August 30, 2013
I just became aware that, this past June, Salon.com ran a story headlined, “Here come the Edward Snowden truthers.” The author, Alex Seitz-Wald (twitter), took several writers to task, including me, for doubting Snowden’s story.
Seitz-Wald wrote: “Why would these people find it easier to believe Snowden is an [sic] CIA plant than a whistle-blower? Conspiracists are reflexively skeptical of the ‘official narrative,’ even when it should confirm their worldview. Snowden should be a victory for them, but because the mainstream media and the government are corroborating much of what Snowden leaked, the mainstream account immediately becomes suspicious.”
Salon.com is now considering whether to publish this article.
Let’s see. Seitz-Wald claims I would doubt any mainstream account, right? Well, he’s absolutely on the money. I do. Like clockwork. I get up in the morning, I do 70,000 pushups, check my screen, read a “mainstream account” (of anything), and the pleasure of doubt moves right in. I pour milk on my doubt, a few strawberries, and that’s breakfast.
I doubt medical news, political news, economic news, energy news, military news, intelligence-agency news, and news about media. And that’s just for starters.
Am I a conspiracy theorist if I believe Ed Snowden’s leaks are important, but have serious doubts about his account of events leading up to his enormous data-grab at the NSA?
Let’s look at what Snowden told Glenn Greenwald about his background.
In 2003, at age 19, without a high school diploma, Snowden enlists in the Army. He begins a training program to join the Special Forces. He breaks both legs in a training exercise. He’s discharged from the Army. Is that automatic? How about healing and then resuming his Special Forces training?
If he was accepted in the program because he had special computer skills (why else?), then why discharge him simply because he was put into two casts?
“Listen, Ed, we’ve come to the conclusion that, although you’re a computer genius, your broken legs will, from this point on, destroy your unique talent. You’re fired.”
Snowden next joins the CIA, in IT. He has no high school diploma.
In 2007, the Agency sends Snowden to Geneva. He’s only 23 years old. The CIA gives him diplomatic cover there. Serious status. He’s put in charge of maintaining computer-network security. Major job. Obviously, he has access to significant classified documents. Sound a little odd? Maybe he has his GED by now. Otherwise, he still doesn’t have a high school diploma.
Snowden says that during this period, in Geneva, one of the incidents that really sours him on the CIA is the “turning of a Swiss banker.” One night, CIA guys get a banker drunk, encourage him to drive home, the banker gets busted, the CIA guys help him out, and then with that bond formed, they eventually convince the banker to reveal deep secrets to the Agency.
Snowden is soured by this? He’s that naïve? He doesn’t know by now that his own agency, CIA does this sort of thing all the time? He’s shocked? He “didn’t sign up for this?”
In 2009, Snowden leaves the CIA. Why? Presumably because he’s disillusioned. It should be noted that Snowden claimed he could do very heavy damage to the entire US intelligence community in 2008, but decided to wait because he thought Obama, just coming into the presidency, might make virtuous policy changes.
After a year with the CIA in Geneva, Snowden really had the capability to take down the whole US intelligence network, or a major chunk of it? He had that much access to classified data?
In 2009, Snowden leaves the CIA and moves into the private sector. He works for two defense contractors, Dell and then Booz Allen Hamilton. In this latter job, Snowden is assigned to work at the NSA.
By virtue of his 2013 hack, he claims to have grabbed so much sensitive NSA data that he can take down the whole US intelligence network in a single day. Really? In a single day?
How did he execute the hacks? According to press reports (and this isn’t necessarily Snowden’s version), the magic wand was a thumb-drive. Snowden waltzed into work with one, plugged in, and stole the farm and the Holy Grail and the kitchen sink.
Snowden’s claim of theft, by whatever method, is problematic, dubious, and suspect. Why do people insist on treating the NSA, on the one hand, as the most awesome, talented, resource-rich spying agency in the world and, on the other hand, as an astonishing bunch of morons who just happened to forget to develop their own useful internal security?
The NSA’s business is to intrude, spy, hack, tap, get into everybody’s system, yes? Right? But protecting themselves from the same kind of treatment is just too much to ask.
They never compartmentalized their own data to prevent somebody from climbing the ladder all the way to the top. They considered, but never made it mandatory to have two analysts sign off on every trip into classified areas.
They never got around to installing myriad checks and counter-checks, devised by their in-house geniuses, to prevent employee theft.
This is like saying, in the heyday of the Mafia, a junior hitman from New York could fly to Vegas and sign off on papers making him the owner of ten casinos and hotels on the Strip.
It’s like saying a radio man on a nuclear submarine could launch missiles by throwing a few switches.
“Yes, Mr. President, he bypassed our procedures and took out 24 islands in the Pacific before we could stop him. Well, we didn’t exactly stop him. He jumped into a lifeboat and paddled to shore before we knew what happened. But I swear, we’re going to fix this so it’ll never occur again.”
“Yes, Mr. President, it turns out that the most dangerous weapon we face in the eternal war against terrorism is the thumb-drive. Who knew? Snowden made off with our most sensitive data. We forgot to make our systems secure. I think there was a meeting about it nine years ago, but I was on a plane home to my cousin’s nephew’s birthday party.”
Keep in mind that the very essence of being an intelligence officer is lying. Lying then, lying now, lying later. If you don’t get this, you know nothing about that world.
Given this fact, and given how unlikely it is that the NSA never installed extremely tight internal security, there is a strong chance that Snowden didn’t steal the farm. That’s not the way it happened.
Looking for a clue about how Snowden really operated, the most obvious place to start would be his former employer, the CIA. Would you rather start with his high school gym teacher or Putin?
