Streetwise Professor

May 30, 2014

So Where Are the Emails, Ed?

Filed under: Military,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 10:23 am

Snowden gets more farcical-and more tiresome-by the day. In his interview with Brian Williams (who should really reconsider his life choices), Snowden asserted that he had made numerous complaints about violations of the law to his superiors, including the NSA’s General Counsel.

The GC responded by releasing a single, and predictably pedantic, email from Snowden that inquired about the precedence of executive orders over statutes. The GC claims that this is the only email in which Snowden raises any questions about NSA programs. It claims that it has searched not just its own records, but other NSA departments’ records as well, and found nothing.

Predictably Snowden has responded that the GC’s release was incomplete.

Well, this is easily solved, you’d think. After all, it stands to reason that someone who vacuumed up a reported 1.7 million highly classified NSA documents and shared many of them with the world would have kept a complete archive of his (alleged) whistle blowing correspondence with the NSA, and would have no problems releasing it. This is Ed’s perfect opportunity for a Gotcha!

So where are the emails? A few of those would be far more persuasive than the interminable, droning retort that Snowden wrote. (I should say “allegedly wrote”: one never knows given his current circumstances as an FSB houseguest.) (And really, Ed, wouldn’t “The NSA is lying. It has more emails than it released” have been sufficient? Did you really need to go on and on and on?)

And if for some unfathomable reason Snowden didn’t keep the emails, he always has another option: a FOIA request. Easily done. And Ed has a lot of time on his hands to do the necessary paperwork. So why hasn’t he?

In addition to the lack of the release of any damning (to the NSA) emails, there are also a couple of statements in Ed’s Epistle to the World that really strike a jarring chord:

Ultimately, whether my disclosures were justified does not depend on whether I raised these concerns previously. That’s because the system is designed to ensure that even the most valid concerns are suppressed and ignored, not acted upon.

That sounds like a weaseling. An escape hatch. It sounds like an admission that he can’t prove he blew the whistle, so he’s trying to dismiss the importance of that. “Even if I had blown the whistle internally, it was irrelevant. My concerns would have been rejected anyways. So it doesn’t matter that I didn’t. Let’s not discuss that subject again.”

But it is very important. Because if Snowden did not exhaust all opportunities to make the competent authorities aware of violations of the law, his decision to take matters into his own hands and release documents without authorization looks all the more suspicious. All the more the actions of a grandiose, self-appointed savior -or traitor-than of a genuinely public spirited individual with legitimate concerns.

The word “previously” also jumps out. Previously to what? His stealing the documents?

Note the date on the email that NSA released: April, 2013. Well after Snowden had contacted Greenwald and Poitras. Well after he had started to steal documents. Mere weeks before he fled to Hong Kong, and then Russia. It suggests that he raised concerns-and then only obliquely-after his operation was well advanced, and almost complete, as a sort of cover story or ex post rationalization. But in Snowden’s telling, that he did it after he set his scraper to work doesn’t matter, because his complaints would have been rejected anyways. The insertion of the word “previously” in a prepared, written document (rather than an extemporaneous answer to a question) suggests that Snowden is being Clintonesque here: strictly correct, but deliberately creating a misleading impression.

One other interesting thing. The email that Snowden wrote that the NSA released refers to mandatory USSID 18 training that Snowden took. The subject matter referred to is very basic, almost Schoolhouse Rock-level material about the legal framework in which the NSA operates. Would a trained spy who had previously operated undercover (as Snowden claims he had) have been required to take such training after going to work for an NSA contractor? Trained spies would presumably have to take such training. Why would he have to take it again? Maybe he did: maybe this is just Mickey Mouse bureaucracy at work. But it does strike me as odd that someone who claims to have held an extremely sensitive position would be taking such a basic course again.

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