Eli Lake has an excellent piece at the Daily Beast: Sorry Snowden, Putin Lied to You About His Surveillance State -- and Made You a Pawn of It.
There's a lot of pieces out there poking fun at the spectacle of Edward Snowden asking a videotaped question of Vladimir Putin -- supposedly just one civilian among the three million who sent in questions to the old Chekist. And what a spectacle it is, from Putin's feigned awkwardness about not quite understanding the "American form of English" that Snowden speaks -- so that a narrator can more simply rephrase Snowden's wonky question more conveniently to Putin's narrative -- to Snowden's feigned "balance."
And the net effect -- the take home -- that Russia isn't as bad as the US. And that was the purpose of this shared active measure. The average Ivan -- and the average Heather and Jeremy Progressive in the US -- will be impressed that a) Putin was willing to take a provocative question and b) Snowden finally said something faintly critical about Russia -- which has been his one Achilles heel.
So Eli tears away all that in his piece, and lines up some experts to tell us how fake it all is, how disingenuous it all is, how Putin in fact breaks his laws with things like the hacking and exposure of Toria Nuland's telephone call about Ukraine, not to mention Navalny's calls.
So this is all great, and I urge you to read it.
Now, let me point out some things of concern, working backwards.
First, the article was even updated to reflect the Snowdenista's perspective by letting Jessyln Radeck into the piece. Why? Because she said she was "Snowden's lawyer" and Lake repeated that.
If it were me, I'd say "Go away, Jesslyn, write on your blog, I'm not a bulletin board for you crypto kids."
Because she isn't Snowden's lawyer; she's a crypto activist actively attacking the US government with a radical ideology. She has no legal contract signed with him to represent him, and hence no attorney-client privilege. Radeck saying she's "his lawyer" is like Human Rights Watch's Ken Roth saying he is Pussy Riot's lawyer. He defends them. He invokes universal legal principles to state their case. He publicizes them as a human rights activist. but he's not "their lawyer" because they have a real lawyer, signed and properly credentialed in Russia.
Snowden's actual lawyer in that sense is the FSB-proximate Anatoly Kucherena -- and that's it. We're aware of no American lawyer that has a signed agreement to represent Snowden in a court of law, or in negotiations with US officials, or even in signing a book contract. Ben Wizener isn't that either -- he's just an activist at the ACLU who is lawfaring around this case -- taking it up, crusading around it, etc.
Over the years our family has had lawyers for different things, say, handling a deceased person's will. In addition to those formal lawyers, there might be relatives or friends who are lawyers who advise, say, on a libel matter or a traffic ticket matter. But we don't call them "our lawyers". They're just advisors. And that is really the word that both Radeck and Wizener need to use and stop obfuscating and implying they speak with legal authority when they don't.
If I'm mistaken about this -- and I see no evidence that I am -- than both of these persons can tell us what contract they've signed with Snowden, to do what, exactly. The end. It's speculation, it's manipulation to do otherwise, and all journalists hearing this claim from their mouths need to demand this of them and not provide space and ink to enable them to misrepresent themselves in this way.
Now as to the point that Mark Galeotti made, that there are "two Snowdens." I appreciate it that he sees it that way, and thereby preserves a "good Snowden" for evermore than can still represent the liberal values of challenging state surveillance that he thinks need to be represented -- and then he can live with the fact that this "good Snowden" -- who might have stayed good, you know, just like the Petrograd Soviet might have stayed democratic, you know? -- became "bad Snowden" only later. This is really the only form of Snowden criticism tolerated by the liberal intelligentsia of the United States.
Sorry, but "bad Snowden" was there all along -- when from the get-go, he took tens of thousands of documents and claimed to have examined every one (to the SMCP) but who in fact divulged secrets on everything from Sweden to Norway to Al Qaeda to the Russians and the Chinese -- our worst enemies -- on the way to supposedly expressing "concern" about over-targetting "society" for surveillance (as he claims, which is, of course, a deliberate lie, as the agencies do not target "society").
So we'll have to disagree on that assessment, but be thankful that Snowden in this piece has been called out for what he has done -- served as a foil to set up Putin to say something that smart people can only call "ridiculous."
