By Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Happy Red Army Day!
Why is Edward Snowden working hard to tell us he's not a Russian spy again right now?
According to Business Insider, Snowden is telling Reddit now that his two big "proofs" that he is not a spy is that he fled to Hong Kong -- i.e. not directly to Russia -- and that he "spent a month" in the Sheremeytovo airport.
Both are incredibly partial versions of the story and he and his supporters know that.
His flight to Hong Kong has to be judged not what he claims it means, but what he did there: meet Russian diplomats and get help in first staying in a place where US authorities couldn't easily get to him -- Chinese territory -- in order to pass off his stolen documents to journalists -- and then in escaping to Russia. There are many questions about his time-table there.
There's also the fact that surfaced later that Tor Project's Runa Sandvik -- the first person to meet Snowden after he had already stolen documents BEFORE he contacted journalists -- in December 2012 in Hawaii at the Oahu CryptoParty -- was in Hong Kong in April 2013 two weeks before Snowden arrived. This was possibly, as one knowledgeable observer put it, to "set up the darknets," i.e. ways for Snowden to spirit out his stolen files. She may have simply helped prepare his safe arrival as well. It's one too many coincidences.
His second claim that he "stayed at the Sheremetyovo airport for a month" -- it was actually 6 weeks -- is also threadbare as no one saw him there and there is another credible story that he was sheltered by the Ecuadorean Embassy in Moscow during that period.
Snowden also seems to think by now we've all forgotten what his fellow traveller Sarah Harrison told the press in January 2015 -- that Russian intelligence DID attempt to recruit him when he first arrived -- so some of that period was spent in "chats" with FSB officers.
So Snowden saying this now is no more credible than it was before, and he's also putting out more flimsy arguments than he put out before.
Periodically, Snowden does this, and it's important to see if these correlate with any other events.
How is Snowden? Judging from this picture, not his best.
The image above appeared on Reddit with a link to imgur was used by Snowden his "proof" that it was really him on Reddit (that's the routine there). Users thought it was cool. He uses an Internet meme about "my first time" but uses just an [m] in brackets -- that might mean something.
His hair is dirty and disheveled. He is still, after all this time, wearing the broken/bent designer glasses. Can't he get them fixed in Moscow? Or did he read my suggestion to watch all the eye-glass shops in Moscow (not too hard a task if you especially watch the ones with foreign makes) to see if he turned up?
A staple of Russian and Snowden-supporters' propaganda has been that "there is no way" Snowden could be a Russian spy because "there is no proof." One wonders what the crowd of hard leftists, "progressives," anti-American "privacy for me and not for thee" proponents and conspiracists would accept as proof anyway. One wonders if even a copy of a contract signed with the FSB or an ID card or his appearance with FSB Chief Bortnikov at a summer dacha would ever constitute enough proof for the doubters.
One can only say there isn't proof that he is *not* a spy, either. One test to prove he's a spy that doesn't involve skulking in the bushes outside Bortnikov's dacha is easy: does he or does he not damage our country? Those who seriously look at Snowden's works in the last nearly two years, without ideological bias would have to admit that he has caused extraordinary damage to our relations with our allies and our ability to monitor and fight our enemies. Here, too, Snowden and the Snowdenistas can claim endlessly that something "isn't" damaging, although we can agree that the thief himself and his accomplices and cheer-leaders aren't the best judge of this.
What it Means to Have "Chats" with the FSB
Russians and people who have lived and worked in Russia understand that collaboration with Russian intelligence isn't just a question of signing a contract or agreeing to pick up notes under rocks at night.
Merely talking to them in the first place means they get their hooks in -- and may never get them out. Sarah Harrison DOES admit that Snowden talked to the FSB as they attempted to recruit him -- he DOES NOT mention that. Ashamed? Worried it will produce more questions?
Westerners often don't realize the degree to which the KGB permeated every aspect of life -- and the degree to which its successors, the FSB and SVR as well as the GRU (military intelligence) still to -- and are making a resurgence.
Every institution, office, school, church, mosque, clinic, army base or other unit of society had what was called "the First Department" (perviy otdel). This was the "personnel" or "human resources" department, but that was exactly where the KGB was -- in Russian it is called otdel kadrov, the department of the cadres, or personnel, but cadres are what the KGB can find in many human beings -- people who cooperate, inform, collaborate, carry out small tasks, undertake large operations, and so on. These departments had the personnel files on every person and knew everything about them -- to use against them and to coerce them into collaboration.
