The problem with Edward Snowden

My problem with Edward Snowden is the stunning contrast of his judgment.

On the one hand he is an articulate, some would say, fearless critic of unapproved, secret mass surveillance. He worked within US intelligence circles and saw unchecked excesses and acted alone to try to remedy them. Clearly, Snowden is a bright, well-motivated guy.

But when you read his defense of his appearance on the Putin show, there is not even a mention of the East-West crisis over Ukraine. I can understand Snowden’s omission so as to not cross his Russian hosts, or his unwillingness to allow his cause to be muddled by the thorny consideration of the real world politics.

But to not even acknowledge the biggest crisis in Russia-US relations playing out seems a glaring omission. Is he kept in a bubble in Russia? Does he want us to trust him on all things NSA, but to pretend, along with him, that there isn’t a whole lotta US-Russia context that has to be viewed alongside his actions – even if there is no direct connection?

Setting aside the possibility that he is being controlled by Russians, something else may account for the jarring gap of his awareness.

It may be that Edward Snowden is just a typical American-style libertarian. In this view, it is simply the individual versus the state- no matter what the state is. Really, the only political unit that matters is the individual. There is no Ukraine issue because there is no Ukraine, in this view. There is simply the state and the individual (and guess who the bad guy is?).

I think many editors at the Guardian and non-American well-wishers of Snowden would find this element of the Snowden profile foreign. Because this is the strain in America that scoffs at gun laws and considers national access to healthcare not a right but an insidious threat. In this view of the world, not only is government, in the words of Ronald Reagan, the problem but society doesn’t really exist.

In this way, any struggles between the US and Russia are irrelevant.

This is a strain of American libertarianism has accelerated since the time of Nixon — not without huge financial benefits for big corporations. Big commercial interests thrive in places where there is no concept of society, or of common good. Bear in mind, Snowden’s US experience would have coincided with the highwater mark of US corporate power.

I believe it’s hard for people outside the US to understand how this libertarian mentality has contributed to the decay within the US in recent years.But supposing that what we see is what we get with Snowden, his behavior is very much a cousin to the deadbeat rancher Cliven Bundy who has made headlines in the US because he simply doesn’t believe he should have to pay grazing fees on federally owned (that is, owned by the citizens of the US) land.  After all, it’s only the government he’s trying to rip off.

And so, it’s very possible for Snowden that any issue between Russia and it’s neighbors or Russia and the US, simply does not, or cannot come into focus because Russia and the US are the same; they’re both governments. So they are always bad. And libertarianism, well, that’s a radical philosophy that has simple solutions for any issue. So simple in fact, that an American privacy advocate could delude himself into thinking that by aiding Russia, he is somehow helping the people at home.

Meanwhile, what hangs in the balance is the world order that was left in place at the end of the Cold War. And in the US, roads crumble, public school kids get stupider, corporations act and the legislators follow behind them, all because of the pat political philosophy that the individual is right, the government is guilty and no amount of explaining or justifying will change this. Snowden was taking down $100,000+ a year while his fellow Americans struggled to keep stay employed and keep their kids fed, but, well, hey, that’s their individual problem. Welcome, world, to American libertarianism in action.

Balkanization of internet, Balkanization of technology, and Ed Snowden



Even as the search for Snowden continues, the impact of his data bomb is rippling across continents. Bloomberg reports US company Cisco may face a backlash in China as the media urges industry to shift away from US made routers and switches in favor of locally produced ones. 

From Bloomberg: 

China should develop its own Internet technology, the Global Times newspaper wrote in an editorial this week, alleging that the U.S. can “attack China almost at will.” U.S. companies, including Cisco, represent a “terrible security threat,” China Daily reported, citing an industry source it didn’t identify. Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies Co. is poised to benefit from any clients seeking Cisco alternatives.


And the US government has banned federal agencies from buying Huawei an ZTE equipment. Rather than a Cold War with a world divided by a wall or a political border, it’s a world with considerable cross border trade and travel. Yet the closer you get to the power blocs, the more dense the web of business and political allegiances. I imagine that circularity of the trade and trade allegiances between businesses and states will grow. And then you’ll have some countries that use both Cisco and Huawei equipment side by side.

More dust kicked up by Snowden

One of the most interesting elements is coverage of the fact that China is installing Chinese-made routers because of the threat posed by foreign equipment.

From the SCMP:

Fang Binxing, president at the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications and widely believed to be the father of China’s “great firewall”, which restricts access to the web, told News China in October last year that foreign equipment was a serious threat to national security.

“China should set up a national information security review commission as soon as possible,” he said.

Telecom companies have started replacing foreign-made equipment.

China Unicom quietly replaced all Cisco routers at a key backbone hub in Wuxi, Jiangsu last year, according to the National Business Daily.

The changes are being kept quiet to avoid panic and embarrassment to the government, people in the industry say.”

Sound familiar? A very similar debate is happening in the US and Australia about whether equipment created by Huawei and ZTE can be trusted from a national security standpoint in the US and Australia. The fact that both China and the US (and Australia) see this as a threat, is yet another step toward the balkanization of technology.

No one disputes there is a balkanization of the internet. But ultimately, the a large swath of the underlying equipment may become balkanized.