No Place to Hide: Glenn Greenwald

No Place to Hide

I just completed a very interesting and frankly troubling book, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State”, by Glenn Greenwald (copyright 2014). Glenn Greenwald is the reporter who broke the Edward Snowden story about NSA surveillance.

The book tells the story of how Greenwald was contacted by Snowden, how their relationship developed, and how Snowden ultimately convinced Greenwald to publish Snowden’s information concerning the depth and breadth of NSA surveillance activities.

The “behind the scenes” story about Edward Snowden, his personality and state of mind, his motivations to risk martyrdom as a whistleblower against possibly the most powerful spy agency in the world, and the struggle to evade detection and capture, is fascinating. Greenwald’s disclosures about NSA surveillance capabilities, infrastructure, and the massive and pervasive nature of their spying activities against both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens is both fascinating and shocking. Greenwald takes great care to explain the technology of surveillance and hacking, and also the legal and political framework under which the NSA conducts its activities.

Spying and surveillance is as old as human civilization, as is war, prostitution, deceit, corruption, and many other undesirable human vices. The value of surveillance as a strategic advantage and a tool for prevention or interdiction of wrongful acts is not in question. However, moral limits must be observed to protect the rights of innocent citizens, and the US should also recognize rights of non-US citizens.

The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution clearly states “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The evidence presented in this book appears to resolutely demonstrate that the NSA, acting under the authority of both the Bush and Obama administrations, violated these Fourth Amendment rights both willfully, pervasively, and egregiously.

Greenwald succeeded in prosecuting his case concerning excessive and intrusive NSA surveillance. I believe that Greenwald also succeeded in both defining and defending Snowden’s motivation as a whistleblower in the tradition of Daniel Ellsberg’s disclosure of the Pentagon Papers (published in the New York Times in 1971). However, I am still not convinced that Snowden gave due consideration to other options to address the wrongful acts of the NSA.

Both Greenwald and Snowden clearly believe in the right and responsibility of a free press to investigate and disclose alleged wrongdoings. However, in this case, I am not convinced that widespread publication was the first and best option. Snowden never availed himself of other options, such as taking his evidence to an elected representative such as a Senator or Representative. The US Congress has 535 voting members, many of whom would have been receptive and responsive to Snowden’s considerable evidence.

Public disclosure was a nuclear option which placed Snowden in the position of judge, jury, and executioner of the NSA, and which ultimately has had little real impact on the NSA’s ongoing surveillance. Snowden’s self-righteous motivations may have been just, but I believe his actions are still subject to criticism.

Frank T.

Flashpoints: George Friedman 2015


Last week I finished reading the book “Flashpoints — The Emerging Crisis in Europe” by George Friedman (published 2015). I found Friedman’s book to be a fascinating and insightful review of the long history of conflict and political fragmentation of the European peninsula.

Friedman brings the story of Europe to life by weaving his own family history into the narrative. Friedman’s family are Eastern European Jews who struggled to survive during the 31 years conflict spanning the two World Wars. However, I was most impressed by the fast that Friedman was able to maintain a very dispassionate and unbiased viewpoint despite the terrible tragedies through which his family and the entire European Jewish community suffered.

Friedman provides a great depth and breadth of historical facts to help the reader to understand and interpret the current events and conflicts in Europe. I found a conclusion by Normal Angell (1933 Nobel Peace Prize winner) in his 1909 book “The Great Illusion” to be especially noteworthy, because it echoes commonly held views within the modern community. Angell argued that “war in Europe had become impossible due to the intense level of interdependence between European countries in investments and trade.” I count myself as among the many people who find it difficult to believe that major war could break out today between western countries, or between the West and China, India, and/or Russia precisely because the resulting economic disruption and devastation  should obviously make such a war unthinkable and therefore impossible. However, just five years after Angell published his book, Europe became embroiled in total war which was ultimately to last 31 years through the end of WW2, resulting in more than 100 million deaths.

Friedman concludes that today the European flashpoint are on the frontier of the EU, but the EU itself is crumbling. He opines that there are four European Unions: the German States (Germany and Austria), the rest of northern Europe, the Mediterranean states, and the states in the Russian borderland. Each of these four regions experiences reality in a different way, and the differences are irreconcilable. “… the idea that Europe has moved beyond using armed conflict to settle its issues is a fantasy. It was not true in the past generation, and it will remain untrue in the future.”

Friedman concludes his book with the following observation: “Humans do not fight wars because they are fools or haven’t learned a lesson. They know the pain that is coming. They fight because they must, because reality has forced them to do so. The Europeans are still human, and they will still encounter terrible choices like those that others face and that they have faced in the past. They will have to choose between war and peace, and as in the past, they will at times choose war. Nothing has ended. For humans nothing significant is ever over.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and highly recommend it.

Frank T.