Inside account on Snowden

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State, by Glenn Greenwald, is published by Hamish Hamilton.

WHEN General Keith Alexander, head of the US National Security Agency (NSA) was given a tour of British intelligence agency GCHQ in 2008, he might have been justified in feeling he owned the place. Last year, the whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the NSA had paid more than £100-million (R1.7-billion) over three years to buy influence over GCHQ's work.

When discussing the kind of data it should collect, Alexander is said to have asked: "Why can't we collect it all?" It was not the first time Alexander had used this phrase.

"Collect it all" occurs so often in the stash of files released by Snowden that it is clear it had become the NSA mission statement.

We live in a world of cellphones, GPS, e-mail, Skype and social networks – in short, everything that in wartime would be covered by the term "sigints".

Once, signals intelligence was all about submarines and codes: today it is the stuff of our everyday lives. As a result, sigints has moved from a supporting role in the security services to centre stage. Slowly, the power and reach of government listening posts have become a cause for concern.

By the summer of 2013, when Snowden released his cache of files, "collect it all" was no longer an abstract slogan.

The documents showed GCHQ and the NSA were gathering data from all of the big telephone and internet companies, Verizon, Google, Microsoft and others.

No Place to Hide is the inside account of these revelations, written by the US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who took Snowden's files to The Guardian newspaper.

In two action-packed chapters, Greenwald lays out the events, day by day, as Snowden was pursued through Hong Kong by spies and reporters desperate to uncover his identity.

The remaining three-fifths of this engrossing and polemical book explains why the revelations matter.

The vast quantity of data gathered by the spy agencies has led to new ways of reading our conversations, using logarithms to detect patterns such as times and dates, geographic spread and all the internet sites that interest us.

The results of these analyses, the so-called "metadata", reveal everything about our lives. We might lie in our calls and e-mails, but the metadata faithfully record our politics and religion, our closeness to friends and family, and all of our secrets.

Snowden was born in 1983 and grew up at the heart of a communications revolution. In the exculpatory statement he released with the stolen files, he is idealistic about "open source" communities and a "free internet", and furious at the abuse of power by "the darkest corners of government".

Greenwald, though 16 years older, shares Snowden's values.

A one-time lawyer who became a journalist via a blog, he is scathing about traditional journalists, and his writings spit venom at the "beltway media establishment" in collusion with government.

Even while employed by The Guardian, he often threatened to publish directly to the internet if the paper did not follow his schedule.

Snowden is now living in Russia, which is just about the blackest joke one can imagine. – The Telegraph