This network persists to this day, sometimes with the same people in the same places, sometimes with their successors of the same mindset; recently there has been more KGB-style informing by people on their neighbours and more of a spy mania -- eight spies have been arrested or tried already this year.
In the Soviet era, and again today, it often starts with being summoned for a "chat" -- even a "prophylactic chat," where a dissident intellectual -- who could be defined as someone who read samizdat or unauthorized publications or today, blocked Internet sites who simply refused to criticize someone else in a collective criticism session -- would be told that his activities had been noted, his thinking was wrong, and he should mend his ways. Subtle or not-so-subtle threats about loss of privileges, jobs, places in school, threats to relatives could work to keep a person "cooperating."
Sometimes people would simply have to then sign up for more chats. Regular chats. Chats during which they didn't believe they were informing on others or compromising themselves, but just "chatting." The longer the KGB could make these go on short of "interrogations," the better. Sometimes people would be given a small, seemingly innocuous chore to do, like getting a newspaper clipping or simply telling a fact about someone else that was already known to the KGB anyway. The point was just to get the person hooked and beholden, to be seen as having already performed a task on instructions -- which then set themselves up to go deeper and to be compromised -- the KGB could always say "But you did us that favour."
Some people who go to such "chats" think they are the superior ones, and they get more out of the KGB than they give, boasting to their friends about the operational data they think they got from such conversations. But the KGB -- and its successors the FSB, SVR and other intelligence agencies -- are of course experts at playing on human vanity.
Playing on Snowden's Vanity
Often the fates of Kim Philby and other traitor-spies are invoked as an example of what happens to the defector stuck in Russia -- they drink themselves to death, their marriages break up, their children disown them, they have no lives. Snowden and his supporters often wave away such concerns by saying Edward doesn't even drink.
But it doesn't matter. He has another character flaw that the FSB can exploit: vanity. His vanity is epic -- he believes he himself was forced to act on behalf of the Congress and the judiciary because they ostensibly weren't doing their job, and he also thinks his actions of theft and sabotage are fulfilling his own oath and the Constitution -- which in fact he disavows through his other admission that "code is law" and his perversion of Jefferson's famous quote, saying that people should be bound by computer code, not law.
Ask Me Anything - But Don't Ask Me What I Did for 20 Days Before I Gave Greenwald the Files
In this article today by Hunter Walker, a Redditor's question is cited:
The Redditor who asked Snowden about his relationship with Russian intelligence cited an article on his life in Moscow. That story, which was published in the New York Times in November 2013, described Russian journalist and security expert Andrei Soldatov as saying, "the F.S.B., the domestic successor to the Soviet-era intelligence service, clearly controlled the circumstances of Mr. Snowden’s life."
One problem with this statement is a translator error that crept in somewhere along the chain, which is the "translator's false friend" of the word kontrol. "Kontrolirovat'" doesn't mean "control" in the sense of actually restraining movement or keeping within bounds or intervening with force. It means monitor, watch, observe. So if translated properly, this sentence might then favor Snowden's own exculpations.
Except being watched and monitored all the time is exactly the manner in which Snowden can wittingly or not wittingly aid and abet Russian intelligence. Snowden was always saying that Tor and Tails were very strong encryption which he thought was fail-safe and even today, when Russia has given a bounty -- yes, indeed, given a large grant which is indeed a bounty (people argue about this) -- to crack Tor, and when Russia has said it would block Tor -- the Snowden set vigorously deny it, as Jillian C. York works hard to claim. She's the program director of the organization chief among Snowden's chief boosters, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, work hard to claim.
Tor has had massive problems -- infiltration by the FBI to catch criminals -- which is a good thing -- servers "turned" by Russia -- which they try to minimize but can't -- periodic bugs and problems that its boosters deny, even as they try furiously to pretend that legitimate and needed critics of their cult are "misogynists" who are guilty of "stalking" or "hate speech" (the terms in which witch-hunting is done today) as Tor Project has done to a vigorous critic of their support of Snowden -- they outed his privacy and hounded him out of his job in a vivid display of what the "privacy for me and not for thee" premise means -- which is why I titled my book about Snowden Privacy for Me and Not for Thee.
Here's Snowden's full statement on Reddit in case it is lost:
Good question, thanks for asking.
The answer is "of course not." You'll notice in all of these articles, the assertions ultimately come down to speculation and suspicion. None of them claim to have any actual proof, they're just so damned sure I'm a russian spy that it must be true.
