Cover Image: Dark Mirror

Dark Mirror

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Member Reviews

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this!

This was excellent. Really enjoyed this one. Fascinating details all through this. Writing was terrific. It's hard to not to know much about the story given the media coverage but I learned a ton from this work. Highly recommend for anyone wanting to know more of this story. This case was obviously one of the most important of its kind.
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Years after Edward Snowden emerged as a whistleblower on the intelligence activities of the NSA and other agencies, there is still much light to be shed on this highly controversial topic. 

Barton Gellman, formerly of the Washington Post, was one of three journalists Snowden carefully chose to share his revelations with after much consideration. "Dark Mirror" offers a deep dive into the events that unfolded from the time he was first contacted by Snowden. By his own admission, Gellman was initially  "lukewarm" toward Snowden. The book reveals how their communications were conducted, and how a level of trust was formed over time. 

"Dark Mirror" is a fascinating read into a subject that should concern us all, our right to privacy, and how intelligence organizations could potentially utilize information gathered for political means. It offers an objective view on the topic that some would say is soft-handed in its approach. However, the ultimate opinion formed by the author is one that many share; that Snowden did more good than harm.
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Let me just clear the air first; I don’t usually read any political or non-fiction books because I’m not certain what the feedback on these things will be and it’s really difficult for me to review them. I can’t pin the author up against a wall and demand they rewrite their protagonist in a more believable way or analyze their work of fiction by highlighting what I marveled at in terms of world-building or felt that they were boring the hell out of me with too much information, too soon.

I’m not sure how this is going to go, but nonetheless, let’s give it a shot.

Other than igniting a new sense of paranoia in me regarding just how much data entities such as the NSA or FBI gather on a daily, global basis, Gellman completely lifts the veil from my eyes as he writes an expert report on his efforts at communicating with Verax/Snowden before and after Edward revealed his identity to the world. From juggling legal balls of flame to monitoring his own movements online and having secret meetings with sources big and small, Dark Mirror feels like a nerdy take on the James Bond franchise, minus the alluring ladies, guns, and car chases.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to trust you to watch my back, but that’s not why I talk to you,” he told me when we resumed contact in the fall of 2013, “I trust you to report.”
At 359 pages (excluding over twenty pages of notes), Dark Mirror is happy to fill in any missing gaps Gellman and his other associates weren’t allowed to print in paper about the time. Written in a journalistic recounting of events past and present, I can see why Gellman has garnered foes in high places as well as allies among them.

Like I said, it reads like a nerdy spy story.

Gellman takes us through the detailed paces of data-encryption, security keys, SSL serves that were hacked, the enormity of surveillance software in use today, how Apple protects user privacy by constantly updating and installing newer safety measures to keep the U.S. government from spying on its own people, to tongue-in-cheek hackers addicted to quirky memes about cats and the ethical slurs that are part and parcel of NSA training programs…there is so much that I just lost thirty brain cells trying to recall everything I’ve read about.
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Do you want to get the inside scoop on Edward Snowden?

You have options, including Snowden's own memoir.

But what's unique with Dark Mirror is that Gellman's investigative journalism experience gives him extra insight to ask both the subject and those Snowden targeted for disclosure piercing questions.

If that's what you're looking for, then this is the book for you.
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Well-written account of the journalist's history with Snowden and his investigations of the NSA. Gellman offers simplified metaphors to explain complex technology and privacy issues. At times, the information can still feel very dense, though. He offers an even-handed view of Snowden. The information about the NSA culture, not policy, was what bothered me most in the end. There is a group of very immature, misogynistic, racist, and irresponsible people working with data that most of us would consider private. That was unsettling. However, the author, NSA leaders, and even Snowden, make it clear that many NSA staffers are just normal people trying to do their job. A very interesting read.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book.
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Thanks to Penguin and Edelweiss and Netgalley for sharing this ARC. The book was great, shedding a lot of light into the Snowden disclosures and the fallout and history of intelligence and secrecy in the US. I have read and watched other things about Snowden but to date have found them to be biased which made me skeptical. Mr. Gellman’s book seems more objective to me, or at least as objective as possible given the situation. Highly recommend this to anyone interested in a nuanced account of the NSA culture of secrecy (and the juvenile culture at the agency as well).
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