© Getty Images
A Villain Not A Hero
Snowden and the Fools Who Love Him

Edward Snowden’s exploits have been nothing more than a reckless self-indulgence with disastrous consequences. Those who still hail him as a hero only expose their own naivety about the world we all live in.

Published on: February 6, 2014
Edward Lucas is a senior editor at the Economist. The Snowden Operation is a Kindle Single, available from Amazon.
show comments
  • DiogenesDespairs

    Snowden is a whistleblower. This whistle desperately needed to be blown. We now know much of the apparatus is in place to operate a police surveillance state far beyond anything East Germany’s notorious stasi could have imagined. This under an Administration that has also shown itself capable of of conducting partisan harrassment through the IRS, signing false warrants in order to pursue Associated Press journalists doing their duty as journalists and citizens, and serially lying to the public on virtually everything from Benghazi to Obamacare and beyond.

    Parroting the NSA and its apologists, you assert the revelations have done “great harm” without showing what harm actually has been done beyond exposure. Are you seriously trying to assert that terrorist groups and other governments were not aware the US was going to great lengths to track them and have not taken countermeasures? And how does it serve the interests of Russia to go public with the revelations Snowden has made? They would surely be much better off keeping the information to themselves the better to spy on our spies, and Snowden would be better off too. If these are the kinds of assertions you are making, you insult the intelligence of your readers.

    We do know this massive spying system failed to warn against the Boston Marathon bombing which, in retrospect, might well have been prevented by good, old-fashioned legwork like, say, listening to what Russia was trying to tell us about the perpetrators. Yet we are spending untold billions on this system that would allow the government to spy on its citizens that fails to protect those same citizens. Whatever Snowdens motives might have been, we have far more to fear from the motives of our governments.

    So you have undertaken to do this hatchet job on Snowden, full of insulting insinuations meant to poison the well against anyone disagreeing with you. It says here you are a senior editor for The Economist. If so, you are an embarrassment to that fine organization. It would be nice to imagine that you are in a snit because Snowden went to The Guardian instead of The Economist. It is almost a relief to presume you are doing his out of mere venality, to peddle a book with your name on it. Any other motives I can think of for your nonsense are far worse.

    • Stacy Garvey

      Thanks for this comment. I was going to respond to the mendacity of this article but you’ve done it better than I could.
      These are the kinds of articles that drive otherwise conservative libertarians away from the “establishment” right.

    • Corlyss

      Snowden is a cyberterrorist and a traitor who should bear the full weight of the Constitutional proscriptions against treason.

    • LivingRock

      “Parroting the NSA and its apologists, you assert the revelations have done “great harm” without showing what harm actually has been done beyond exposure.”

      What do you want? Dead Americans, an attack? The author makes clear in the piece the harm caused. It has to be assumed that all intelligence and intelligence gathering methods Snowden may have had access to is breached. A huge set back. They’ll have to plan and rebuild information gathering apparatuses. It’s a bit like with US deployment of Stuxnet against the Iranian nuclear program; it set back years of Iraninan developmental work. Did Iranians die, was the country directly militarily attacked in the traditional bombs and bullets sense? Of course not, but significant damage was done. Welcome to modern world of defense.

      “And how does it serve the interests of Russia to go public with the revelations Snowden has made? They would surely be much better off keeping the information to themselves the better to spy on our spies, and Snowden would be better off too.”

      Snowden’s stolen intelligence going public serves Russia by exposing U.S. vulnerabilities. It’s humiliating that such as breach would occur which diminishes U.S. power, and it has turned elements of the U.S. populous against it’s own intelligence gathering agencies. Divide and conquer, if you will. And just because the intelligence is public, who says the Russians couldn’t still use the information tactically?

      “Yet we are spending untold billions on this system that would allow the government to spy on its citizens that fails to protect those same citizens.”

      You cite the Boston bombing and call the NSA a failure in intelligence gathering and use. Not convincing, personally. Do think every instance the NSA intelligence gathering serves national security they’re going to come out and take a victory lap and tell world how they did it?