And I get that. I really do. I mean come on - I used to teach "cyber counterintelligence" (their term) at DIA.
But when you look at in aggregate, what sense does that make? If I were a russian spy, why go to Hong Kong? It's would have been an unacceptable risk. And further - why give any information to journalists at all, for that matter, much less so much and of such importance? Any intelligence value it would have to the russians would be immediately compromised.
If I were a spy for the russians, why the hell was I trapped in any airport for a month? I would have gotten a parade and a medal instead.
The reality is I spent so long in that damn airport because I wouldn't play ball and nobody knew what to do with me. I refused to cooperate with Russian intelligence in any way (see my testimony to EU Parliament on this one if you're interested), and that hasn't changed.
At this point, I think the reason I get away with it is because of my public profile. What can they really do to me? If I show up with broken fingers, everybody will know what happened.
Why Does Snowden Not Capitalize the Word "Russian" Like a Russian Would?
Why does Snowden capitalize Hong Kong and not DIA, but not the word "Russians". Odd, that. Stress from lying? Or "not Snowden" at the keyboard? In the Russian language, when Russians refer to themselves as "russkiye" they do not capitalize the word -- that's standard Russian usage. Is one of Snowden's minders at the keyboard? To be sure, a recent innovation of the last 15 years or so has been to use the term Rossiyskiye to mean civic Russians, i.e. not ethnic Russians but people who are citizens of the Russian Federation which is capitalized in Russian usage. But in ordinary use people call themselves russkiye with no capitalization.
More importantly, why does Snowden or whoever is at the keyboard need to make this disavowal once again?Because surely it would have to be anticipated in a Reddit forum where anything goes. Indeed, why do the AMA if you can't answer the hardest questions. Interestingly, Max Fisher, generally a Snowden supporter, was the one to ask this question, citing another Snowden supporter, Andrei Soldatov.
One simple answer is that the Oscars and the attention brought back to Laura Poitras and her film about her hero, Snowden, CitizenFour means that issues of Snowden's character arises again and his handlers are eager to deflect it.
What else is going on?
Where Does Snowden Work in Moscow? Could it Be at Kaspersky Lab?
Let's look at what happened recently -- a massive banking heist for reported as $300 million cumulatively, then later as $1 billion, and it's probably more involving invasion of computers in Russia, China, the US, Japan and Ukraine.
Hmm, what enemy of all those five things could there be in the world? It's the "China and Japan" part that lets you know it's not ISIS or its regional suppliers of recruits from the Caucasus Emirate, but likely Russian criminals, who are happy to target all those states -- and parts of their own country, too. Note that the description of this massive hack says that it "state grade" i.e. only a state would have the capacity to undertake it. So that means Russian criminals with state backing or hackers within the criminalized state.
Who made this finding? Kaspersky Lab, the security professionals in a company founded by Eugene Kaspersky, who is close to the Kremlin. How close is one of those things that if you speculate about you will get into a wrangle with Kaspersky himself, and wind up doing additions and corrections and retractions.
I joked on Twitter, "what was his cut" about this heist simply because finding out about the heist then also leads to lucrative contracts for security people. It's like a giant version of the petty gimmick we see of some malware sites that first infect your computer, then for $25 sell you the solution to how to get rid of the malware. Yet Kaspersky is already wealthy and connected and doesn't need anything out of this but the reputational enhancement that comes from finding the latest terrible thing.
Indeed, I have no idea of the specifics of this heist, how Kaspersky found this "state-grade" invasion (for which I frankly think you need "state-grade" connections), and what his company, if anything gets out of it. I simply had another question: is Kaspersky Lab the place where Snowden is working?
At one time Snowden's lawyer, himself close to the FSB as he sits on their "civil society board" and takes high-profile cases of great state interest, said that Snowden had a job and that gainful employment and interesting work was part of what was making him have a great job in Russia, far from sitting isolated in an apartment with a bottle of vodka.
When he was still in Russia and still at VKontakte, his brain child -- before he sold his shares and fled Russia -- Pavel Durov publicly offered Snowden a job in his company. The assumption was that Snowden would help this "private company" fend off government surveillance and keep users' privacy intact. But there was never any confirmation that Snowden went to St. Petersburg to work or even consult and Durov never spoke of it again.
