PROOF: (moderator -- this is from the @edwardlucas twitter feed showing that I am re-starting this IamA at 1800 gmt/1300 EST

I will try to reply to the questions that have come up since I closed yesterday, but please ask again if you think I have missed something.

Edward Lucas (who tweets as @edwardlucas) is a senior editor at The Economist. An expert in energy, intelligence and cyber-security issues, he covered Central and Eastern Europe for more than 20 years, witnessing the final years of the last Cold War, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet empire, Boris Yeltsin’s downfall and Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.

From 1992 to 1994, he was managing editor of The Baltic Independent, a weekly newspaper published in Tallinn. He holds a BSc from the London School of Economics, and studied Polish at the Jagiellonian University, Cracow. He is married to Cristina Odone with three children. “The New Cold War” (2008) was his first book; his book “Deception”, about east-west espionage, was published in 2011. His latest book, "The Snowden Operation"is a "kindle single". He is the author of a forthcoming book on the politics of cyber-security, to be published by Bloomsbury.

"The Snowden Operation" lays bare the naïveté, hypocrisy and sinister background surrounding Edward Snowden, the fugitive American intelligence contractor now living in Moscow. Drawing on 30 years' experience observing the world of intelligence, Lucas depicts Snowden as at best reckless and naïve, and at worst a saboteur. He stole far more secrets than were necessary to make his case and did so in a deliberately damaging matter. Any benefits to the public debate about issues such as meta-data and encryption are far outweighed by the damage done to the West’s security, diplomacy and economic interests.

“The Snowden Operation” highlights the inconsistencies and puzzles in the account of events given by the “Snowdenistas”. It explains how Russia could have sponsored Snowden’s data heist -- the greatest disaster ever to hit Western intelligence, and one whose effects have neatly suited Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

The book is available here for the US edition (99c) or at for the UK/ROW edition (99p)

Comments: 285 • Responses: 40  • Date: 

flyryan48 karma

I'd like to remind people that you should not be downvoting Mr. Lucas just because you don't agree with his views. He is taking time to do this AMA for the benefit of all of us and downvotes should be reserved for comments that do not add value to the conversation.

Ajakirjanik35 karma

Thanks, I started this with the help of an ace-techie, in the form of my son Johnny. He has gone out to buy some eggs and I am finding this a bit stressful. I am not sure about the upvoting and downvoting. Please bear with me if I am making mistakes.

tsvjus2 karma

I like reading opinions that are reasonably thought out contrary to my own. The reddit thing of down voting in herds really pisses me off. Save down votes for trolls.

A good question will tease out the authors opinions better than a down vote. E.G. What Edward thinks is the governments responsibility in terms of being transparent with their citizens vs need for secrecy lies would have been more appropriate than the down votes.

Ajakirjanik2 karma

I am happy to answer that question. I think that government secrecy is inherently tricky in a democracy. I think the state does need to be able to bug and snoop and search, and these powers need to be regulated by law. It is important to keep politicians some way away from the details in my view, a) because things may leak and b) because the temptation to abuse them for political reasons is substantial.

thepersonfromporlock29 karma

Hi Mr Lucas. As you may know, Edward Snowden is seen by much of reddit as a hero. What's your opinion?

Ajakirjanik28 karma

I disagree. I think he did not expose systematic wrongdoing by the NSA. He showed that it makes mistakes, which is not the same thing. The "Snowdenistas" do not seem to realise the damage he has done. They are too paranoid about their own Western governments, and too trusting about Russia, the country where Snowden arrived so strangely and lives so secretly

nhexum39 karma

Is it possible that they distrust both their own government as well as the Russian government? Whether what the NSA was doing was wrongdoing or not is up for interpretation, but at the very least he exposed the spying the NSA is doing on its own citizens which is, quite frankly, terrifying in some respects. That spying is not debatable. It happened and continues to happen at a level that was previously unknown to the majority of people.

