Young IT Guys Who Knew Too Much

Posted: Jun 13, 2013 12:01 AM
Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote that Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old former intelligence analyst who leaked information on huge U.S. data mining operations, "will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers." House Speaker John Boehner called Snowden "a traitor." Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein railed that he had committed "treason."

My synopsis: Snowden is scary -- because the government and private contractor Booz Allen Hamilton entrusted him with sensitive national secrets.

Snowden is clearly intelligent. It's not your average high-school dropout who lands a six-figure job that serves him up the keys to the intelligence kingdom. He was shrewd and brave to come forward as a leaker rather than remain in the shadows.

But Snowden is not so smart as he thinks. He told Greenwald the reason he leaked: "I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded." Oddly, he said that in Hong Kong.

"When you race to China," observed Richard Grenell, former spokesman to four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations, "then you just look like a buffoon."

Some differentiate Snowden from Pfc. Bradley Manning, who pleaded guilty to nine espionage charges and is facing more serious charges. Manning dumped hundreds of thousands of unredacted documents that put many others' lives at risk.

"I haven't seen any information that would suggest that the Snowden revelations put any intelligence operatives in danger," said Hoover Institution foreign policy fellow Kori Schake. And: "It didn't require the Snowden revelations for al-Qaida to figure that we were tracking them electronically."

I wonder how many more Snowdens are out there among the nearly 1.5 million Americans with "top secret" credentials who work for the government or private contractors. The intelligence community has given baby-faced technicians access to top-secret documents without making sure they understand the need to be true to this trust.

Manning was in his early 20s when he started giving away America's secrets. Snowden is not old enough to serve in the U.S. Senate -- yet this unelected IT guy thinks he has a right to determine which information should remain classified.

It makes you wonder whether U.S. intelligence has gotten too big, whether the spy community is tasked with culling more information than it can process. Schake sees a weakened "mission focus."

As Grenell sees it, "the federal government just keeps throwing money at problems, and there are very few bureaucracies that have an ongoing evaluation program of how the program works." After being flagged, according to law enforcement, the Tsarnaev brothers planned their Boston Marathon bombings undisturbed; Snowden's supervisors failed to notice that his attitude had taken a dangerous turn. Quoth Grenell, "We have to go back to the drawing board and reprioritize."

Perhaps it is time to put more of the human factor into the intelligence field. As Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., noted at a Senate intelligence hearing Wednesday, just because you're a champion swimmer doesn't mean you should be a Navy SEAL.