Snowden and the potential for the USA’s ‘worst nightmare’

Snowden and the potential for the USA's 'worst nightmare'
Snowden and the potential for the USA's 'worst nightmare'

The controversy surrounding former NSA contractor Edward Snowden took an unexpected twist over the weekend, with provocative comments from the one journalist who’s been at the heart of the story from the beginning.

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first published the documents Snowden leaked, said in a newspaper interview published on Saturday that the U.S. government should be careful in its pursuit of the former computer analyst.

“Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had,” Greenwald said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro with the Argentinean daily La Nacion.

“The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare.”

There’s been a spirited debate over the last month about whether, and to what extent, Snowden’s revelations have caused actual damage, but Glenn’s comments on Saturday, if he was quoted accurately, suggest Snowden has far more damaging materials that he has chosen not to divulge. Indeed, the scope of these materials is apparently staggering – as Glenn put it, Snowden could do more harm to the U.S. government “in a single minute than any other person has ever had.”

Glenn soon after said the Reuters piece on his interview with La Nacion was a distortion of what he actually said. It did not note, for example that he said it’s not Snowden’s “goal” to do harm to the U.S.

In a separate interview yesterday with the Associated Press, Glenn said Snowden’s plans are “nuanced,” and media descriptions of a dead-man’s pact “have been overly simplistic.” Though Glenn understandably did not go into detail, he added, “It’s really just a way to protect himself against extremely rogue behavior on the part of the United States, by which I mean violent actions toward him, designed to end his life, and it’s just a way to ensure that nobody feels incentivized to do that.”

It’s that last part that got me thinking over the weekend.

I can appreciate the basic dynamic: Snowden is worried about the United States engaging in “extremely rogue behavior” and trying to kill him. I have no idea whether this fear is justified, but either way, he’s apparently put in place some kind of system intended to help ensure his personal safety. We don’t know the details, but if Snowden were murdered, extremely damaging information would be shared with the public, and U.S. officials would experience their “worst nightmare.”

Or put another way, Snowden is afraid, so he’s created an insurance policy of sorts.

It starts to look like a “mutually assured destruction” sort of dynamic: if I go down, you go down; so long as I’m fine, then you’re fine, too. The problem, however, is that in this bit of game theory, there are more than two adversaries – there are quite a few players on the board.

Enemies of the United States might find the prospect of a “worst nightmare” scenario quite appealing. Snowden can cause more “harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had”? I imagine there are all kinds of U.S. adversaries who would welcome such unprecedented, irreparable harm.

Will the enemies of the U.S. now target Snowden themselves in the hopes of bringing the devastating information to public light?

Edward Snowden and NSA

Snowden and the potential for the USA's 'worst nightmare'