Streetwise Professor

February 8, 2014

Benedict Arnold, Yield to Edward Snowden the Dubious Distinction of Most Perfidious American

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 8:03 pm

The headline and lede of this article focus on the fact that Snowden used a rather ordinary webcrawling tool to scrape and steal hundreds of thousands of NSA documents.  Yes, that’s important, primarily because it reveals serious breakdowns in security at NSA.  Most notably, the lack of compartmentalization at NSA is rather shocking.

But that is not the most important thing. By far.  Two other things put it in the dust.

The first is that Snowden set the parameters of the webcrawler to look for specific categories of documents:

Mr. Snowden appears to have set the parameters for the searches, including which subjects to look for and how deeply to follow links to documents and other data on the N.S.A.’s internal networks. Intelligence officials told a House hearing last week that he accessed roughly 1.7 million files.

If Snowden had really been interested in the privacy of Americans, he would have limited his search parameters to documents that contained such information.  But through the myriad non-privacy related stories derived from Snowden documents, and the statements of US officials, we know that the vast bulk of the materials he stole had nothing to do with this.  Instead, they were related to intelligence operations against potential adversaries, and to US military operations and movements.

That is, he chose to take this information.  Information that has nothing to do with civil liberties, but which when revealed is deeply damaging to US security.  And which if obtained by Russia or China in particular-both stops on the Snowden World Tour, remember-would wreak havoc on US intelligence and military operations.

Second, the article shows that the Booz Allen Hamilton facility in Hawaii where Snowden worked was the most vulnerable to an inside attack of all NSA facilities:

Agency officials insist that if Mr. Snowden had been working from N.S.A. headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., which was equipped with monitors designed to detect when a huge volume of data was being accessed and downloaded, he almost certainly would have been caught. But because he worked at an agency outpost that had not yet been upgraded with modern security measures, his copying of what the agency’s newly appointed No. 2 officer, Rick Ledgett, recently called “the keys to the kingdom” raised few alarms.

Given that Snowden left one NSA contractor (Dell) and went to another with greater access, and the one that was the least secure, the only reasonable inference is that he chose BAH with malice aforethought.  Combine that with the fact that Snowden’s searches were deliberately far more expansive than would have been necessary to achieve his ostensible purpose of alerting Americans to purported threats to their privacy, the only reasonable conclusion is that Snowden’s real purpose was to inflict grave damage on the security of this country.  His country.  My country.

One possibility consistent with that is that he did so at the behest of, or connivance with, a foreign power, most notably Russia.  Definitive or even compelling evidence to that effect is not yet in the public domain.

But that doesn’t really matter.  Whether Snowden acted at the behest of Russia or some other foreign entity, or was simply acting on his own twisted and narcissistic impulses, the consequences for American security are incalculable.

Snowden’s “whistleblower” persona is a cover.  A cover for a directed attack on the US.  Whether he did it all on his own, or with the support, assistance, and encouragement of Russia or China is a a secondary issue.  They (and other adversaries of the US) are the main beneficiaries of his perfidy, and the citizens of the US-yes, the people whom Snowden claims to have been trying to help-are the biggest casualties.

At least Benedict Arnold (another malignant narcissist) contributed mightily to the American cause before his betrayal of his country: ironically, the US may never have achieved independence without Arnold.  Moreover, Arnold’s perfidy was uncovered before he could do serious damage. Snowden never contributed anything positive to this country or its people, and he is still at large, wreaking more havoc by the day.

Where is Inspector Javert when you need him?

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  1. It stands to reason. In political positions relevant to intelligence Russia has cold blooded professionals who have a well defined enemy. On the other hand in the US we have…well… the Obama administration blinded by ideology and with a general suspicion that the enemy is well…a large swath of the US population

    I would be very surprised if Snowden didn’t have support from the FSB whether knowingly or unknowingly

    This isn’t even close to a fair contest.

    Comment by pahoben — February 9, 2014 @ 11:39 am

  2. Sorry, no. Spiders and other crawlers are not very discriminate and particularly must download the document before it can be evaluated for terms of interest.
    Second, if the FSB or other potential adversary had even the slightest control, they would squelch the information and it would not be released publicly. The first rule of intelligence gathering is to not reveal what you know.
    Third, can it be treason to reveal treason? All these officials have sworn to “protect and defend the Constitution” then immediately shred the 4th. If you ironically fall back on the constitutional definition of treason, then I would insist that “enemies” are only defined by a Congressional Declaration of War.

