I want to open this review by saying that I hope the NSA enjoys my review as much as I enjoyed writing it.
No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State is a powerful read for a multitude of reasons. Greenwald shines the light on some of the most damning actions of the NSA in a post 9/11 America that were taken in the name of public safety while examining it in the context of what has become the U.S. Surveillance State. Greenwald also takes the time to tell Edward Snowden’s story, a figure who has become so controversial that he has overshadowed the leaks that brought him to prominence in the first place. Although I’m sure that the Government isn’t upset by that one bit. Greenwald also takes the time to share his own story and the criticism that he has received after working with Snowden.
Greenwald opens the book by telling how he got to meet Snowden and receive all the confidential information that would soon cause an upheaval in the intelligence community and public at large. We get to meet Snowden from the point of the view of the man who would soon make him one of the most infamous figures in recent history.
The meat of the book is contained within the discussion of some of the NSA’s most damning programs that Greenwald shares with readers in the middle of the book. Programs like PRISM and the NSA eavesdropping programs are breathtaking for the volume of information that the Government is collecting on it’s citizens alone. This coupled with the lack of transparency and accountability is a sad realization of just how far our government has gone down the rabbit hole in a post 9/11 world. Our Government has taken to collecting information on American citizens like a Pokemon trainer in the Safari Zone, gotta collect it all.
Greenwald’s chapter about the harm that the Surveillance State apparatus has caused is also worth reading. The devaluing of privacy in the digital age with the complete backing of some of the major social media companies we use every day really reframes the debate. Nothing to hide quickly becomes no place to hide when you decide to take a position that goes against the current views of the Government. As cliche as it sounds, it all quickly becomes Big Brother as the activist community is hindered by the possible existence of being spied on alone. Greenwald also argues that our current apparatus actually makes fighting terrorism harder, a point I am inclined to agree with. Especially in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and the countless other events that despite all of this collection of volume, the Government has failed to stop countless times.
The last chapter of the book is perhaps Greenwald’s most damning in a book that already causes quite the stir. Greenwald discusses the “Fourth Estate” or the media and how the establishment media is in bed with the U.S. Government when it comes to information. Government leaks aren’t okay when Greenwald does it, but it’s okay when Bob Woodward does it or when Administration officials leak things to the media to gain some sort of interest. Greenwald quickly pokes holes in the argument that leaks are uncommon and extremely damaging by pointing out that the number of leaks in Washington on a regular basis could replace the Mississippi River.
What is perhaps most stunning out of this book is not the actions of the U.S. Government, in fact, their actions for better or worse are the easiest to understand and most rational of any of the actors in this book. The U.S. Government has control and wishes to keep it by collecting information because they realize information is power. It’s not ethical as we’ve seen and can be dangerous, but it makes sense. Instead, the most appalling thing in this book is the attempt by mainstream journalists to cut Greenwald out of the discussion by trying to completely redefine what a journalist is, instead using terms like activist or blogger to discredit him among others. It’s a very dangerous road to be walking down, but the mainstream media such as the New York Times and Washington Post just don’t walk down it but tap dance alongside the U.S. Government.
Corporate Journalism in a Post 9/11 world is one of the scariest things as Greenwald quickly proves. The idea that journalism has to be objective when current journalism serves one interest or another is a complete joke. One of the few institutions that people should be able to rely on and trust comes off as trustworthy as Congress around budget season (or any season for that matter).
My only real problems with this book is that Greenwald can be a bit preachy at times, and I would have liked to see more discussion of NSA documents. I feel like while they were stories worth telling, Greenwald’s amount of focus on his and Snowden’s story has the effect of taking away a bit the conclusions of what was leaked. On a more minor note, I can believe the stories in this book because Greenwald acts fairly stupid at times. He blows Snowden off for months (which he admits), but he jumps on Skype immediately after reading in one of the leak documents how it’s compromised as a way to privately talk to someone as a way to contact The Guardian about this story. Later, apparently not having learned his lesson, Greenwald once again jumps on Skype to talk with his partner David about possibly sending over documents to David’s laptop (which he never did) and David’s laptop goes missing. I understand technology can be a bit difficult to understand at first to those who are a bit older, but this amounts to plain stupidity.
It doesn’t matter if you’re Liberal, Conservative, Tea Party, Progressive, Socialist, Libertarian, or some mixture of one or all of the following, read this book. No matter what your background might be, the stories and conclusions of this book should make the hair on any American’s arms stand up.