There is so much about the Edward Snowden story that smells funny, and given the state of our “Fourth Estate” these days, I wonder if we’ll ever find the answers. With so many “journalists” on the case, there is no way there should be so many questions. But they’re so busy opining about this guy from the “whistleblower” framework, they’re not bothering to look more deeply. Actually, they’re not looking at all. They’re just parroting.
First of all, let’s dispense with the term “whistleblower.” Snowden is not a whistleblower, as defined in the False Claims Act, and other laws. Nothing the NSA is doing is illegal. You can make the argument that some of it should be, but that’s a completely separate issue. So far, the NSA operation has been conducted as openly as it can be and still be effective. They have consulted the FISA court on everything, and they have kept Congress informed.
What we found with the documents Snowden revealed was that the NSA is monitoring phone and Internet traffic generally speaking, anonymously, via computer program. Big deal. The best analogy I can think of comes when you put a search term into Google or Bing, and it shows you the top results. In order to get to those results, however, it had to look at every website on the Internet and reject those it found irrelevant. No one SEES the results they reject, but, for a search engine to be effective, it has to have access to pretty much everything. The NSA doesn’t actually have any of your information. It has a list of phone numbers of suspected terrorists, and it’s plugging them into a “search engine” to find out who they talked to. If you’re not talking to terrorists, they’ll never even see your phone number or IP address. Even if you are talking to one, they still don’t know whose phone number it is until they get a warrant and serve it to the phone or Internet company.
In other words, for the NSA to find out who you are, they need probable cause and a warrant, as proscribed by the Constitution. And they want to maintain a phone number database, so that they can search it every time they get hold of another terrorist’s phone number.
That is what Snowden “uncovered.” A completely legal system of surveillance, which is being overseen by FISA and Congress, which is what we said we wanted in 2008, when this program was codified. Now, because some people are pretending to not know this, Snowden is being hailed as a “whistleblower,” which is an insult to other, actual whistleblowers, like the guy who settled a lawsuit against the Department of Labor for $820,000 a few weeks ago, for uncovering the fact that DOL was underreporting workplace injuries. THAT is whistleblowing. Disclosing secret aspects of a program that has been open and above board about its basic operation is not.
That said, the lack of whistleblower status isn’t what smells the worst about Ed Snowden. There is so much more.
There’s the fact that he’s jetting around the world with who-knows-what secret documents on his laptops, and besides giving some to Glenn Greenwald and the Washington Post, we have no idea who else has gotten hold of some of them.
Then there’s the fact that he was in contact with lawyer and ersatz journalist Glenn Greenwald since February, before he joined Booz Alllen Hamilton in March. Anyone who doesn’t smell something funny when a strong (capital-L) Libertarian takes a job with an NSA contractor in the first place isn’t thinking. That he joined with Glenn Greenwald, another strong (capital-L) Libertarian, who could have the biggest blogger ego on the planet, and who seems hell-bent on taking down the Obama Administration, should just plain reek. Since Greenwald himself is a lawyer, and likely has at least a passing knowledge of intelligence law, that adds a little more odor to the situation.
If that’s not enough, how about what Snowden said during his infamous “Q&A” last week, in which he all but admitted taking the Booz Hamilton job at the NSA with the express purpose of gathering documents:
I was debriefed by Glenn and his peers over a number of days, and not all of those conversations were recorded. The statement I made about earnings was that $200,000 was my “career high” salary. I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I’ve been paid.
First of all, he lied about his salary, then was caught, and then came up with this story. A little more odor. But then we find out he took a 40 percent pay cut to accept the job, which he only kept for three months before he screwed them?
There’s also the lies he initially told about his job at the NSA, where he implied that he was some sort of analyst, when he wasn’t. He was basically an IT guy. How could anyone know the full context of thousands of documents after only three months, especially when he wasn’t in on any meetings or involved in any of the discussions? Is it really possible for someone who dropped out of high school to become fluent in analyst-speak in three months, especially while he’s performing a job that has nothing to do with Intel at all? Isn’t it possible he went into the NSA job knowing what he had to obtain? And if that’s the case, where did he learn that information? I’d like to think Greenwald wouldn’t violate his lawyer’s ethical code to tell him which documents to steal, but who did? It’s not like this guy had a couple of decades in deciphering intel.