    Comment by Robert in Houston — February 12, 2014 @ 9:56 am

  3. @Robert-Note that the Snowden releases have been very selective. A trivial fraction of the (allegedly) 1.7 mm documents he downloaded have been released. Thus, very little of the information gathered has been revealed. Those released have been very carefully selected, in a way that is completely consistent with an FSB active operation. Much information not revealed: the revealed information clearly intended to have a political effect, particularly in Europe.

    So your second point is entirely unpersuasive.

    Your third point is as well. Allegations of shredding the Fourth Amendment are easily made, harder to reconcile with involvement of legislative and judicial branches.

    Re your first point: certainly the documents have to be scanned to determine whether they meet certain criteria. That does not imply that they have to be retained. It is possible to scan/read/evaluate and not retain if the dox do not contain terms of interest. So “evaluation” does not imply “retention”, as you suggest.

    In other words, you went three-for-three. Keep up the good work..

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 12, 2014 @ 10:13 pm

  4. @Robert
    I didn’t say control but rather support. Snowden had good encryption and I am sure thought about how best to ensure his own safety. His behavior after the fact and as Professor points out the material he downloaded are inconsistent with a courageous defender of American civil liberties. It is inconcievable that a hacker with access to the systems he had access to and who loved to brag and who worked for the CIA in Switzerland would be unknown to the FSB. It is inconcievable that a selfless defender of human rights would seek help from Russia.

    As for not indicating what you know and don’t Snowden has stated that the FSB did not receive other unreleased infirmation and the FSB has remained silent. So what do you think they have it or they don’t have it?

    Your comments about enemies and the fourth amendment miss my point absolutely. I don’t support collection of domestic data by intelligence agencies and in fact suggested just the opposite by the statement about a “large swath of the US population”. Why would you collect this information if you didn’t consider US citizens to be enemies or at least potential enemies.

    My only point is that Snowden’s actions are inconsistent with his claims about selfless motivation to protect civil liberties. It is tidiculous for him to make these claims while relying on Russia for protection where civil liberties are so weak. It is ridiculous for him to make these claims when he downloaded information that had nothing to do with civil liberties.

    Comment by pahoben — February 12, 2014 @ 10:13 pm

  5. Go to Hong Kong make some noise and then fly through Chinese airspace directly to Russian airspace. Fortuitous routing.

    Comment by pahoben — February 12, 2014 @ 10:41 pm

  6. Someone driven by honor and principles would have acted differently than Edward Snowden. Edward Snowden acted in a manner consistent with a traitor. If his objective was to inform the US population of grievous conduct by their government there was no reason to involve governments who in principle consider America and Americans the enemy.

    Comment by pahoben — February 12, 2014 @ 11:17 pm

  7. @prof:
    Of course the releases have been selective — they could scarcely be otherwise as “The Guardian” takes time to review the material, safety check it and milk the release for all they can with the most salacious items. But the size & methodology of the breech is what an opponent would hide.
    On shredding the 4th, involvement of other branches of govt does not imply legality. Checks’n’balances _can_ fail, and it is remarkable they fail in the direction of supporting a powerful executive with known to have means of corruption.
    You are correct that retention is not strictly necessary. But after the spider goes to the trouble of downloading, retention is good policy, specifically to avoid re-downloading the page again. Hashing/indexing is only necessary for large databases, not the tiny sub terabyte Snowden got.

    Comment by Robert in Houston — February 13, 2014 @ 10:59 am

  8. @pahoben: I do not believe Snowden intended to go to Russia but had to change plans as a result of US pressure & voiding his passport. He did choose HK , why I am uncertain but choosing powerful states for portection was obviously necessary since the US stomped on everyone else.
    As for conduct, perhaps you think he should have surrendered to US authorities. Why? Do you believe he could receive justice? After reading those docs, he was probably convinced he could not.

    Comment by Robert in Houston — February 13, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

  9. The primary argument of this article is that because the only thing the author was told is what the officials and authority of the US has decided to say, in their ignorance of what Snowden actually has, the author can say with definite accuracy that Snowden had certain search terms.

    There’s no way you can know this and no way to verify your claims. The author here is unable to verify his claims from his 4-5th order information connection.

    But that leaves open the question of how Mr. Snowden chose the search terms to obtain his trove of documents, and why, according to James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, they yielded a disproportionately large number of documents detailing American military movements, preparations and abilities around the world.

    In his statement, Mr. Snowden denied any deliberate effort to gain access to any military information. “They rely on a baseless premise, which is that I was after military information,” Mr. Snowden said.

