Is Edward Snowden the World’s Dumbest Spy?, Ctd

by Freddie deBoer

Lots of reader objections on this one:

On Snowden’s motives and capabilities:

“I do know that he’s in Russia because he’s been trapped there by our government, and that if he’s a spy, he’s gotta be the world’s worst.”

Well, you’re half right. Snowden is in Russia because that’s where he chose to go, one day after his passport was revoked. I respect the whistle-blower argument, but Snowden did much more than leak evidence of crimes and overreach by the NSA. He took those documents and fled. Unlike Chelsea Manning, who seems to have far more personal integrity than Snowden, he did not remain here to face the consequences of his actions. If he truly believed he was doing a service for the country, or the world, and was not in flagrant violation of oaths he took, he should have stood his ground here in the US, or at the very least on neutral soil, NOT left to be succored by avowed international enemies of the US.

And his actions have shown that at the very least, he is extremely naive about international relations.

Any information that was on any digital device he took with him on his route to Sheremetyevo via Hong Kong was almost certainly compromised. If they were not (doubtful),  just how secure and careful have Greenwald and others who have access to those documents been in the intervening year? Surely you don’t think it is a coincidence that Aeroflot just happened to be willing to convey him to Moscow on a cancelled passport, do you? Putin loves having Snowden there to irritate the US, and has been playing him like a violin for over a year. Did you watch that pandering April  interview that Snowden claimed later was an attempt to catch Putin in a lie? If that was his aim, he has totally misunderstood both Putin and the nature of the personality cult he has been assiduously building in Russia. As events in Ukraine have shown, Putin *doesn’t care* if the West thinks (or knows) that he’s lying, and most Russians won’t believe the biased Western media even if presented with clear evidence. The West already suspected (and now knows) that Putin is an opportunist with no respect for international law or sanctions if they get in the way of what he wants. Snowden is just one more convenient tool in his arsenal of catspaws to use against what he considers to be a hostile coalition of Western powers.

I am not yet willing to brand Snowden an out-and-out traitor, but his actions are not nearly as blameless as you seem to think. He has repeatedly tried to trade off of information he stole from the NSA to secure asylum with several different governments. If he really wanted to expose US malfeasance while still protected US security interests, he should have left for neutral territory well before leaking any documents, established himself and submitted an asylum claim, THEN started leaking. Instead, his clumsy attempts at whistleblowing and evading responsibility for the same have resulted in him being in the power of an enemy state with no regard for world stability if it stands in the way of their interests.

Snowden’s own words: “I blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them.” Snowden doesn’t just think the NSA overstepped its legal bounds in surveilling US citizens; he doesn’t think the NSA should be spying on *anyone at all*, and neither should anybody else. Well, that’s fucking great, but that’s just. not. reality. It is this kind of attitude that lead to Sec of State Henry Stimson shutting down the American Black Chamber and dismissing much of its staff without a pension or NDA after World War I. The key figure behind the chamber, Herbert Yardley, went on to write his own expose of their activities, mostly out of financial need, but likely also out of pique. I still have more respect for Yardley and his motivations than I do for Snowden.

The NSA’s own commentary on Yardley’s memoir: “Yardley, with no civil service status or retirement benefits, found himself unemployed just as the stock market was collapsing and the Great Depression beginning. He left Queens and returned to his hometown of Worthington, Indiana, where he began writing what was to become the most famous book in the history of cryptology. There had never been anything like it. In today’s terms, it was as if an NSA employee had publicly revealed the complete communications intelligence operations of the Agency for the past twelve years-all its techniques and major successes, its organizational structure and budget-and had, for good measure, included actual intercepts, decrypts, and translations of the communications not only of our adversaries but of our allies as well.”

I’ll just say, briefly: I wish Chelsea Manning had escaped the way Snowden has. I see nothing noble about her being stuck in a cage for the next several decades.