  • Andrew Allison

    What’s really disappointing is that The American Interest would publish such clearly self-promotional rubbish. As DiogenesDespairs writes below, the unconstitutional surveillance of US citizens (which has not been shown to prevent a single act of terrorism) needed to be exposed.

    • Corlyss

      You guys who think this, not just you, Andrew, but the lot of you, are as naïve as the article suggests. On top of that, you obviously don’t know the facts of the situation, the NSA program, and a host of operations that keep this country and you safer than you would be if they didn’t exist. Because you don’t see the upside, you’re in no position to judge any more than if you were a financial analyst asked for his opinion on how the supercollider works. Ignorance that massive ought to be a tad more humble.
      I’ve been thru this unilateral disarmament rubbish after the Church committee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_committee)wreaked havoc on American intelligence gathering with their fatuous, kindergarten view of the world and how America should play nice with everyone. I doubt the country could survive one more encounter like that.

      • Andrew Allison

        Corlyss, I fear that you missed the point which I was careful to make, namely that is the unwarranted (in both senses) surveillance of US citizens to which I (and others like me) object. Just to be be absolutely clear, as far as I’m concerned the rest of the world is fair game.

  • mgoodfel

    It is, as you say, “fatuous” to assume that only Snowden could break into the NSA in this way. If he can do it, what makes you think there aren’t more conventional spies there?

    It is also fatuous to think that if the NSA has compromised Google’s data centers, has broken encryption technologies, etc., that no one else will use these backdoors to spy on us.

    It is fatuous to think that there will never be another Nixon who uses operatives to dig up information on his political opponents. Or another J. Edgar Hoover who uses the powers of his agency to spy on civil rights campaigners. Or that the NSA and other agencies are all staffed by saints and geniuses.

    It is fatuous to turn the internet into a weapon, directed mostly not at terrorists but at law abiding members of the public world wide, and then assume that weapon will never be misused.

    I hope this is a wakeup call to the technology industry. Stop ignoring security or doing it as an add-on to finished products. We need a serious rethink of how communications and program execution is done in operating systems. We need to lock these things down tight, keeping both the good and bad actors out of our lives.

  • mc

    “Yet an accelerated American withdrawal from Europe would benefit only Russia.” Oh, but it would also benefit the US. With both Germany and France returning to the age-old fantasy of mid-sized powers, dreaming of their “day in the sun”, and with naive Euro-leftists everywhere blind to the continent’s vulnerabilities, there isn’t much hope that our recent pattern of relations with Europe can continue.

    The US has the power to demand passenger lists and to negotiate fair trade deals. Aside from counter-terrorism and trade, both of which can be dealt with by a few hundred officials, what is the point of an American hegemony desired by nobody?. The burdens we took up so expensively and riskily–to the point of exposing ourselves to instant annihilation for the sake of European security–we can and should set down. I agree about Snowden, but if the consequences compel all parties to reexamine their relationships realistically putting up with him will have been worth it.

  • lord acton

    You are joking right? So this was the first guy to steal the keys to the kingdom? Really? How many guys in the pay of the Russians, the Chinese, the Saudis, the Israelis……I could go on and on, did exactly what Snowden did and only communicated with their foreign employer instead of the Guardian, the Washington Post and the rest of the worlds media. Do you honestly believe that Snowden revealed anything that our enemies did not already know? Who is naive exactly here??

    • Corlyss

      Yes. I do.

    • DiogenesDespairs

      Thank you for your comment. Of course, you are absolutely right, if this relatively low-level employee of an outside contractor can get access to this data, then certainly the sophisticated spying apparati of Russia, China, Israel, probably Iran and every other country that wishes to be involved in international espionage knows at least as much and possibly much more than what Snowden has lifted.

  • Lyle7

    I’m in full agreement with you. People have lost their minds. They’ve either traveled too little around the world or are just plain ignorant. The man didn’t have the competence to hack the material himself. He needed passwords. And then he up and runs to the sanctuary of authoritarian China and now is the guest of the dictator Putin. Some hero of liberty Snowden is.

