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Letter: Snowden’s Craving for Attention

To the Editor:

Is anyone else struck by the resemblance between young Edward Snowden and the typical profile of those who commit mass shootings or assassinations? Snowden has been described as a socially isolated loner who spent much time alone and who presumably craved aggrandizing attention. Adam Lanza anyone? Lee Harvey Oswald?

During my 26 years as a naval officer I had access to “secret stuff,” and I carried a classification of “Top Secret” for short periods and once “Special Compartmented Information.” I saw things that I thought were inane, freaky or sensational that would have made great copy, but I had taken an oath. As a pundit recently said, if every 29-year-old with access to classified information decided to go public with it, national security would collapse.

The question raised by Snowden is, when is it in the national interest to disseminate classified information, even if it strikes us as repugnant. Governments transgress. Leakers and whistleblowers often perform a service to society, and the passage of time sometimes affects our view of them. Daniel Ellsberg perhaps now seems boldly ahead of his time, for example. The gathering of personal information/metadata by the National Security Agency is not a particularly attractive thing, and it is too soon to know if Snowden acted in the best interests of the country or if he simply craved attention. One might question his boldness: He wanted the world to know that he was the leaker, but he did so from the safety of another country.

Ponder the young man’s life now: He is on the run and will take shelter as an expatriate under the protective wing of some government. When his infamy has faded and only the persistent feds are still on his tail, life will become pretty stark and lonely.

At least he didn’t choose an AK-47 as his weapon and complete strangers as his targets. He thumbed his nose at a huge and secretive bureaucracy, and that, in the view of some, makes him worthy of cautious praise. Time will tell.

A. E. Norton