In February 2013, President Barack Obama hailed his administration as "the most transparent administration in history." It was an echo of a 2008 promise, made first on the campaign trail and then enshrined in Presidential memoranda, to share with the world the otherwise opaque dealings of an executive office, to restore trust in public servants. It was a bold promise, and one ultimately hamstrung by the very nature of the office. The Presidency, in charge of a permanent national security apparatus that manages multiple wars and perpetual intelligence operations, is a host of secrets. No well-intentioned transparency from the top-down would ever provide a clear picture of that world.
Transparency would come to the intelligence community from inside. In June 2013, revelations about an NSA mass surveillance program named PRISMappeared first in the Guardian and then in the Washington Post. These stories, which would prove to be the first of dozens, were sourced from secret documents, obtained by a system administrator, working as a contractor for the NSA, named Edward Snowden.
For months, Snowden worked inside the security apparatus, compiling an archive of secrets. This trove is, as it can only be, an incomplete look at the inner workings of America's intelligence community. After communicating his findings to several journalists, Snowden took leave from his job at the NSA, and then fled from his Hawaii home. First to Hong Kong, and then to Moscow, where he has remained in a state of asylum. While Snowden was in Hong Kong, the United States government charged him under the espionage act, for taking and transmitting secrets to an unauthorized person.