It seems the more that comes out about NSA "whistleblower" Edward Snowden, the less he looks like a whistleblower and the more he looks like a straight-up traitor. In From the Cold gives more of his distasteful story:
As of this writing, the man who exposed the crown jewels of NSA's intelligence-gathering activities is still on the international concourse at the Moscow Airport, apparently awaiting a flight to Havana, the next stop on his way to Ecuador.Well, since the beginning of this affair that has been the big question, alongside "What is your name?", "What is your quest?", "What is your favorite color?" and "What is the capital of Assyria?" But right now, it is us being tossed into the Gorge of Eternal Peril. The release of Snowden's information coincided with the a visit by Chinese leadership to the US in the aftermath of revelations that the Chinese had been hacking US government networks. In From the Cold gives the caveat, but then gives the caveat a caveat:
So far, Mr. Snowden has missed at least two flights to Cuba, but (apparently) he has little to worry about--at least on the Russia leg of his global adventure. Various Russian leaders, including Vladimir Putin, have stated they have no intention of turning Putin over to U.S. authorities. True, there is no formal treaty covering such matters between the United States and Russia, but we have extradited at least seven individuals back to Moscow in recent years. As in most aspects of the bi-lateral relationship, extradition is clearly a one-way street.
But the travels of Edward Snowden raise some rather interesting (and dangerous) possibilities. While much of the world hails him as a hero, there is the very real chance that Snowden is nothing more than a spy, masquerading as a whistle-blower. As Bloomberg reported yesterday:U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether Edward Snowden’s leaks may be a Chinese intelligence operation or whether China might have used his concerns about U.S. surveillance practices to exploit him, according to four American officials.
The officials emphasized there’s no hard evidence yet that Snowden was a Chinese agent or that China helped plan his flights to Hong Kong and then to Moscow, directly or through a witting or unwitting intermediary. Rather, they are duty-bound to probe such a worst-case scenario for the U.S., said the officials, who are familiar with the case and asked not to be identified to discuss classified intelligence.
To be fair, the potential "Beijing connection" may be little more than an effort by the intel community--and the Obama Administration--to cover their collective posteriors. Counter-intelligence officials were reportedly aware of Snowden's massive download of NSA collection documents in mid-May, about the time he left Hawaii and traveled to Hong Kong.Another piece of this still-incomplete puzzle is that Snowden didn't actually just fall into this classified information. He sought it out:
Yet, the collective resources of the FBI (on American soil) and the CIA (overseas) were unable to prevent Snowden from leaving the United States. Equally embarrassing, the same agencies have had difficulty keeping up with him as he circles the globe, and there has been no talk about possibly nabbing him. Might we suggest a little light reading about the Mossad operation that capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina?
Edward Snowden took a job with a firm that provides contractors to the National Security Agency solely to gather evidence about U.S. surveillance programs, the self-avowed leaker told the South China Morning Post Newspaper.That sorta changes things, doesn't it? No one is claiming Snowden is the sharpest crayon in the box. He's a high school dropout, yet he not only ended up with a treasure trove of highly classified signals intelligence but he managed to elude the CIA and the FBI and escape the country. He claims he did it because, to paraphrase, he saw the US becoming more like China and Russia, so he flees to ... China and Russia. The first place he fled was to China. This does not make sense. He is obviously being played, but by whom is the question.
"My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked," the Post quoted him as saying in a story published Monday. "That is why I accepted that position about three months ago."
The documents Snowden has revealed so far -- he claims to have thousands more -- revealed classified details of U.S. programs to monitor domestic telephone traffic, as well as the activities of Internet users overseas.
He has also said the National Security Agency hacks into major Internet pipelines to intercept millions of communications flowing through them each day.
Did China put him up to this? In From the Cold:
[T]here are hints that Snowden may have shared that treasure trove of top secret documents with his Chinese hosts during that sojourn in Hong Kong. Call it the "price of admission." While the former British colony enjoys more autonomy (and freedom) than other parts of China, the harboring of an individual like Mr. Snowden doesn't happen by accident, or without the approval of senior leadership in Beijing.Not beyond reasonable doubt, but the circumstantial evidence is piling up, and many do not like where it is leading. Patterico:
And, given the fact the Chinese have been so accommodating to the former intelligence analyst, it's quite likely they got something in return; namely, detailed information on NSA collection efforts against the PRC's computer networks. With that sort of windfall, it's quite reasonable that Beijing would offer protection, clearance for a private jet flight on to Moscow, and other forms of compensation.
