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“Whether He Knows It Or Not”: Edward Snowden Is A Political Prisoner In Russia And Putin Won’t Let Him Go

Just in case you’re curious, or for that matter to confirm your worst suspicions, there was no way that the Russians (and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin) were about to allow perhaps their greatest intelligence windfall in history – that being NSA leaker Edward Snowden – to slip through their fingers.

So they didn’t allow it, and they won’t.

Instead, Putin gave Snowden “temporary asylum” in Russia or some other such nonsense status – and a “job,” to keep him there. Will they exploit him? Sure, and my guess is that he won’t be able to leave until they get all he knows, one way or another.

In other words, the “cover story” they put out for Snowden will change, if necessary, to be whatever it has to be until they get everything he has – or knows – about U.S. intelligence operations. In short, he’s – in a very practical sense – a political prisoner, whether he has figured it out yet or not. This is because the Russians, just like the Soviets were, are obsessed with what we know about them and how we know it, and more than anything else they seek to prevent anyone from finding out what they are doing.

In fact, it’s far more than an obsession with them – it is probably the most important thing driving Russian political and international behavior since the Czars, through the revolution, Lenin, Stalin, the Cold War and through the end of the Soviet Union itself.

But it didn’t end there, because to many, and especially the KGB, it was Gorbachev’s “Glasnost,” or “openness” that brought the old Soviet Union down in the first place, and Putin certainly has that view of what he needs to do to stay in power. He intends to keep his corrupt regime around for a long time, and has no intention of allowing any kind of Western government “transparency” to bring him down.

So, the allegedly naïve Edward Snowden is just the latest window that the Russians have into what we know about them and how we know it – the others being convicted spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, and to a lessor extent, Pfc. Bradley Manning. Sure, Ames and Hanssen were motivated by money, and Manning and Snowden by “principal,” they allege, but it’s all the same to the Russians.

And they’ll laugh all the way to the next summit.

 

By: Daniel J. Gallington, U. S. News and World Report, August 9, 2013

August 10, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Access Granted Vs Access Gained?”: Did Edward Snowden Overstate Claims On National Security Agency Leaks?

Security experts questioned Monday how, three years after Army Pfc. Bradley Manning downloaded a trove of secret material, low-level computer specialist Edward Snowden was able to copy documents that are far more sensitive and walk them out of his National Security Agency workplace in Hawaii.

After Manning released hundreds of thousands of classified documents — for which he is now being court-martialed — government officials vowed to curtail the broad access to intelligence that came into being after the Sept. 11 attacks. But Snowden appeared to have access to far more sensitive secrets, including the first order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to be leaked in its 35-year history.

“I do think it raises questions about how good our controls are on our system,” said Stewart Baker, a former general counsel for the NSA. “Because anything that he was able to move to a thumb drive to exfiltrate could also be exfiltrated by Russian or Chinese hackers.”

Snowden is almost certainly facing serious charges related to espionage and the conveyance of national defense information, said a former senior FBI official who would not be quoted by name because of the sensitive subject matter.

The FBI is interviewing Snowden’s family members, as it would in any similar investigation, to “gain insight into his motivation and mind-set, to include communications, emails, phone calls, writings,” and also to determine whether he was communicating with a foreign power or had been recruited by an intelligence service, the former FBI official said. He said Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong as a refuge raises questions about possible cooperation with China.

After acquiring a government security clearance when he worked for the CIA, Snowden moved into a contractor job with his clearance still active. Most recently, before decamping for Hong Kong, he was working for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii.

“The question that a lot of people are asking is why did the CIA grant him a clearance,” said a former senior government official who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the case.

Snowden described himself to the Guardian newspaper in London, which first published details of a massive telephone-data collection program, as a computer systems administrator who performed technical rather than operational functions. His job, however, gave him access to a wide swath of secrets.

Baker pointed out that computer network maintenance jobs “are self-taught jobs in some respects, and the guy is clearly an impressive autodidact.”

