Edward Snowden is a spy. The runaway CIA contractor may not know, or even care, whom he is spying for but the damage he is doing ranks alongside Philby, Burgess, McLean and Blunt. They comforted themselves with delusions that revealing the names of agents to the Soviet Union were for the greater good.
Snowden was equally deluded when he opened up the secrets of western intelligence to one and all.
Unlike the British spies, Snowden is not dealing in human information but electronic intelligence which in this day and age has more importance, but the results are the same.
Presumably, Snowden did not act for money. His paymasters are newspapers and they do not have the millions that the Soviet Union paid the last infamous US spy Aldrich Ames.
Ames in his own words compromised “virtually all Soviet agents of the CIA and other American and foreign services known to me” and had provided the USSR and Russia with “huge quantity of information on United States foreign, defence and security policies.”
It is estimated that information Ames provided to the Soviets led to the compromise of at least a hundred US intelligence operations and to the execution of at least ten US sources. Who knows the damage that will be inflicted by the Snowden files?
Unlike Ames, Snowden was able to claim the moral high ground when spilling out the inner workings and policies of the US and UK security services to the world. Revealing how the state spies on its own citizens, without their knowledge or acquiescence, can be considered laudable but he lost the right to be called a whistleblower when he fled to negotiate first with the Chinese and then the Russians about political asylum and then it was revealed that he had taken with him the whole security shooting match.
Whistleblowers stand up and are counted; Snowden crawled out and ran away.
In sweeping up every secret he came across and downloading them to be dripped out is just plain treason and he knows this, given his determination not only never to return to the US but also to stay out of its legal jurisdiction.
Snowden justified his actions saying: “I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things [surveillance on its citizens]... I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded... My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”
Presumably that is why he is now living in Russia, that Mecca of human rights.
How does the media come out of this? First of all they were completely right to listen to Snowden, to look at his files and then publish what was thought to be breaches of the contract between government and the people about surveillance.
They were right to pay for his exclusivity with flights and hotels but surely the alarms bells must have started ringing when he landed in Hong Kong and then fled to Russia. The money tap should have been turned off.
The motivation of those who turn to newspapers should always be carefully looked at by editors. It is not good enough to say this is a good story without looking at the end result. Those who dealt with Julian Assange must know this.
There is common cause between Assange and Snowden. The first revelations were in the true whistleblower tradition revealing how big government was doing wrong. But that was never good enough for Assange and Snowden is going down the same route.
When the Guardian was supplied with the Wikileaks files by Assange there was a top level panel of journalists scrupulously redacting anything they thought could be putting diplomats or the members of the security services at risk. What was published had been rigorously monitored. However this was never good enough for Assange who later just dumped all the files for anyone to see.
Given that Snowden is now in bed with Assange’s people there is some justification to believing that history will repeat itself.
The terms of Snowden’s temporary political asylum in Moscow are that he does not use any of the information in his files while living in Russia. He has already breached those conditions as the arrest of David Miranda the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald attests.
Miranda was held at Heathrow Airport with material passed on to him in Berlin which had originated with Snowden. According to the British government when Miranda was detained at Heathrow he was discovered with thousands of pages of top-secret British documents and carrying written instructions on how to crack encrypted computer files.
There is some dispute about the law under which Miranda was arrested. That will be decided by the courts and if some cack-handed government or Scotland Yard lawyers got it wrong then they should bear the consequences but given the material Miranda was carrying it was absolutely right that he should have been stopped, questioned and stripped of the information.
Now why was Miranda, not a journalist, being used as the carrier pigeon between Greenwald and Snowden? Greenwald initially said that the arrest of Miranda was a malicious and spiteful act.
However, when it came out that he had been carrying files which the British government now says “pose a significant risk to public safety” the explanation changed and Miranda quickly became a journalist carrying journalistic material.
There are some who say we are all journalists now but I believe the decision to use Miranda was a craven act. Greenwald or another staff reporter should have been used to do this act of journalism.
If it was thought he might have slipped under the security radar then the media has learnt nothing from the Snowden files.
Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government