Then there was speculation that he could be working for Yandex or any other big Internet company in Russia, but no one could establish anything. Because people were thinking in terms of "VKontakte" after Durov's invitation, and then thinking in terms of "Internet companies," they didn't think of security companies . But Kaspersky makes sense for a lot of reasons -- it's the foremost Russian company that deals with hacks of computers, and the reasoning goes (and unfortunately went for the NSA and CIA too!) that hackers of computers are the best people to help you secure your computer from other hackers. In Snowden's case, his theft of files could be a function of his "leet skillz" as a hacker, but could also be a function of luck, neglect by his superiors, and serious inside or outside help.
So I simply asked Kaspersky himself, or whomever is working his Twitter account. Why? Because he once talked to me, even though I've publicly mentioned that I unsubscribed from his anti-virus service because I now longer trust his company, which is close to the Kremlin, not to make this a "phone home" kind of thing.
He once asked on Twitter if anyone could guess where he spent his vacations -- probably kicking the tires on his security -- and I guessed "Borneo" just to see what he'd say. He answered that he was 5,000 kilometers north of Borneo.
OK, here is a question: can anyone recognize where I spent my vacations? pic.twitter.com/yZmMRjoDKS— Eugene Kaspersky (@e_kaspersky) August 25, 2014
OK, here is a question: can anyone recognize where I spent my vacations? pic.twitter.com/yZmMRjoDKS— Eugene Kaspersky (@e_kaspersky) August 25, 2014
So I tried my question:
@e_kaspersky I thought I'd ask: have you ever met Edward Snowden, does he work for/do consulting now for your company? Do you support him?— CatherineFitzpatrick (@catfitz) February 19, 2015
Instantly I was followed by a dozen computer security professionals who may have had the same question or at least wanted to hear if there was an answer. There wasn't. Any answer Kaspersky gave, affirmative or negative, would cause heightened awareness of the likelihood that he may have at least had contact with Snowden, Russia's great prize. So he said nothing.
So after this enormous heist and this flurry of Kaspersky activity, and after Snowden's biographer Laura Poitras won an Oscar for politically-correct fashion, Snowden rushed to disclaim the "Russian spy" angle again.
And his two "proofs" that he "couldn't" be a Russian spy are the lamest he's come up with yet.
His previous answers usually involved explaining that his laptops taken into Russia contained no files stolen from the NSA, that he had "turned over to journalists" all of the files (not something people believe) and that now journalists, and not he, made the decisions of what and when to leak documents -- another claim that strains credibility as often the leaks just happen to be in Russia's foreign policy or domestic interests, i.e. to coopt Germany or undermine the US and to establish the "sovereign Internet" on Russian soil.
Now he was citing two factors as "proof" of non-spy status, his travel to Hong Kong, which preceded his landing his Moscow, and his stay at Moscow Sheremetyovo airport.
But both of these stories are terribly flimsy and have worn threadbare over time.
Snowden Didn't Have to Go to Hong Kong, But He Chose It. Why?
Snowden did not have to go to Hong Kong to accomplish his mission; he could have gone straight to Brazil, Venezuela, even Cuba or Iceland but didn't. He even had plenty of time to go to any of those destinations before an indictment was issued for him or his passport pulled. He didn't. He was also not "forced" to go to Moscow. This itinerary was chosen for reasons he is not disclosing.
The first 20 days of Snowden's stay in Hong Kong are very secretive and little is known about them in fact, despite his claims he used his own credit card. On the 24th of May, he contacted Bart Gelman at the Washington Post and said he needed to have some proof to show "an embassy" that he was indeed the leaker of the documents and needed asylum -- this would come with an encryption key. Gelman was reluctant to get involved in this operational part of the leak as it might implicate him, too, in espionage. It's not known where Snowden went from May 19 through May 24 and afterwards, until June 9th, when he met Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewan MacCaskill. Supposedly he was applying to various embassies and getting "no" for an answer. Sarrah Harrison helped him there when she supposedly arrived on the 9th -- but we have only her word that this was the date she came and she won't say more about it.
Snowden went to Hong Kong because he had determined it for reasons that he doesn't fully tell us it was a safe haven, and it's possible his meetings with the Russian Embassy and/or other contacts were pre-arranged or at least arranged soon after his arrival because even Vladimir Putin himself conceded that Snowden met with Russian diplomats -- Snowden's Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena first lied about this to protect his client but then was overridden by the president himself. There is sophistry about what form this meeting took -- with Snowden staying in a diplomat's apartment, a safe house, or the actual embassy building, but it doesn't matter -- he may have chose this venue because there'd be less chance for the US to tail him and even apprehend him. But perhaps Snowden didn't research asylum laws and prospects, human rights advocates later explain -- there is a 99% failure rate on asylum cases there.
