Book Summary of “Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden: an eventful first-person account of the man who stood up to the U.S. Intelligence Community and revealed to the world the widespread surveillance program he himself had helped shape.
By Edward Snowden, 2019 (French translation), 449 p.
Review and Summary of “Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden
About Edward Snowden
Everyone is familiar with his name — or at least has heard it mentioned in passing –but were you aware that this man’s revelations prompted the creation of the European GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation)? And do you remember in 2013 when he came to public attention for revealing a system of widespread surveillance under US control? An Orwellian nightmare in the making? When fiction becomes reality…
Edward Snowden is an American born on June 21, 1983, in North Carolina. He was 22 when he began working for the CIA and the NSA. Seven years later, he decided to become a whistleblower. What made him do it? Well, you’ll have to read the book “Permanent Record” – or this review – to find out!
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States – and more specifically the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – revamped its intelligence policy. Information technology proved instrumental in such transformation, making it possible to move from targeted to generalized surveillance.
Edward Snowden, a passionate and gifted ‘techno-geek,’ was hired as an IT surveillance specialist during this period, when he was still in his early twenties. His role: to take part in the creation of a global network for accumulating and accessing data of all kinds.
It was at the age of 29 that he realized what he was contributing to. As a result, he decided to reveal the activities of the NSA and CIA to the press. Why did he do this? For ethical reasons, to protect freedom over the Internet, and last but not least, out of political activism: no citizen – American or otherwise – had voted for such a mass surveillance program.
[I’m convinced that a country’s freedom can only be judged by how it respects the rights of its citizens, which define the limits of state power and specify when a government is prohibited to encroach on individual freedoms. This is what we called ‘freedom’ during the American Revolution, and what we call today, in the age of the Internet revolution, ‘privacy.’] (Permanent Record)
Six years after his revelations (in 2013), Snowden decided to write this book. Not exactly a cakewalk considering that he wanted to guarantee both the privacy of his loved ones and the secrets that governments do have the right to keep (the identities of intelligence agents, for example).
Part One of “Permanent Record“
1. Looking Through the Window
At the age of six, Edward Snowden already knew how to deal with machines, just as he knew how to act in defiance: one night, he decided to delay the clocks in his home to fool his parents, who wanted to put him to bed too early for his liking.
Born in 1983, he was a child who grew up with the Internet, but who also experienced the world before its emergence. In the past, data was recorded on tangible objects (a VHS cassette, paper, etc.). Today, more and more information is produced in digital format.
Thanks to a multitude of protocols (such as HTTP, IMAP, or FTP, to name but a few), this digital data is uploaded to the network, where it can be duplicated and browsed for a potentially indefinite period of time.
The youngest son of a North Carolina family, Edward Snowden is part of a close-knit family: father, mother, and older sister. He is proud to describe his family as American and even patriotic. His mother, he says, has direct origins with the Mayflower migrants.
From his bedroom “window” – a kind of skylight that overlooked the living room of the house – Snowden would watch his father bring home bizarre technological gadgets. The first to fascinate him was a Commodore 64, with its Arkanoid, Tetris, and Choplifer games. This would mark the beginning of his passion for computers.
2. The Invisible Wall
Thanks to his attentive parents, little Edward received a solid education, divided between reading books borrowed from the library, applied mathematics (with the purchase of toys), and an introduction to new technologies.
Yet he claims to have learned his most important lesson from… Nintendo’s NES. He loved adventure and board games. However, Super Mario Bros – or more precisely, that invisible wall on the left of the screen that forces the little character to keep moving forward – taught him about time and death!
At the same time, his father, an engineer and coastguard, encouraged him to repair machines and take a greater interest in computers and programming, which came to fascinate him more than video games…
”Like so many smart, tech-inclined kids, I would come to believe that the fact that a set of perfectly written commands could perform the same operation over and over again was the one stable saving truth of our generation.” (Permanent Record,)
3. Beltway Boy
Edward Snowden moved to Maryland at the age of nine. Although this change meant a promotion for his parents, Snowden initially had some difficulty adjusting to his new situation.
