The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man


Luke Harding introduced by Samanth Subramanian


By Jules Evans, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Guest Blogger


Luke Harding, Guardian journalist and the author of The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man, transported the audience of the Jaipur Literature Festival into a world of intrigue, espionage and danger, and made us all think twice about what we share on our mobile phones.

Harding was one of a team of international journalists who published the leaked files of Edward Snowden, a former contractor of the National Security Agency in the US, whom Harding described as ‘the biggest whistle-blower in history’.

In 2013, Snowden became disillusioned with the US intelligence services, which had launched a massive operation to spy on its own citizens, via the internet and smartphones. This decision happened ‘without democratic discussion, approval, or consent.’

Snowden gathered evidence of this surveillance programme, fled the US, hid out in Hong Kong, and eventually arranged a meeting with Guardian journalists. After examining the files he took from the NSA, they texted back their editor with a secret code-phrase that the material was legitimate. It read: ‘the Guinness is good’.

A Guardian team, including Harding, then walled themselves up in a ‘bunker’ in London and started going through the thousands of documents that Snowden had leaked. They revealed a surveillance operation involving not just the US intelligence services, but also the UK. ‘You Brits are the worst of the lot’, Snowden said. The files he leaked also revealed the US government had hacked the emails of German president Angela Merkel.

Harding described the inept attempts by the UK government to stop the leak, after the Guardian had published several explosive stories about the material. Prime Minister David Cameron ordered several Guardian computers to be destroyed, despite the fact the material was also held by the New York Times, and by Snowden himself.

Harding suggested the audience should all take steps to protect ourselves from state snooping: ‘Governments are listening to all of us, here and around the world. They can remotely activate the microphones on your phones, they can track you using the location GPS on your phone.’

Samanth Subramanian, who was chairing the session, asked Harding about the ethical implications of leaks such as those of Snowden and Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, which had also been published by the Guardian. Did he think both leaks were equally morally justifiable?

Harding, who has also written a book on Assange called Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, said: ‘Julian’s view is that if you release all information, governments can be made accountable. My view is that there are times when some messages and sources need to be confidential, for national security. We fell out over that. Latterly, Wikileaks has been captured by the Kremlin and used to undermine the US election.’

Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill



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