Is Edward Snowden a Spy?

He's Up to No Good - But Specifically What Kind of No Good?

It is not yet possible to determine if Edward Snowden is working with a foreign intelligence service (FIS) or if a rich fantasy life and raging narcissism may have lead him into this unfortuate position. What is obvious, however, is that he is not a simple idealistic whistleblower.

Unkowns aside, Edward Snowden continues to behave like a spy. He continues to damage U.S. interests. And he continues to issue communications shaped to benefit China.

“Snowden said that according to unverified documents seen by the Post, the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland since 2009. None of the documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems, he said.

One of the targets in the SAR, according to Snowden, was Chinese University and public officials, businesses and students in the city. The documents also point to hacking activity by the NSA against mainland targets.

Snowden believed there had been more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland.”

The cherry picking here, and in his initial interview, is suspicious. Edward Snowden’s pitch feels like it has been carefully crafted by a foreign intelligence service. His ability to stay hidden yet engage the media is suspect as well. The modified duck test will tell you that If it looks like a spy, talks like a spy and runs like a spy then it is probably a spy. I certainly wouldn’t bet against it in Edward Snowden’s case.

But there are other possibilities.

Snowden’s ridiculous claims, apparently rich fantasy life, and willingness to leave his family and girlfriend in a terrible position make labeling him with absolute certainty difficult at the moment. He may be something of a hybrid character fueled by delusion and narcissism. What may have started with the best intentions may have been undermined by fawning journalists and deep flaws in his character. Or perhaps, as some have suggested, he may have intended to be a legitimate whistleblower who (thanks to absolutely disastrous execution on his part) will ultimately defect out of necessity. He’ll likely have no problem doing so assuming that this isn’t theater and that he isn’t already a spy. The Chinese communist party-backed Global Times has already encouraged the government to extend him an invitation.

“Snowden took the initiative to expose the U.S. government’s attacks on Hong Kong and the mainland’s Internet networks. This concerns China’s national interest,” the commentary said. “Maybe he has more evidence. The Chinese government should let him speak out and according to whether the information is public, use it as evidence to negotiate with the United States openly or in private.”

So, call Edward Snowden whatever you like. The damage is done.

In the end we may find that all the descriptors applied to Snowden (short of the frighteningly naive “hero”) may apply to some degree. It may take years to reach a relatively complete understanding of his character and motivations. Those who study intelligence know that its history is full of complex, flawed, destructive, and tragic figures figures just like Edward Snowden. We call them spies.

Blogs of WarJohn Little has been breaking national security news and leveraging thousands of conflict, intelligence, security, technology & political sources to provide level-headed analysis in a complex news environment since 2002.