Edward snowden

Trump should pardon Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden says that he didn’t mean to end up in Russia when he fled after leaking secrets from his job at the United States National Security Agency (NSA). He writes in his autobiography, Permanent Record, that he agonised about where to go. Europe was impossible because of extradition. Africa was a ‘no-go zone’ because the US ‘had a history of acting there with impunity’. Eventually, he went to Hong Kong and after hiding out there for a short time, he made a dash for Ecuador in hope of getting asylum. But the US cancelled his passport and, in what we’re told was an unfortunate coincidence, he got stuck in Sheremetyevo airport

Question time | 8 December 2016

If you were to see one film about American whistle-blower Edward Snowden — there is no law saying you have to, but if you were — then the film you want is probably Laura Poitras’s 2014 documentary Citizenfour rather than this biopic from Oliver Stone. It’s being sold as a ‘pulse-pounding thriller’ but oh, if only it were. Instead, it’s psychologically thin, tiresomely hagiographic and doesn’t answer any of the questions you’d like it to answer. Certainly, my pulse failed to oblige and if yours doesn’t behave similarly, I’d be most surprised. Poitras’s film, which was a proper pulse-pounder, followed Snowden in real time as he was actually in the

Tangled web | 30 June 2016

Mike Bartlett’s curious blank-verse drama Charles III became an international hit. His new effort examines the cut-throat world of dark-web espionage. An American traitor named Andrew (Edward Snowden presumably) is hiding out in a Moscow hotel. Enter a flirty, giggling Irishwoman played by Caoilfhionn Dunne, who claims to be British and who teases Andrew over his betrayal of his homeland’s secrets. She evinces an interest in Oscar Wilde and the pair lock horns over footling minutiae. Andrew points out that Barbie dolls are called Sindy in the UK and this seems to demonstrate his familiarity with Britain. But he fails to spot the false cadences of her accent and he

Inside the Ecuadorian embassy with Julian Assange: Risk reviewed

‘This film would not have been possible without the following encryption tools,’ is one of the least expected film credits I can think of. But then again, Laura Poitras’s Risk is not exactly your run-of-the-mill documentary. After her Oscar-winning Citizenfour, a gripping hour-by-hour account of Edward Snowden’s NSA surveillance disclosures from his Hong Kong hotel room, Poitras’s latest is an intimate portrait of WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange. Poitras started filming Assange at work in 2010 and her film follows the whistleblower’s mission and his various legal travails since then. As a result, Risk is far less dramatically sensational than Citizenfour, which unfolds over the course of several history-making days.

Life in a glass house

‘First and last I was, and always would be, an American,’ Jeremy O’Keefe, the professor narrator of Patrick Flanery’s new novel, insists, with just the kind of pedantic over-emphasis that makes the reader suspicious. Equally dubious is the way he talks. Having spent the last decade at Oxford teaching and writing a book about the Stasi, O’Keefe’s speech is now an odd mixture of affectation and deracination (‘helicoptering’, ‘faux-artisanal’). On his return to New York he finds that he is ignored or mistaken for an Englishman — something which affronts him as much as his Oxford colleagues, with ‘their exclusionary quality’, refusing to accept him as one of their own.

Safety first | 21 January 2016

This week brings to a close an absurdly overblown cause célèbre. The Court of Appeal ruled that David Miranda’s detention at Heathrow three years ago under the Terrorism Act was lawful. He had been part of a professional operation leaking classified information to the Guardian, which compromised British and American national security. Yet the judgement was hailed as a victory for Miranda because the court also noted that the Terrorism Act didn’t include sufficient protection for journalists carrying sensitive information. It asked Parliament to look again, in order that it be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights — even though, in this case, there was no breach. This

Why should we listen to Benedict Cumberbatch on Syrian refugees?