Ajakirjanik-3 karma

I do not think the NSA spying is "terrifying:. We knew that the NSA and other agencies had billion-dollar budgets and employ some of the smartest people in the world. Surely we don't think that they were sitting around playing Sudoku?

nhexum19 karma

I don't think anyone thought they were playing Sudoku, smart-ass, but it's dishonest to think that the American people should have known that the NSA was using billions of tax dollars to spy on their own citizens.

Ajakirjanik14 karma

no need to be offensive. If you know that you have the world's biggest signals intelligence agency and that you face a range of adversaries including spies terrorists and gangsters, who do not conveniently confine their activities to neatly packaged geographical categories, I think you should assume that this agency will do its best to intercept their communications, including those which terminate in America. For that reason they will need to warehouse the meta-data in some way that is both secure and searchable.

FAQBITCH20 karma

Can you elaborate on the damage he has done?

Ajakirjanik18 karma

the details are in my book. But Snowden’s published revelations include material that has nothing to do with his purported worries about personal privacy. They reveal how countries like Norway and Sweden spy on Russia. Why is it in the public interest to reveal how democracies spy on dictatorships? Why is it in the public interest to reveal how the NSA intercepts e-mails, phone calls, and radio transmissions of Taliban fighters in Pakistan, or to show that the agency is intensifying scrutiny on the security of that country’s nuclear weapons? Snowden even revealed details of how the NSA hacks into computers and mobile phones in China and Hong Kong.

nhexum41 karma

Most "Snowdenistas" aren't upset that governments are spying on governments. That's been going on since the beginning of time. I don't think anyone in the west is upset about spying on Pakistan, Iran, or the Taliban's communication either. What they are upset about, and what makes people passionate about the reveals, is the spying that is being done by the US Government upon its own citizens.

Ajakirjanik6 karma

America has the most intrusive and comprehensive system of intelligence oversight of any country in the world. Two congressional committees and the FISA court. You may not like it, but it is way tougher than (eg) France. I personally think it is too intrusive. Moreover, as I show in my book, the Snowden revelations do not show a SINGLE CASE of the NSA deliberately or illegally intruding on the privacy of Americans. The critics conflate the warehousing of meta-data with actually spying. The term "surveillance" is misused here.

10half26 karma

What damage was done, exactly, to the West's security, diplomacy and economic interests? I can imagine that relationships were affected, on a political basis, but how much damage did this really do? Also, were there in your opnion any positives about the 'whistleblowing'? Any good effects?

Thank you for this AMA!

Ajakirjanik13 karma

I tried to answer this question above. Snowden’s published revelations include material that has nothing to do with his purported worries about personal privacy. They reveal how countries like Norway and Sweden spy on Russia. Why is it in the public interest to reveal how democracies spy on dictatorships? The Snowdenistas’ outrage is based on the fact that this spying takes place in cooperation with the NSA, the Great Satan of the intelligence world.

Other disclosures are similarly hard to justify. Why is it in the public interest to reveal how the NSA intercepts e-mails, phone calls, and radio transmissions of Taliban fighters in Pakistan, or to show that the agency is intensifying scrutiny on the security of that country’s nuclear weapons? Snowden even revealed details of how the NSA hacks into computers and mobile phones in China and Hong Kong.

arcsine124 karma

Why Snowdenistas? You're doubling up on the smear by association gambit. Not only associate with ists like communist & socialist, but ending with 'istas' it brings to mind the Sandanistas of South America. Flagrant judo attempt, lumping anyone who feels that the NSA & GCHQ domestic actions should be carefully regulated and at this moment, publicly investigated should be considered a socialist foreigner and automatically suspect. In the same vein, why shouldn't your supporters be labeled Lucaryans?

Ajakirjanik-6 karma

I don't mind if my followers (if I had any) were called Lucanians or Lucastiniks or anything else. It's quite legitimate in journalism and book-writing to find catchy titles and catch-phrases for things. I think that the Snowdenistas have the same problem as the people who glorified Ortega and his gang, who feel pretty silly now

arcsine122 karma

You claim that one of the terrible consequences of this whistleblowing event is that many people now question the statements of the government. You seem to have forgotten every other political event prior to the whistleblowing. Do you recall the worldwide financial meltdown that prompted protests such as Occupy Wall Street? While protestors and protests were being criminalized, financial fraud was being amnestied. Now you're using the same justification - "the work of these agencies are too important to society to be hampered by common notions of criminal prosecution"

Why do you support blind allegiance to the government instead of the responsibility of citizens to demand and defend their rights?

