Sunday, June 1, 2014

Questions Remain about the #Snowden Interview

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The Inside Snowden interview on NBC didn't put anything to rest so the debate continues about whether the man is a Heroic Patriot, a conniving Putin-Loving traiter or merely a naive Wikileaks dupe. We may never know the whole truth, but interviewer Brian Williams didn't help shed any light because he avoided hard questions such as "Did Glenn Greenwald first suggest that you should steal documents? and "How many lies did you tell in order to get hired at Booz Allen?"

Instead, Williams let his subject ramble on about his sad life as an exile trapped in a foreign land by the United States, as if Joe Biden put him on that plane to Moscow and buckled his seatbelt for him. If you read the quotations below, it is clear that Snowden isn't really "trapped" in Russia.

So Snowden got to say whatever he felt like saying, and the Snowdenistas thought that was just wonderful, as their tweets of support display. But to most people who have followed this story from the beginning, as well as some who knew nothing about him, Snowden's behavior and statements seemed overly rehearsed, slightly arrogant, possibly dishonest, naive (or faux-naive), and maybe just a little crazy.

My previous post about #InsideSnowden:
Snowden Jumps the Shark with NBC Interview


Snowden said he didn't hurt anyone with his release of documents, and many took him to task for that, since obviously Snowden's actions have reverberated around the globe. But the U.S. can hardly give a public list admitting the damage done to their intelligence capabilities, and Snowden knows this.

Michael Leiter, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, on NBC

I find it naive and pretty gravely mistaken, this belief that what has already come out, (Snowden) can't identify a single individual who was hurt, hence there's been no harm. I think the way the U.S. intercepts information about Syria and Iraq, these terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, how the U.S. intercepts information about the Syrian military, the Russian military, the way the U.S. protects its spies overseas from operating and not being covered by foreign powers - I can't give you the names of people who have been harmed by that, but I think it's really hard if not impossible to say that there hasn't been harm. I think he's both mistaken and naive.

Former National Security Agency director Michael Hayden on CBS "Face the Nation"
"Unquestionable, irreparable, irreversible harm," Hayden said Sunday morning, responding to an interview that Snowden did last week — the former NSA contractor's first in the year since he leaked the documents.
. . . "There is no way that the United States can reveal — without creating far greater harm — what it is we have lost," Hayden said. "What is it he wants us to do? To go out publicly with a list of all of the terrorist targets now that we're no longer covering because of the information that he revealed?"

One of Snowden's casualties might be the security service TrueCrypt that he used for his documents, starting with the so-called "Crypto-Party" in Hawaii before he fled to Taiwan. As of yesterday the website had stopped working all of a sudden. The CIA is probably deconstructing the whole operation:

Forbes: Encryption Tool Endorsed by Snowden Abruptly Shuts Down
TrueCrypt has, for more than a decade, been the program of choice for many security-conscious people, even Edward Snowden. In December 2012, Snowden organized an event – called a CryptoParty – in Hawaii where he talked about how one can use TrueCrypt to keep information safe from prying eyes; a business traveler might use TrueCrypt to protect sensitive files when traveling to make sure that if the computer gets stolen, someone can’t go through their files without the password to unlock them. Today’s advisory comes as a shock to the security community, though no one has been able to confirm its authenticity so far.
. . . The user interface has a similar warning added to it; “WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure.” A quick analysis of the software did not reveal any malicious behavior, though a deeper dive could perhaps provide different results. Older versions of the software would ask users to consider making a donation at the end of the installation process, but this request has since been removed. Additionally, the user manual is no longer included with the software. It seems this new version can only be used to decrypt data and migrate existing encrypted storage volumes, not create new ones.

Snowden insisted to Brian Williams that he was "trained as a spy" in the interview, and indeed he has called himself a spy before in a Guardian UK article, but
National Security Adviser Susan Rice says Snowden was NOT a spy
"He was not trained as a spy," Rice said. "We have no idea where that assertion comes from. And has Edward Snowden done damage? He's done immense damage to the national security of the United States in ways that I wish I could describe in public but I cannot. But indeed the revelations, the illegal unauthorized revelations of Snowden have given our enemies, particularly terrorists, including al-Qaeda, insights into how we gain information and intelligence on them that have enabled them to change the way they operate and be much more difficult to track. That's just one example."

