Edward Snowden had his Big Interview on NBC this week, and it was something of a pace-setter for poor TV journalism, since Brian Williams (who was previously denounced by Glenn Greenwald for being a servile boot-licker of the surveillance state), decided to soft-ball the questions and not follow up many weird, disingenuous statements by Ed. His almost-year in Russia under FSB care has not promoted clear thinking, while Ed’s body language indicated serious deception to the trained eye. NSA’s IT contractor on permanent vacation in Russia gave his usual platitudes about how he’s really a patriot and “had” to steal all those classified IC and DoD documents. He’s almost thirty-one years old but apparently he had no agency in any of this. We’ve heard it all before.
But The Narrative has begun to fall apart in a manner not even the MSM can avoid noticing (though the failure of most journalists to pursue certain obvious angles in the Snowden story ranks as one of the biggest fails in recent American journalism), and this week NSA released Ed’s sole communication with the Agency about his alleged whistleblowing. Recall that Ed has repeatedly claimed that he made numerous complaints about alleged NSA illegalities up the chain of command, verbally and in emails. What has come to light is a single, unclassified (FOUO) automated email question that Ed submitted to the Agency’s Office of General Counsel in April 2013 – months after he began stealing TOP SECRET documents and conspiring with Greenwald and others – about a training matter and it’s a pretty dumb question, frankly, that falls well short of any normal definition of whistleblowing.
We are expected to believe that Ed was clever enough to steal uncounted classified NSA documents, the biggest such haul in all history, but did not remember to save those few, critical emails that would establish that he really is a whistleblower, that he sought remedy through proper channels before he “went rogue.” Be aware that every NSA and IC person I know keeps a file containing hardcopies of all important (meaning Cover Your Ass or CYA) emails; I learned this in my first week on the job, and that file was literally the last thing I burn-bagged when I left Fort Meade for the last time. But Ed, you see, is different. At this point, it’s simple: he needs to cough up those emails – which NSA says do not exist – and provide the names of the supervisors he complained to, or pipe down.
Last night I appeared on MSNBC to address some of these issues. It was not a level playing field, since host Ari Melber is known to be quite pro-Snowden (and it showed) and the other guest was from the ACLU, i.e. Ed’s lawyers. The clip is here if you wish to see it. I want to highlight the egregious lie told by the ACLU representative, namely that NSA cannot find any evidence of damage done by the Snowden Operation. This is so obviously a lie, as is understood by those who have followed this story in even a cursory fashion, that it’s hard to believe even an ACLU lawyer would say this on national television. In truth, the damage to the security of the U.S. and its Allies caused by the Snowden Operation, which constitutes the biggest leak in the history of intelligence, is staggering, as even highly redacted DoD and IC documents have demonstrated.
Our ACLU friend also indicated that it would be really nice if people, you know, just stopped spying on each other. That would be nice, but it’s not going to happen. Spying is called the Second Oldest Profession for a reason, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Espionage is combated with counterintelligence, not by wishful thinking and lawyerly happytalk. Anybody who thinks Moscow and Beijing will comply with international understandings to limit espionage needs to keep it down while the adults are talking. Here on Planet Earth, everybody spies, even the nicest and most democratic countries. Even Luxembourg – yes, Luxembourg – has an intelligence service, and it, too, has been caught up in scandals, recently.
We need to grow up about espionage and have a real, adult debate about it. Snowden, his retinue, and his defenders, approach the matter like petulant children who hate that the world does not operate the way they fantasize it does. Thanks to this, and their continuing baldfaced lies interspersed with ugly smears of their opponents, they have no place in the grown-up discussion that free societies ought to be having about issues of intelligence and privacy.