Firerhea16 karma

What about Vietnam and Watergate and the Church Commission findings? There have been many reasons, historically, not to trust the government.

Ajakirjanik1 karma

I think you may have have misunderstood my position. I am not arguing that government is perfect or that whistleblowing is bad. Indeed I make a specific point in the book of highlighting the Obama administration's lamentable record on whistleblowers.

squirrelstothenuts17 karma

I wish he would not refer to people who condone of Snowden's actions as "Snowdenistas". That's just reductive propaganda.

Ajakirjanik3 karma

I think it's legitimate to use catchy phrases when trying to make a point. We have fashionistas, so why not Snowdenistas. I am trying to make a dig at the unthinking trendiness of his supporters, who don't think that there is another point of view

nhexum16 karma

What was your role in "helping topple Communism and ending the reign of the evil empire in Europe"?

Ajakirjanik42 karma

I organised a "Solidarity with Solidarity" campaign in London in 1981, and did as much as I could help dissidents and anti-communist causes. I was one of very few Western freelance journalists living behind the Iron Curtain. Getting the news out helped break the Communist information blockade.

petshaver14 karma

Hello Mr Lucas, it's nice to have you here. I have read your earlier book, The New Cold War and have really enjoyed it.

You have probably found out by now, that the hivemind of reddit, as it is called, has a clearly expressed tendency to support Snowden. Just wanted to tell that I have read your recent piece in The Telegraph. I agree with you, absolutely.

Also, thank you for supporting Lithuania and other Baltic states since our independence. And also for current support of the revolution in Ukraine. Guys here probably do not know this, but you are respected a lot for your strong anti-totalitarian opinions and for defending democracy and human rights.

Ajakirjanik1 karma

thanks very much. Nice to hear (or rather see) a friendly post

Kameniev13 karma

Hi there, and thanks for doing this.

I've noticed you sit among the harsher critics of Putin, but I was wondering what did you think of Yeltsin? Also, you write a lot about how Putin's foreign and domestic policies are more aggressive, but I'd be most interested in fundamentally why you think that is?

Ajakirjanik19 karma

I think Yeltsin was a great man in some ways but gravely flawed in others. He did not understand the corrosive effects of corruption. He did not really understand the importance of institutions in a capitalist economy. (To be fair, many other people were making mistakes at the time too). The Chechen war was a terrible mistake. He also failed to see that the KGB had not been truly destroyed (as we now see all too clearly). On the other hand he did help the Soviet Union to break up more or less peacefully.

Priapistic4 karma

At what point did Yeltsin go from formidable poitician to mostly drunk ans seemingly a puppet of spin doctors/oligarchs?

lmac713 karma

I cant help thinking how distinctly different your point of view is Mr. Lucas, from most Americans. To you, it is a given that intelligence agencies serve the interests of the public good. But we simply cannot comprehend the context of the actions, so we can never judge said actions. So many Americans have for years looked at their own government with a deepening and growing distrust. Many believe their government operates outside of the law and is corrupt to the bone. You are talking about a country that blames its own government for political assassinations, false flag attacks, covert military operations, and a fundamental disregard for human rights by its use of torture (we could go on and on). There is a tangible fear and distrust in the air which is why Snowden's revelations were so explosive. It confirmed people's worst fears about how little their rights and freedoms are respected and protected. So, in that light, why on earth would you expect people to accept that covert agencies ultimately operate in the best interests of the nation when they practice widespread (and technically illegal) domestic surveillance? Is it Snowden that is the naive one here, or are you hoping the international audience will be naive enough to accept this bill of goods? I expect that will be a tough sell.

