The Return of Edward Snowden
August 8, 2013
I am not speaking of the Edward Snowden who for recent weeks sat married to a lounge chair in the Moscow airport. He sat alone, we are told, without the warm companionship of any FSB or Russian military agents. The Russians say they are not interested in whatever secret US data Snowden carries in his head, laptop, thumb drive, or carryon. So claimed the Chinese when Snowden first graced Singapore with his presence. Vladimir Putin described Snowden as an “unwelcome Christmas gift.” I think our clever, old KGB leader Putin peeked inside his “gift.” The fate of this unremarkable, self-centered person of little world experience, and even less judgment, has sealed his own fate. He is history. I am talking about the next Edward Snowden (him or her), the one we haven’t yet met.
Why predict another Snowden? Our country has secrets. Lots of them. Always has, always will. Like every technologically advanced country, we spy on our friends as well as our enemies. This work requires secrecy. If we have partners in a spying project, they need to have faith in our ability to safely maintain secret data. The Edward Snowdens’ of this world eviscerate this faith and cause other intelligence agencies to shy away from partnering with an unreliable secret keeper.
The next Edward Snowden has probably already been hired. He or she will convince himself or herself the end justifies the means. They will enjoy an unearned power knowing our innermost secrets. We have no tests to determine who will abuse trust in the future. But, it will happen. Others will encourage the new Snowdens to reveal what they know for the “good” of the country, mankind, or whatever it takes. The new Snowdens will sit alone in judgment of their country believing they are one of the few who understand. They will reveal secrets, they will have 15 minutes of fame, they will go to jail, the media will explore and entertain, and our country will suffer great harm.
Because we have secrets, many secrets, this cycle cannot be avoided. We don’t have to accept it, but we need to recognize the problem. It is difficult at best to keep all our secrets safely locked up in a cyber-coral. There are rustlers out there, but we need to try.