But analysts said that Snowden seems to have greatly exaggerated the amount of information available to him and people like him.

Any NSA analyst “at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere,” Snowden told the Guardian. “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”

Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the NSA and CIA, called the claim a “complete and utter” falsehood.

“First of all it’s illegal,” he said. “There is enormous oversight. They have keystroke auditing. There are, from time to time, cases in which some analyst is [angry] at his ex-wife and looks at the wrong thing and he is caught and fired,” he said.

NSA analysts who have the authority to query databases of metadata such as phone records — or Internet content, such as emails, videos or chat logs — are subject to stringent internal supervision and also the external oversight of the foreign surveillance court, former NSA officials said.

“It’s actually very difficult to do your job,” said a former senior NSA operator, who also declined be quoted by name because of the sensitive nature of the case. “There are all these checks that don’t allow you to move agilely enough.”

For example, the former operator said, he had go through an arduous process to obtain FISA court permission to gather Internet data on a foreign nuclear weapons proliferator living abroad because some of the data was passing through U.S. wires.

“When he’s saying he could just put any phone number in and look at phone calls, it just doesn’t work that way,” he said. ” It’s absurd. There are technical limits, and then there are people who review these sorts of queries.”

He added, “Let’s say I have your email address. In order to get that approved, you would have to go through a number of wickets. Some technical, some human. An individual analyst can’t just say, ‘Oh, I found this email address or phone number.’ It’s not simple to do it on any level, even for purely foreign purposes.”

The former senior government official said that as a computer expert, Snowden could have gained access on the NSA computer network to some of the documents he purportedly leaked. But other documents he claims that he provided to the Guardian and the Washington Post, such as the FISA order, are in theory supposed to be kept more tightly held, he said.

One of the issues investigators will be examining is “what access was he granted and what access did he gain” himself in order to obtain the documents, the former official said.

 

By: Ken Dilanian and Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, Washington Bureau, June 10, 2013

June 14, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Civil-Liberties Freak-Out”: Caught Up In The Conspiracy

Unaccustomed as I am to agreeing with Marc Thiessen, hell has frozen over and he’s on the right track about the National Security Agency–leaks nonscandal.

First of all, we pretty much knew everything that has “broken” in the past week. The NSA has been involved in a legal data-mining operation for almost a decade. Its legality was clarified in the renewal of the Patriot Act, which I supported. It has been described, incorrectly, as electronic eavesdropping. What is really happening is that phone and Internet records are being scanned for patterns that might illuminate terrorist networks. If there is a need to actually eavesdrop, the government has to go to the FISA court for permission.

Those who see the federal government as a vast corporate conspiracy or a criminal enterprise — in other words, paranoids of the left and right — are concerned about this. More moderate sorts should also have cause for concern — especially if a rogue government, like Nixon’s, were in power. We have to remain vigilant that the snooping stays within reasonable bounds; that’s why we have congressional oversight committees. And that’s where the paranoid tinge comes in: the FISA court, the congressional committees, the President and journalists like me are obviously incompetent or caught up in the conspiracy. Of course, there has been absolutely no evidence presented that the current parameters are unreasonable. Yes, I expect that some of my phone and e-mail traffic has been picked up in the data trawling. I travel fairly frequently to places like Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, the West Bank and the rest of the region; part of my job is to talk to partisans on all sides — and also to talk to sources in the U.S. military and intelligence communities. I have no problem with the government knowing that I’m doing my job.

I do have a problem with individuals like Bradley Manning divulging secrets that may well put lives in danger; his reckless actions require criminal sanction. I also have a problem with sources within the government who leak news that endangers the lives of U.S. intelligence assets overseas — the leaker or leakers who gave the Associated Press the story about the second undie bomber, for example. That leak compromised a highly sensitive operation that involved the Saudi bombmaker our government considers the most dangerous man in the world. (I think that the Department of Justice hounding the Fox News reporter, or any other journalist, was well over the line, though.)

