Edward Snowden’s Book: How He Became a Whistleblower

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Permanent Record" by Edward Snowden. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What is discussed in the Snowden book? Does the Edward Snowden memoir explain why Edward Snowden chose to blow the whistle? Are there any major revelations in the Edward Snowden memoir?

Permanent Record is the Edward Snowden book that is a memoir of his life and career. The Snowden book also provides insight into why he decided to leak and how he went about getting the files.

Read more about Permanent Record, Edward Snowden, and the perspective he offers.

What Is the Snowden Book About?

In Permanent Record, Edward Snowden explains how he became involved with the government, how he learned about the mass surveillance program, and how he ultimately made the decision to speak up—a decision that would change his life, and the lives of everyone who uses the Internet, forever. At the time of the Snowden book was published (2019), around three billion people—42% of the world’s population—used the Internet regularly.

In 2013, Edward Snowden leaked top secret documents to the media. The documents revealed that the US government was conducting mass surveillance on its citizens and nearly everyone in the world. Permanent Record is the Edward Snowden memoir. 

Edward Snowden: Permanent Record Covers Early Years

In Permanent Record, Edward Snowden describes what he was like as a child. When Ed was approximately 12, he decided to spend as much time as he possibly could online. His grades fell again. He didn’t mind because he was getting an education online and his parents were happy enough with this reasoning—for a while. 

Ed especially liked learning about technical subjects and playing games, but he learned about all sorts of subjects. He sometimes felt like he wanted to consume the entire Internet. Every moment he wasn’t online new things were going up and he was missing them. When his family members kicked him off the computer, he’d print things to read, or he’d sneak online at night when everyone else was asleep.

Ed’s teenage rebellion consisted of hacking. The Edward Snowden memoir explains that he considers hacking to be the most educational, healthiest, and sanest way to establish independence. Hacking is a great way to put yourself on equal footing with an adult because all you have to do is reason, which doesn’t have anything to do with your age.

Edward Snowden: Permanent Record Details Brief Army Stint

The Snowden book provides insight into Ed’s desire for public service. After 9/11, Ed wanted to serve and enlisted in the army. An injury during basic training cut that short. After some time, Ed’s legs healed and he thought about what he would do with the rest of his life. He may not have made the cut for the army, but he was young and smart and had plenty of other options. Part of why he’d gone to the army was because he wanted to succeed at something that was hard for him. Computers had always been easy. Ed realized that he would best be able to serve via a computer.

Edward Snowden: Book Expresses Personal Values That Led to Leak

Ed didn’t have his own set of political values at age 22, he had a mish-mash of principles he’d learned from his parents and online. His parents were federal civil servants who worked for the government, not a particular leader. They were loyal to their country, not a party or specific person who ran the country. For Edward Snowden, Permanent Record is a chance to express his values.

From the Internet and video games, Ed learned that there was a clear line between bad and good. The early Internet also had a lot in common with American values—online, everyone was equal, free, and allowed to pursue whatever they wanted. Ed believed that if you were brave and smart enough, you could succeed.

Snowden Book Shows How Technologist Career Gave Him Access to Secrets

In Permanent Record, Edward Snowden talks about his career. Ed’s first job as a technologist was for a company called COMSO that contracted services to the CIA. (Intelligence agencies rely so heavily on contracting that it’s easier to work for them as a contractor than as an employee.) Ed spent the next few years working at a variety of positions for the CIA and NSA in the US, Geneva, and Tokyo. Because Ed worked with computer systems, he had top secret security clearance and access to more documents than most individuals would, even those higher up in the agency. That’s how Ed discovered the US mass surveillance program. For Edward Snowden, Permanent Record is another opportunity to raise awareness.

Edward Snowden’s Book: How He Became a Whistleblower

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Edward Snowden's "Permanent Record" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Permanent Record summary:

  • What Ed Snowden discovered that caused him to completely lose faith in the government
  • How Snowden led the bombshell reports of US mass surveillance
  • How Snowden is coping with his treatment as both patriot and traitor

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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