Snowden's loose lips on NSA: A millennial generation thing?

Older generations know loose lips sink ships. Can we expect that from the Millennials? Probably not. 
Photo: AP/Manning, Swartz, Snowden

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2013 —As the debate over whether the 29-year-old whiz kid who admitted to leaking classified documents to the press is a hero or a traitor continues, there are more questions than answers about who Edward Snowden is and how he became a household name.

Edward Snowden was born in June 21, 1983 to a Coast Guard officer father in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, home of the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center, Aviation Technical Training Center and an Air and Small Boat station.


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By 1999, Snowden’s family had moved to Ellicott City, Maryland. After his parents divorced, his father moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania.

From all accounts, Edward Snowden was an academic underachiever. Despite being intelligent and maybe because of it, he dropped out of high school and took classes at Anne Arundel Community College starting at age 16 as part of a program to gain a high school diploma, but he did not complete that either. He ultimately took and passed the GED test.

Snowden enlisted in the Army around the age of 21, serving for four months before discharge. Snowden reports he was discharged after he broke both of his legs during a training exercise. Although the military does not usually discharge someone for an injury, and even amputees serve, if it would limit his ability to do his duty he would not be allowed to continue.

Snowden’s first job was as a security officer with the National Security Agency, located near his mother’s Ellicott City home at a covert facility.


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By 2007 he was working in Geneva, Switzerland for the CIA and was responsible for maintaining computer network security. By the time everyone knew his name, Snowden had floated from one top secret job to another, never lasting at any one for more than three years. He had only been in his current job for less than three months before he decided to remove classified information from his place of work, release it to the press and flee the country.

For a 24-year-old high school drop out to be hired to run Information Technology security at the CIA and to be a systems administrator making $122,000 a year at a time when the nation is dealing with some of its highest unemployment rates in the past decade is hard to understand. But it seems that in the age of such complex technology, agencies are turning to whiz kids and in these sectors they are truly kids.

Young adults in their 20s have never known a day without computers and complex technology. For many, it is second nature. They were put on computers in elementary school and most likely were required to take some computer programming classes.

This same group has never been fully aware of a time in this country before 9/11. They do not think it is odd, unusual, or inconvenient to go through metal detectors every time they enter a public building or to take off their shoes to get on an airplane.


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They hit puberty at the same time social media did. Most of them had My Space pages which evolved into Facebook, into texting and now to Twitter and Tumbler. Their lives have never been private. One parent says she was shocked when having a conversation with her teenager about not putting personal information on the internet because “everyone can see it” and the boy replied “you don’t understand Mom, I don’t expect anything to be private.”

These people have lived their lives without secrets. Their bags and their bodies have always been open for inspection. Now that they are working in the companies that claim to have and need secrets, they do not understand. How could they? Right or wrong is another discussion, but these people believe information should be revealed.

Edward Snowden is not the first 20-something computer whiz kid not to understand the need for secrecy.

Aaron Swartz was born in 1986 and was a brilliant computer programmer. He became an activist for making all information public information. Swartz helped develop the RSS web feed format and the social news site Reddit. In 2011, Swartz was arrested by Massachusetts Institute of Technology police on breaking and entering charges in connection with the downloading of journals for the intent to make them free and public.

Swartz founded watchdog.net to gather and post information about politicians. He later became instrumental in the campaign to prevent the passage of the Stop Online Privacy Act, which was criticized on the basis that it would have made it easier for the U.S. government to shut down websites accused of violating copyright and would have placed intolerable burdens on Internet providers.

He also downloaded and released an estimated 2.7 million federal documents  stored in the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database managed by the United States courts. Swartz downloaded public court documents from the PACER system in an effort to make them available outside of the expensive service. The move drew the attention of the FBI, which ultimately decided not to press charges as the documents, were, in fact, public.

Another “leaker” from this same generation is Bradley Manning, born in 1987. Manning is a United States soldier who was arrested in Iraq on suspicion of passing classified information to the website Wikileaks. The material contained videos of airstrikes, diplomatic cables and logs.  It was the largest set of restricted documents ever leaked to the public.

As agencies continue to want to hire young computer savvy technicians, they will need to be aware of the other side that comes with growing up so comfortable with computers in their lives.

For a generation repeatedly told that secrets will hurt the government, how can they suddenly be comfortable with a government who keeps secrets?

 

 


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Susan L Ruth

Susan L. Ruth is a long-time Washington, DC resident with extensive ties throughout the community.  She is a genealogical researcher and writer, and is an active volunteer in the Northern Virginia competitive swimming community.  Susan previously worked providing life-skills to head injured adults. 

Susan and her husband Kerry currently live in Northern Virginia with their three sons, Ryley, Casey and Jack and their American Bulldog, Leila.

 

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