This article was originally published in The Daily Pulp on October 15, 2014.
When I first heard last year about Edward Snowden and his enormous info dump about the NSA’s surveillance programs, I thought Snowden had done the right thing. In particular, I remember going to a party in the summer of 2013 and finding that Snowden had the cachet of a folk hero among other college students. Today, a sizeable number of people wish Snowden had won the Nobel Peace Prize.
We were, and are, so wrong. I now believe that Edward Snowden is a Russian spy.
This is a complex web to untangle. I’ll list my sources up front, so you can read them, jump to other tertiary pages (hyperlinked in these articles), and reach your own conclusions. Go read and then return:
Back again? OK, let’s talk about Edward Snowden and Vladimir Putin.
- We now know that Edward Snowden was a fairly low-ranking NSA official who lacked some of the clearances he claims to have possessed (see the Yahoo News link above). This suggests that Snowden had someone else guiding him through his fact-finding process.
- Snowden claims to live comfortably on his own in Russia, yet his public image is becoming increasingly professional. This man obviously has handlers. Whether or not they are Russian intelligence handlers (and the XX Committee links above make a compelling case they areRussian handlers), someone is packing Snowden as a product, and he seems to enjoy the attention. Besides, if Snowden truly were devoted to his message, he would have stayed in the United States to stand trial. By running, Snowden revealed himself as a coward who refused to accept the consequences of his actions, and who preferred a cushy welcome in exile to the hard life of a radical.
- Note: Snowden claimed not long ago that he’d go to prison so long as it served the right purpose – a purpose that he, of course, would get to define. Not a particularly convincing argument for a would-be activist.
- The morally tricky element here is that Snowden’s criticisms of the NSA absolutely have merit. In one particularly striking example of Snowden’s effects here, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled in December that the NSA’s metadata program is unconstitutional. Again, though, if Snowden really wanted to have an honest conversation, he should have stayed over here and argued his case in the court of U.S. public opinion. Snowden could have – should have – been more careful in the way he released his findings, since his release of all those documents at once without redactions likely revealed surveillance measures to our enemies and placed members of our military and intelligence community at unnecessary risk. Say what you will about the immorality or morality of our surveillance programs, but by and large the people who carry out surveillance did not choose to use these systems; rather, they are just carrying out orders from higher-up politicians. In other words, the foot soldiers of U.S. espionage should not be placed in potentially lethal danger just for doing their jobs. Thanks to Snowden, they probably are in greater danger than before.
- If Snowden was so committed to the cause of government transparency, why did he run? One must wonder if he had an exit strategy already in place, especially since he fled to Russiaspecifically, as opposed to another country without an extradition deal with America.
- Russian intelligence has a longstanding history of using active measures, the dissemination of false and/or damning information, to discredit their enemies. Certainly, the NSA’s telecommunications surveillance system is an example of damning information, since it discredits the United States government’s commitment to free speech. The release of these documents provided Vladimir Putin with an opportunity to denounce U.S. policies and describe Russia in contrast as a more law-abiding country (see the Think Progress link above). This seems a little too neat to not be active measures.
- The kicker about active measures is that Snowden may not even know that the Russians used him. Individuals who insert themselves into a life, providing useful suggestions and advice, and ultimately steering things toward a certain end, without revealing their actual plan – this would be a classic spy maneuver on the part of the Russians. Again, we can’t prove that the Russians had an active intelligence operation to turn Snowden, but given the other suspicious parts of this story, it certainly seems plausible. Moreover, there are likely other Russian agents already in the country looking to turn more individuals like Snowden. Indeed, there may be more leaks in the future from such sources.
- Consider again the video clip from the Think Progress link, where Snowden made a surpriseappearance in a Russian TV conference with Vladimir Putin, designed to seem like an honest fireside chat, but which was quite obviously staged. Snowden asked about NSA-type programs in Russia. Putin gave a very polished, rehearsed, and timely comment in reply, denouncing American intelligence-gathering measures and claiming those things would never happen in Russia. Only a little digging on the web reveals that the Putin regime grows increasingly repressive. His remarks to Snowden about the value of privacy were complete b—s—. That was the moment when I first came to see Snowden as a spy – perhaps not a willing spy, but almost certainly someone who has been cultivated, protected, and now trotted out like a prizewinning show horse by the Russians.
- A pattern starts to emerge when you look at the totality of Russian geopolitics over the last two years. Vladimir Putin made a big show in Syria, forging a deal to move out chemical weapons and seeming briefly to accept a role in global peacekeeping. Then came the Sochi Olympics, which presented a glamorous portrayal of Russian society with a confident Putin at the helm. Meanwhile, Putin and his team granted Snowden asylum in Russia and trumpeted him as a hero, using Snowden’s leaks to portray the United States in a most negative light. Then, just when we weren’t expecting it, and the Ukraine appeared to be casting off its pro-Russian leaders for a more European government, Russian paramilitary troops intervened in the Ukraine. The next thing we knew, Crimea belonged to Russia, and Russian troops were massing along the border, although they appear to be standing down at the moment. Overall, Vladimir Putin convinced much of the world to let its guard down through successful public relations, and then launched an offensive in the Ukraine that threatened (indeed, may still threaten) all of Eastern Europe.
- Putin is a politician hungry for increased power and international respect. By simultaneously revealing himself capable of humiliating the U.S. and flexing his military muscles essentially with abandon, Vladimir Putin has revealed himself as a formidable figure. In other words, Putin, not President Obama, now controls the West’s transnational political discourse. Putin sets the agenda now, pushing the U.S. and U.N. into reactive positions, scrambling to protect their reputations in the face of Russian aggression. Edward Snowden is a pawn in this saga, and he is clearly a Russian pawn.
I could be erroneous in deeming Snowden a spy, but there are too many red flags to simply write off the possibility of Snowden having been turned. There are real moral problems inherent within the NSA, and I am glad our country has had tough conversations about high-tech surveillance. At the same time, I am appalled at much of the blogosphere, and myself, for taking Snowden’s story at face value. It will take years to get the full story on Edward Snowden, but I doubt he will emerge as some whistle-blowing hero, and I have a sickening suspicion that Vladimir Putin has outsmarted us all.
The cover photo is from: http://bit.ly/1h9d6jz