Streetwise Professor

May 10, 2014

Edward Snowden: Russian Agent, Chinese Agent, or Russo-Sino Agent?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 7:30 am

I will take credit for being one of the first to point out the fact that Snowden’s whistleblower narrative was a total crock because after the initial flurry his leaks had little to do with NSA surveillance of individuals, but instead revealed information that was highly damaging to US national security and foreign policy. The only question in my mind was when he was when he became a Russian asset. I still don’t know, but as I also pointed out a while ago, the fact that collected disproportionately such national security-related information made it very plausible that he was tasked to collect this information, and given the identity of the ultimate beneficiary-Russia-it was also plausible that he was Russia’s witting or unwitting tool from the get go.

I didn’t know the 1.7 millionth of it. Edward Jay Epstein’s long article in today’s WSJ lays out the damaging details:

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified to the House Armed Services Committee on March 13, 2014, that “The vast majority of the documents that Snowden . . . exfiltrated from our highest levels of security had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities.”

. . . .

Mr. Snowden’s critics regard the whistleblowing narrative as at best incomplete, at worst fodder for the naïve. They do not believe that it explains the unprecedented size and complexity of the penetration of NSA files and records. For one thing, many of his critics have intelligence clearance. They have been privy to the results of an NSA investigation that established the chronology of the copying of 1.7 million documents that were stolen from the Signals Intelligence Center in Hawaii. The documents were taken from at least 24 supersecret compartments that stored them on computers, each of which required a password that a perpetrator had to steal or borrow, or forge an encryption key to bypass.

Once Mr. Snowden breached security at the Hawaii facility, in mid-April of 2013, he planted robotic programs called “spiders” to “scrape” specifically targeted documents. According to Gen. Dempsey, “The vast majority of those [stolen documents] were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures.”

. . . .

Mr. Snowden took the Booz Allen Hamilton job in March of 2013, but it was only at the tail end of his operation—in May—that he copied the document (possibly the only one) that specifically authorized the NSA’s controversial domestic surveillance program. This was a Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act court order, instructing Verizon to provide metadata on U.S. phone calls for 90 days, that Mr. Snowden gave to the Guardian newspaper in London on June 3, 2013. (He also leaked a secret presentation in slides about the NSA’s Prism Internet surveillance. This program, operated with the FBI, targeted only foreigners, though it could be extended, with the approval of the attorney general, to suspects in the U.S. in contact with foreign targets.)

Contrary to Mr. Snowden’s account, the document he stole about the NSA’s domestic surveillance couldn’t have been part of any whistleblowing plan when he transferred to Booz Allen Hamilton in March of 2013. Why? Among other reasons, because the order he took was only issued by the FISA court on April 26, 2013.

Here’s my favorite line:

A former member of President Obama’s cabinet [who has to be Panetta: no other candidate makes sense] went even further, suggesting to me off the record in March this year that there are only three possible explanations for the Snowden heist: 1) It was a Russian espionage operation; 2) It was a Chinese espionage operation, or 3) It was a joint Sino-Russian operation.

Snowden’s whole privacy/civil liberties narrative was just the piece of bacon wrapped around a poison pill. But even that narrative had subversive and corrosive effects, particularly in its effect on US foreign policy and the perceptions of the US abroad. Most notably in Germany, where they succeeded in driving a very deep wedge into an already fractured relationship.

And Snowden wants to negotiate a return. His best leverage is that he can reveal the details of what he took, who he worked with, and what he did subsequent to absconding so that the US can attempt to assess better the damage, and contain it.

But this is exactly why Russia will never let him set foot out of the country.  No, the entire negotiation charade is just another attempt to get Snowden sympathy and put the US in an unfavorable light: “look at how the US government continues to persecute this brave whistleblower.”

Fortunately, the world is tiring of Snowden. His newer allegations don’t have the same impact. But the damage is already done. And the real damage is not from what he’s told the world, but what he’s told the Russians (and perhaps the Chinese) in the deepest secrecy.

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  1. He seems to be the only source of information the claimed Libertarian\US is bad\Russia is good crowd trusts. He is a regular damn oracle for those folks.

    Comment by pahoben — May 10, 2014 @ 2:05 pm

  2. You were exactly right, and Edward Jay Epstein does very good work- this is an excellent article that everybody should read.

    Comment by Tom — May 12, 2014 @ 5:45 pm

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