There’s also his escape route to consider; why are so many people willing to ignore this? First, he escaped to China, not exactly a “Libertarian” paradise, with four laptops and what he claims are “thousands” of documents. He was in China (a country that blocks many websites and Google searches), which is where he transmitted some of the previously classified documents to Glenn Greenwald, who actually lives in Brazil, and The Washington Post. This past weekend, he was apparently on his way to an unnamed “democratic” country that would allow him asylum and to avoid extradition, but first, he flew into Moscow. He was also supposedly scheduled to fly to Havana, before going on to his secretive final destination. Again, he’s traveling through these countries with laptops crammed full of classified documents. Also keep in mind that he missed the flight this morning. so he’s apparently still in Moscow, doing who knows what? And what is he seeking asylum from? The assumption seems to be that “espionage” automatically leads to a long sentence. But according to “Espionage: A Statisical Overview,“ that’s simply not the case:
Length of Sentence: The percentages for each initial sentence length are as follows:18% less than 5 years; 20% 5 to 9.9 years; 18% 10 to 19.9 years; 10% 20 to 29.9 years; 7% 30 to 30.9 years; 2% 40 years; 12% life in prison. Sentencing information is available for 127 cases. Twenty cases are known to have had other outcomes such as defection, suicide, or immunity from prosecution.
Among Snowden’s many fans, surely there are some civil rights attorneys who could defend him. Instead, he’s given himself what is essentially a life sentence. That seems pretty stinky for a “Libertarian freedom fighter.” It should also raise a lot of suspicion. We know he has documents detailing the US hacking of Chinese computers; what ELSE is in his collection that we don’t know about?
In this morning’s South China Morning Post. I’m skeptical, since they tend to kiss Beijing’s ass these days, but it actually falls in line with other things Snowden has said thus far:
For the first time, Snowden has admitted he sought a position at Booz Allen Hamilton so he could collect proof about the US National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programmes ahead of planned leaks to the media.
“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”
If the above is true, this is wrong. Period. In fact, it not only puts to the lie Greenwald’s contention that he was “overcharged,” because it makes him a spy, and certainly not a “whistleblower.” It also brings up a host of questions real journalists need to address, besides those noted above.
If his purpose for pursuing this NSA job was to obtain documents, was he doing it to expose them in the press? Might he be using Greenwald as a patsy, to deflect attention away from his real purpose? Did he take a 40% pay cut because someone was already paying him handsomely for these documents? If he joined the NSA to download documents, why is he sending them to the press in a trickle? Shouldn’t he have done what Bradley Manning did, and just hand them all over and let the journalists hash it out? Why did he choose to go through China and Russia? Did the Department of Justice charge him with espionage because they know something that we, and Greenwald, don’t know? How did he pass the background check, and why was he not looked at with suspicion when he took a medical “leave of absence” after less than three months?
Think about these questions, as you consider the press and the “freedom-loving” left’s lionization of Snowden. So far, most of what he’s told us has been a lie. He claims to have thousands of documents, yet we’ve seen about a dozen so far. He claims he’s being careful about releasing them, but define “careful.” Who else is seeing these, if we aren’t?
There are just too many open questions about Snowden, these documents, and his escape route, to take anything he has to say without a huge block of salt.
And where are the journalists who are trying to answer these questions?
It’s been two weeks since I wrote the above piece, and the same questions are still hanging out there, like ripe fruit, so the last question I asked is still out there. By this time after a typical mass shooting, we’d know the killer’s entire history. Where’s the information-gathering on Snowden?
And the situation gets curious-er and curious-er. There are still the basic questions, like; Where did he get the money to travel to Hong Kong and Russia and to stay in a relatively posh hotel for a few weeks before he even leaked the documents? Why did he leak the information about the NSA surveillance of China in general and Tsinghua University in particular?
Snowden has applied to at least 27 countries for asylum from the United States, and thus far, only three have expressed interest; Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Bolivia only probably added their name to the list because of what happened the other day. None of the three of them are exactly bastions of freedom, and all three would probably love to have access to American secrets for various reasons.
There’s something seriously fishy going on here, folks. This guy is either the dumbest human on the planet, or he’s being helped by someone, secretly, and he wants us to think he’s the dumbest human on the planet.
Look, I’m not going to claim our intelligence apparatus doesn’t have problems. But if he honestly thinks he’ll be as free in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia as he was in the US, he’s either seriously deluded, or he has a sponsor. Although, all of those countries have a national health care system, so maybe….
Bottom line; life here really isn’t all that bad, and those who hightail it to either Venezuela, Nicaragua or Bolivia aren’t exactly proving their “freedom lover” credentials.