The NSA is headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland. Edward Snowden even claims that the land belonged to his distant cousins! Interestingly, the Snowdens were numerous and famous in this region for several centuries.
Edward Snowden’s mother found a new job at the NSA. This was actually quite common in these parts, where most of the inhabitants were civil servants (embassies, agencies, ministries, etc.).
In fact, the place was a kind of “monoculture,” says the author in retrospect: a monoculture where everyone kept a certain secrecy about their work activities.
“It’s a place where the ‘monoculture’ is very similar to that of Silicon Valley, with the difference being, however, that over there, we didn’t manufacture technologies but the government itself.” (Permanent Record)
4. American Online
Between the ages of ten and twelve, Edward Snowden had only one passion: computers. He hogged the PC his father had bought for the family and became an expert. He would spend all his time playing games such as Loom and would become ecstatic the first time he connected to the Internet.
From his teens onwards, the Web would be his playground. He was insatiable when it came to learning all about his passion, from the most technical to the most entertaining. Back then – before 2000 - the Internet resembled a joyful, creative, and open-ended hodgepodge, where contributors wanted above all to inform.
The proliferation of pseudonyms on discussion forums, for example, ensured that people were not stigmatized, and facilitated learning. This ability to assume several “selves” enabled Snowden to evolve, very quickly and very young, in this computer world.
Here’s how Edward Snowden characterizes hacking, after explaining that those who create rules (at school, in IT, in politics, everywhere) have no reason to go against their interest – and therefore tend to abuse the power conferred upon them:
“Hacking comes to be with the understanding that there is a systemic link between input and output, between cause and effect. Hacking isn’t unique to IT; it exists wherever there are rules. To hack a system, you need to know its rules better than those who define or apply them and exploit the tenuous distance between how the initial system was intended to work and how it actually works or can be implemented. By taking advantage of these unintended uses, hackers are not so much breaking the rules as discrediting them.” (Permanent Record)
During his college years, Edward Snowden didn’t shy away from “hacking ” the school. He exploited loopholes to give himself maximum freedom – i.e., not to do his homework. In his spare time, he made a name for himself as a hacker.
His hacking activities led him to report to the Las Alamos Nuclear Research Laboratory that their site was vulnerable, earning him his first job offer, which as a high-school teenager he had to turn down.
In high school, Edward Snowden didn’t do too much. Not only because he spent hours in front of the screen, but also because his family was falling apart: his parents divorced, and his older sister left for university.
The young man withdrew into himself, blaming himself for the situation. This was an opportunity for him to invent a new personality that was more mature, more reflective, and more that of an adult. It was at this point, however, that he contracted mononucleosis.
He narrowly avoided being held back a year by going straight into undergraduate studies at the nearby Anne Arundel University. Eventually, life resumed its course after his illness, and he managed, some time later, to graduate from high school.
Edward Snowden drew an important lesson from this period:
Changes are mundane and human. Memories are fixed; they are a snapshot of a person in motion. That’s why the best account one can give of oneself is not a statement but a pledge. A pledge to one’s principles and to what one wishes to become. (Permanent Record)
The young computer scientist studied Japanese at university where he was able to make friends. He became interested in Japanese animation. More importantly, he met Mae, a 25-year-old owner of a small web design company. He worked for her for two years, taking on one contract after another.
During this time, he decided to take the Microsoft Systems Engineer certification at John Hopkins University, the completion of which could secure him a comfortable future making $40,000 a year.
It was then that the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon took place. That day, he was at Fort Meade, the NSA base, and watched in astonishment as civil servants left their offices in droves, ordered home (for fear of an attack on the base). The landscape would gradually change: from then on, the NSA base and its surroundings would effectively become a fortress.
September 11th claimed 3,000 lives; the war on terror has claimed over a million. For the past twenty years, the United States has stepped up its security policies on home soil, to the point of completely changing the face of the country.
The United States chose to police at home and to wage war abroad. They responded aggressively, blinded by anger. Edward Snowden approved of this policy at the time, but in retrospect, he condemns it. From September 12 onwards, there was a battle to be fought, and he wanted to be part of it.
