Walter Pincus of the Washington Post has an excellent analysis today in is "Fine Print" column. Though he has been portrayed as a classic "Lone Wolf, it appears likely that Snowden actually had support from an extended group of ideological soul mates. As Pincus' analysis shows, Snowden began his coordination with the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, and the Post's Barton Gellman, and Lauren Poitras in February 2013 – before he actually got a job at Booz Allen in March. Indeed, as Pincus notes, Snowden, in an unguarded moment, said that he sought the Booz Allen job precisely because it afforded him access to highly classified NSA materials. Here is the introduction:
Did Edward Snowden decide on his own to seek out journalists and then a job at Booz Allen Hamilton’s Hawaii facility as an IT systems administrator to gather classified documents about the National Security Agency’s worldwide surveillance activities?
Snowden told the South China Post in June that he took the Booz Allen job in late March or early April because it “granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked.”
Was he encouraged or directed by WikiLeaks personnel or others to take the job as part of a broader plan to expose NSA operations to selected journalists?
Snowden's efforts to flee and to publicize his ideological views have been supported by WikiLeaks, as well. Add to this Stewart Baker's trenchant analysis that both Greenwald and Gellman withheld information about the NSA's minimization procedures in order to magnify the effect of their stories and a murky picture seems to gain some clarity. Collectively, one begins to think (pace Pincus) that there is at least some possibility that the Snowden affair was a coordinated effort.
For me this emphasizes a point that I've been concerned about for some time -- an effect I call the democratization of conflict. Cyberspace is an immensely leveling tool that allows individuals and/or small self-organized groups to compete directly with nations. Seen in this light, the Snowden affair was a highly effective information operation by a small cadre of individuals. All of which makes me wonder if our obsession with preparation for cyber war against China isn't a case of refighting the last war in a new domain, instead of understanding the paradigm shift that comes from the capabilities that the new domain enables.