite in power.
Ultimately, No Place to Hide, like all Greenwald's writing, is a call for critical thinking. It advocates for principles and ideals that even the most liberal among us have let fade from our lives amidst our own personal struggles.