I picked the CIA, an agency that has been at war with the NSA for a very long time. To boil it down, the agencies battle over federal funds, and the CIA has been losing. Why? Because intelligence-gathering has shifted from human vacuum cleaners to electronic ones. And there, the NSA is king.
Wired Magazine, June 2013 issue. James Bamford, author of three books on the NSA, states:
“In April, as part of its 2014 budget request, the Pentagon [under which the NSA is organized] asked Congress for $4.7 billion for increased ‘cyberspace operations,’ nearly $1 billion more than the 2013 allocation. At the same time, budgets for the CIA and other intelligence agencies were cut by almost the same amount, $4.4 billion. A portion of the money going to…[NSA] will be used to create 13 cyberattack teams.”
That means spying-money. Far more for NSA, far less for CIA.
So I propose this: Snowden didn’t steal the crown-jewels of information, they were given to him by CIA people who had accumulated them, carefully, over a long period of time, to put a hole in the mid-section of the agency they hate: the NSA. Snowden wasn’t capable of penetrating the NSA’s security, which was not a sieve. It was very, very good.
The CIA, of course, couldn’t be seen as the leaker. They needed a guy. They needed a guy who could appear to be from the NSA, to make things look worse for the NSA and to shield the CIA.
They had Ed Snowden. He had worked for the CIA in Geneva, in a high-level position, overseeing computer-systems security.
Somewhere in his CIA past, Ed meets a fellow CIA employee who sits down with him and says,
“You know, Ed, things have gone too damn far. The NSA is spying on everybody all the time. I can show you proof. They’ve gone beyond the point of trying to catch terrorists. They’re doing something else. They’re expanding a Surveillance State, which can only lead to one thing: the destruction of America, what America stands for, what America is supposed to be. The NSA isn’t like us, Ed. We go after terrorists for real. Whereas NSA goes after everybody. We have to stop it. We need a guy…and there are those of us who think you might be that guy…”
During the course of this one disingenuous conversation, the CIA is killing 20 innocent civilians in a faraway land with drones, but that’s, ahem, beside the point.
Ed says, “Tell me more. I’m intrigued.”
After a series of chats, it gets serious. Eventually, Ed buys in.
And what Snowden’s theoretical CIA handler said, in his completely cynical self-serving way, is true. The Surveillance State isn’t about catching terrorists.
Or perhaps the handler is really a patriot inside the system. He and a few others want to wound and expose the NSA for good reasons.
Either way, Snowden takes the assignment.
I think my hypothesis is far more believable than the one in which the NSA has no clue about how to protect itself from an analyst at Booz Allen who shows up for work in Hawaii with a thumb-drive.
Unfortunately, the press and public are conditioned to look at disruptions in the body politic as one-move chess games. The hero (or villain) executes a single powerful play and then all hell breaks loose.
Intelligence work doesn’t operate that way. It never has. It’s about prelude, lead-in, middle strategy, end-move, cover story, false trail, and limited hangout.
No, the people who simultaneously accept the NSA as miracle-genius and mushhead-buffoon at its own trade are the conspiracists. They just happen to agree with the theme of mainstream press reporting.
Ask yourself this. Has any significant television anchor or Sunday-morning newstalk-host, with an NSA representative on camera, ever asked why we should swallow such an absurd genius-buffoon contradiction about the NSA? Has he asked the question with any degree of heat, and has he followed up, and has he stuck to his guns to press the issue further and further to a resolution or a meltdown?
No. And why not? Because those media stars know how far they can go, before the kind of official access they need to keep their jobs would evaporate in a wind of ill-will. To put it another way, they’re cowards.
Imagine, if by some miracle, David Gregory had NSA mob boss Keith Alexander in the chair on Meet the Press, and said,
“Look General Alexander, we’re going to sit here until you explain to me exactly how your Agency can spy on untold numbers of people, utilizing the best minds in the business, and yet fail to secure your own temple against a single intruder who spies on you. I’m not looking for a facile gloss-over here. You’re budget is billions and billions of dollars. So let’s go. Buckle up…”
Just for starters. It’s my firm belief that the whole Snowden affair could then have unraveled in a much different way.
For another even greater miracle, suppose Alexander finally, after heavy grilling, finally jumped out of his chair and said,
“Okay, you want the story? Here it is. It wasn’t our fault. We’re not bumblers. We have security that would make an ant squirm to get through, and even he wouldn’t make it past first base. Somebody with far more skill than Snowden penetrated us, and it’s a heavy blow, and we’re working on it!”
Then, all bets would be off.
The question readers will raise, of course, is: if Snowden was operating as an agent, as I suggest, does it matter? He took the files he took. The answer to that question is a subject for another story, but, yes, it does matter.
I’m fully aware that many people can’t and won’t separate a good deed from the doer, because they’re committed to believing, in a brain-addled fashion, that the two must harmonize. They would would prefer this sort of proposition: If JFK really, as some say, wanted to get us out of the horror called the Vietnam war early on, then he couldn’t have cheated on his wife a few thousand times.
Good luck. The world doesn’t always cooperate with such a puerile view. And, by the way, perhaps Snowden is a kind of hero, but with a significantly different twist.
So, if what I’m discussing in this piece is evidence that I’m a conspiracist, as Seitz-Wald claims, and the dubious statements Snowden has made are all resolvable, and the NSA really is an exceedingly brilliant but feeble-minded monster, so be it.
The author of two explosive collections, THE MATRIX REVEALED and EXIT FROM THE MATRIX, Jon Rappoport was a candidate for a US Congressional seat in the 29th District of California. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he has worked as an investigative reporter for 30 years, writing articles on politics, medicine, and health for CBS Healthwatch, LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe. Jon has delivered lectures and seminars on global politics, health, logic, and creative power to audiences around the world. You can sign up for his free emails at www.nomorefakenews.com
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