Friday, May 16, 2014

Vanity Fair publishes "autobiography" of Monica Lewinsky, and "biographies" of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald

Vanity Fair (Conde Nast) has two important articles in recent issues.

The most recent piece is the autobiographical essay by Monica Lewinsky, on p. 120 of the June 2014 issue, titled “Shame and Survival”, but called “Monica Lewinsky on the Culture of Humiliation” on the front cover.  I can certainly relate to her difficulty in finding employment.  One prospective employer wanted a Letter of Indemnification from the Clintons, because there was a 25% chance that Hillary Clinton would become president someday.  (That reminds me of the indemnification clause that book publishers make authors sign.)  That bears a certain parallel to my own life, where I avoided jobs requiring security clearances and had to stay in the world of “individual contributor”.  She mentions the suicide of Tyler Clementi, and indicates she thinks she could have helped him.  Now, there may be aspects of that tragedy we don’t know about (the personal papers on his PC have never been disclosed) that even betray a certain contempt that I sometimes feel within myself.  Her comment there seemed a bit off base.  But I think the essay is helpful as a whole. 

Lewinsy mentions the HBO documentary “Monica in Black and White” (directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato), 2002, which I don’t recall seeing right now, but I’ll check. Kenneth Starr wrote a book about the Lewinsky affair in 1998, which was quite explicit. From Public Affairs Reports, it’s titled “The Starr Report: The Findings of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr on President Clinton and the Lewinsky Affair”.  I did read this in 1999, and some of it was online.  The explicit nature of the narrative was usefl in building arguments against COPA (the Child Online Protection Act) at the time. 

The May 2014 issue of Vanity Fair, deceptive if still on the newsstands for those looking for the Monica story because the cover has a female picture, features a much longer piece “Edward Snowden: Patriot or Traitor?” by Bryan Burrough, Suzanna Andrews, and Sarah Ellison, on p. 152.       

The article is like a short book biography, and is quite detailed. I wasn’t aware that Snowden had dropped out of high school in tenth grade after mononucleosis.  On the basis of being entirely self-taught, he was able to get tech jobs in the CIA and later with NSA contractors, and be pampered in locations ranging from Switzerland to Hawaii.  He was described as a sensitive, gentle and geeky kid, but was tough enough to try to become a Special Forces recruit in the Army, but broke both legs in training. Apparently he recovered quickly and completely enough to function normally, although not stay in the Army. 

The piece describes how systems administrators work, and a bit of the physical layout of the NSA campus, and of a nearby area where many contractors work.  But the lifestyle, in his own view, was a bit like that of a James Bond character, without the guns.  (Roger Moore or Daniel Craig may be a better approximation than the original Sean Connery.)  Not everyone in clandestine services recruits nationals or arranges hits.  Some people, like the two major characters in my new novel (“Angel’s Brothers”) gather information, by floating round as attractive, likeable people.

Snowden describes his own political views as moderate, even mainstream, and he thinks he is more principled than Julian Assange. But a particular catalyst for his activity was the treatment of Bradley Manning (aka Chelsea Manning) after her leak.

The meetings with filmmakers and journalists (Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, and then lawyer-journalist Glenn Greenwald were painstakingly arranged (most of all, in Hong Kong, as well as earlier in Greenwich Village).  Cell phones couldn’t be brought to some of them because the NSA can locate people even with turned off phones (I didn’t know that – although it is said that the NSA can also spy on people’s harddrives, even material that hasn’t been posted online anywhere, although it could look into the “Cloud” like Carbonite for backups).

 There is a subsidiary biography of Greenwald, ultimately responsible for the biggest leak.    Not only is the course of his own career interesting in its own right, but also is his decision to live in Brazil where his same-sex marriage can be recognized.  (I don’t know why he couldn’t come to the US and live in a state that recognizes it, but immigration of partners is a whole different discussion for other postings.)  The article leads to the British government’s invasion of the Guardian offices and destroying hard drives.  Could a government to that to me?  

Update: May 18

Pete Williams of NBC Meet the Press interviewed Greenwald today.  Greenwald mentioned his book "No Place to Hide"  (Metropolitan Books, 2014) and said that the NSA seemed to target people who had actually looked at leaked Wikileaks documents.  Could that include me?  He also mentioned the website "The Intercept".

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