NSD23274 karma

"Most Americans" I wouldn't say agree with your point of view. "Some" yes. But I and a lot of others tend to agree with mr Lucas.

Ajakirjanik5 karma

I worry about this nihilistic attitude to America. I agree that America has lots of problems (name a country which doesn't). But to say that government habitually operates without the law, and that the only way to deal with it is sabotage, overstates the case in my view.

NSD23276 karma

I dont think it's as black and white as the pro-snowden crowd makes it out to be sometimes. There's a fine line between protecting privacy, etc, and actually keeping people safe. It's more of a gray area than as cut and dry as people would like to believe. I just find a lot of the snowden supporters, IMO, extremely naive.

Ajakirjanik6 karma

Thanks, I agree with that. One thing to bear in mind is that the West has rivals and enemies. I sometimes get the feeling that the Snowdenistas focus exclusively on the manifold faults of their own countries, and are oblivious to those of Russia, China, etc. And they are super-paranoid about the NSA & GCHQ, and rather trusting about Russia.

gravitational_012 karma

I'm my opinion, it is the international debate that the Snowden leaks have created that are most important. I don't pretend to know the extent of damage to US surveillance it may have caused. What do you think would have been the most productive way to create the necessary debate, without the problems you say were created?

Teggel203 karma

How about just leak the bits that were of genuine concern - wouldn't that have worked?

hitmyspot7 karma

I thought he did at the start, but then intelligence agencies lied to say it wasn't happening. Then he leaked more to expose those lies. Etc. etc.

Ajakirjanik1 karma

That's not my reading of it. most of the recent stuff has nothing to do with his purported main fear, of the NSA's ability to turn meta-data warehousing into turnkey totalitarianism.

Prokofy12 karma

Do you think that there are lines that journalists should not cross in handling stolen classified files? Is there a point at which journalists can be said to be in collusion if they incite hacking or specify what they'd like to see hacked or constantly collaborate with hackers on the material?

Ajakirjanik11 karma

Yes I do. I make this point strongly in my book. I quote a bit here

This book is not based on complacency about the status quo. It is not a whitewash of British and other allied intelligence agencies, either regarding their reaction to the Snowden revelations or their activities in previous years. I have spent much of my career in pursuit of official secrets (in dictatorships and democracies) and have had some success in finding them. I have on several occasions prompted official leak investigations, notably in NATO when I was the first journalist to disclose that the alliance had finally agreed to make contingency plans to protect its new members. In my book “Deception” I exposed the German BND’s spying operations in Estonia, and described the disastrous British intelligence operations in the Baltics in the 1940s and 1950s. In all these cases I have judged the public interest more important than saving politicians and officials from embarrassment. My instinctive attitude is to mistrust official explanations. The plea of secrecy that intelligence and security officials invoke when confronted with hard questions makes it easy to cover up incompetence, corruption and treason.

Yet transparency and journalistic freedom do not trump all other considerations. Secrets may be so sensitive that journalists have no business exposing them ... Journalists have a duty to their readers – but they are citizens too. Their safe and comfortable lives, and those of their fellows, depend on the proper functioning of the state. They should not take this for granted.

ubomw11 karma

I was wondering what's with the user name, it's Estonian for journalist.

Ajakirjanik11 karma

I wanted to use the name "edwardlucas" but it was taken. I used to work in Estonia and I speak some Estonian (a bit rusty now)

viciousfrankle11 karma

I think you've overburdened your writing with carefully-crafted, highly opinionated views because your desire for the book to sell well has dictated how you've written and has become the impetus for your wholesale slaughter of Snowden.

You point the finger at media, and then you turn around and use the same magnitude of hyperbole in your own writings and your responses here to bolster your arguments with more absolutist rhetoric.

I have a problem with your writing style and your responses here, because they are no better than all the other mouthpieces peddling borderline-disingenuous, polarized punditry in the name of sales, eyeballs, or whatever else it is that you're trying to win from us with your "strong opinions".

