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Senior Correspondent

Traitor or Patriot?

The journalist Glenn Greenwald has a new book out, “No Place to Hide.” Greenwald is the individual to whom Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, leaked documents last year that revealed N.S.A.’s widespread ability to spy  on Americans.

According to Snowden’s revelations, no one is safe since 9/11 – not only in the land of the free but where hundreds of millions of others live around the globe. Think Big Brother and George Orwell’s prophetic novel, “1984.”

Greenwald, until recently a columnist for The Guardian, was the first journalist Snowden sounded out. In his book, based on his exchanges with Snowden, Greenwald calls attention to “the agency’s ‘corporate partnerships’” extending “beyond intelligence  and defense contractors  to include the world’s largest  and most important internet corporations and telecoms.” In Greenwald’s rendering the Orwellian nightmare is a fact of modern life.

In a review of the book Tuesday in the New York Times by Michiko Kakutani, we learn that Snowden – “regarded by some as a heroic whistle-blower, others as a traitor” – is, in Greenwald’s account, a courageous idealist who “needed to act on his belief.” He was in part influenced by books he read growing up.

The ancient Greeks are cited and a work by Joseph Campbell, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” Campbell, was a popular speaker in lecture halls and on TV,  the author of works in mythology and religion. He died in 1987.

From his reading, Snowden told Greenwald, he became convinced “it is we who infuse life with meaning through our actions and the stories we create with them.” He also credited video games for giving him insights. Snowden is quoted as saying, “The protagonist is often an ordinary person, who finds himself faced with grave injustices from powerful forces and has the choice to flee in fear or to fight for his beliefs . And history also shows that seemingly ordinary people who are sufficiently resolute about justice can triumph over the most formidable adversaries.”

He is portrayed in the book as a brave man who did only what he believed was the  conscientious thing to do.

A  particular moment in making his decision was when he was in Japan  for N.S.A. in 2010. Snowden said, “I could watch drones in real time as they surveilled people they might kill.” He added, “I watched N.S.A. tracking people’s Internet activities as they typed. I became aware of just how invasive U.S. surveillance capabilities had become. I realized the true breadth of this system. And almost nobody knew it was happening.”

Without casting judgment on Snowden as traitor or patriot, I find it ironic that he found a welcome mat in the Russia of Vladmir Putin who served for 16 years as an officer in the KGB in the days when the country was the Soviet Union.

This article originally appeared in the San Leandro Times.

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