And someone with even more knowledge chimed in to debunk Snowden - a real spy:
Actual Spy Blows Snowden's Bullshit Cover Story
Actual former spy Lindsay Moran (also author of the book Blowing My Cover: My Life as a CIA Spy), who has actually supported Snowden's actions felt compelled enough by the stink of Snowden's attempt to hitch his wagon to true American heroes that she came out to call him out.
I think he's really, unfortunately giving amunition to his detractors and his critics here, because to me this reads as this kind of typical spy-wannabe claims. For sure he didn't go through the tradecraft training and paramilitary operations training that everybody who's in the clandestine service which is the operative branch of the CIA did.
. . . His claim that he used aliases, I find that very dubious. He wasn't in the Directorate of Operations, he wasn't a human collector of intelligence, and I have never before heard of someone who was in an IT or analyst position using aliases that way or operating the way that actual spies did.
. . . The kind of training that you receive to become a spy is very specific. It's tradecraft training, it takes place at the CIA's top secret training facility, and it's not offered to analysts and certainly not to IT specialists.
(Author of the article for The People's View, Spandan Chakrabarti, adds: If all it takes for him to go off the deep end like this is someone calling him a low-level hacker - that is, if his skin is this thin - just exactly how easy is he to manipulate? And was Snowden - motivated by ego, spotlight and revenge - manipulated by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and the gang to steal the information he later revealed? Was there more than just information falling into "journalists' " laps? I think you have to ask that question.

Snowden also said he had "no contact" with the Russian government and he is "not a spy" - meaning, I presume, "their spy" given his insistence that he is, indeed, some kind of spy. On the other hand, Snowden isn't in much of a hurry to leave Russia, which is a bothersome detail. His story is that he is stuck there, the victim of the United States Government which revoked his passport. But wait . . .

Michael McFaul, former Ambassador to Russia, via NBC
Why Moscow, why was he there? I note the passive tense, the structure of the sentence, right? "I was stopped in Moscow." But he wasn't stopped in Hong Kong with the same status of passport, I remember that very vividly. So when he (Snowden) is saying "Ask the State Department," well I used to work for the State Department when he showed up in Moscow so I found that very mysterious. If they let him get on the plane in Hong Kong without a valid passport, then why was he forbidden from going on, and who was forbidding him? Right?
Russia's a sovereign country, let me tell you, (after) two years of living there as an Ambassador - they do things their own way. They abide by their own rules and their own laws, and if they want to give him the ability to fly on to Havana they most certainly could have done that. So that was the first piece that struck me.
The second piece was his discussion of his relationship with the government... "I have no relationship to the Russian Government." Well, that's just not true. You don't get to go on a call-in show with the President of Russia and have no relationship with the Russian Government. And by the way, just to remind you, on that call-in show, he asked somewhat naively, "Mr. Putin, do you listen in to telephone conversations of Russian citizens?" But (Snowden) told (NBC) "I know they have a very professional service." So that's rather strange to say you have no relationship to the government yet that kind of interaction happened.
. . . And I would just remind the viewers that his lawyer, when he arrived - Kucherena is his name - somebody well-known to us, is very close to the Russian Government.

Bob Cesca found "13 Bizarre Things in the Snowden Interview" among them this gem:
NSA can observe people drafting a document online and "watch their thoughts form as they type." Let's assume for a second this is true. Reading your thoughts (IEEEEE!!!) is a hyperbolic internet-age method of essentially describing a wire-tap. A police detective can get a court order to have a suspect's phone tapped and listen to that suspect forming thoughts on the phone, too. But to call it a "wire-tap" is too ordinary and familiar, so Ed went with mind-reading.
and more importantly this:
Snowden said he destroyed his documents before going to Russia. This is really strange. I have no idea whether he really destroyed his NSA files, but he did in fact meet with Russian officials in Hong Kong, when he reportedly celebrated his birthday at the Russian consulate. Did he still have his documents at that point?
Earlier, he said his goal was to fly to Latin America, so why did he anticipate being in Russia to the point where he destroyed his documents to prevent Russians from acquiring them? These are all follow-up questions that a journalist who was informed about the details of Snowden's timeline would've asked. Williams was not and therefore did not.

From Benjamin Wittes on Lawfare:
Snowden—earnestness and all—utterly failed to explain certain stubborn, inconvenient facts that make it hard to accept him as the figure he claims to be. Some of these facts he did not challenge at all, as they are too clearly true to brook contest. Some he challenged only weakly. And some Williams did not bother to ask him about at all. The result is a haze over the noble portrait the fugitive paints of himself.
. . . You see, Snowden explains in the interview, the law he violated doesn’t allow the defense he would want to put on. So he’d likely be convicted and serve a very long prison sentence—to which we learn he is not quite so eager to subject himself as Greenwald once admiringly thought. Snowden, of course, explains that he has an entirely selfless reason for not wanting to spend decades in prison. It’s not that he fears it, you understand. But it might scare other whistleblowers out of following his example. Whatever the reason, when push came to shove, Snowden chose not to martyr himself but to flee.
And where did flee? He ran to Moscow. On this point, Snowden’s explanation is particularly obtuse. Ask the State Department why he’s there, Snowden suggests. He was just trying to transit through Russia. It wasn’t his fault that he got stuck in Moscow; this happened because the U.S. government revoked his passport.
The passport revocation is not, in fact, why Snowden is stuck in Moscow. For one thing, the government revoked Snowden’s passport before he ever left Hong Kong. Moreover, it does not mean that he must stay in Moscow. It’s at most the reason why he has a choice between remaining in Moscow and coming back to the United States and facing arrest and lacks the option of finding non-Russian safe haven. He chooses, in other words, to remain in Moscow because he prefers the protection of the dictator there to trial at the hands of his own government.