Take more than Snowden to task for what has gotten out to the general public in the form of details that serve no direct purpose in the whistle-blowing process. Take your own ilk to task, the ravenous journalist who wants to bring the spotlight on their own journalism before they do on the quality of their journalism. Those reporters choosing what to publish could further cull down the information he provides them, and journalists certainly exercise that right when they want to.

Yes, there has been a lot of information that is tangential to his primary goals of informing the public on the true state of surveillance within the US, but to promote the idea that having a billion-dollar budget somehow equates to us accepting their use of that budget is ridiculous. The ideas that we should accept how they use our taxpayer money just because they have it in-hand is absurd.

Let me tell you, it's all noise now. The negative impacts that you argue for leave no room for shades of gray, and I'm confident that you are fully aware how your writing is coming across, and you're not doing yourself any great service by giving your reader more of the same as what cascades out to us from mass media already. Disappointing AMA, clearly more interested in closing book sales than adding something to this conversation.

Ajakirjanik4 karma

I certainly don't think it is black and white. I agree that the debate has been valuable. But I think that you have to weigh the benefits against the costs, which are much higher. I am sorry if you don't like my writing style, but I am trying to make the arguments as clearly and pithily as possible.

My big point is that Snowden has not revealed an agency which is at war with or trying to subvert the constitution. I give the details in some other posts here and will be happy to expand.

[deleted]10 karma

What advice would you give a 19 year old university student who wants to become a journalist?

Ajakirjanik10 karma

write every day about something. Practise interviewing techniques and observation. Read lots of media, noting the things you like and dislike. Write to leading journalists with suggestions for stories or critiques of their articles. Check out the Economist for internships

Kameniev4 karma

Absolutely desperate for the Foreign Analysis internship, but the last time I've seen it advertised was in 2007. Does it still run? And what kind of applicants would you be looking for degree- and experience-wise, BA or MA or else?

Ajakirjanik5 karma

I have never heard of the "Foreign Analysis" internship. But all our internships are advertised in the Economist.

Ajakirjanik10 karma

OK that was enjoyable but I have to stop now. I am pleased at the response. I will try again same time tomorrow 1800 UK time, 1300 CET. Thanks to everyone

twelvedayslate9 karma

What's the biggest mistake you've ever made, and how have you learned from it?

If you could tell your 17-year-old self anything, what would it be?

Ajakirjanik18 karma

I should have started learning foreign languages earlier in life. I would tell my 17-year-old self that languages are fun and that the younger you start the easier they are. I really started only when I was 22 with German, and after that with Polish, Russian etc. But it was quite a hard slog.

twelvedayslate5 karma

What are your best tips for learning a new language, then? For someone who is older.

Ajakirjanik12 karma

immersion is the best. If you can't do that, get a passive knowledge by reading as much as you can. Try setting your Facebook and other website settings to the language you are learning.

heresybythought8 karma

What are your views on how mainstream western journalism covers eastern Europe and former Soviet states? I've become really disenchanted with The New York Times especially over their under researched reporting on the Maidan protests. What are good (preferrably English language) sources on the region?

Ajakirjanik12 karma

Foreign coverage is expensive and much of the mainstream media doesn't have the money to do it. When I was based in the region formerly known as Eastern Europe (a term I don't like) we had dozens of foreign correspondents. Even papers like the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune had correspondents and bureaus in Moscow and elsewhere. Now they don't

I also think that the media was a bit too trusting towards Putin because he wasn't Yeltsin. Many people refused to believe that Russia could be both in decline and also a threat. That was why I wrote "The New Cold War" in 2008. They also did not believe that Russian espionage was a threat. That was why I wrote "Deception" in 2011

heresybythought4 karma

Thank you. I really enjoy your books and your contributions to The Economist.

Ajakirjanik6 karma

delighted to hear it.

supersmileyface4 karma

Ive written many reviews in class on articles from your website, and i feel like the economist is a pretty neutral sortof publication.

Care to elaborate on your own politics? Im curious who you voted for, and why.

Thanks for your time, we know its valuable.

Ajakirjanik1 karma

It's a matter of public record that I used to work for Paddy Ashdown, who later became leader of our Lib Dems. I have friends in all three main parties.