He joined the army, hoping to be recruited by the NSA or CIA. He was twenty years old at the time and thought that it was the right path.
The young recruit trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, with the hope of becoming a sergeant. Training would prove tough, both physically and mentally. During one drill, he suffered a bad leg injury. Those who get hurt during training aren’t exactly the most beloved, and life in boot camp would soon become difficult. His hopes of promotion were dashed.
Depressed, Edward Snowden didn’t know what to do. A doctor helped him to leave honorably. He accepted a proposal for “administrative separation, ” which put an official and legitimate end to his involvement. However, in order for that to happen, he would have to affirm that he was fully healed – which he was not.
He ended up complying. What did this entail? It meant that the army would relieve itself of medical expenses and disability benefits: if Snowden wanted to be free, he would have to pay for his own healthcare.
10. Cleared and in Love
Upon his return from the army and realizing his computer skills, Edward Snowden switches strategies and decides to apply them directly within the Intelligence Community. He requests a “security clearance ” to join the NSA or CIA.
It was on the Internet — on a Facebook precursor dating site — that Edward Snowden would meet his partner and current wife, Lindsay Mills.
At only 22, he was joining the NSA.
Part Two of “Permanent Record“
11. The System
At the NSA, Edward Snowden worked as a systems administrator and engineer. These two positions (one of which involved managing existing systems, the other creating new solutions) stood out in that they both required knowledge of software, hardware, and networks.
Strangely enough, such work would ultimately lead him to reflect on his country’s politics. Although in his twenties he had no real political views of his own, by the time he was in his thirties he had come to form some ideas about the American political “system.” Comparing the political system to a computer system, he was surprised to find it malfunctioning and began to ask questions.
12. Homo Contractus
The notion of public service was no longer relevant by the time the computer scientist joined the NSA. As he puts it:
[By the time I got there, the honor of public service had given way to the greed of the private sector, and the sacred pact of the soldier, officer, or civil servant had given way to the unhealthy market of Homo contractus, a species found on every floor of the state 2.0. This creature, far from being a sworn civil servant, was a temporary worker whose patriotic feelings were motivated by a paycheck, and for whom the federal government represented less the ultimate authority than the ultimate client.] (Permanent Record)
In fact, one of the documents provided by Edward Snowden concerns the amount of money earmarked for the salaries of contractors paid by the intelligence agencies (what he calls the “black budget“). What emerges is that almost half of the surveillance-related work is left to private-sector employees.
In concrete terms, Edward Snowden began working for the CIA and NSA not as a civil servant, but as a temporary employee (which was used against him when he made his revelations).
On his first mission, Edward Snowden is brought into a room full of other contract IT workers, and given a brief indoctrination session by CIA agents, using flattery (“you’re the elite”) to ensure that the secrets revealed will be well-guarded, as well as threats (the reference to treasonous agents who have been put in prison serves as a deterrent).
Initially, Edward Snowden’s main responsibility was “logistical support” within the CIA, i.e., the interconnection of services within the government agency. In particular, his role consisted of managing relay servers where top-secret encryption keys were stored.
Working at night, he would automate his tasks as much as possible, taking advantage of the CIA’s own Internet and Web (the CIA has a very extensive Internet network, with various services such as a search engine, a Facebook for its workers, sites, etc.), giving him privileged access to world events.
This gave him a taste for foreign affairs, but first, he had to join the CIA as a civil servant rather than a salaried employee, which he ended up doing. He swapped his green badge for a blue one. He would then swear allegiance to the U.S. Constitution.
14. The Count of the Hill
A new training course was waiting for him: this time, he was to become the CIA’s information systems technical manager, i.e., to learn how to manage computer communications in the field, in war situations, or within embassies, for example.
When he expressed his preferences – that is, when asked where he wanted to be posted – Edward Snowden chose a path that few other agents would envy: to be stationed in the United States but to be regularly sent to dangerous war fronts, in Afghanistan or Pakistan, for example.
