The Evolution of Edward Snowden

In the last month, the Guardian has published one revelation after another about the NSA and the staggering and unprecedented ways that it surveils Americans (and literally everyone else). One of the most frustrating and predictable things about the response to these revelations has been the concerted effort to shift the focus from the substance of the revelations to psychological speculation about Edward Snowden. The dominant narrative in this regard is that Snowden is a “narcissist,” a bizarre claim about a man whose first public statement included “I’m no different from anybody else. I don’t have special skills. I’m just another guy who watches what’s happening and goes, ‘the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.'” This speculation is usually baseless and counterproductive, and human motivation is an infinitely complex thing, but this week the Washington Post revealed an aspect of Snowden’s inner life that is consequential and revealing.

Ed Snowden has portrayed government secrecy as a threat to democracy, and his own leaks as acts of conscience. But chat logs uncovered by the tech news site Ars Technica suggest Snowden hasn’t always felt that way.

“Those people should be shot in the balls,” Snowden apparently said of leakers in a January 2009 chat. He said he enjoyed “ethical reporting.” But “VIOLATING NATIONAL SECURITY? no. That s— is classified for a reason.”

“I am so angry right now. This is completely unbelievable.”

It’s interesting that Snowden was evidently virulently anti-leaks a mere 4 years ago. Working in the bowels of the surveillance state, seeing exactly what kind of powers the government is exercising over us, produced a radical shift in him.

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