    He needs to come home and fact the music. Then the hero worshipping can at least begin to make sense. Snowden is no Martin Luther King or Mandela though. Just a fool.

    • mgoodfel

      If you wanted a refuge from the U.S. government, where would you go?

      The country needs to not have an extradition agreement with the U.S., and it needs to be big enough to tell us to piss off, and not give into the overwhelming pressure we could bring to bear. That doesn’t leave a lot of choices.

      • Lyle7

        If he’s an American hero, why is he running away from America? Why run, if he’s so right about it all? Seriously, he’s no hero like MLK or Mandela. They didn’t run. They stood up and fought.

        • mgoodfel

          From what I’ve read, he would not be allowed to defend himself at a trial. He wouldn’t be able to talk about what he revealed (since it’s secret) and so whether it was constitutional, or whether it even did damage. The trial would be “did he reveal classified documents?” and would be over in no time.

          So if he stays here, he’s going to jail for life. Kind of a high price to pay for warning the country about what’s being done in our name.

          And you can say, “well, that’s the price. He swore an oath.” But do you really want a Defense Department or NSA full of yes-men who just do what they’re told, even if they think it’s illegal and stupid?

          • Lyle7

            Kind of a high price to pay? Not a high price if he’s to be some kind of secular hero. If he’s in this for liberty in the United States he needs to come back to United States and be the hero you all want him to be.

            Why in God’s name would you want to worship a characterless man who won’t stand up for what he believes in? He’s in freaking Russia at the behest of a dictator. How cowardly and stupid of him.

            Furthermore, he intentionally sought work with the NSA to steal secrets. The oath he gave was in bad faith. He wasn’t in it to serve his country, but to steal from his country and inflict damage on it in ways he’s too stupid to comprehend.

  • Fat_Man

    Snowden might be a villain. He might even be a Russian asset as some have conjectured. But neither of those considerations make the NSA into good guys, or, what is more pertinent, a prudent use of the taxpayers’ hard earned money.

    The amount spent on the NSA has not produced much in the way of results. Several of their practices, such as:

    “Parallel Construction Revealed: How The DEA Is Trained To Launder Classified Surveillance Info”


    Are disturbing and possibly unconstitutional.

    Furthermore, the mere fact that Snowden could do what he did, even if he did have assistance from foreign security services is a real black mark on the professionalism and competence of the NSA and the whole intelligence apparatus.

    Neither the administration, which is, as in most things, slow walking and back filling, nor Congress, which cannot get out of its own way, has done much to ensure that the public has been properly informed of the scope of the actions of the intelligence agencies, that their charters are revised so as to be consistent with the Constitution, and that the agencies are subject to meaningful oversight in the future.

    • Corlyss

      “But neither of those considerations make the NSA into good guys, or, what is more pertinent, a prudent use of the taxpayers’ hard earned money.”
      If you have an effective alternative that protects Americans from the bad guys any better AND achieves meaningful Constitutionally protected privacy Heaven at the same time, you should alert the NSA.

      • mgoodfel

        Your argument that there are bad guys out there, so we have to trash the 4th amendment, could be used to justify anything. Where’s the line for you? What *aren’t* you willing to give up out of fear?

  • Tom_Tildrum

    “People around the world are shocked at the revelation of secret NSA operations that Americans should have known all along were happening!”

    For all his outrage, you’d think Lucas could at least try to cover up the self-contradictions in his argument