However, it doesn’t work out as planned. Chosen by his fellow trainees to write a letter denouncing the working conditions within the training unit (overtime, poor housing, etc.), he is taken to task by his direct superiors, who decide to punish him by sending him where he didn’t want to go: to a bourgeois European country, Switzerland.
Geneva is considered a nerve center in terms of the surveillance network devised by the United States in the aftermath of September 11.
“This refined city, capital of the old world and of the great financial families, heir to an immemorial tradition of banking secrecy, is also at the crossroads of the European Union and international fiber-optic networks and is overflown by key communications satellites.” (Permanent Record)
Geneva is also home to the International Atomic Agency, the United Nations Office, the World Trade Organization, and the International Telecommunication Union. The CIA is doing its utmost to turn the profession of espionage into a digital one (cyber-education) and is finding prime targets.
It’s worth remembering that almost the entire Internet infrastructure (90%) is American. In addition, major software (Microsoft, Google, Oracle), hardware (Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Dell), chips (Intel, Qualcomm), routers and modems (Cisco, Juniper), and even cloud and e-mail platforms (Google, Facebook, Amazon) are all North American companies.
This concentration of resources and power predisposes this country to mass surveillance. Yet, despite this knowledge and despite his position as a spy, Edward Snowden was unaware of the scale of the surveillance activities carried out by the agencies he worked for.
His first revelation came in 2009 when he was transferred to Japan to maintain the NSA’s computer systems there. More broadly, this role led him to create a new global system for storing and securing NSA data (EPICSHELTER, renamed the Storage Modernization Program).
In preparation for a lecture he was to give on the subject of Chinese counter-espionage and cyber-intelligence; he became aware of the extent of US surveillance over China. Upon realizing this, he began to have doubts about applying such a system to American citizens themselves.
Strangely enough, it was by chance that he discovered what he had been looking for ever since his doubts first surfaced: a top-secret report detailing the global surveillance system put in place by the United States following the PSP (the President’s Surveillance Program, set up by G. W. Bush from 2001 onwards).
The STELLARWIND program is especially chilling, as it refers to the “large-scale, warrantless collection” (to use the euphemism of the report itself) of American citizens’ private communications.
17. Home on the Cloud
The knowledge of such activities began to seriously gnaw at Edward Snowden. Having returned to the United States, he and his partner attempted to make a normal life for themselves in the affluent neighborhoods of Virginia. However, the occurrences of everyday life disturbed him, and he began to lose control, both physically and mentally.
At the time, he had in mind to design a cloud for the intelligence services that would enable all CIA and NSA agents, wherever they were, to access all the agencies’ data. A mammoth task, he was working on the project with a colleague.
At the same time, he was beginning to realize just how far the Internet had come; embedding itself in everyday life. In particular, he marveled at the concept of a smartfridge, a connected fridge that collects an impressive array of data on its owners. We voluntarily bring into our homes services and objects capable of transmitting our actions to companies and, potentially, to the state.
His fondness for the Internet was diminishing. He turned his attention to security and became highly suspicious. Yet he tried to keep up appearances and lead the perfect life of the newly middle-class man. It’s precisely this tension that would ultimately lead to his crisis: after a series of worrying symptoms; he would suffer an epileptic seizure that would land him in the hospital.
18. On the Couch
Bin Laden was killed on May 1st, 2011, by US Navy SEALS. Ten years of warmongering and widespread surveillance. Ten years of torture, abuses, and deprivation of individual freedoms in the name of the war on terrorism, which; when all is said and done, has become a mere pretext for reinforcing the power of one country over other nations as well as over its very own citizens.
While on sick leave due to his epileptic seizures; Edward Snowden hears the news of the death of the instigator of the September 11th attacks on television. He was apathetic, sprawled out on his sofa, unable to achieve anything productive. It’s also during this time he would witness the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East that have come to be known as “The Arab Spring.”
He noted that people, especially the younger generations, were demanding more freedom; including the freedom to use the Internet, which governments were quick to muzzle. On the other hand, he was surprised how many Westerners seemingly did not consider “privacy” (the new name for freedom) all that important.