Because I just don’t know what to think about the Syrian refugee crisis — not even after Simon Schama’s powerfully cogent argument on Question Time the other week, where he explained that if you don’t want to house them all in your guest bedroom you’re basically a Nazi — I thought I might pay the scalps a couple of hundred quid or so to see Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at the Barbican. Apparently the really exciting bit isn’t anything he does as the Dane but rather Shakespeare’s rarely performed postscript where Hamlet comes back to life in the terrifying form of a preening, hectoring Old Harrovian luvvie to berate the

The end of secrecy

Gordon Corera, best known as the security correspondent for BBC News, somehow finds time to write authoritative, well-researched and readable books on intelligence. Here he explores the evolution of computers from what used to be called signals intelligence to their transforming role in today’s intelligence world. The result is an informative, balanced and revealing survey of the field in which, I suspect, most experts will find something new. He starts with an event that took place 101 years ago next month, when the British dredger Alert set off from Dover in the early hours to cut the German undersea telegraph cables. This inconspicuous act meant that throughout the first world

Spy if you must, but don’t give the game away

The Snoopers’ Charter. I ought to care about this. I’m a sort of libertarian. I believe in personal freedom. I’m a trustee of Index on Censorship. The state as Big Brother is everything I’ve always fought in politics. So why can’t I quite summon the requisite indignation? Why do I find all this Edward Snowden stuff vaguely irritating? Why does the crusading column for the Times, railing against state surveillance, somehow keep failing me, though time and again I’ve opened my laptop and tried to make a start? Partly, I think, because as a longstanding and vehement opponent of British military adventuring in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve believed (and always

Portrait of the week | 18 June 2015

Home Talha Asmal, aged 17, from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, died in a suicide bomb attack on forces near an oil refinery near Baiji in Iraq, having assumed the name Abu Yusuf al-Britani. A man from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, Thomas Evans, 25, who had changed his name to Abdul Hakim, was killed in Kenya while fighting for al-Shabab. Three sisters from Bradford were thought to have travelled to Syria with their nine children after going on a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Britain had had to move intelligence agents, the Sunday Times reported, because Russia and China had deciphered documents made public by Edward Snowden, the CIA employee who has taken refuge in

Mass surveillance is being undermined by the ‘Snowden effect’

We are in the middle of a Crypto war again. Perhaps we have always been in the middle of a Crypto war. Since the 70s, the right and ability to encrypt private communications has been fought over, time and again. Here in the UK, Cameron’s re-election has prompted reports of a ‘turbo-charged’ version of the so-called ‘Snoopers’ Charter’, extending further the powers of surveillance that the whistleblower Edward Snowden described as having ‘no limits’. Two nights ago, the US Patriot Act expired. With it, at least officially, elements of the NSA’s bulk surveillance programme expired too. The law was passed in the wake of 9/11, in order to ‘strengthen domestic security’ and

Snowden now faces the traitor’s fate – worship from hipsters and Hollywood

New York Brooklyn is the hipster heaven of New York, which is perhaps why it was there that a bust of Edward Snowden was unveiled yesterday.  Not that it stayed long.  The bust of the former National Security Agency contractor was put on a pedestal sometime on Monday with the word ‘Snowden’ glued on the base at the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument at Fort Greene Park.  It was taken down a few hours later by parks and recreation employees. I don’t want to read too much into this, but the brief deification and bringing down of Snowden’s image does seem apposite.  When the Snowden leaks were first publicised the left-wing

What are we willing to do to make our intelligence agencies’ job easier?

