By John Schindler. First published by 20committee.
Three years after Edward Snowden, the American IT contractor turned global celebrity, made his media debut in Hong Kong, the truth of what really happened in this sensational affair remains elusive. The outline is clear. Snowden left his job in Hawaii with the National Security Agency (NSA) in May 2013 and appeared at Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel on June 1, having made off with more than 1 million classified intelligence documents belonging to the American government. A few days later, Snowden appeared on camera to announce that he was lifting the top secret mask off NSA, America’s biggest and most secretive intelligence service.
Yet significant questions remain. Where was Snowden from 21 to 31 May 2013? His whereabouts in that period are unknown. Why did he choose to repeatedly visit the Russian consulate in Hong Kong, even celebrating his 30th birthday there? What did those visits have to do with his departure for Moscow on June 23rd? Last, why has Snowden never left Russia, three years after his arrival?
These issues have taken center stage in the German parliament’s special committee of inquiry into NSA activities. Is Snowden really the whistleblower he claims to be? It is odd that anyone who claims to support press freedom and personal liberty would take extended refuge in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where the population is much more tightly watched by the intelligence services than in any Western country, and where journalists who oppose the regime are harassed and even murdered.
Hans-Georg Maassen, director of Germany’s domestic intelligence service (the mouthful Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution or BfV), has waded into this controversy by stating that Snowden is likely not who he pretends to be. “This would be an espionage operation joined with an operation for disinformation and influence,” he stated: “In order to drive a wedge between the USA and its closest allies, especially Germany.” That Snowden is in fact a Russian agent “has a high degree of plausibility,” Maassen added.
Predictably, Snowden’s defenders have pretended outrage at the BfV director’s statements, although he has made them before. Two months ago, in an interview alongside Gerhard Schindler, director of Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service or BND, Maassen explained that it was likely that the American “whistleblower” was in reality a Kremlin agent whose actual agenda was harming his own country’s worldwide security partnerships – including with Germany — for Putin’s benefit. That the Snowden Operation has been very effective as disinformation against Western democracies goes without saying.
Such statements, taken as heresy by Snowden’s ardent fans, are uncontroversial among anyone who understands the secret world of espionage. To anybody acquainted with how Russia’s powerful intelligence services actually operate, the idea that Snowden is their collaborator is no more controversial than stating that the sun rises in the east every morning.
The proper espionage term for Edward Snowden is defector, meaning an employee of an intelligence service who takes up residence in another country whose spies are not friends. Since 1917, every single Western intelligence defector to Moscow has cooperated with the Kremlin, on grounds of quid pro quo. There is no known case of a defector not collaborating with the KGB or its successors. If you want sanctuary, you will tell the Russians everything you know. That is how the spy game works.
Any Russian intelligence officer who wants sanctuary in the United States will be required to collaborate with American spy services, including extended debriefings by multiple intelligence agencies. Are we really supposed to believe that Vladimir Putin, former KGB colonel, is more charitable?
“Of course” Snowden is collaborating with Russian intelligence, explained Oleg Kalugin more than two years ago. A legend in global spy circles, Major General Kalugin is the former head of foreign counterintelligence for the KGB’s elite First Chief Directorate. In the Cold War, Kalugin recruited moles inside American intelligence just like Edward Snowden. He is an expert witness here. Kalugin made clear that Snowden’s new life revolves around the Federal Security Service, Putin’s powerful FSB. “The FSB are now his hosts, and they are taking care of him,” he explained: “Whatever he had access to in his former days at NSA, I believe he shared all of it with the Russians, and they are very grateful.”
To anybody familiar with how Russia works, there can be no doubt that Snowden has been an agent of the Kremlin at least beginning with his arrival in Moscow three years ago. Whether he was recruited by the Russian intelligence before that is likely – as I’ve explained before, it would be highly abnormal for the FSB to grant sanctuary to an American defector they have never met – yet it remains an open question, and a very important one. Whether Snowden has collaborated with the Kremlin since June 2013, however, is not an open question.
Since joining Twitter last year, Snowden has pontificated from Moscow on a wide range of issues. In rare form, he entered the debate regarding the NSA special committee, sending out this remarkable tweet yesterday. (It says: “Whether Maassen is an agent of the SVR or FSB” – that is, Russian intelligence – “cannot currently be verified.”)
Challenging the BfV director head-on with a mocking tweet is a strange turn of events in the Snowden saga. Moreover, when did Snowden learn such good German? He’s never spoken it before, much less flawlessly.