“In the end, claiming that you don’t attach any importance to the concept of privacy because you have nothing to hide is not very different from asserting that you don’t care about freedom of expression because you have nothing to say, or that you don’t care about freedom of worship because you don’t believe in God, or that you don’t give a damn about freedom of assembly because you’re agoraphobic, lazy, and antisocial.” (Permanent Record)
It’s not really us and them anymore: we’re all caught up in the powerful struggle between democratic and totalitarian regimes. This is the main ideological conflict, according to Edward Snowden, that spans the times and the regions of the world.
Part Three of “Permanent Record“
19. The Tunnel
After his period of illness, Edward Snowden gets assigned to Hawaii to work on a low-level project. His temporary incapacity has taken its toll, and he needs to recover gradually.
He becomes a system administrator in the Information Sharing Office, where he handles document management for the NSA. His job is in a strange building at the end of a 1 km-long tunnel, which is aptly named ‘The Tunnel,’ dug under a pineapple field.
It is at this time that he decides, almost subconsciously but steadfastly, to investigate the actions of the intelligence agencies.
In particular, the NSA official begins to read numerous so-called readboards, compilations of the most important information from the NSA’s main sites. He even produces an extended, enhanced, and customizable version, which he shares with his colleagues – so that he can continue his investigations unhindered. He calls this new system for gathering internal documents and information ‘Heartbeat.’
“Almost all the documents I later leaked to journalists were recovered thanks to Heartbeat. It uncovered not only the goals of the intelligence community’s mass surveillance system but also what it was actually capable of. This is a point I’d like to emphasize: in mid-2012, I was simply trying to understand how mass surveillance worked in practice … This meant that I wasn’t that interested in the information that the documents contained …” (Permanent Record)
Later, journalists would turn their attention to the content of the documents themselves. Edward Snowden was interested in the modus operandi. He was aware of the existence of two NSA Internet surveillance methods, Upstream Collection (which directly collects data from Internet infrastructures) and PRISM (which collects data from service providers’ servers). However, he wanted to know how it all worked in practice.
The surveillance program most relevant to the average Internet user is called TURBULENCE (part of the Upstream Collection method). It is divided into two main tools: TURMOIL and TURBINE.
The former “passively collects” information from a filter of queries chosen by the NSA. The second starts working as soon as it receives suspicious data from the other. It then sends malware that will contaminate the digital environment to which the data belongs. The NSA is thus able to take control of your entire digital life.
Edward Snowden always liked to read the U.S. Constitution, which, he says, is distributed half-heartedly by the NSA every year on Constitution Day (September 17). The Fourth Amendment reads:
“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.” (Permanent Record)
For the computer scientist, it’s clear that today’s personal “papers and effects” are our data (the contents of our documents) and metadata (everything related to them, enabling the identification of a user’s internet activity). For the NSA, on the other hand, there was no violation. So, how do they justify it? By skillful legal maneuvering and reinterpretation.
Edward Snowden believes that one of the major problems is the fact that the entire system has collapsed. Neither the legislature, the executive, nor the judiciary have been able or willing to put a stop to it. This is also why, in some ways, sounding the alarm became that much more urgent and essential.
So, what exactly is ”whistleblowing”?
Is it the same as “leaking” information? Edward Snowden distinguishes the two: leaking information is an action carried out with a personal objective (to gain some kind of advantage). Whistleblowing is, above all, acting for the public good.
To become a whistleblower, you have to come to the conclusion that the institution you work for is blatantly at odds with the principles of the society it serves. In this regard, you also need to be curious about what’s going on around you, and not just become a machine among machines, which is not always easy within the intelligence agencies.
22. Fourth Estate
When Edward Snowden decides to speak out, he is unsure how to go about it. He considers acting alone and publishing all the gathered information on a website that he would create himself. However, he understands that he would ultimately need a third party to decipher, expose, and contextualize the complex technical data he would be providing.
That’s why he couldn’t turn to WikiLeaks either, which at that time (after Chelsea Manning‘s revelations about the war in Iraq, in particular) decided to publish the information it gathered without any editorial oversight.