This is a difficult issue and will become even more difficult in the future as technology becomes more sophisticated. I applaud civil libertarians like Glenn Greenwald who draw our attention to it. But it is important to keep it in perspective. Far too many people get their notions of what our government is all about from Hollywood; the paranoid thriller is a wonderful form of entertainment, but it’s a fantasy. The idea that our government is some sort of conspiracy, that it’s a somehow foreign body intent on robbing us of our freedoms, is corrosive and dangerous to our democracy. This remains, and always will be, an extremely libertarian country; it’s encoded in our DNA. We now face a constant, low-level terrorist threat that needs to be monitored. A great many lives are potentially at stake … and our national security is more important than any marginal — indeed, mythical — rights that we may have conceded in the Patriot Act legislation. In the end, the slippery-slope, all-or-nothing arguments advanced by extreme civil libertarians bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the slippery-slope, all-or-nothing arguments advanced by the National Rifle Association.

 

By: Joe Klein, Time Magazine,  June 10, 2013

June 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Traitor Or Hero”: He May Think So, But It Seems A Bit Early To Call Edward Snowden A Hero

The fact that former National Security Agency employee Edward Snowden decided to go public with his grievances against the U.S. government is certainly brave and bold.

People can and will accuse Snowden of many things. But no one will ever accuse him of not having the guts to stand up for what he believes.

Whether or not Snowden should be regarded as a “hero” for exposing what he believes is horrible intelligence gathering abuse by the U.S. government, however–as some are already suggesting he should be–remains to be seen.

Snowden has certainly made some startling claims about the scope of the U.S. intelligence and surveillance programs.

Most notably, Snowden claims that, as a 29 year-old security contractor, he had both the legal authority and the technological ability to “wiretap anyone — from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President.

If that’s true, that is indeed very startling.

Snowden also claims that the National Security Agency now intercepts and records almost all global communications, and that these recorded communications can be easily accessed:

“…the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested [by the NSA] without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”

Now, the NSA–or FBI, DOJ, or even your local police department–have always been able to get access to all of this information for U.S. citizens, provided they have a warrant from a judge allowing them to do so and provided you or your service providers have retained these records. But what seems new, based on Snowden’s description, is that the government is now maintaining its own records of all this information and, if I understand Snowden correctly, can now access and use any of it without a warrant.

If that’s true, it’s certainly worth asking whether we really want the government to be able to do that. It’s also worth asking whether the the government really does have the legal authority to do that–or whether it has gone way beyond what the lawmakers intended.

But, I, for one, would like some confirmation that what Snowden is saying is true before I denounce the government.

And some of the other things that Snowden has said have certainly made me wonder whether he isn’t just viewing all this from a perspective that mainstream Americans might consider, well, extreme.

Asked why he decided to leak classified information to the media, for example, Snowden said the following:

“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

Asked whether surveillance might help deter or prevent terrorism, Snowden appeared to suggest that we shouldn’t pay so much attention to terrorism:

“We have to decide why terrorism is a new threat. There has always been terrorism. Boston was a criminal act. It was not about surveillance but good, old-fashioned police work. The police are very good at what they do.”

Asked whether he sees himself as “another Bradley Manning,” the U.S. Army private who sent a boatload of classified U.S. documents to Wikileaks, Snowden expressed nothing but admiration for Manning:

“Manning was a classic whistleblower. He was inspired by the public good.”

To address these statements in reverse order…

Bradley Manning may have been “inspired by” his own personal view of the “public good.” But, personally, I’m not convinced that what Bradley Manning did was actually good for the public. I don’t think it was terrible for the public. And it was certainly interesting to read some of those diplomatic communications. But I didn’t see anything in them that made me think they were so important that they were worth Manning breaking the law and risking a lifetime in jail to make them public.

(And, for what it’s worth, I do think that some things should be classified.)

I also confess that I am happy that there has not been another 9/11 since 9/11, and I wish the FBI had stopped the deranged Tsarnaev brothers before they allegedly killed four innocent people in Boston and maimed a few dozen others. I understand that the authorities will never be able to eliminate terrorism entirely, but I am glad that they’ve limited it as much as they have.