Next comes Soldatov's response, which, as Eli Lake aptly puts it, is "more charitable." I think it has to be; he lives and works in Russia.
Even so, Soldatov turns in a solid diagnosis of the Putin disinformation here:
“Putin never directly lies, he just tells half truths and his answer was a half truth,” he said. “In terms of what is going on inside the country, he was not correct. We have all signs of mass surveillance. My view is Russian surveillance is much more intrusive than what you have in the United States.”
Well, he also times those half-truths to be very belated, too, you know? Like the time he admitted Snowden had been in touch with the Russian consulate - three months late. Or the time had admitted -- like today -- two months into the war -- that there are Russian military in Ukraine. What was half about this truth? Isn't a whole lie to wait 60 days with this news?
In any event, if Soldatov stopped there, there would be no ambiguty or concern. He doesn't. He presses on to tell us that Russia isn't as bad as the US, that it can't store as much dragnetted conversations as the NSA can, and it's just not technically capable.
The problem with that kind of well, limited truthyness, is that we don'to really know where it's true. Who says? How do we know what the Russians really have. Maybe they hide it? Maybe they lie? Soldatov doesn't stand there with a candle as they deploy SORM -- who knows, maybe they store more than we know.
But that isn't even the issue, really, because the real issue is the nature of the regime. The reason why I don't object to US surveillance programs is because I don't see that anyone has adequately made a case anywhere that it is misused to violate civil rights. I just don't see it.
Meanwhile, Russia's abuses are blatant and obvious and destructive-- wiretapping Navalny and following him around with cameras and claiming he is a CIA agent fifth columnist -- that's what *I* mean by misuse of powers and that's real. There isn't an equivalent of this in the US provided by the Snowdenistas. Without any Snowden, without any Greenwald, an AP writer covered the story of the NYPD's surveillance of Muslim clerics in New York -- and their work led to the closing of the program in its over-aggressive form. (And even so, I've clipped the names to follow up -- if it's anything like the Cage-prisoners' Begg, who was ultimately arrested on terrorism charges.)
Snowden has never persuaded me that there are "too many people" who have had their meta data scraped because he's never shown one single individual harmed by that.
Again, all you have to do to see the difference -- and why it matters! -- is to think of Merkel - and how you don't know a single thing she ever said on her phone in private -- which the NSA ostensibly bugged -- and Nuland -- whose conversation was not only bugged, but published with direct intent to harm -- and succeeding. Difference!
In Lake's piece, Galeotti is quoted as saying that the Russians used Sochi as a surveillance test -- they stored all the conversations for 24 hours. I remember Soldatov got upset about how this was portrayed by various media at the time -- which is that the Western journalists and the experts they consulted seemed to imply that these conversations were stored "forever" or "a long time" and didn't explain it was "for 24 hours".
Well, number one, believing that a state stores something for "only 24 hours" when it says it does is folly. For two, again, we don't know what they have technically really -- and those who think they do because they have some kind of access or some kind of version they're being told -- have to concede that they don't work there at the FSB, aren't defectors, and don't know everything. That's important.
You know, Snowden worked there, he defected, and sadly that's why we do know -- except he lies and exaggerates and misrepresents -- and his journalistas have an agenda and prevaricate. So...
Even so, sadly, we know tons more about the US system than we do about Russia's. And that's not fair. And we don't have a Russian Snowden -- yet -- you know? All we have is Snowden pretending he might start behaving more like a Russian Snowden. Which is fake.
Then Lake says two things that I think need to be taken apart:
The prize is a powerful rebuke to some members of Congress and others who have suggested that Snowden is at best a defector and at worst a spy for a foreign government.
No it's not that at all. It's a powerful nothing. The prize didn't go to Snowden; he's not a journalist. Those who are calling it "the Snowden prize" think "for all intents and purposes" it *is* the Snowden prize, but pay attention:
The Pulitzer people know how to give prizes for investigative journalism -- they did so. Not to Glenn Greenwald.
The Pulitzer people know how to give prizes to individuals for their courageous journalism --they did so. Not to Laura Poitras.
The Pulitzer people know who to give prizes to individuals for story-telling -- they did so. Not to Barton Gellman.