He, therefore, sought the support of journalists and major newspapers in his country. Naturally, he considers the New York Times, but their sketchy history prevents him from having complete confidence: in the case of an earlier article dealing with national security, the paper had first sent the text to the government for feedback/approval, and the latter rejected it. Under pressure, the newspaper decided not to publish the article right away. The possibility they would do the same in this situation caused Snowden to rethink, for fear that all his efforts would be in vain.
As a result, he decided to focus his attention on journalists whom he knew to be reliable and interested in the subject. He contacted Laura Poitras (a freelance documentary filmmaker) and Glenn Greenwald (The Guardian) first, then other journalists such as Ewen MacAskill (The Guardian) and Bart Gellman (The Washington Post).
Making contact is not easy, but here again, Edward Snowden uses his computer skills to establish connection while minimizing the risk of being traced. His revelations would then be in the hands of only a few journalists. What would happen next?
23. Read, Write, Execute
The next challenge is to get hundreds of documents out of the Tunnel’s computers and secret base. How to do so without getting caught? Edward Snowden invents a three-step procedure he would call “ Read, Write, Execute. ”
Reading consists in examining the data, eliminating irrelevant data, and choosing which documents to keep. The risk here is to arouse curiosity and get caught collecting a whole lot of sensitive information. To escape the NSA’s digital traps, the reformed spy uses old computers that are no longer part of the network and are therefore more discreet.
Writing is another matter: all files must be copied onto media that are discreet enough to be taken outside buildings. He would also have to take into account download times and the physical discretion of the whole process (for example, not getting caught photographing computer screens). Edward Snowden would opt for mini-SD and micro-SD cards.
Execute, lastly, refers to the process of removing the documents, downloaded onto SD cards, from NSA premises. The computer scientist hides these in his Rubik’s Cube, in particular – an object that his colleagues and the security guards are used to seeing in his company. He learns how to talk to the guards in a way as to distract them. But even once past the guards, he still has to make sure that everything at home is safe. He places all the documents on an encrypted hard disk, and everything is all set.
When it comes to encrypting the hard disk, Edward Snowden leaves no stone unturned. And he likes to talk about his exploits. To put it simply, his encryption system is so sophisticated that no expert could, within a reasonable timeframe (measured in thousands of years), crack the code.
As far as he’s concerned, this is the only technical system available today that truly enables somebody to protect their data. Encryption makes any document impossible to read unless you have an encryption key. A key that neither the state nor a company is supposed to have. In fact, even when you delete a document from your computer, it is still stored somewhere and can be read. Not so with encryption.
25. The Boy
Changing jobs is relatively easy at the NSA, although it also requires a bit of luck. By chance, the NSA was looking for an infrastructure analyst at the National Threat Operations Center (NTOC) in Hawaii. This provided Edward Snowden with a unique opportunity to see first-hand how surveillance is carried out on a day-to-day basis.
In fact, NTOC is home to the XKEYSCORE program, which can be likened to a kind of Google, providing access not to web pages, but to the information of every person in the world (e-mails, chats, files, etc.).
“It was, to put it simply, the closest thing I’ve seen to science fiction in science itself: an interface where you could type in the address, phone number, or IP address of just about anyone, and dive into the recent history of their online activity. In some cases, you could even view recordings of their past online sessions, so that you were no longer looking at your screen, but at theirs, along with whatever else was lying around on their desk.” (Permanent Record)
Seeing first-hand how this program works would be the ‘last straw’ to convince the whistleblower that he was on the right track.
But where to go? Where to meet the journalists?
It wasn’t easy to escape the long arm of the United States and its allies. In the end, Edward Snowden opted for Hong Kong: an international, liberal, and technologically active city, sufficiently independent from China.
In any case, the computer scientist doesn’t move forward with much hope. He knows he’ll soon be spotted, and that his days at liberty are numbered. When he decides to leave, he knows he’ll be leaving his family and partner behind, and that he’ll be doing them a disservice. Nevertheless, he does so with confidence in his decision. He leaves hoping that his loved ones will forgive him for his actions.
