Rachel Marsden: NSA's PRISM program falls victim to an ego trip

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PARIS -- Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor on the lam for having dumped some classified documents on the desk of a British reporter, says that he doesn't consider himself a hero, but his girlfriend's blog paints a different picture, with delusions of grandeur dating back more than three months. If only the NSA's PRISM Program was as significant as their sense of self-importance.

Snowden's Hawaii-based dancer-girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, repeatedly refers to herself as a "super hero" on her blog, which is full of weird, spy-related postings that have yet to receive much if any attention. On March 4, she wrote: "When I was a child most of my friends would play dress up and fantasize about being a princess, super man or pickle rancher ... I would imagine being a spy." Three days earlier, under the heading "Super Spy," she promoted a dance show in which she performs as a spy, writing, "Here's hoping time and the Russians don't catch up with me!"

After four years as an NSA contractor, Snowden apparently realized that he was better suited to other things, like running into the arms of the Chinese or another regime willing to display a suitable antagonism toward America on behalf of his reluctant-hero self.

Behavioral contradictions are a pattern for Snowden, who started high school, then dropped out. He then joined the army, training to serve in the Special Forces, only to make the apparent shocking discovery that it may involve "killing Arabs." After briefly serving as a security guard for the NSA, Snowden joined the Central Intelligence Agency as a tech maintenance guy, but while hanging around the CIA station in Geneva he decided that he found the intelligence game distasteful. Not that it stopped him from further pursuing a career in spying. As a Booz Allen Hamilton employee contracting with the NSA, Snowden swore to maintain national security secrecy before deciding it didn't suit his agenda.

Now, Snowden says he understands that there are consequences for his actions, but he nonetheless is going to keep running away from them. He says he doesn't want attention, yet he's gone about communicating a grievance the way an attention junkie would. Snowden claims to be a pro-transparency advocate, yet he claims to be deeply concerned about your privacy.

And all this for what, exactly?

So far, Snowden's great contribution to collective "freedom" is that we now know the U.S. government is involved in the passive collection of phone records and Internet data -- in case you had been living in a closet and didn't already assume this. In other words, the government could feasibly know about your life, if it ever cared enough to dig through data belonging to hundreds of millions of people to find out. We're not talking about wiretapping or active intrusion, but mere collection.

What's truly tiresome is this growing culture of conspiracy whereby everything that the government does is an evil plot against average Americans. Personally, I have only benefited from government data-monitoring and collection. When my mobile phone was stolen in France, GPS tracking information sent from the service provider to the authorities enabled it to be located along with the perpetrators. Closed-circuit cameras enabled the logging of the suspects' faces. At various times in my media career, passive data collection has facilitated the identification and location of people intent on causing me grief under the convenient guise of anonymity.

So why is it that when cybersecurity is evoked, some people's minds go directly to the thoroughly unrealized negative potential for such things? Democracies have so many safeguards in place in the event that such fears ever do attempt to manifest. Why are we always looking out for the imaginary Adolf Hitler whom conspiracy cranks believe to be lurking in the soul of every elected authority?

Who, exactly, has the NSA victimized thus far? Until that question is answered, it's silly to accuse the system of pre-crime. Nor am I willing to attribute the term "whistleblower" to anyone whose behavior to date appears no different from that of any predecessors in the realm of intelligence leaks.

When the FBI's Robert Hanssen was imprisoned for leaking intelligence to the Russians, his lawyer, Plato Cacheris, attributed it largely to ego. Harold Philby of the Cambridge Five spy ring, which relayed American and British secrets to the Soviet Union, nicknamed himself "Kim" after a spy figure in a Rudyard Kipling story and was described by espionage researcher Rupert Allason as an egomaniac with a superiority complex.

The law will have to ultimately decide whether Snowden is a whistleblower or just another traitor.

(Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and former Fox News host based in Paris. She appears frequently on TV and in publications in the U.S. and abroad. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.)

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