Ottawa. Sydney. Paris. Copenhagen. Four major Western cities attacked in five months by Islamist terrorists and all committed by perpetrators with lengthy histories of criminal activity. When the next terrorist attack occurs, there will be those that demand to know why intelligence agencies failed to watch the perpetrators closely enough (as was the case with the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby). However, should we not also ask what we, as a society, are willing to do to make our intelligence agencies’ job easier? Consider the current debate surrounding communications data (the who, when, where, and how of a communication, but not the what – i.e. the content). Access to communications

‘Torture is torture’ ignores the complex nature of intelligence gathering

On Thursday I was on the BBC’s ‘This Week’ to talk about the CIA and torture. It is, for many reasons, perhaps the most gruesome subject possible. And not just because of the hideous allegations involved, but also because it is one of those subjects which people wantonly lose their reason over. Like a small number of other subjects in our society at the moment, it is one which people try wilfully to simplify, usually in order to show the world what a moral person they are and, by contrast, what immoral people their opponents are. I will use this post to set out some of my own views and certain

Citizenfour: the paranoia of Snowden & co will bore you to death

In simple entertainment terms Citizenfour isn’t as interesting as watching paint dry. It is more like watching someone else watching paint dry. People with opinions on Edward Snowden tend to divide into those who think he’s one of the biggest heroes of all time and those who think he’s at least one of the worst patsies or traitors of all time. Either way it’s hard to imagine why either party would want to watch two hours of footage of him typing on a keyboard. And then typing some more. While the camera focuses on him from the other side of the keyboard. For a very long time. Neither is it

The emergency surveillance legislation will make us safer

Isabel wonders whether it is a good thing that all main parties allied in passing emergency surveillance legislation into law yesterday. While it’s true that legislation passed without any significant political objection can be bad news, this is one case where that rule does not apply. There are a number of reasons why the legislation was necessary. One was the European Court of Justice verdict from earlier this year that meant that this country and a large number of internet providers were at risk of entering a legally grey area. Far from being an ‘extension’ of powers, this bill is about the retention of powers which had been accepted until the

Don’t blame the Guardian if criminals are getting better at hiding online. Blame iTunes and Netflix

I wouldn’t wish to deny that all drug dealers and crime lords read the Guardian. Indeed, check the circulation figures, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that only drug dealers and crime lords read the Guardian. So, when I read last week about the trouble that GCHQ is now having tracking online criminality, and the way that GCHQ considers recent revelations about state surveillance via the Guardian to be the cause, I did not for a moment think that GCHQ was entirely wrong. I genuinely wonder, though, if the rogue National Security Agency IT boffin Edward Snowden, whom we hear so much about, has damaged national security as much as

P.J. O’Rourke interview: ‘Telling jokes and lying about politicians – what’s the difference?’

P.J. O’Rourke’s chickens are giving him trouble. ‘Two of them aren’t laying eggs right now,’ he explains. But he doesn’t know which ones. ‘I’m not sure who’s the guilty party.’ We’re driving to the field where his trees are harvested for timber and where he and his father-in-law have built a one-hole golf course. ‘How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink’ this isn’t. In his famous 1979 essay of that title the Daily Beast columnist and former editor of the National Lampoon made the case for being sozzled on the freeway: ‘It’s important to be drunk because being drunk keeps your body all loose, and

The Edward Snowden scandal viewed from planet Guardian

Last summer a National Security Agency (NSA) contractor called Edward Snowden leaked a vast trove of secret information on the mass data-gathering of his erstwhile employer and Britain’s GCHQ. He was widely lauded on the political left and libertarian right as a principled whistle-blower. Elsewhere he was derided as a naïve enabler of America’s enemies or as a traitor. His revelations provoked outrage from South America, cold fury from Germany and a warm smile from China and from Russia — where Snowden is currently granted asylum. The Guardian newspaper co-operated with Snowden in releasing this material, as they did with Julian Assange before him. As the author of The Snowden

Obama: “There are European governments that we know spy on us”

In an interview with The New Yorker, Barack Obama has hit back at European reaction to the Snowden revelations. He tells the magazine that “there are European governments that we know spy on us” and compares many of the European figures complaining about the allegations to the Vichy police officer in the film Casablanca. It’ll be fascinating to see wow those in the European Parliament who want to use this scandal to derail the talks on an EU-US free trade deal react to Obama essentially calling them out on this. Obama does, however, concede that the allegation that the US spied on Angela Merkel’s mobile phone is serious. He concedes