TheArbitrageur4 karma

As a student in economics with a budding interest and passion for journalism, how would you recommend breaking into the industry?

Ajakirjanik2 karma

read and write a lot. Practise interviewing and observation. Critique journalism. Start at the bottom if necessary.

Imp_A_Lot4 karma

What do you see for a Post-Russia Putin?

Ajakirjanik5 karma

it will be difficult because he has stoked up a lot of problems for the future, both in hollowing out institutions and in letting tensions build up

Priapistic3 karma

Why is the book so much more expensive in Englandthe UK than in the UKUS? Jokes aside, can you make money from a book priced 99cents?

Ajakirjanik3 karma

It's the Amazon pricing structure. 99c in US, 99p in UK. Make sure that you are on the right site. I get 70% which is rather more than I get from a print book especially when it is sold discounted on Amazon.

bunnybonfire2 karma

What's your opinion on Putin?

Ajakirjanik5 karma

I have written a lot about him in the past. I suggest you look at my book "The New Cold War" which is available for a token 0.01p on Amazon (plus P&P)

pw08032 karma

What do you want to say to the people of the world that believe the secrets should have remained a secret?

Ajakirjanik2 karma

I think journalists can publish state secrets in the belief that the public interest demands it. But they have to be prepared to take the consequences, face prosecution and argue their case in court.

Priapistic2 karma

Helping topple communism is a bit vague. Supposedly people in the weapons industry in the US could say they same as they made the Soviet regime overspend. In what ways were you involved?

Ajakirjanik4 karma

see above

hatessw1 karma

There is no 'above' on reddit, the default sorting is done based on a collective vote. Maybe your son can help you link to the comment you intended to refer to when he gets back.

Ajakirjanik2 karma

sorry, I am trying to balance speed of response with comprehensivity. I helped organise Student Solidarity with Solidarity in 1981-2 and thereafter worked with dissident and emigre groups. I smuggled things across the Iron Curtain, was arrested several times, beaten up etc. My main job was to get information out. I was one of a handful of freelance journalists living and working inside the Soviet block in 1989.

hahayesyes2 karma

lol these are the most softball questions ever. This dude thinks Snowden wasn't a whistleblower. Yet OBama has admitted some faults and mistakes were made.

I learned solid facts of things I figured were happening. Snowden opened information for the masses. Yet this douchebag gets a soapbox to say how evil snowden was?

And you supposedly helped topple socialism or whatever...HAHA oh man, the fucking irony.

Ajakirjanik3 karma

Hello this is the "dude". I am not saying that the NSA is perfect. I freely admit that it needs reform (and go into some detail in the book). But I do not think that the NSA or GCHQ are the epitome of evil or even paving the way for "turnkey totalitarianism"

Teggel201 karma

You've said on Twitter that you attempted to contact Greenwald for the book. If you were able to speak with him, what questions would you like to ask him? Also be interested to hear the same for Snowden.

Also thanks for doing this - nice to see an alternate viewpoint around here.

Ajakirjanik2 karma

He didn't answer. I would like to explore his views on government, but also to ask him some quite specific questions about his contact with Snowden, about which there are ambiguous accounts

pwtercitygymleader1 karma

What are you most proud of in your career?

Ajakirjanik-2 karma

helping topple Communism and ending the reign of the evil empire in Europe

shaft6969-2 karma

This AMA has made me want to cancel my subscription to the economist. Mr. Lucas, you sound like a horrifying man, a likely member of your own country's intelligence community, and a shill for the worst of what governments can do. The UK has already allowed far too much intrusion into their lives, in the guise of security. Your idea that the public interest doesn't include a broad idea of what is really happening between nations, unless you think it should be available, is sad.

Ajakirjanik5 karma

I am sorry if I have horrified you. Please be aware that my views are not identical to those of the Economist, on this or any other issue. We have intense editorial debates and a sophisticated editing process and I am one voice among many.

If you disagree with my arguments, please explain why I am wrong, rather than just abusing me.