26. Hong Kong
Despite all his elaborate planning, Edward Snowden had not foreseen that the journalists would be so late to respond. He put his life in their hands. Between the moment he fled and the moment the journalists answered his call and agreed to an interview in Hong Kong, the fugitive spent long, agonizing days in hiding, tracking the slightest movement that could potentially put him in danger.
Finally, the journalists arrive at the Mira Hotel where Edward Snowden had taken up residence. He had meticulously prepared how he was going to address all the points with them but hadn’t planned for Laura Poitras to film the meeting. He was caught off guard but nonetheless agreed. In the end, he even goes so far as to “come out of the woodwork” on his own shortly after the affair begins to unfold in the press, by creating a video in which he presents himself as the journalists’ source.
The first article was published in The Guardian on June 5, 2013, and a second appeared in The Washington Post on June 6. The whole world relays the news. From the publication of the video (June 9), he exposes himself directly to danger. But it was also at this point that he garnered more and more support. In particular, he came into contact with Robert Tibbo and Jonathan Man, who were to become his lawyers.
Edward Snowden was charged with violating the Espionage Act on June 14, and his extradition to the United States was requested on June 21 – his thirtieth birthday. He is not welcomed by the Hong Kong government, so he has to find a way to leave as soon as possible.
Moscow was to be just one stage in a perilous and complex journey to Ecuador. However, political tactics decide otherwise. As he flies to Moscow, the U.S. decides to invalidate his passport, effectively blocking him on Russian soil. Even with a pass he obtained from the UN, he could no longer proceed to his desired destination. Russia becomes, against his will, his land of exile.
In this mad race, he receives invaluable help from a freelance contributor to Wikileaks, Sarah Harrison, a journalist specializing in asylum issues. She helps him to prepare and carry out his departure from Hong Kong – no simple matter since he has to avoid all the US’s partner countries, which could bring his escape to a screeching halt.
Despite the relative failure of the escape, Edward Snowden is not in the worst place. True, he is approached by Russian intelligence – which he rebuffs. However, in Russia, he is free. On August 1st, he was even granted temporary asylum and asked to leave the airport where his presence was becoming a nuisance. Since then, he has been living somewhere in Moscow.
28. From the Diaries of Lindsay Mills
In this chapter of “Permanent Record,” Edward Snowden presents the point of view of his companion, Lindsay Mills – or rather, gives her a voice. It includes several reflections, sentiments, and events reported by the young woman in her diary, from May 22, 2013, to June 20, 2013.
In addition to the lavish lifestyle that emerges from these lines, we perceive Lindsay’s love for her partner. What’s more, we get a sense of the incomprehension and anger of a woman who is first concerned about his absence, then has to deal with the media and the authorities. But in the end, after all these setbacks, it’s pride that wins her over.
29. Love and Exile
“If, at any time during your reading of this book, you’ve paused for a moment on a term that you wanted to clarify or explore further and typed it into your search engine – and if that term is in any way suspicious, like XKEYSCORE, for example – then congratulations: you’re in the system, a victim of your own curiosity.” (Permanent Record)
It’s unreasonable to be naive in this respect: the US intelligence agencies (but others too, most certainly) are quite capable of knowing what we do daily; just as they are capable of taking control of our digital devices. Maybe they won’t, but shouldn’t it be a collective effort to preserve freedom and privacy?
Have things changed in the United States since the 2013 revelations?
President Obama disappointed, although he conceded that they had created a genuine “national debate. ” At the judicial level, the case of “ACLU v. Clapper” shut down the intelligence agencies’ argumentation. At the legislative level, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, prohibiting the widespread collection of citizens’ telephone conversations.
On a more technical and commercial level, major companies have also taken action. Apple and Google have encrypted their devices. The HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) protocol by which we access websites has been replaced by the HTTPS protocol (the “s” stands for ‘security’). Efforts have also been made to secure the work of journalists, notably through the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), of which Edward Snowden is a member.
