A supporter holds a sign at a small rally in support of National Security Administration (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden in Manhattan’s Union Square Photo: AFP
What does a leaker look like? Sometimes, people who reveal secrets remain in the shadows, and the public is left to guess at their motivations, agendas and states of mind.
Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old man behind the recent revelations about the National Security Agency's pursuit of phone and computer data, upended that history. He is a new kind of leaker of the wired age: an immediately visible one with a voice and the means to go direct with the public. In a era of friction-free Web communication, he disdained the shadows and stepped into view with a lengthy video interview he gave to The Guardian, which broke the story based on information he provided. He stated his motivation plainly, saying, "The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong."
By identifying himself as the leaker, Mr. Snowden is helping to ensure that the debate occurs in the public common and goes beyond a closely held government investigation followed, perhaps, by prosecution. The video, which can be seen by all, means that he will be judged by all in real time.
The video presents a portrait of a man who was not a marginal loser lashing out as he flailed in his personal life: he gave up a well-paid job and his life in Hawaii with his girlfriend and is now holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong. At first blush he appears reasonable and careful, which will make him a hard target for those who seek to marginalise him or suggest that his concerns are overblown.
SCRUTINY TO COME
Of course, with visibility comes scrutiny. For the time being, the video and his interview with The Guardian are what define Mr. Snowden, but in the coming days, weeks and months, we will learn far more about his personal and professional life, and perhaps a more complicated narrative about his motivations will emerge. For the time being, we only know that he was the source of the leaks and we know his explanation of why he did what he did. Various interested parties will now set about their work, trying to make him out as a hero or a villain as it suits their agendas. And as Mr. Snowden knows better than anyone, any secrets he has will not stay that way for long.
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