  • John Wondra

    The author ignores two basic facts that cast any analysis of Snowden’s “damage” in a light different than the one he perceives.
    1st, our most secretive and intrusive intelligence agencies were penetrated and robbed of their deepest secrets by a naïf; a relatively uneducated, unscreened, half-trained subcontractor’s employee. Even if all he got were email addresses, this unforgivable lack of internal security should make the author wonder what an experienced, focused spy or hacker can get, or already got but isn’t telling! Heads other than Snowden’s should have been rolling for months.
    2nd, the NSA is charged with FOREIGN “sigint” and surveillance; yet it appears that much of their work was conducted without regard for the privacy of American Citizens, even to the extent of lying to the courts set up to prevent such and to the Congressional committees charged with oversight. If they cannot perform their functions within the bounds of the law, then the law or the agency needs to be changed; but their actions are still unlawful until that occurs.
    I don’t see Snowden as a villain or a saint, but as a symptom of the lack of respect for our laws and inherent rights that has taken root in our government, all under the façade of “homeland security.” How are we better off in these circumstances than if it was an enemy or ally trampling citizen’s inalienable rights? We’d be close to war then; so why not declare war on internal lawlessness under the guise of “security?”

  • midasear

    Whether Snowden is a traitor or a whistle-blower is completely besides the point.

    The NSA’s internal security procedures are so lax that a high-school dropout with a history of erratic behavior, while working for an agency subcontractor, was able to gain access to 100s of thousands of documents containing extraordinarily damaging foreign intelligence information, then slip out of the country while excerpts from that information were being published in a foreign newspaper. And we are supposed to believe that the NSA zealously guards against misuse of its database of domestic communications because…well why, exactly?

    Even if Snowden is a bad, bad guy, the mere fact that someone like him was able to access so much of the NSA’s crown jewels has very disturbing implications for civil liberties. For every Snowden on the payroll, there might be a score of highly partisan people who think “sharing” information with their political party’s op researchers is just dandy, maybe dozens who think sharing “anonymous tips” with law enforcement is perfectly ok, and many more who cannot resist snooping on neighbors, ex-girlfriends and the cop who wrote them a speeding ticket.

    These concerns might be overblown. _IF_ we had some assurance that the NSA was subject to serious oversight. But the fact that the NSA’s director has been caught lying while testifying before congress, and still has his job, indicates that’s not the case.

  • While Snowden’s actions are not above criticism, this critique is hysterical, wildly imbalanced and too infected by the author’s “suspicion” to be of any value.

  • rdevaughn

    This guy is clearly an establishment shill, ignoring months of revelations, sparked by Snowden, and confirmed by the FISA courts, Congressional Oversight, and Federal Courts.

  • Todd Rossman

    Mr. Lukas,

    The court jester’s function was that there would be at least one person who could make criticisms of the king without being beheaded.

    That aside, it would be fun to watch you in the same room with the former intelligence and US law enforcement officials who have become critics of government surveillance programs and awarded Snowden the Sam Adams prize for integrity in intelligence.



    A senior F.B.I. official said on Sunday that it was still the bureau’s conclusion that Mr. Snowden acted alone.



    The argumentation uses the “you are either with us or against us” vein or reasoning which is fallible and disappointing.

    The statement that the Internet is American-made would be seen by people in the IT industry as ludicrous and belittles contributions from France, Germany, UK and various European institutions. Understanding TCP/IP means it would work with carrier pigeon if need be and is a way of doing things with networks. Saying that China and Russian are trying to control the Internet is absurd as to think the US is controlling it.

    Entrusting global digital security to a few separated unaccountable government agencies has an incredibly disastrous potential and is as foolhardy as allowing food standards in trade to not be enforced in an open system. From experience in beta-tested digital monetary transactions over the Internet in ’95, I would like to remind that those ATM fee are properly billed via by a system of *trust*, as is all commerce, scientific work, etc. While encryption and intelligence agencies determined WW2’s outcome, it can be considered a “munition”, do we want to be pulled into some digital arms race type of mentality, (which is quite Old School in game theory)?


    Mr Lukas, there are few organization like Amnesty International that are supranational in the rock-paper-scissors game of authority or hegemony & have have a moral high ground. InfoSec is used in the “Control, Communicate & Command” triad of strict hierarchies such as military, government, and global business security. Information is power: the more detailed, timely, & available it is, the more control can be executed.

