Even after reading this interesting book, I still don’t really know why the whistleblower sacrificed so much to blow the whistle. While certainly fascinating on surveillance and all that, it is better read as a study of the travails of a journalist who seeks to investigate national security. Shortly before publication Gellman realises that Snowden wants not only to leak, but also to be able to prove that he is the person who has done so, so he can claim asylum elsewhere. This sends Gellman into a panic. “Alarm gave way to vertigo,” he writes.
The value of this book is that Gellman eschews the binary “traitor or hero” assessment of Snowden. Rather he highlights the dangers of the surveillance state’s vast reach. I would expect nothing less from him, but I suspect that if the NSA were to create a user agreement page that opened before you could operate your new phone or laptop, the vast majority of people would simply tick it, unread, and move on.