All of this leads to obvious questions among anybody familiar with Putin’s Kremlin. Western security experts have suspected that Snowden’s tweets, at least on intelligence matters, are tightly vetted by the FSB. Which would be normal for any high-priority defector. Living under what Russians call a protective “roof” (krysha) provided by the FSB means a loss of personal freedom of the kind Snowden claims he cherishes above all else.
Either Edward Snowden suddenly learned excellent German or someone in Moscow is writing “his” tweets for him. Vladimir Putin himself speaks excellent German from his time with the KGB in Dresden in the 1980s and perhaps he does not wish to see the language mangled in public.
(This article appeared in the newspaper BILD in German, you can read that version here.)
This all reads rather strange to me, especially since this narrative relies on statements made by German intelligence officials–who themselves have been implicated in the last few years of cooperating with the NSA in mass surveillance policies. Seems like these folks have, like the NSA, obvious reasons to cast Snowden as a Russian agent.
But more importantly, I take issue with the idea that the intelligence leaks coordinated by Snowden is “disinformation”. What, specifically, was disinformation in all this? The leaks were extremely important for bringing into the public eye the extent of state surveillance in the US and Europe, and the corrupt nexus between the national security state and telecommunications corporations.
Of course, Putin and his oligarch friends have an interest in encouraging such leaks and destabilizing the legitimacy of US and European institutions, which is enough reason for them to give sanctuary to Snowden. But this kind of inter-imperialist rivalry and competition is always going to exist–but the answer is hardly to view acts of dissent and whistleblowing as inherently linked to Russian subversion and meddling.
Most of what Snowden stole had nothing to do with NSA/spying. For example, he swiped 900,000 Department of Defense documents plus 50,000 highly classified documents dealing with terrorism from the British intelligence services. The more you look closely at what Snowden did, the less plausible the whistleblower line becomes.
Ed in my opinion is a hero. http://www.biography.com/people/edward-snowden-21262897#blowing-the-whistle
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Just fyi, 20committee is one of those sites dutifully devoted to national security, to the point they have a hard time not seeing things through a cold-war lens.
The substance of Snowden’s reportage speaks for itself. Fact is, he has performed a massive positive service for this country, making us aware of the degree of paranoia and creeping big-brother-ism present in our government.
Given the attempt to take him into custody, with no realistic likelyhood of receiving legal protections (in national security situations, whistleblower protections don’t count), I don’t see how he had any other choice but to seek shelter where he could find it.
How did stealing 900,000 Department of Defense documents that had nothing to do with NSA/spying help this country?
This is an incredibly irresponsible article for you to run on your blog. The strength of your blog is that your opinions are based on facts, data you’ve selected. This Schindler piece and its outrageous headline have nothing resembling that. It is a mix of speculations on the order of “it’s no coincidence that….” The only facts it provides are that Russia gave Snowden safe haven (initially on condition of certain limitations in his ability to address US political developments– perhaps not a clamp they would have tried to impose on a Soviet agent, though saying that would be descending to the level of Schindler’s reasoning) and that Snowden is still there. That plus a few ridiculous ideas such as Snowden not having acquired a high school diploma & not having previously demonstrated a fluency in German. Gee, is the idea that Snowden, someone who worked on some of the most sophisticated surveillance systems in the world, isn’t bright enough to complete high school? Or that he couldn’t find a translation program? Or that someone cut off from his interpersonal world and his culture might not try his hand at a few foreign languages? (He has to have picked up a fair bit of Russian in this time, heaven forbid he should write a Twitter note in Russian).
Leaving Schindler aside and addressing yourself, since you have given such prominent place to this piece: 1) Where would you suggest Snowden go to if he leaves Russia, and how would he get wherever? The US government has shown no hesitation about endangering the lives of leaders of a sovereign foreign government by forcing down its plane in the pursuit of those who have brought their surveillance programs to the attention of US citizens and the world. And of course they have kidnapped people all over the world and whisked them to clandestine sites to torture them for information, and/or, in the case of US citizens, to force them into guilty pleas carrying long prison sentences, all without benefit of counsel and without even recourse to publicizing what happened. Snowden is not going to slip out of Russia unobserved — there must be 30 US or other agents tracking his every move — he is not going to get out of Russia the way he did out of Hong Kong. So what should he do? How about commit to allowing him a necessity defense and holding him under house arrest–letting him try to convince a jury about the fates of other whistleblowers, etc. etc
But more importantly: 2) Do you think Snowden did right in taking the information in order to distribute it to journalists or not? Doubtless Schindler thinks Snowden committed grave crimes that should never be countenanced and that he should be sunk into the oblivion that swallowed Noriega and so many others. (Or maybe shot, who knows). Can anyone with any respect for the Bill of Rights and/or left of center possibly think that?
