Book Review: ‘No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State’

by David Nelson

In May 2013, constitutional lawyer, author and investigative-news reporter Glenn Greenwald set out for Hong Kong to meet an anonymous source who claimed to have astonishing evidence of pervasive government spying and insisted on communicating only through heavily encrypted channels. That source turned out to be the 29-year-old NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and his revelations about the agency’s widespread, systemic overreach proved to be some of the most explosive and consequential news in recent history, triggering a fierce debate over national security and information privacy. As the arguments rage on and the government considers various proposals for reform, it is clear that we have yet to see the full impact of Snowden’s disclosures.

Now, for the first time, Greenwald fits all the pieces together, recounting his high-intensity 10-day trip to Hong Kong, examining the broader implications of the surveillance detailed in his reporting for The Guardian, and revealing fresh information on the NSA’s unprecedented abuse of power with never-before-seen documents entrusted to him by Snowden himself.

The enormity of the documents convinced Greenwald that “[e]ven for a single phone call, the metadata can be more informative than the call’s content. Listening in on a woman calling an abortion clinic might reveal nothing more than someone confirming an appointment with a generic-sounding establishment (‘East Side Clinic’ or ‘Dr. Jones’s office’). But, the metadata would show far more than that: it would reveal the identity of those who were called. The same is true of calls to a dating service, a gay and lesbian center, a drug addiction clinic, an HIV specialist, or a suicide hotline.”

Greenwald wasn’t the only person who was affected by Snowden’s work and subsequent disclosures. Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained and interrogated in August 2013 in London for nine hours by U.K. law-enforcement officers under that nation’s anti-terrorism laws. Greenwald described how, in the aftermath of his partner’s detention, “…it was revealed that the British government had spoken with Washington in advance of David’s detention. When asked in a press conference, a White House spokesman said, ‘[t]here was a heads-up … so this was something we had an indication was likely to occur.’ The White House refused to condemn the detention and acknowledged that it had taken no steps to stop or even discourage it.”

Going beyond NSA specifics, Greenwald also takes on the establishment media, excoriating their habitual avoidance of adversarial reporting on the government and their failure to serve the interests of the people. Finally, he asks what it means both for individuals and for a nation’s political health when a government pries so invasively into the private lives of its citizens — and considers what safeguards and forms of oversight are necessary to protect democracy in the digital age. Coming at a landmark moment in American history, No Place to Hide is a fearless, incisive and essential contribution to our understanding of the U.S. surveillance state. As with former U.S. Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning, LGBT Americans like Greenwald are finding themselves among the political avant-garde who are defending constitutional rights against corporate and government abuses.

Photo: Glenn Greenwald (front) and partner David Miranda

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