In other words, Snowden may be no different from Robert Hanssen, Rick Ames, John Walker and other turncoats who sold out their country for good, old-fashioned cash. After all, Snowden needs some way to pay the bills, beyond future income for book and movie deals. For the type of information he may have provided, Snowden could receive millions of dollars from spymasters in Beijing and Moscow. That could support a very comfortable lifestyle in Havana, Quito, or other locations beyond the reach of American extradition laws.
If you’re wedded to the narrative of Snowden-as-hero, then he Struck a Blow for Truth and Justice, and it hardly matters that he is furnishing unfriendly countries with information that has zero to do with exposing surveillance of U.S. citizens — but gives those countries a propaganda victory, or perhaps something even more valuable, like a technical roadmap of our surveillance network. To make a whistleblower omelet, you gotta crack open a few choice secrets for our enemies, to encourage them to facilitate your escape from the country you’re trying to save.(emphasis in original)
The more I learn about Snowden, the more I find his actions distasteful — and I haven’t seen anything he revealed that is obviously a violation of the Fourth Amendment. When media outlets broke the SWIFT story during Bush’s tenure, I was outraged. While I was torn about prosecuting the journalists, I wanted to explore whether the journalists should be prosecuted if they knowingly helped reveal classified information about an effective and legal program — and I leaned slightly towards the view that prosecution was wise. Tell me why I should not feel the same way about this. I know it’s very fashionable to say that it’s unthinkable to “prosecute journalists for journalism” — but if national security information is legitimately classified, helps us fight terrorism, and is knowingly revealed by a “journalist,” I don’t know that such actions are obviously beyond prosecution.
As I said in 2006, a lot of it comes down to whether the journalist is exposing wrongdoing or whether they are just telling our secrets. Often they think they are doing the former when they are just doing the latter.
Does a spy get to be a hero if he is revealing secrets to “We the People” as well as Russia and China to buy off their cooperation?
Snowden’s fans think he’s morally justified in doing basically anything he has to in order to stay out of the feds’ clutches, whether it be handing propaganda windfalls to Russia and China by seeking refuge there or threatening to spill a gigantic treasure trove of sensitive information. Maybe they’ll draw the line if/when we find out he paid off his protectors with intelligence — as Greenwald now admits Snowden did to a small degree in revealing the IP addresses of Chinese computers hacked by the NSA — but I doubt it. This is why it gets stupider by the day to say that the story of his escape is merely a distraction from the far more important story of U.S. surveillance capabilities. How is it “distracting” to know there’s a guy running around in China and Russia with huge stores of state secrets, essentially blackmailing the government to let him leak selectively with impunity or else he’ll leak indiscriminately? On what planet is that a non-story?
As for the point that all of this stuff has been carefully vetted, Snowden’s critics toss around the word “narcissistic” usually without explaining what they mean, but this is a fine example of it. He seems to believe he’s reached a degree of omniscience where he can pick and choose what to leak with confidence that it won’t put people at risk, won’t injure the American public’s interest in its own national security, and won’t give rogue regimes critical information on how to improve surveillance. Why he thinks this, I have no idea. Whatever he has and however long he’s sifted through it, he can’t see the entire chessboard, especially on the enemy’s side of the board. To take a minor example, the stuff he leaked about the NSA spying on Medvedev at the G20 a few years ago noted that the U.S. thought it had discovered a change in the way the Russians were transmitting their leadership signals. Did Russia realize that before the Guardian’s story was published a few weeks ago? Probably. Maybe not. Who knows? Does Snowden? And if that’s the sort of thing he’s willing to leak to a paper, what’s in the doomsday files that he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with journalists (yet)? It’s amazing to me that he feels he can tell what’s truly damaging and what isn’t, and that he thinks he can keep this information secret at his whim from intelligence services all over the world. Frankly, knowing now about the doomsday files, don’t enemies like Russia and China have an extra incentive to disappear him? If anything happens to him, Snowden’s defenders will assume that it was U.S. intel that did it; presumably that’ll trigger the doomsday files, and that’ll give Russia, China, and everyone else access to whatever’s in Snowden’s secret stash. I’m not sure, in other words, that the doomsday stuff doesn’t jeopardize his safety more than it protects it.
It’s hard to recall now, but this clusterfark began ostensibly because Snowden’s conscience could no longer tolerate infringements on Americans’ civil liberties by the U.S. government. Are we to believe, then, that everything in the doomsday files is related to that narrow subject too? If it is, then why is he holding it back? Release it and help the civil libertarian cause before it’s too late. If it isn’t, then why did he take it in the first place and why is he threatening to release it now? We seem to be paying an increasingly steep price in blows to national security for what we’ve learned about data-mining.