Instead, they gave the price to institutions -- newspapers, not journalists. The Guardian -- which Greenwald left -- and the Washington Post -- where Gellman got the first stories very wrong and had to publish corrections. These grown-up frameworks stretched very thin around the aggressive activism of these two adversarial journalists barely contained them, and really did little to add even a journalistic luster.
Again, Greenwald constantly accused the Guardian of cowardice and left before the British agents came in with sledge hammers for the computers. Gellman has written all kinds of thumb-sucky things about lines he drew and nuances he made unlike his more radical brethen in the Snowdenista cause -- but all that does is beg the question, as I've said before: Gellman wouldn't go to Hong Kong because he thought it might put him over the line into advocacy and would present him with the awful dilemma of having to aid a fugitive. Greenwald and Poitras did not shrink before this radicalism. So come on, Bart, what do you really think about those two, then? Because you can't exonerate yourself without besmirching them. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Come on -- what the Snowdenistas have is third-rate, and a door prize, because their Pulitzer is for lame "public service" -- whatever that is -- right up there with wholesome school lunches, city bike programs and humanely disposing of kittens -- and not given to a single individual in their brotherhood. Good! They don't deserve it. Because they didn't investigate anything, files were dumped in their lap because of their political advocacy and participation in the hackers' movement. Their newsroom parties with drinks clinked to these individuals are false and misleading -- the individuals are not named. The editors should have stepped forward to receive the prize...
That's important to call out. The prize was formatted this way for a reason. I think the Pulitzer judges are guilty liberals. On the one hand, in their climate of liberal and progressive and hard-leftist Snowden-mania, they had to do something to give it a nod -- otherwise they'd literally be eaten alive by the very liberal media of which they are the incentivizer. On the other hand, a prize for journalism to Laura Poitras would look like standards had grossly slipped; a prize to Greenwald would look like partisan warfare in journalistic form was ok for this establishment body to bless. They couldn't do that, or all those corporations and foundations they move among would find them just too far out there. It would also demean the prizes for real journalism they give. So they hedged -- okay, no naming of individuals, no "investigation" for you -- but, well, "public service" because, oh, "everybody" (except me) thinks it's all a great "conversation-starter."
Then Eli says this:
Snowden and his defenders have repeatedly said the former NSA contractor does not control the master files of intelligence documents he originally took from the U.S. intelligence community even if he wanted to hand them over to Russian intelligence. Thus far no U.S. official has provided any public evidence to suggest that Snowden was a paid foreign agent when he took those documents.
I grasp that this is journalistic boilerplate to seem balanced, but let's take this apart, too. This is one of those factoids that someday, I hope those who write it will wince when they look back.
We all get it that the docs aren't in the four laptops, and Ed doesn't have to literally hand Ivan the docs for this to work to the Russians' advantage -- he can steer journalists who *do* have the docs; he can be selective about what he emphasizes, etc.
And let's not forget that espionage doesn't consist of mere documents -- it can consist of gossip about personalities or the location of the men's room for an intruder to look normal. But more to the point, the reason we don't know if Ed is aiding the Russians is that nobody is really looking hard at this.
Number one, the problem is we are still in the eye of the storm, and a storm that has prevented journalists from functioning normally -- as they would if, oh, Iraq were being invaded. Very few have critically examined Snowden's entire shtick -- you can count them on half a hand -- Michael Kelley, Edward Lucas, a few others. That's among journalists. Among academics and think-tankers, there's John Schindler and Benjamin Wittes and...and... That's it. Then there's bloggers like me -- there are more of us than all the others put together, which tells you where this job is at.
Number two, no one has worked critically -- and professionally -- with this huge complicated body of work with a critical mind. All the documents have to be looked at critically as to their choice of topic, their timing of release, their relationship to the timeline of events in Russia's interest -- and to the world timeline.
I started drawing up such a table, and hope to find time to keep going. For example, one of the most sensational Snowden documents -- guaranteed to get masses and masses of people to sit up and pay attention and which had an indelible imprint forever -- was the one leaked in the Guardian 28 February that claimed the NSA is all up in our Yahoo webcams and *gasp* recording people having sex online.
