Saturday, June 8, 2024

An Overview of Glenn Greenwald's "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State"

One of my ongoing areas of interest has been the issue of free speech and free thought. I've written numerous times about Bertrand Russell's 1922 lecture on this topic, and frequently warned about the  government's use of propaganda to persuade (manipulate) the masses. It is for this reason I have been interested it the stories of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. 

This blog post will explore Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, a compelling exposé on the expansive surveillance practices of the National Security Agency (NSA) revealed through the whistleblower Edward Snowden. Published in 2014, the book is a detailed account of Snowden's disclosures and the broader implications for privacy, democracy, and government accountability. After the overview I will share what some of Greenwald's critics have said.

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No Place To Hide has five sections. The first details how Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald became involved with bringing Snowden's revelations to light. The meticulous planning and risks involved have the feel of a Mission Impossible flick. It soon becomes apparent why bringing to light these "dark secrets" was such a big deal.

Section two details the scope of NSA surveillance. Americans have generally assumed that there were laws restricting what the NSA, CIA and other agencies have authority to do. Snowden's experience showed him how these agencies have gathered extensive data on American citizens and international targets alike. (They don't call them "spooks" for nothing.)

Greenwald provides examples of various programs, such as PRISM and XKeyscore, which enabled the government to intercept communications and gather metadata. According to Greenwald and Snowden, these agencies were scraping info about us from the biggest social media platforms including Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and Skype. 

One of the first stories the Guardian published was how during the Obama administration the NSA was collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers. The White House, once this was exposed, defended this mass surveillance of U.S. citizens as necessary for our safety from homeland threats.

Part three lays out the rationale for exposing these government actions, how mass surveillance erodes civil liberties and creates a chilling effect on free speech and dissent. He highlights the constitutional and ethical concerns of pervasive government monitoring, contending that it undermines the principles of a democratic society. (Yes, this is 1984 revisited, in real life.)

Part four goes into detail about media complicity, all the various media players and and other players who willingly participated. Greenwald also discusses the challenges he faced in publishing the Snowden revelations and the broader issues of journalistic integrity and

The last section is a call to action. Greenwald concludes with an appeal for increased transparency, legal reforms, and public awareness to combat unchecked surveillance. He emphasizes the need for collective action to protect individual privacy and civil liberties.

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As you can imagine, not everyone feels the same regardng this book or the actions of whistleblowers like Edwad Snowden. Here are the pros and cons.


Supporters laud Greenwald for his courageous journalism and commitment to transparency. They argue that No Place to Hide sheds light on the extent of government overreach and the importance of protecting democratic freedoms. The book is praised for its meticulous documentation and compelling narrative, which brings crucial issues to the forefront of public discourse.

Many view Greenwald's work as a vital defense of privacy in the digital age. By exposing the NSA's surveillance tactics, the book underscores the need to safeguard personal information from unwarranted government intrusion. Advocates for privacy rights see the book as a critical reminder of the threats posed by mass surveillance.

The book is credited with sparking significant public debate and policy discussions around surveillance and privacy. Snowden's revelations contributed to legal challenges and calls for reform, highlighting their influence on both public opinion and legislative action.


Perhaps the biggest issue has to do with concerns over national security. Critics argue that Greenwald's disclosures, and those of Snowden, compromised national security by revealing classified information. Such leaks endanger intelligence operations and international relations, making it harder for agencies to protect against genuine threats.

Some detractors question Greenwald's objectivity, suggesting that his staunch advocacy for privacy rights and criticism of government overreach may skew his analysis. They argue that his portrayal of the NSA and its activities lacks nuance and fails to adequately consider the complexities of intelligence work.

In light of the above, the book's sympathetic portrayal of Snowden is controversial. While some view Snowden as a hero, others see him as a traitor. Critics argue that Greenwald's narrative may romanticize whistleblowing without fully addressing the potential legal and ethical ramifications.

Bottom Line

It's an enlightening read even if we already knew that our privacy is being violated. The extent to which our personal info is being gleaned is out there in other books like Bob Hoffman's BadMen: How Advertising Went From A Minor Annoyance To A Major Menace. The degree to which our own government has been active in this, however, is disturbing, even scary. If you're unfamiliar with the Snowden story, this is probably a good place to start. 

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