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New Foreword to Ed Snowden's Permanent Record: Confidential Version

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Edward Snowden with supporters
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New Foreword to Ed Snowden's Permanent Record: Confidential Version

by John Kendall Hawkins

Any elected government that relies on surveillance to maintain control of a citizenry that regards surveillance as anathema to democracy has effectively ceased to be a democracy.

- Edward Snowden, Permanent Record

Published in September 2019, Edward Snowden's memoir, Permanent Record, immediately shot to the NYT bestseller list, receiving well-deserved critical and popular acclaim, and, in my estimation, it would have won the much-coveted Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction the following year. It is a riveting, well-written, and deftly edited document. It details a Surveillance State apparatus so intrusive and comprehensive, utilizing the Internet and piggy-backing on corporate media (Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) database collections and algorithms, that Snowden shows how catastrophic that apparatus is to the future (and past) of human privacy and how it makes governmental transparency impossible, thereby destroying democratic institutions. Snowden's revelation about the previously untold workings of the NSA and CIA were a wet-dream candidate for Julian Assange's Wikileaks publication, although, as Snowden relays in the memoir, he chose in the end not to dump at Wikileaks but to seek out journalists to vet his information and spread the word through the mainstream media (MSM).

Yes, Permanent Record was well on its way to the status of whistleblowing classic, akin to Daniel Ellsberg's Nixon-era bombshell, The Pentagon Papers. But, as they say, something happened on the way to the quorum forum: The State. In December 2019, a US court ordered the profits of the sales for Permanent Record seized, reasoning that Snowden had violated nondisclosure agreements with the NSA and CIA. In other words, he had not submitted the book for the long process of review and redaction prior to open publication. The court finding went further,

Additionally, and while subject to the Secrecy Agreement, Snowden has made public remarks at various events including a "TED" conference, an internet security trade fair ("it-sa"), the College of William & Mary, and Dalhousie University.

The government then seized in excess of $5.2 million Snowden received for the book and speeches he delivered. Following the ruling, Snowden tweeted to the Twittersphere,

The government may steal a dollar, but it cannot erase the idea that earned it... I wrote this book for you, and I hope the government's ruthless desperation to prevent its publication only inspires you read it - and then gift it to another.

But, Snowden has not suffered on the financial front since settling in Russia. His internet-based speeches and writings have earned him more than $8 million in 2020 alone, according to one probably unreliable source. So, take that, the Goss tells Uncle Sam.

In early 2021, as if to tweak the government's Pinocchio-length appendage, Snowden released a Young Readers Edition (YRE) of Permanent Record. It is in all essence the same memoir as the "adult" version - minus 100 pages. The language is the same. The story is the same. But there are pseudo-redactions - along with some excellent copy-editing to reduce 'lag' for young readers, sections that got him in trouble with the government have been excised. In the YRE, your child won't read two major chapters of the adult version, "Homo Contractus," which may be off-putting to an identity-searching teen, and "The Tunnel" (see the previous comment). Also, the chapter, "The Boy," which mentions some naughty things Snowden, and his co-workers, got up to -- spying on love interests and sharing nudies of Ayn Rand doing shoulder shrugs -- in a section called LOVEINT has been circumspectly circumcised. Not because of the sex, of which there is not enough, but because the program he describes is illegal and impossible and the government has disavowed any knowledge of its existence.

Feeling frisky, and with nothing better to do in my dotage, I decided to ixnay the adult version and the YRE and produce a Permanent Record: Confidential Version (PRCV). Here, I recover and reconstruct some of the lost 100 pages, judiciously (leaving out the times the doorknob broke, as the Bard from Duluth would say) editing my findings down to about 40 pages, including what I hope will come across as merely modest pages of notes and remarks on topic that has proven larger than any one life can expect to be. So, if a potential reader is strapped for time, especially during this holiday season, she or he or s/he may wish to cut to the chase scenes and read only the three missing chapters alluded to above, plus some bits and pieces I scratch my scrotum over in ponderment of the editorial decision-making process involved, such as Ed's Mayflower heritage pride and the deletion of his slaver's distant past. Other than that...

Of the missing material, "Homo Contractus" is probably the most significant cut. Here Snowden details the degree of corruption that has beset the Military-Industrial relationship that Ike warned us about all those years ago. Snowden talks about humbly going for a techie job interview, expecting decent wages, only to be prodded by the hiring agent to seek more salary (the agent gets a cut), He describes ostensibly working for a computer company - Dell - when he is actually using it as cover while he spies for the CIA. And, in general, he paints a grimly entrenched system of contracting-out of government services to private enterprises (owned and operated by newly "retired" government employees with top secret clearances) who do things in the world on behalf of and paid for by Americans without their knowledge or consent, in order to get around public accountability. It's the privatization of democracy. And if you don't like it, you can suck their Kochs.

Ultimately, and preferably, the reader will opt to read Snowden's seminal whistleblowing memoir that is unique and deeply important to the future of our species, and cries out for us, especially the youngsters of the Ice Station Zzzz generation, to stop our mess before it's too late. Permanent Record is widely available, despite the gubbo's shenanigans with the profits, including online at the marvelous electronic public library known as the Internet Archive. Here is the Adult version without expurgation. Put it on your F*ck It list. And read it.

Be seeing you, as Patrick "I'm Not a Number I'm a Free Man" McGoohan used to say in the dystopic cult hit series from the '70s, The Prisoner.


My review of Permanent Record is here.

My review of YRE is here.

cover of Permanent Record by Ed Snowden (Confidential Version)
cover of Permanent Record by Ed Snowden (Confidential Version)
(Image by John Hawkins)
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Permanent Record: Confidential Version {HERE}.

(Article changed on Dec 22, 2021 at 10:12 PM EST)

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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