And, lastly, although I don’t relish the thought of having the government intercept and record all of my communications, I want to find out whether it’s actually true that the government is doing this before I freak out about it. Also, because I am not a terrorist, because this country has a well-developed legal system, and because I do not instinctively regard all government employees as evil power-hungry scumbags, I would also like to believe that, even if the government is recording all of my communications, this won’t necessarily wreck my life.

All of which is to say…

I’m not yet ready to pronounce Edward Snowden a “hero.”

I understand that he means well.

And I understand that he may think he’s a hero.

But he hasn’t persuaded me of that yet.

By: Henry Blodget, Business Insider, June 9, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Edward Snowden Is No Hero”: He Is, Rather, A Grandiose Narcissist Who Deserves To Be In Prison

Edward Snowden, a twenty-nine-year-old former C.I.A. employee and current government contractor, has leaked news of National Security Agency programs that collect vast amounts of information about the telephone calls made by millions of Americans, as well as e-mails and other files of foreign targets and their American connections. For this, some, including my colleague John Cassidy, are hailing him as a hero and a whistle-blower. He is neither. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.

Snowden provided information to the Washington Post and the Guardian, which also posted a video interview with him. In it, he describes himself as appalled by the government he served:

The N.S.A. has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.

I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.

What, one wonders, did Snowden think the N.S.A. did? Any marginally attentive citizen, much less N.S.A. employee or contractor, knows that the entire mission of the agency is to intercept electronic communications. Perhaps he thought that the N.S.A. operated only outside the United States; in that case, he hadn’t been paying very close attention. In any event, Snowden decided that he does not “want to live in a society” that intercepts private communications. His latter-day conversion is dubious.

And what of his decision to leak the documents? Doing so was, as he more or less acknowledges, a crime. Any government employee or contractor is warned repeatedly that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a crime. But Snowden, apparently, was answering to a higher calling. “When you see everything you realize that some of these things are abusive,” he said. “The awareness of wrongdoing builds up. There was not one morning when I woke up. It was a natural process.” These were legally authorized programs; in the case of Verizon Business’s phone records, Snowden certainly knew this, because he leaked the very court order that approved the continuation of the project. So he wasn’t blowing the whistle on anything illegal; he was exposing something that failed to meet his own standards of propriety. The question, of course, is whether the government can function when all of its employees (and contractors) can take it upon themselves to sabotage the programs they don’t like. That’s what Snowden has done.

What makes leak cases difficult is that some leaking—some interaction between reporters and sources who have access to classified information—is normal, even indispensable, in a society with a free press. It’s not easy to draw the line between those kinds of healthy encounters and the wholesale, reckless dumping of classified information by the likes of Snowden or Bradley Manning. Indeed, Snowden was so irresponsible in what he gave the Guardian and the Post that even these institutions thought some of it should not be disseminated to the public. The Post decided to publish only four of the forty-one slides that Snowden provided. Its exercise of judgment suggests the absence of Snowden’s.

Snowden fled to Hong Kong when he knew publication of his leaks was imminent. In his interview, he said he went there because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” This may be true, in some limited way, but the overriding fact is that Hong Kong is part of China, which is, as Snowden knows, a stalwart adversary of the United States in intelligence matters. (Evan Osnos has more on that.) Snowden is now at the mercy of the Chinese leaders who run Hong Kong. As a result, all of Snowden’s secrets may wind up in the hands of the Chinese government—which has no commitment at all to free speech or the right to political dissent. And that makes Snowden a hero?

The American government, and its democracy, are flawed institutions. But our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors. They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work. But Snowden did none of this. Instead, in an act that speaks more to his ego than his conscience, he threw the secrets he knew up in the air—and trusted, somehow, that good would come of it. We all now have to hope that he’s right.

 

By: Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, June 10, 2013

June 12, 2013 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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