Today’s reading assignment, from Edward Jay Epstein, writing in The Wall Street Journal. He expounds on points we made in a previous post, examining the “assistance” given to Edward Snowden in exposing the NSA’s enhanced surveillance efforts:
In March 2013, when Edward Snowden sought a job with Booz Allen Hamilton at a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii, he signed the requisite classified-information agreements and would have been made well aware of the law regarding communications intelligence.
Mr. Snowden took that position so he could arrange to have published classified communications intelligence, as he told the South China Morning Post earlier this month. The point of Mr. Snowden’s penetration was to get classified data from the NSA. He subsequently stated: “My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked, that is why I accepted that position.”
Before taking the job in Hawaii, Mr. Snowden was in contact with people who would later help arrange the publication of the material he purloined. Two of these individuals, filmmaker Laura Poitras and Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald, were on the Board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation that, among other things, funds WikiLeaks.
In January 2013, according to the Washington Post, Mr. Snowden requested that Ms. Poitras get an encryption key for Skype so that they could have a secure channel over which to communicate.
In February, he made a similar request to Mr. Greenwald, providing him with a step-by-step video on how to set up encrypted communications.
So, before Mr. Snowden proceeded with his NSA penetration in March 2013 through his Booz Allen Hamilton job, he had assistance, either wittingly or unwittingly, in arranging the secure channel of encrypted communications that he would use to facilitate the publication of classified communications intelligence.
On May 20, three months into his job, Mr. Snowden falsely claimed to his employer that he needed treatment for epilepsy. The purpose of the cover story was to conceal his trip to Hong Kong, where the operation to steal U.S. secrets would be brought to fruition.
As Mr. Epstein observes, Snowden’s flight to Hong Kong was anything but a spur-of-the-moment decision. We’re guessing that the self-styled “whistle-blower” could afford the airfare on his $10,000 monthly salary from Booz, Allen Hamilton. But coordinating–and paying for–the other elements in his “expose” is a completely different matter. Hong Kong is a pricey destination, and we’re guessing he didn’t stay in the local equivalent of Motel 6. There’s also the matter of the safe house where he spent part of his stay; retainers for his Hong Kong legal team and of course, the private jet flight that eventually took him to Moscow.
It’s a plan with a lot of moving parts, and not something that was orchestrated solely by Mr. Snowden. Obviously, Greenwald and Poitras were major players (along with the WikiLeaks organization), but even those individuals (and Julian Assange’s outfit) don’t have the resources to pull of this sort of caper without a little extra help. That might have come from Chinese and Russian intelligence organizations, which may have accessed Snowden’s electronic library of state secrets during his stay in Hong Kong and more recently, Moscow.
And here’s another question for you to ponder. Why did Greenwald (a well-known, left-wing blogger and journalist) and Poitras, a celebrated documentary film maker, respond to the queries of Edwin Snowden, then an unknown defense contractor? Virtually anyone who blogs or makes films about the shadowy world of intelligence receive “over-the-transom” messages from insiders who claim to have devastating information on just about any issue or topic you can imagine. Most are cranks, and their e-mails are summarily deleted.
Yet, there was something in Snowden’s initial communications that intrigued both Greenwald and Poitras, to the extent they were soon following his instructions for setting up encrypted communications, which would eventually be used to help Snowden leak state secrets and plot his escape from U.S. authorities. What was it about Edwin Snowden that brought Greenwald and Poitras into the loop–and made them willing accomplices?
Or, was their participation cleverly orchestrated by outside parties, to support the cover story of a idealistic whistle-blower, bent on exposing government wrong-doing, while attempting to evade its legal tentacles? Judging by their past actions, both Mr Greenwald and Ms. Poitras aren’t exactly friends of the federal government–or American democracy. New Zeland blogger Trevor Loudon discovered that Greenwald has been a featured speaker at various socialism conferences since 2011, and Laura Poitras was present on a Baghdad rooftop just before a passing U.S. military patrol was ambushed in 2006–a rather odd coincidence that put her on the government’s radar. Details from The Weekly Standard:
But perhaps it isn’t such a mystery why the U.S. government might want to question Poitras if you simply crack open John R. Bruning’s 2006 book, The Devil’s Sandbox: With the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry at War in Iraq. Contary to Greenwald’s claim that Poitras has never been accused of any wrongdoing, Devil’s Sandbox details the explosive allegation that Poitras had foreknowledge of a November 20, 2004 ambush of U.S. troops but did nothing to warn them.
Brandon Ditto led the platoon that came under fire that day. Speaking Tuesday evening by phone with THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Ditto said it seemed that Poitras “had pre-knowledge” of the ambush. He recalled the events he witnessed that day, confirming the details described in Devil’s Sandbox.
During a patrol of Adhamiya early in the morning of November 20, two soldiers in Ditto’s platoon noticed a woman standing on a rooftop next to a man while holding a camera. They found that very odd. “Usually when you see someone planted on a rooftop with a camera, they’re waiting for something, and right after that is when we got ambushed just down the road,” Ditto told me Tuesday night. “So it seems that she had pre-knowledge that our convoy, or our patrol, was going to get hit.”
Ms Poitras (and her supporters) have likened the government interviews–and searches at our borders–to harassment. Members of the Oregon National Guard, who were ambushed in Baghdad that day, see it a bit more differently.