“1) Where would you suggest Snowden go to if he leaves Russia, and how would he get wherever?”
He should fly straight home to stand trial for his crimes. That’s what actual whistleblowers do — they speak truth to power and are prepared to suffer the consequences for doing what they believe is right. Let a jury decide if his lawbreaking was morally defensible or justified.
“2) Do you think Snowden did right in taking the information in order to distribute it to journalists or not?”
Absolutely not. How is stealing 900,000 Department of Defense documents which have nothing to do with NSA/spying remotely defensible?
Before commenting further you really ought to do your homework on what Snowden did because it’s clear from your first remark that you haven’t done much (if any) research.
Doubtless I do not know as much about it as you, that would be my assumption too. But those other documents are a red herring. In reply I’ll reverse the rank of my questions. 2) What documents do you believe someone like Snowden needed to take? Are you agreed on the constitutional and democratic necessity that someone share those documents with the country, in whatever fashion necessary?
1) If your deep, abiding, honest answer is you don’t think so, then your point about where Snowden should go is quite silly. If an anti-imperialist, democratic person such as yourself doesn’t think he acted out of necessity, then he is not going to get anything like a fair trial, under the same Sedition law under which Debs et al were imprisoned, and whistleblowers have been prosecuted. 3.Bonus question: Can you name the last Federal trial of an alleged terrorist sympat;hizer or a whistleblower that you think is an example of justice in action.
“Other” documents are not a red herring; the majority of what Snowden stole simply had nothing to do with domestic spying by the NSA. So how could that possibly construed as ‘whistleblowing’?
I assume you are not intentionally dodging my question, but you have managed to avoid it, 2 responses running. You can stick with whatever points you want to make about whatever number of documents, which supposedly have nothing to do with the whistleblowing. But straight up, do you think that circumstances required one or more US citizens to release whatever you would define as the whistleblowing documents. Disqualify as many as you want: what about the others? An example of a “whistleblower” receiving a prosecution and trial that does US justice proud, to build confidence in what will happen to Snowden?
Snowden didn’t even try to use the existing channels to report wrongdoing or what he thought might be illegal behavior, so no, he was not justified in stealing over 1 million highly classified documents — most of which were unrelated to domestic spying — and handing them over to the Russian government and some journalists.
As for your question about a trial, Daniel Ellsberg was tried under the Espionage Act and acquitted and I believe the trial was both fair and lawful. In fact, it was only because of Ellsberg’s trial in open court that numerous illegal acts by the government were exposed and officials in the Nixon administration had to resign.
Instead of surrendering himself to the authorities like Ellsberg did, Snowden gave up up any possibility of exposing or shutting down any illegal government behavior in this matter, surrendered what little moral high ground he had, and became a fugitive instead of a hero.
Additionally, did the “whistleblowing” aid the RF by damaging the credibility of the United States, the NSA, the CIA, and the State Department, and did it have an immediate and demonstrable negative effect on espionage being conducted by the United States abroad with the same technologies used domestically to (most of) our chagrin? Did Snowden’s revelation of, for instance, Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone tapping, harm the relationship of the United States with its NATO allies, and would such harm not also benefit the RF?
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Thank you, I appreciate that you don’t fall in for the “Question The Source” fallacy that is so prominent among Snowden critics/supporters. No doubt there will be years, possibly decades, to assess Snowden’s “public service”.
“Question the source” meaning, “anything the NSA or supporters of the NSA (or in this case, ex-employees of the NSA) is a lie”? 😀 I find that method rather amusing.
What convinced me of Snowden’s guilt as an FSB collaborator was the evidence put forward by John Schindler and the inability of anyone in the pro-Snowden camp to come up with a plausible alternative theory of the case that adequately accounted for the following facts:
1) The majority of the stolen documents had nothing to do with NSA’s domestic spying operations which indicates that the whistleblower thing is just a cover story.
2) Snowden visited the Russian embassy in Hong Kong which indicates that he communicated with the Russian government before he got ‘stuck’/’trapped’ in Moscow’s airport which means that wasn’t an accident.
3) Snowden has an FSB lawyer in Russia.
4) Snowden doesn’t do any press events without intensive screening of questions beforehand and almost never takes questions from Western journalists.
I remain open-minded about this issue. If a Snowden defender can explain facts #1-#4 in a way that is both plausible and compelling that points in some direction other than Snowden-FSB collaboration then I would happily take down this post and reconsider my standpoint. Until then… 🙂