    When I made Zimmerman’s PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) available via the Internet in ’95, I sided with Free Speech. This is the ability to encrypt messages at a military-industrial grade level) made available to individuals. If the FBI would have had their way in courts, I could have been also tried for treason or such, regardless of moral high ground. My personal conscience dictated that the same totalitarian forces that manifested in Latvia could mutate or adapt and come back stronger – with technology. The answer to this is to empower individuals, the building block of any civil society with modern day Promethean “munitions” of encryption. Certainly it will be abused, just as a child can do arson. Btw, in 1992 I was 30, Snowden’s age, when I went to Latvia and taught Political Science, Philosophy and English, Americans asked me why I would go to the Soviet Union (is wasn’t quite “former” then), hammer & sickle troops with cocked kalashnikovs met us at Riga’s Spilve Airport. De facto soviet governance and possible “return” to a new “democratic” CIS was looming then. I worked on Radio Latvija. Your questions seem so ,,nomenklatua”-like. Why was I fleeing to the Soviet Union, teaching about the failures of democracy to a budding democracy? (- To ensure democracy!) Why is Snowden telling us about the failures of international security and surveillance then…?

    Snowden’s whistleblowing serve two functions: to make individuals more aware of digital privacy and the safe guards required; make aware the public of the systemic abuses that have no oversight by citizens, the general public or for global human rights.

    Negatively put, how could one usurp an international child pornography ring if it was in piggy-backing in some government security force? Or constructively, how can international system of trust be enhanced, despite that our global fiefdoms are engaging in a Mad Magazine “Spy versus Spy” style like behavior, using up valuable resources?

    It’s not merely a question of who is observing whom and why, but who is preserving and respecting privacy and how. I stand by Snowden, journalists who report about international security and privacy rights, democracy and electronic freedom.


    Since you take on an adversarial argumentative stance, I would like to ask that arm-chair foreign policy experts please come back to the real world of wanting to send a loved one an email without having a third party intercepting it, of paying bills while not wrecking the environment (& using up resources for “defense spending” in doing so), and lighten up a little.

  • Scott Locklin

    Lucas, of course, is of the obnoxious “let’s stick our thumb in Russia’s eye” party presently trying to start WW-3 in Kiev, so … I dunno, we can all enjoy cheap blinis and Shengen-area Ukrainian prostitutes or whatever the excuse is. Lucas is also not a US Citizen, and so, what is to be done with Ed Snowden is certainly none of his damn business. You limey gits may not have a Fourth Amendment, but we do.

    As for the clown car of intelligence agency apparatchiks burbling about “if you only knew how our heroic NSA spies saaaave you all,” -you lot remind me of the dorky virgins in high school who would tell us about their imaginary girlfriends two cities over. I’m sorry: show us the money. “Sources and methods” is no excuse, now that they’ve been exposed. Surely if these programs are of towering importance, and Snowden damaged something important, you could tell us what awesome dangers you have saved us from in the past. If some Paultard in a hoodie got all that data from you, I can only imagine how many incredibly obvious green card spies you have within your ranks. The difference between Snowden and them: Snowden released the information to the public: not his handlers. Even if he was recruited, trained and paid by the Russians: he still did us a big favor.

  • Jim Olson

    Oh, you will win a lot of open minded converts with that title. No I didn’t read the article, the title says it all.

  • Rodrigo Castalan

    To Summarize:
    Yes, various arms and agents of the US government may be consistently and deeply betraying the rights and privacy of the citizens whose rights it is the entire purpose of their job to protect, and that “concerns” Mr. Lucas. (READ: That does not concern Mr. Lucas. He does not care in the slightest.)

    But, think about the right to privacy of the government, which is so clearly established in the Constitution! Right?! There is that, right?!


  • Dingowatt

    “The Atlantic Alliance was already in a parlous state before the Snowden revelations. Now anti-Americanism in Germany and other European countries is ablaze.”

    Most of the world hated America long before anyone ever heard of Edward Snowden. A lot of that has to do with our 13 year-long war in Afghanistan, our unnecessary war with Iraq and our often-expressed willingness to attack Iran for Israel.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.