What about elsewhere in the world? The United States’ traditional surveillance partners (Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand) have experienced some turmoil. However, it was in Europe that the strongest legislative action was taken; with the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Unfortunately, its status remains that of a regional agreement, while the Internet and the problem of security are global issues.
And the life of Edward Snowden himself? Well, he still leads a relatively low-key existence in Moscow, where his partner — and now wife — has joined him.
Conclusion to “Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden
A compelling account
I don’t know how anyone could remain indifferent to such an account. Whether you like the man or not, you have to face facts: what he did was risky; but his actions have enabled us to gain a better understanding of how contemporary political systems operate.
As for Edward Snowden’s personality, we discover someone ambitious and meticulous, deeply American at heart, patriotic, and in love with what we would call clichés (hamburgers, big cars, suburban houses, etc.). He’s also a character of extraordinary intelligence and self-confidence – and he is not terribly modest about it – which leads him to revel in recounting the elaborate schemes he pulled against his teachers and the NSA’s most seasoned agents.
Key points of “Permanent Record“
“Permanent Record” revolves around one assertion: Edward Snowden is the man who informed the world of the existence of a global system – under USA control – of widespread surveillance of citizens. So, should we just accept this ugly truth about the excesses of public authorities and, to some extent, private companies, who have no qualms about collecting every digital trace we leave behind?
Well, that’s an option. In fact, knowing this is essential if we are to take more effective action on the Internet. Beyond that, we can also find inspiration in the attitude of this exemplary whistleblower; who succeeded in marrying intelligence, courage, and political activism. It is no longer simply a lesson in caution that this book teaches, but rather a faith in the ability of men and women to stand up against injustice and oppression.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Permanent Record
- Well-written, “Permanent Record” reads like a novel.
- A refresher on the central events (welcome for those who may have forgotten the affair).
- A fascinating philosophical and political commentary.
- I couldn’t think of any.
My rating :
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The handy guide to Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record
The four main sections of Permanent Record:
- The Invisible Wall
- Homo Contratus
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) concerning Permanent Record
1. How has Permanent Record been received by the public?
Considered the world’s most famous whistleblower, Permanent Record has been a resounding success with the public, thanks to Edward Snowden’s phenomenal courage in sacrificing everything to reveal his secrets. The book became even more popular when Snowden appeared in the international media in 2013 to divulge classified documents concerning American spying on the world.
2. What has been the impact of Permanent Record?
This book has had a huge impact in the United States, particularly on NSA policy; enabling the entire world to discover how the Americans are spying on the whole world. It led to Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia due to him being prosecuted on federal charges in the USA.
3. Who is the target audience of Permanent Record?
This book is aimed at the general public, and in particular at the various intelligence agencies around the world; and at anyone who wants to understand the US spying apparatus.
4. What is “whistleblowing” according to Edward Snowden?
According to Edward Snowden, whistleblowing is, above all, acting for the public good.
5. How does one become a whistleblower according to Edward Snowden?
To become a whistleblower, you have to come to the conclusion that the institution you work for is blatantly at odds with the principles of the society it serves.
Read versus write
|Get to know the data||Copy all files onto media|
|Eliminate irrelevant data||Physical discretion in every process|
|Select documents to keep||Take download time into account|
|Collecting a whole bunch of sensitive information||Consolidate ideas|
Who is Edward Snowden?
Real name Edward Joseph Snowden, Edward Snowden, born June 21, 1983; in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, is an American-Russian computer scientist and whistleblower. A former employee and analyst of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA). He revealed the existence of the mass surveillance program put in place by the American and British intelligence agencies. As early as June 5, 2013, Snowden made public classified documents through the media; including The Washington Post and The Guardian, and top-secret intelligence received from the NSA that concerned the capture of phone call metadata in the United States; as well as the internet eavesdropping systems of the British government’s PRISM and Optic Nerve surveillance programs.
In support of his revelations, he explains that his [sole aim is to make the public aware of what is being done in their name and what is being done against them.] He is the author of the book “Permanent Record,” in which he divulges classified documents on American espionage of the world. This led to his asylum in Russia due to his prosecution on federal charges in the United States.