Ed Snowden’s autobiography is unputdownable. I had no idea until  page 198 that he has epilepsy. He was 28 when he began experiencing brief space-outs that he didn’t recognize as petit mal seizures; then he had a grand-mal collapse. He had just comprehended the extent of the US government’s mass surveillance program.

Snowden’s friend Lindsay (“my stalwart angel”) did research online. “She Googled both allopathic and homeopathic treatments so intensely that basically all her Gmail ads  were for epilepsy pharmaceuticals… The latter half of 2011 passed in a succession of seizures, and in countless doctors’ offices and hospitals. I was imaged, tested, and prescribed medications that stabilized my body but clouded my mind, turning me depressed, lethargic, and unable to focus.”   Snowden is fortunate in that he senses an aura when a seizure is coming on and can protect himself somewhat. One in four epilepsy patients, including a loved one of mine, have no such forewarnings. 

As the top technologist for Dell’s CIA account, Snowden could work from home; but he couldn’t drive to meetings, so he took a disability leave. Homebound and watching TV, he followed news of the Arab Spring and calculated what the US had wrought since September 2001. “The previous 10 years had been a cavalcade of American-made tragedy: the forever war in Afghanistan, catastrophic regime change in Iraq, indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary renditions, torture, targeted killings of civilians  —even of American civilians via drone strikes. Domestically there was the Homeland Securitization of everything… and from the Patriot Act on, the steady erosion of civil liberties, the very liberties we were allegedly fighting to protect.” He was still not thinking about blowing the whistle. 

Snowden looks like who he is — clear-eyed, totally straight, a man in love with a woman, who never used illicit drugs, who tells the truth without deviation. Back when Stephen Colbert was funny he said, as the screen showed a close-up of Snowden, “The face of eeevilll!” 

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