The last two weeks have witnessed the unfolding of the strangest spy saga in the history of American intelligence. Edward Snowden, a young contractor with the National Security Agency, burst the bubble of secrecy surrounding that most secretive of American spy services with shocking accusations of civil-liberties violations by NSA. But soon thereafter Snowden changed the narrative, going beyond alleged domestic abuses by exposing highly sensitive NSA foreign-intelligence programs from Chinese territory. And then he fled to Moscow.
There has never been anything quite like this in the annals of American espionage. While there have been plenty of traitors, more than a few defectors, plus some whistleblowers (some of whom turned out later to have been under the control of foreign intelligence services), Snowden seems increasingly to be a postmodern combination of all three, perfectly tuned to the age of the Internet, 24/7 news coverage and Twitter. Certainly the global media storm he has unleashed surpasses any previous cases.