Five years ago, Edward Snowden became one of the world’s most wanted men, after his massive intelligence leak hit the headlines.
The former CIA and NSA operative, who disclosed American and British surveillance operations – stunning intelligence agencies worldwide, is expected to speak at an Israeli conference in early November. The conference, organized by Israeli media consulting firm OH! Orenstein Hoshen, will host Snowden via a secure video-link from his secret hideout in Russia, where he will answer questions put forward by the Israeli audience and is expected to speak about issues pertaining specifically to Israel.
Former Mossad deputy director Ram Ben Barak, where he was in charge of the “Keshet” department for obtaining intelligence via electronic means, will respond to Snowden’s remarks. Barak has also served as director general of Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence Services and the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.
Snowden is a deeply controversial figure. He was known as a “genius among geniuses” while working for some of the US’s most secret intelligence agencies. In his last job, he was granted virtually unrestricted access to all NSA data. Snowden became conflicted by serious personal doubts regarding the NSA’s conduct.
“I made huge efforts to report these programs to my colleagues and supervisors and anybody who had the appropriate approval, and the response of those I told about the scale of the constitutional violations ranged from very concerned to shocked but nobody was prepared to risk their job, their family and perhaps even their freedom in order to undergo what was required of such a revelation,” Snowden said in an interview in 2014.
Some revere him for his courage in revealing huge amounts of classified information about how the US intelligence agency had collected sensitive information on hundreds of millions of people worldwide through the computer systems of tech and communications giants including Microsoft, Google and Verizon. Others revile him as a traitor who sold out his country.
Whether he is a hero or a villain, the personal cost of Snowden’s actions have been high. He is currently holed up in a secret hideaway in Russia – where he has been for the last five years – and he could face decades in prison or the death penalty if he ever returned to the United States.
Despite the publication of much of the material that Snowden took with him, there are reports that an enormous number of very important stories remain unreported – some of which relate to the Middle East and Israel.