...[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.