    The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, told lawmakers last week that Mr. Snowden’s disclosures could tip off adversaries to American military tactics and operations, and force the Pentagon to spend vast sums to safeguard against that. But he admitted a great deal of uncertainty about what Mr. Snowden possessed.

    “Everything that he touched, we assume that he took,” said General Flynn, including details of how the military tracks terrorists, of enemies’ vulnerabilities and of American defenses against improvised explosive devices. He added, “We assume the worst case.”

    This level of “accuracy” and “authority” is insufficient to decide between vanilla and chocolate on a given day. Let alone anything more important.

    Comment by Ymarsakar — February 13, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

  10. @Robert
    You do what conscience compels you to do and then face the consequences.

    If somone during WWII concluded that his conscience couldn’t abide internment camps and stold military and other government documents pursuant to this. He releases the docements related to abrogation of constitutional rights for internees because his conscience will not allow otherwise. This person then lives in Germany for protection from the US government wouldn’t you find these actions to be curiously inconsistent.

    To champion human rights in the US and then to rely on protection from a government that doesn’t recognize any of these rights for it’s own citizens and further considers itself an enemy of the US makes no logical sense. It is hopelessly inconsistent.

    Comment by pahoben — February 14, 2014 @ 8:52 am

  11. @Professor
    I tried to phrase the above in a manner that would not fall under the prescriptions of Godwin’s Law but you are the final adjudicator.

    I wanted a historical analagy that would strip away some of the current emotional content and allow for more objective analysis of his actions. I plea to your good offices on this matter. 🙂

    Comment by pahoben — February 14, 2014 @ 9:39 am

  12. @Robert

    Who out of the stakeholders (let’s call them) benefited from Snowden’s actions?

    Did I as a US citizen benefit from Snowden and now feel more secure in my privacy? No, can’t say that I do.

    Did the Russian political elite benefit from Snowden’s actions and now feel more secure in dealing with the US geopolitically? Hell yes.

    Comment by pahoben — February 14, 2014 @ 10:13 am

  13. @pahoben: as I mentioned earlier, I do not believe Russia was Snowden’s choice — it became the default when the US closed other avenues.
    Further, I utterly reject any comparisons with WW2. WE ARE NOT AT WAR! The [politico-]military-industrial[-media-etc] complex would like to pretend we are. But we are not, and certainly not with China or Russia, who we neither embargo nor even highly restrict. In wartime, Snowdens actions are almost certaily treason. Allies would die. But we are not at war!
    As for safety, Snowden does make me feel substantially safer: Foggy Bottom will become marginally less asinine, everyone a bit more cautious and less succeptible to blackmail (Nixon). The intel leak to adversaries (Taliban/alQaida) is of very little use and of zero use once techniques get their overdue upgrade.

    Comment by Robert in Houston — February 14, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

  14. @Robert
    You have not lived in Russia I surmise. Believe me when I say the Putin administration takes the US as THE enemy.

    Comment by pahoben — February 14, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

  15. Sigh — we do not need to let others feelings control us. Merely because VVP might hate the US does not require us to hate him. Some prudence might be appropriate but everyone should chose their own feelings and not have others impose dictate.
    I haven’t yet lived in Russia, but I have worked with Russians and find their objections to the US entirely similar to those of Canadians and Europeans. And well founded. It is difficult to be a “good” hegemon, moreso when an outstanding propaganda machine is deployed.

    Comment by Robert in Houston — February 14, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

  16. > In wartime, Snowdens actions are almost certaily treason. Allies would die. But we are not at war!

    Indeed you are not. Unconditional surrender eased by recklessly partisan media is more like it. Allies will still die, but NYT won’t tell you, so it’s honky-dory, reset and all. Here is from a guy who has actually seen the Russians up close:

    Comment by Ivan — February 15, 2014 @ 12:45 am

  17. Robert, I guess we shouldn’t worry what the Jihadis think, or take any reasonable steps?

    If you think that Russia was not his preferred destination all along then you seem pretty naive.

    By the way, most Russians I have met have quite unreasonable objections to the US. Mostly based on the fact that the average Russian still wants their empire back, thinks Lenin and Stalin were awesome guys, and are racist thugs towards pretty much everyone who is not Russian.

    To most Russians I have met, the western world is an existential enemy.

    Comment by Andrew — February 15, 2014 @ 3:52 am

  18. @pahoben No mention of Hitler or the Nazis, so you are adjudged not guilty. The analogy is a fair one.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 15, 2014 @ 5:49 pm

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