Whatever the set of circumstances, the trip to Hong Kong had some feature RELATED to Russia, NOT NOT RELATED to Russia because he met with Russians. There are other odd pieces of the story to tie in, like the compromised Tor node in Russia being able to access a server in Hong Kong on June 9, the day Snowden was passing the documents and Greenwald was filing the story.
Snowden was once a Tor node operator. Did he monitor himself, already with Russian collusion or did the Russians gain information about Tor to use to spy on him?
The Far-Fetched Tale that Snowden "Stayed At the Airport"
The second very thread-bare story Snowden tells is the "stay at the airport". It wasn't a month, as he claims, as he arrived June 21st and left August 1st so that's more like six weeks.
Reporters scoured the airport hotels and found no sign of him. It's always possible he was kept in an office, or in perhaps some executive suite of some airport official who, in Soviet style or corporate style in many places, might have had a back bedroom and bathroom he could have put the fugitives in. Remember, there's two of them -- Snowden and Harrison who remained by his side -- and the possibility that two people were kept hidden for six weeks at the airport without a janitor, clerk, fast-food worker, or taxi driver not spotting them as they had to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom and shower, seems pretty unlikely in a talkative place like Russia where everybody still informs on their neighbours, especially for a fee.
Embassy of Ecuador in Moscow
What's way, way more likely is what Kommersant reported, based on "reliable sources" likely in police or intelligence who said that the Embassy of Ecuador had a car waiting right on the tarmac and whisked Snowden and Harrison away to the consulate. Not many people thought to look there, if any, although it was obvious, given that was exactly the place Julian Assange is holed up in, in London, to avoid arrest and extradition to Sweden where he faces an investigation on sexual assault charges.
It would be much, much easier for Ecuador to keep Snowden hidden than the airport managers because there would be less people to see him and they could control the space completely.
Of course, there's always the distinct possibility that indeed it was the FSB or GRU or whatever appropriate intelligence agency needed that "controlled" Snowden.
THAT there was some kind of "chatting" was ADMITTED by Harrison in January 2015 -- again, in a strange way, given that up to now, not only had she never admitted it, she and other supporters would make statements that her being by his side somehow was "proof" that he wasn't recruited or coopted to the Russians' side. Absurd.
On January 13, Moscow Times and others reported on Harrison's admission:
At the time, Snowden was unable to enter Russia or fly elsewhere because his passport had been canceled by U.S. authorities seeking to arrest him for leaking secret documents.
Harrison told German filmmakers in a documentary airing late Monday that the FSB asked only once, and he "didn't give anything to the Russians at all." The FSB did not respond to an Associated Press request for comment.
That first line isn't true as we've reiterated many times, because Snowden could have gone to Latin America BEFORE his passport was pulled and had ample time to do so.
Why did Sarah Harrison have to admit -- 18 months into this operation -- that yes, the FSB -- surprise, surprise! -- did try to recruit Snowden?
Why was there a need at that time for a "partial hang-out" i.e. a limited disclosure of the truth to prevent a greater one?
What else was happening?
Possibly bargaining with the US about the terms of his return and prosecution. His indictment is not released yet.
Although it's unlikely he would give up a life of relative freedom of movement, comforts and always-on Internet access under surveillance only by people he doesn't think are a problem in order to go and live for 20 years or more in a US prison.
What Leaks Were Going on At the Time Harrison Made Her Admission about the FSB "Chats"?
January 2015 was a time when Snowden was busy leaking details of Chinese espionage -- is that related? This was believed to reduce his stature with Chinese intelligence -- he definitely burned his bridges there, some people said, if he ever really intended to build them in the first place.
There was also a leak by Jacob Appelbaum et. al. at the same time once again harming the NSA.
Another odd thing was Empty Wheel posting a blog also exactly at this same time saying "Cyber Secret Sources Finally Met a Snowden Leak to Love!" It was mainly about North Korea, following the Sony Hack.
Was releasing hacking information that did damage to China and North Korea at the same time as one damaging the US? And also providing an admission that yes, well, Snowden did talk to the Russian secret police? Was this at the behest of some power giving him tasks in some offer? Like the US? Or was it him attempting to ingratiate himself to that one power? Or was it Russia trying to throw off the scent that all Snowden activity benefited Russia?
There's a lot of scent to throw off there, it would have to be really big -- and North Korea and China *are* big.