Snowden & Wikileaks: Activists or Stateless Spies?
I wrote a post asking whether Edward Snowden and Wikileaks can be considered non-state spies on Joshua Fost’s State of Play collection on Medium.com. Here’s an excerpt:
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, non-state violence in the form of terrorism has become the threat de jour for the United States. In a post-Cold War environment where the U.S. reigns as sole “hyperpower” among superpowers, it is perhaps not surprising that combating the threat of terrorism, a mild annoyance compared to traditional state-based armed conflict, became a top priority. The devastating September 11 attacks were a display of just how dangerous a violent non-state actor could be. As part of the response to that threat, the United States defense and intelligence communities experienced a major build-up of capacity in the form of new agencies, tens of thousands of new personnel, and a dazzling array of secret programs. But this dramatic expansion of the national security establishment has left the U.S. more vulnerable to a different threat: espionage.
Members of the defense and intelligence communities like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden represent a new kind of international actor that mixes activism and espionage. Despite repeated comparisons to now-venerated whistleblowers like Daniel Ellsberg or Mark Felt, their motivations and methods make them more akin to spies. Even Wikileaks, which bills itself as a media organization, emulates an intelligence agency in its methods and purpose. But there’s a twist: groups like Wikileaks and leakers like Snowden don’t work on behalf of a state, nor do they seek to advance state interests. Instead, these non-state spies, if you can call them that, act on behalf of a global constituency from which they extract support. They are hailed as activists for their pro-transparency and anti-corruption ideology, while their methods simultaneously make them spies.