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 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.

Read the whole thing on Medium.

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1 Response

  1. Tommy Gilley says:

    There is a substantial disconnect of perception. The NSA sees this ‘big data world’, and most citizens view their data as their own. Snowden didn’t sacrifice his life because it’s cool to take 25 minutes to send an email. He and others simply perceived the situation from a different view, and they realized the situation was nauseating. Nobody in the Intelligence community can empathize with the citizen because they’re within the crystal gates. Outside those gates, the idea of what the Intelligence community is doing (as well as the things which haven’t come out) runs a citizen through the emotional gambit: anger, despair, and loss of faith in the rule of law. Of course, feeling those things is just reactionary hyperbole by extremist constitutionalist.

    Not one person in the intelligence leadership has been shown to have ever have sat back and honestly mulled the opinions outside the gate.

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