On Wednesday, journalists discovered that Edward Snowden was an avid poster in their online forums. For more than ten years, he posted under the name TheTrueHOOHA. Ars Technica's Joe Mullin has been reading Snowden’s posts. He tells Bob that, taken as a whole, they trace the thinking of a precocious teenager into a tech-savvy geek into an opinionated adult.
JOE MULLIN:He really looked like an everyman.
BOB GARFIELD:That’s Joe Mullin, an editor at the technology news site Ars Technica.
JOE MULLIN:For an IT guy who is dealing with the tech underbelly of the government, you know, in our community, he seems like the everyman, in a certain context.
BOB GARFIELD:On Wednesday, journalists discovered that Snowden was an avid poster on Ars Technica’s user forums. For more than ten years, he corresponded under the name "The TrueHOOHA,” a handle he’d used elsewhere online, as well. Mullin has been reading Snowden's posts, which, taken as a whole, trace the thinking of a precocious teenager into a tech savvy geek, into an opinionated adult, seeking and offering help along the way. From the beginning, Mullin says, Snowden seemed at home in the Ars tribe. It's a place where “nerd” isn’t exactly an epithet.
JOE MULLIN:He definitely self-identified as a nerd. He was proud of it. He talked about how he wanted to make a gamer name for himself and that that gamer name would be “WolfkingAwesomefox.” And he wanted other gamers to do it too. He wanted to learn how to surf the Internet anonymously. He wanted to learn how to build a Web server.
BOB GARFIELD:And he posted on things that really had nothing to do with technology. Can you give me a small sampling of what you ran across as you went back to the writings of the "The TrueHOOHA”?
JOE MULLIN:Sure. He joined our forums in 2001 when he could have been about 17, according to the timeline we have. As early as 2003, he was talking with one of our writers and our editor-in-chief Ken Fisher, and he was talking about his own agnosticism and sort of the nature of freedom, waxing philosophical.
BOB GARFIELD:But he also gave some clues as to his view of the emerging security state. Can you give me some examples?
JOE MULLIN:As early as 2006, he would make jokes. There was a user on a forum who was asking about a strange noise that his Xbox 360 gaming console was making, and Snowden, as “HOOHA” said, oh, that’s the NSA’s new surveillance program. And, of course, now we know he was probably working in the government in some capacity at that time. So he was sort of making jokes with our users about the government watching you, while he was working for the government.
In 2010, Snowden sort of responded to another Ars user’s question about a piece of equipment built by Cisco. There was a discussion about a security flaw in a piece of Cisco equipment. The flaw was related to a backdoor that had been built so that the government could use this equipment for wiretapping, in some sense. He wrote, “It really concerns me how little this sort of corporate behavior bothers those outside of technology circles. Society seems to have developed an unquestioning obedience towards spooky types.”
BOB GARFIELD:It pains me and almost shames me to ask you this question, but having read all this stuff, have you seen anything that would answer, for anybody who’s asked ‘til now, Ed Snowden, hero or villain? And, by the way, does it matter?
JOE MULLIN:I think people who look at his history on Ars and the many statements he left on our site are gonna see someone who comes off as a pretty regular guy. He was a young guy who sometimes said stuff that was off the cuff about girls and about what he was into.
But, I think for the half of the country that sees him as a hero, it is gonna humanize him and it doesn't make him look like a bad guy. And for the half of the country that sees him as a villain, I don’t know that it’ll necessarily change their minds either.
BOB GARFIELD:There is one thing I do have to ask you about this. Edward Snowden wasn’t writing under the name Edward Snowden. He was using this handle "The TrueHOOHA.” And he's been kind of outed. [LAUGHS] It’s – there’s, I guess, some irony in the fact that he wished to remain anonymous and through forces beyond his control no longer is. It's almost too pat. Have have given that any thought?
JOE MULLIN:We certainly have. You know, Snowden was a personwho knew what he was doing and was prepared for a blizzard of publicity about him, once he leaked. You know, while he was anonymous, I think the Edward Snowden today absolutely knows that he has an online life - he had a life for over a decade – and that people are going to notice it and that the media is going to see it and that the government will also see it.
You know, he wasn’t that anonymous, when you look at what he posted on Ars. He gave so much detail about his life – his age, his employer, where he was living at different times, different jobs he’s had, and then he also posted photos of himself. So we have Ars members that keep a very low profile, and he really wasn’t one of them!
BOB GARFIELD:Joe, thank you so much.
JOE MULLIN:Thanks a lot.
BOB GARFIELD:Joe Mullin is tech policy editor at Ars Technica.[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]