Somewhere in England. 14 October. Sir David Omand is one of the most reasoned and reasonable of former senior British security officials I have ever met. He called the impact of information theft by Edward Snowden, “…the most catastrophic loss to British intelligence ever”. It is not without irony that as Omand spoke Edward Snowden was receiving the Sam Adams Award for standing up for ‘integrity’ in spookery…in Moscow! As he accepted the award Snowden looked for all the world like a mild-mannered choir boy.
Snowden like Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is part of a new generation of anarchists forged in the information wild west that is the dark web – the World Wild Web. For the information anarchists the aim is not the establishment of some esoteric new balance between security and liberty but rather the replacement of state borders with information universalism.
Now, I am no apologist for power and the many (not all) group-thinking Establishment greasy-polers who support them. Indeed, the over-mighty state is never far away as evidenced by current efforts in Britain to introduce state regulation of a free Press and the European elite’s desire to create an EU super-state. The state will always exploit all and any opportunity to control information and extend its writ – it is the nature of the beast. However, to imply British and American security services are a threat to liberty to justify law-breaking is dangerously misguided.
Freedom imposes responsibilities and it is the complete absence of responsibility that defines Snowden and the information anarchists. Sadly, by publishing the information Snowden stole Britain’s Guardian newspaper has crossed the line between holding power to legitimate account and rendering it dangerously impotent. Indeed, by publishing security critical information the Guardian is making the case for press regulation easier and an over-mighty state more not less likely.
Snowden and his fellow anarchists appear to see themselves not so much above the law of the land but rather as an alternative to it. At the very least the arrogance of the information anarchists is breath-taking. When David Miranda was stopped on 18 August at London’s Heathrow Airport under anti-terrorism laws en route from Germany to Brazil he was allegedly carrying up to 60 gigabytes of stolen British files classified to the highest level. If true not only was Miranda in flagrant breach of British law but why on earth fly through London?
A British court will this month hear a case between the British state and Miranda at which as I understand it Miranda will offer a public interest and human rights defence. It is something of an under-statement to suggest this will be a test case because the way the court interprets public interest and human rights could well define a new balance between security and liberty. Absolute liberty is of course the absolute right of the individual to absolute freedom. That is a definition of anarchy.
The information anarchists are strategically important. They are part of a growing band of anti-state actors in a twenty-first century world which will be defined by a cacophony of struggles; the state versus anti-state, democracy versus rich autocracy and in Europe between the state and federalists.
Sir David Omand is unequivocal. “The assumption the experts are working on is that all the information [that Snowden allegedly stole] or almost all of it will now be in the hands of Moscow and Beijing” and that the information furnished by Snowden is invaluable to terrorists and criminal networks.
Global security is not Grand Theft Auto. It is a deadly serious business with Western security services locked in an oft deadly struggle to prevent the deadly ambitions of Islamists or countering the voracious appetite for stolen state secrets of Chinese, Russian and other intelligence services. From my experience security officials are not hell bent on subverting liberty but good people daily laying their lives on the line and sometimes losing them so you and I can go about our business in the reasonable assumption that we will come home safe.
And that’s the point – for the information anarchists the World Wild Web is a kind of information super-highway with absolutely no road-signs. Rather, Snowden, Assange and their like see themselves as the High Priests of the Web sitting in high judgement over an unwritten Hobbesian law of natural information. Judge, jury and executioner in the struggle between security and liberty.
Edward Snowden is no hero and as long as some fete him for his actions other anarchists will emerge to do immeasurable damage to legitimate Western security interests. Indeed, if Snowden really had the courage of his stated convictions he would not be hiding in plain sight in Russia but return to the US to face the justice of democracy.
Edward Snowden – choir boy he ain’t!