That lovely thing was leaked right on the same day that Russia invaded Crimea with its "little green men" storming buildings and air bases everywhere. Accident, comrades? Well, let's ask James Ball, formerly of WikiLeaks, who has broken with Assange and has strained relations with Jacob Appelbaum -- but we don't know if he has broken with Harrison. What made you pick that day? Why did you wait with that document? Why now? Why not a year ago? What, you didn't know you had it? Sure, it may be that James Ball really did just pick a random date. Except, what else do we need to know about this? Did Snowden draw his attention to it? Did Assange? Did Sarah Harrison? Did some other party in the mix nudge this one?
Or take the document recently -- this is much more suspicious -- about how the US spies on Germany -- not only on Merkel. When did this item magically appear? On the eve of a very important meeting Germany had to have with Russia during the Crimean crisis about whether or not to go through with certain gas purchases and gas pipelines (South Stream, which is mercifully stalled still). Again, accident comrades? Why that document? When then? And why by -- once again -- Poitras and Der Spiegel journalists, and not Glenn Greenwald?
And so on. Every single document has to be thrown up on the wall and looked at with pins on maps and timelines and related events. Why this, why now, by whom, for what purpose, and with what damage?
Yet no one is doing this (I mean publically -- let's hope at least some agency is doing it). For all we hear about "Big Data" journalism, nobody is doing that with this data, this way. The ACLU and other bodies have put all these documents online to pursue their goals of undermining the liberal democratic state of America? Why aren't there any real investigative journalists looking at these through another prism far more critical to assess a) real damage b) real help to Russia and China?
Hey, and no fair asking the guy who stole the documents and his helpers for their damage assessment. Let's not be children here.
So that's why I say that the claim that "no U.S. official has provided any public evidence to suggest that Snowden was a paid foreign agent when he took those documents" is a certain kind of hogwash. It's hogwash because nobody has studied this to see the timing and the damaging caused (except to a limited extent several journalists who wrote about his China connection and his defection attempt to Hong Kong on the eve of a very important meeting of Obama and Chinese leaders on hacking; and to a certain extent on Russia, Edward Lucas and an even smaller extent myself). You can't just go by what officials claim -- if they claimed damage, you'd want to test it yourself and see if it were damaging; just because they don't claim damage means they're telling the truth.
If the NSA follows the Kubler-Ross stages of death, perhaps it is still in the denial or bargaining stage. But the real issue is that for tactical or security regions, the NSA can't stand up with a target on its back -- anymore than WikiLeaks' victims could -- and say "I was hurt, hit me again in that place where I was vulnerable."
Eli fully grasps that point I know -- and I've seen him debate the dreadfully sectarian Alexa OBrien on this topic.
So --- back to the drawing board, much harder work has to be done journalistically on Snowden than anyone is ever willing to do, but meanwhile, we have this:
But on Thursday Snowden looked to some like he was participating in a Soviet-style propaganda play. “Whatever else Snowden might think he has been doing, surely he must understand he was just used as a prop by the president of the Russian federation,” said Michael Hayden, a former NSA and CIA director under the George W. Bush administration who has been one of his former agency’s most ardent public defenders. Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has also been critical of Snowden and the journalism his leaks have helped produce said, “It speaks volumes that Snowden lends his name to Putin’s propaganda efforts.”
Galeotti says he found the display of Snowden’s question for Putin on eavesdropping to be depressing. “I believed he was an honest man who made some stupid choices,” says Galeotti. “But in this case he was doing what was in his handler’s interests.”
WHEN that immense spade-work is done, THEN we can see if in fact he's an agent; agent status isn't only determined by whether someone got a payout for their work -- which might be ideological.
Radeck, Wizner, Harris and all the "lawyers for Snowden" claim he is not working for Russian intelligence. Oh? Says who? Someone who leaks documents to undermine the US and drive Germany further into the arms of Russia is operating as an agent of influence, at the very least. Have some curiosity, people.
Why do I invoke damage, when the boilerplate disclaimer Eli Lake provided -- technically true -- isn't invoking damage but the existence of "payment" or -- let's face it -- "confession"? Because agent status comes when there *is* damage. This is easy to see with Pollard's case or Philby's case. That it's hard to see with Snowden is only a matter of temporary paralysis, I hope, induced by the mace in the eyes sprayed by the adversarial journos and their hacker accomplices.