Edward Snowden may run into some trouble getting paid for his memoir Permanent Record (Metropolitan Books), but he was never all that concerned with money. Did he talk his way into a $62k a year contractor job at the age of 22? Yup. Did he take a pay cut to work directly for the government? That he did. He also kept his three-story townhouse fairly bare-bones, sleeping on a mattress on the floor and accepting hand-me-down furniture.
So for Snowden, it’s never been about the money—it’s always been about the dissemination of the truth, at all costs.
It’s funny that Permanent Record is one of the biggest memoirs so far this year, as it’s written by a guy who never wanted to be a public figure. The importance of privacy was impressed upon him from an early age: Snowden recalls finding a letter addressed to his sister in the mail as a child. He wanted to open it, but his mother stopped him. “She explained that opening mail intended for someone else, even if it was just a birthday card or a chain letter, wasn’t a very nice thing to do. In fact, it was a crime.”
Fast forward to 2009. A simple, exploitable computer error confirmed something Snowden had feared, or at the very least suspected, driven by curiosity more than anything else. In the years since 9/11, the United States had developed a sophisticated system of spying on, monitoring and otherwise invading the privacy of any and all Americans with access to an electronic device.
Snowden sat on this discovery for years. He makes it clear in this book that he did not go digging to expose the Intelligence agencies, but rather so that he could understand how the surveillance systems worked. Of course, once he made the decision to turn whistleblower, there was no going back.
I’ve always admired Snowden, so I needed very little convincing of his status as an American hero. This book might not convince anybody who’s already decided he’s a traitor, but it’ll be an illuminating journey for all those readers who are on the fence or may have, in the years that have passed, simply forgotten what that whole Snowden mess was all about. (Hmmm, does it have something to do with Wikileaks? What about that Seth Rich guy Grandpa keeps posting Facebook memes about?)
Permanent Record is the definitive, well, record of the events leading up to Snowden’s bombshell 2013 leak. He and Metropolitan Books have cleverly chosen to release it today, September 17, Constitution Day.
Seven years ago on this day, Snowden read through every Article and Amendment of the Constitution to better understand it. He realized that the United States Intelligence Community made decisions that might not be constitutionally sound, but their shrewdness in manipulating the very rules that govern us allowed them to operate above the law. Or, in Snowden’s words, “They’d hacked the Constitution.”
Now, seven years after that realization and six since he sacrificed his livelihood to take a stand, Edward Snowden is correcting the record.
Permanent Record is now available.
About Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and grew up in the shadow of Fort Meade. A systems engineer by training, he served as an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, and worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency. He has received numerous awards for his public service, including the Right Livelihood Award, the German Whisleblower Prize, the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling and the Carl von Ossietzky Medal from the International League of Human Rights. Currently, he serves as president of the board of directors of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.