Skip to main content

September 11, 2001 is a reference point for Americans.

Permanent Record

Terrorists, mostly Saudis, hijacked four American airliners, inflicting 2,977 fatalities.

As we mourned, national security bureaucrats contrived presidential directives permitting unrestricted access to intimate details of our private lives. The national security state expanded, shredding our Bill of Rights.

Throughout, leaders assured us that privacy intrusions were subject to rigorous oversight. They were lying.

The 9/11 events inspired many Americans to support the war on terror. One was Edward Snowden, a student at Maryland’s Anne Arundel Community College. His parents were federal employees with top security clearances. Snowden had just been certified as a Microsoft certified systems engineer. It was the path to service at the highest levels of our national security apparatus. “This was the brass ring, the guaranteed meal ticket.”

But Snowden wanted to serve at the front. He joined the military, was injured during basic training and discharged. Undeterred, he continued to search for national security work. He became an information technology (IT) engineer for one of many contractors that service the national security apparatus. A top security clearance? No problem.

Snowden sincerely believed his work was consistent with America’s constitutional principles. Domestic spying on innocent civilians? We would never do such a thing!

Snowden sincerely believed his work was consistent with America’s constitutional principles. Domestic spying on innocent civilians? We would never do such a thing!

There was one drawback. Snowden’s security clearance prevented him from discussing his work with the people closest to him, including Lindsay Mills, who later became his wife. She never had a clue about his work. Everything was classified.

Snowden and Mills were young, in love, and had a steady paycheck. Snowden traveled the world, servicing the IT needs of America’s spy network at military installations, consulates and embassies. Life was good.

The nature of Snowden’s work required he access the highest levels of the security machine. Documents needed to be opened, checked and closed again. Snowden soon discovered inconsistencies with what he was uncovering and what the surveillance agencies were saying. Programs named STELLERWIND and PRISM were monitoring our phone calls. Big Brother was everywhere.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Snowden’s final IT stationing was in Hawaii at a refurbished bomb poof facility called “The Tunnel.” There he devised several software tools to crawl through data files and catalog programs surveilling communications. He copied them to thumb drives.

He had to go public. He contacted journalist Glenn Greenwald through Greenwald’s colleague, filmmaker Laura Poitras. (This story is described in reviews of Greenwald’s Pulitzer Prize journalism, “No Place to Hide,” and Poitras’ Academy Award winning film, “Citizen Four”)

Snowden flew to Hong Kong where he gave the thumb drives to Greenwald and Poitras. He then sought asylum in Ecuador attempting to fly there via Moscow and Havana. Obama’s Secretary of State John Kerry canceled his passport. He was trapped in Moscow.

Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder then charged him with espionage. This prevents him from defending himself at trial. Snowden deserves a fair trial before a jury of peers, but the espionage charge assures that he will never get one. In essence, this book is Snowden’s defense brief to the American people.

Concurrent with the release of Snowden’s book, the House of Representatives renewed domestic spying authority, sneaking it at the last minute into an omnibus federal spending bill intended to prevent a government shutdown. The entire Southern California congressional delegation supported this legislation.

The Pasadena Star-News exposed the sneak attack, editorializing on Nov. 20, “We urge Congress to put the civil liberties of Americans ahead of political expediency moving forward.”

Congressman Adam Schiff led the initial phase of impeachment proceedings against President Trump. Ironically, Trump’s defenders now charge that some of the evidence gathered against Trump was acquired by illegal surveillance.

Edward Snowden presents an eloquent defense. All Americans should read his book, his defense brief. Snowden deserves a Congressional Medal of Honor, not an espionage trial.

The most recent insult to our freedoms emanating from the Snowden case happened in Virginia last week. Federal Judge Liam O’Grady ruled that Snowden should be deprived of all royalties acquired from this book, according to a Dec. 19 New York Times story. Those who buy this book might consider making a supplemental donation to the American Civil Liberties Union, which serves as Snowden’s lawyer.


“Permanent Record,” by Edward Snowden, Metropolitan Books, 352 pages; hardcover $17.99, paperback $18, Kindle $14.99, audio CD $33.08. 

Robert M. Nelson
Pasadena Weekly