...[a] gripping and devastatingly even-handed account ... Epstein struggles to paint a factual portrait of Snowden without it feeling like an ad hominem attack ... Most of the public debate since that summer has been over whether Snowden is a hero or a traitor, a whistleblower or a spy. Epstein’s answer is both — but more spy than whistleblower. And the case he builds, especially in light of disclosures since the U.S. election in November, is damning ... In this winter of rattled confidence in government, Epstein’s welcome reappraisal of the most destructive data breach in the history of U.S. intelligence brings nothing to mind so much as the Roman poet Juvenal’s timeless question: 'Who will guard the guards themselves?'
...a great slop bucket of ice-cold water poured on this received narrative ... Epstein reminds readers of one unsettling detail after another from the Snowden story, details that tend to get airbrushed from more celebratory accounts. The popular characterization of Snowden – as an idealist motivated by patriotism even at great personal risk – takes an unrecoverable pounding in these pages ... And against the simplistic Hollywood narrative of a lone hero 'speaking truth to power,' How America Lost Its Secrets now poses an indispensable counterpoint.
You can see the outlines of a coherent hypothesis in How America Lost Its Secrets ... Epstein proves none of this. How America Lost Its Secrets is an impressively fluffy and golden-brown wobbly soufflé of speculation, full of anonymous sourcing and suppositional language ... The spirit of James Jesus Angleton, the C.I.A.’s mole-obsessed counterintelligence chief during the peak years of the Cold War and evidently a mentor to Epstein, hovers over these pages. Sometimes it seems as if Epstein so much enjoys exploring the twists and turns in Snowden’s story — his encounter with Snowden’s mysterious lawyer in Moscow, Anatoly Kucherena, is especially memorable — that he doesn’t have an overwhelming need to settle the questions he raises ... his concern seems to be half with the celebratory closed loop between Snowden and the journalists who covered him, and half with the causes and consequences of a major security breach at the N.S.A. The heart of the matter is the second of these concerns, not the first.
In How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft, Epstein plunges in boldly against the tide of kudos for young Snowden, suggesting that the boyish techie we read about or see onscreen is a singularly destructive player in the game of international espionage ... Snowden, declares Epstein, likely made off with a massive haul of potentially damaging national secrets ranging far beyond the files that exposed illegal NSA surveillance ... Epstein is no rookie, but rather an established author with a contrarian streak ... Epstein builds an admittedly speculative case for treason, and he supplements his narrative with fascinating digressions about intelligence practices in general and the sorry cavalcade of recent moles who have burrowed into secrets that should be better safeguarded.
This is a book long on conjecture, innuendo, and unsubstantiated claims; it reads like an adrenalized addendum to the discredited House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report on Snowden ... There’s only one problem with this explanation: As Epstein himself points out, “no witting accomplice was ever identified” by the FBI, which is a cagey way of saying that the 'witting accomplice' theory is specious. Rather than putting it completely to rest, however, Epstein burrows in further ... Similarly, one could point out all the assertions that have no basis in fact, that ignore known evidence, stretch the truth, or quote people who are making stuff up. But this would require quoting much of the book ... In the end, and quite ironically, there is something retrograde about a book claiming that Edward Snowden is essentially a tool of the Russians, when there’s no question that the same could be said of the current American president and a number of his cabinet members and advisers.
Nothing in How America Lost Its Secrets is likely to sway Mr. Snowden’s many fervent supporters. And for all of Mr. Epstein’s breathless tales of foreign travels and clandestine meetings with unnamed 'sources,' in the end he can produce only the most circumstantial evidence to support his more provocative claims. He is far more convincing, however, in casting doubt on the accepted picture of Mr. Snowden as a selfless whistleblower acting on the highest motives. At a minimum, Mr. Epstein shows that much in Mr. Snowden’s story simply does not add up, and that much was discreditable in his actions even if one accepts the good he did in bringing attention to the excesses of NSA’s domestic data-collection activities ... He repeatedly passes off detail as relevancy, effort as result. For all of his gum-shoeing around hotel lobbies that Mr. Snowden once passed through and interviewing sources who must not be named, precious little of substance emerges.
Epstein is a voracious researcher and presents many intriguing aspects of the Snowden case. He is especially good at tracing a series of flaws in CIA and NSA security that facilitated Snowden’s theft. But his conclusions about Snowden are largely speculative, and he undermines his mission by making much of minor discrepancies, occasionally omitting contrary evidence and narrowly defining whistle-blowing ... Defining whistle-blowing this way serves Epstein’s argument that Snowden’s motives were less than altruistic. But Snowden saw this as blowing the whistle on global surveillance, saying later, 'What’s scariest is not what the government is doing that’s unlawful, but what they’re doing that is completely lawful.' In the end, this spy story leaves us with the most obvious facts — and troubling questions.