The movie Snowden by Oliver Stone performs a masterful job in depicting efforts by the National Security Agency (NSA) in comprehensively gathering up electronic communications between people and organizations in the U.S. and all over the world. Stone correctly displays the routine violation of U.S. constitutional rights such practices entail, and why Edward Snowden was motivated to become a whistleblower and leak official state secrets to journalists in order to reveal what was happening.
The movie frames the core issue raised by Snowden as personal privacy being a right protected by the US Constitution, except in cases where courts grant exceptions due to criminal activities or national security. In the case of the NSA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) had become a judicial rubber stamp for NSA spying. Snowden, however, revealed that personal privacy is routinely violated without any FISA court rulings, and with no transparency and accountability in the process used by the NSA and the intelligence community more generally.
Subsequently, journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras have seen their careers skyrocket as a result of their coverage of Snowden's releases, and the need to curtail state-sanctioned violations of personal privacy on spurious national security grounds. In short, the NSA and intelligence community should not be allowed to spy on private citizens without solid legal justification.
This raises the question of why is the NSA and the intelligence community spying on private citizens, and violating U.S. constitutional norms in the process? What Snowden the movie suggests is that the "war on terror", which is used to justify individual surveillance, is a mere figleaf for more long-term cyber threats posed by China and Russia, and the need to give U.S. corporations a competitive edge against international rivals.
This is where Snowden and the journalists covering his revelations fail to see the big picture emerging from deeper forces at play when it comes to NSA spying on private citizens. First, we need to separate the military- intelligence community comprising the NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), etc., from civilian-controlled organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency.
While the chief purpose of the NSA, DIA and other military-intelligence organizations is to conduct intelligence and counter-intelligence operations, it is the CIA that is uniquely tasked by the U.S. Congress to conduct covert operations. This is where the CIA will send its operatives into countries and organizations not merely to gather intelligence or perform counter-intelligence, but to conduct covert operations including sabotage, blackmail, coups, false-flag operations, assassination, etc.
What further needs to be considered is that the CIA, since its inception in 1947 under President Harry Truman, has conducted its covert operations without genuine oversight or transparency. There is literally no mechanism within the U.S. bureaucracy by which CIA covert operations can be understood, let alone accounted for. This led to Truman famously regretting his decision to enable the CIA to go beyond mere "human intelligence" gathering. Coming one month after President Kennedy's assassination, Truman was ominously hinting at a CIA link to the national tragedy.
In contrast to the CIA, military-intelligence operations are conducted in conformity with the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and run according to a strict chain of command. Basically, at the apex of the NSA, and other military-intelligence organizations, the officials running these agencies can be held accountable for their actions.
What further compounds the problem with CIA covert operations is who does the CIA work for? On the surface, the CIA works for the U.S. Congress and executive branch of government including the U.S. President. That is largely correct when it comes to the CIA analytical division, what Truman pointed to as its "original assignment", but what about its covert-operations division, which has been known over the years by a number of names, the current one being the "National Clandestine Service"?
There is abundant evidence that CIA covert operations are controlled by a "shadow government," which has its own agenda, entirely separate to the "representative government," periodically elected. This "shadow government" involves elite groups and other mysterious forces who are presently accountable to no one, and want to keep things that way.When President John F. Kennedy attempted to gain access to the CIA's most closely guarded secrets, he was assassinated in a covert action led by the chief of CIA counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton. My book, Kennedy's Last Stand, documents how Angleton was following a set of directives given to him by a mysterious control group known as Majestic 12 to respond to Kennedy and any future president who might become a problem concerning control over the CIA's deepest secrets.
Consequently, when it comes to answering the question, "why is the NSA spying on private citizens", the answer is more complex than the NSA simply wanting to know about citizens' private affairs in order to more effectively deal with global terrorism. The NSA and the military-intelligence community are more interested in learning about covert CIA activities, and how this impacts U.S. national security.
This then adds a new layer of complexity to the Snowden movie. Prior to becoming an NSA operative, Snowden was a CIA analyst who allegedly became disenchanted with its covert operations, and resigned. After resuming his work with the CIA, Snowden was transferred to the Hawaii branch of Booz Allen Hamilton, an NSA contractor, ostensibly for healthier working conditions.
This raises the questions, was Snowden a CIA mole whose job was to expose NSA spying, or was he alternatively set up by the CIA so that he would eventually reveal the truth about the NSA data-collection operations as a whistleblower?
The true goal of such a CIA covert operation then was not to reveal the NSA's spying activities in order to protect American civil liberties, but to curtail the effectiveness of the NSA's intelligence gathering on CIA covert operations. This was done in order to keep hidden not just CIA operatives, but the puppet masters behind the CIA covert operations whose power and influence extends to sitting U.S. presidents. This was a lesson President Kennedy learned the hard way, and President-Elect Trump is already learning with the CIA's covert operations to undermine his incoming administration.
If the above analysis is correct, what this suggests is that Snowden is at best an unwitting dupe manipulated by the CIA, or at worst a CIA mole whose real mission was to impact NSA intelligence-gathering operations that pose a threat to CIA covert operations.