But WHY did he want to go to Russia in the first place? Iceland and other countries were begging him to be their guest. Well, maybe his relationship with Russia goes back further than he will admit. That's the interesting question posed by John Schindler of 20Committee:
When did Snowden go over to the Russians? by John Schindler
. . . What can be dismissed out of hand is the notion that, while staying in Hong Kong a year ago, Ed met with Russian spies – sorry, “diplomats” – at their consulate there and, all of a sudden, decided to hop a flight to Moscow. Espionage simply does not work that way, folks. We can only guess at what was on Ed’s mind, but those who know the Russian “special services” understand that such a scenario is so implausible that it can be ruled out altogether. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) simply does not allow American intelligence personnel they’ve just met to jump on a flight to Mother Russia. That never happens.
. . . Letting Edward Snowden move to Moscow was a major decision for the Kremlin, one with huge political ramifications. We can be certain that such a decision was not made by a mid-grade SVR officer in Hong Kong, neither was such a choice made quickly by the Russians, particularly under a president who understands counterintelligence very well. The reality is that Edward Snowden’s relationship with Russian intelligence, whatever it exactly is, predated his arrival in Moscow on June 23, 2013, probably by a considerable margin. It did not begin in Hong Kong, but before, possibly long before. It cannot be ruled out that the SVR (or possibly GRU, Russian military intelligence, which is a formidable espionage service its own) initially dealt with Ed in a false-flag operation, masking their true identity for a time, but experts who are acquainted with Russia’s “special services” understand that the Official Narrative, that Ed just up and moved to Moscow, cannot be true.

While Snowden tried to exude an air of honesty, he failed on several counts:
From Nick Morgan, a body language expert, via Business Insider:
"As a body-language expert, I'd say this is a disingenuous performance, which surprised me."
. . . The pitch of Snowden's natural voice is probably a tenor, Morgan said, "and the pitch [during the interview] is lower to sound more authoritative. The result, to me, is fake ... manufactured."
. . . A particularly telling moment came when Brian Williams asked Snowden, "What is your relationship with the host government?" Morgan, who didn't previously know that Snowden's Moscow lawyer is a Putin loyalist linked to the FSB, was struck by Snowden's lack of eye contact and the slowing of his voice as he denied having any relationship with the Kremlin.
"He was obviously lying," Morgan said.
. . . "I wouldn't trust anything the man said," Morgan told Business Insider. "There is something else going on here."

But you don't have to be an expert to see through Snowden's facade:
From "Edward Snowden: Hipster Whistleblower" by Christine Sisto
I could not shake the feeling that Snowden is pretty pleased with himself. And I do not mean “pleased” in the way he intends when he says that he is “comfortable” because he can “sleep at night” knowing he did the right thing for his country. He seems pleased with himself in a pompous way. He reminds me of a hipster traipsing around Brooklyn, superbly proud of himself for having a dictionary-like knowledge of the different varieties of kale, knowledge he obtained in college while seeking a degree in women’s studies.
. . . In conclusion, to those who herald Edward Snowden as a whistleblower-god among men, I would say, be careful about what you believe from this guy.

Snowden's attention-seeking and avoidance of consequences are all we need to know according to James E. Lukaszewski of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune
. . . rather than find ways to safely return to the United States and face the consequences of his actions, he has become a media celebrity, complete with advocates, defenders and even co-conspirators who are all in the public view.
Snowden’s NBC interview with Brian Williams is one more step in the Snowden Effect, canonizing the conspirator and minimizing the damage done, while expanding his image as a patriot.
At this writing, the country seems split on the patriot-vs.-traitor question. Neither view can be confirmed until he shows up to face his fate here in the United States.
Two things come to mind. What would a real patriot do (“WWRPD” on a bright red wrist band)? And the example set by Nathan Hale, who was executed as a U.S. spy by the British during our Revolutionary War. “I only regret,” he famously said, “that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
In Snowden’s case, his reframing language is on blaming, demeaning and insulting the United States as the causal factors for what he did. Frankly, I would prefer a little regret from him and his zealous America-hating supporters.

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