John Schindler, the former NSA officer, a Russia expert and now former professor at the Naval Academy, asks WHEN Edward Snowden came over to the Russians. THAT he is on the Russians' side now is obvious not only to anyone who is in the intelligence community, but anyone who has had to deal with Russia for years who is honest about the nature of the Kremlin's regime and not constrained by ideological blinders.
Glenn Greenwald and the other Snowdenista enablers always try to deflect this question by asking for "proof" -- one suspects that even if Snowden were to get on heavily pre-packaged Russian state TV, which he was happy to use to pitch his softball question to Putin, and even hold up a GRU identification card, and confess that he'd been recruited by the Russkies back at an anime convention in Ft. Meade when he was 20, no one would believe him.
Really, there is no proof that Greenwald would ever accept, so let's not worry about what he thinks because he's not the one you need to convince. It's journalists who are willing to be a bit more critical of Snowden than he is -- and there are more of them now as not only Business Insider and Newsweek have reported critically on Ed, but Daily Beast and Venture Beat.
To me, the question to study is HOW, because THAT is not at issue for me -- and those for whom it is are not easily pursuaded -- and WHEN is not something I can discover.
If you focus on the HOW and keep digging eventually the story will break -- that's my conviction. But it's the piece of the story journalists are most reluctant to tackle because they feel it will ding them or some civil right they cherish by casting a spotlight on radical groups whose civil rights to speech and association they want to protect. I agree with none other than Slate's Michael Kinsley that journalism is not an endlessly capacious and elastic concept that includes seriously undermining national security in a liberal democratic state with impunity. I think it's fine to ask that a line be drawn between civil rights and crime, you know, as it was done with Occupy, where First Amendment protected speech was not elasticized to include months on end of overnight urban camping in a city park, spawning rapists, drug addicts and rats.
Schindler must know that by explaining that Snowden just can't walk in to a Russian consulate and be accepted as an agent on the spot, that in a way he is pouring water on the mills of the argumentation of lawyers Greenwald and the ACLU's Ben Wizner that he was never an agent (recruited long before Hong Kong). For Schindler, that set of facts only means you have to look harder at Ed's past, but for the Snowdenistas, it means they've been proven right. That's why examining the HOW becomes really important.
It's my thesis, spelled out in my book Privacy for Me and Not for Thee, that WikiLeaks, Tor and Chaos Computer Club anarchists and hackers recruited Snowden so the Russians didn't have to.
Maybe at one time, in the Soviet era, the Russians were really strict about coalition work -- they wanted to fully control all the popular fronts or radical movements they worked with, if not create them out right themselves and run them.
Today, with budget cuts, confusing and debilitating in-fighting among Russian agencies, the receding of the Russian empire borders even though they are encroaching again right now in Crimea, Russian spies are more willing to do coalition work with anarchists or jihadists because in part, they can set a pot to boil and then let it boil over and cause mayhem without them and still gain overall by degrading the West.
WikiLeaks goes way back in their acceptance of Moscow as their vector, not only the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" concept -- they hate America and specifically the US and work aggressively against it by all available means. It's also their True North ideologically, whether you chose communism in the 1970s, as the Chaos Computer Club recruits did, or fascism today, as the later WikiLeaks collaborators did in selecting a creep like Israel Shamir to work with and continuing to avoid any authentic criticism of Putin.
WikiLeaks thinks they are being independent but opportunistic in collaborating with the Kremlin; the Kremlin is happy to let them go on feeding that delusion.
The WikiLeaks attempts to frustrate US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with leakages that hurt America and helped Russian interests didn't accomplish much, in part because they dumped the raw materials online and few people bothered to make sense of them.
So they were more strategic when they came to Cablegate in 2010, picking and choosing and tying cables to world events for maximum damage, and working with journalists -- well, up to a point, they ended up with quarelling with nearly all of them. Poitras remains in good relations with them -- but she's really an activist, not a journalist, although she does blackmail mainstream media into putting her by-line along with mainstream journalists -- in order to gain access to the Snowden documents.
At this point, Greenwald has distanced if not cut his ties to WikiLeaks, as the recent flap over the "fifth country" illustrated, although the issue of the Tor revelations already clinched it. Greenwald was done with Jacob Appelbaum, WikiLeaks representative in the US, and Assange's stand-in at the hackers' HOPE conference in 2011, after that. He didn't even give him a mention in his book, reducing him to the term "tech helper" -- although he's likely the guy who sent him the FEDEX package per Poitras' instructions. [Update: Actually, it turned out that it was not Appelbaum, but Greenwald's tech guru at Intercept now, Micah Lee who is willing to take elaborate credit for this.]
WikiLeaks responded by committing the ultimate shun of modern times -- they unfollowed Greenwald on Twitter.
That WikiLeaks and Tor go together requires no special guessing, because not only is Appelbaum in both; so is Laura Poitras, and other characters like Runa Sandvik of Tor have never opposed WikiLeaks. James Ball, both at WikiLeaks and the Guardian, can play both networks.
Whether WikiLeaks used its considerable network of anarcho-hackers and crypto kids to reach Ed in the US, Japan, or India (and then later set up his operation in Russia) can be explored -- in my book I follow the travels of both the WikiLeaks and Tor characters who go to all those countries when Ed is there. Ed has been to lots of places, including the UK, where Sarah Harrison was, and Bosnia, where anybody could be.
But to be more specific:
1. In 2012 or even earlier, WikiLeaks establishes a presence in Moscow where they can obtain visas for foreigners, funding, cars, permits of various sorts, etc. through Russkiy Reporter, a Russian news site close to the government whose reporter, Dmitry Velikovsky has visited Assange while under house arrest and who has maintained close ties with him.
This Russian journalist Velikovsky then helps a discredited journalist, Johannes Wahlstrom, the son of Israel Shamir, the notorious antisemitic provocateur who has long done business with Russian intelligence and writes for the pro-government press, to film a movie for WikiLeaks called Mediastan.
The media company that owns Russkiy Reporter is Ekspert or Expert. It is owned by an oligarch loyalt to Putin, Oleg Deripaska. Shamir has written for Pravda, Zavtra (ultranationalist paper), Izvestiya, and Komsomolskaya Pravda, which are all pro-government. He's also a regular contributor to Counterpunch.
The ostensible purpose of Mediastan was to discredit the US and any independent media in Central Asia that appear to have US help or which refuse to report the WikiLeaks cables for their country. But that despicable operation itself is, in my view, a cover for the setting up of the Snowden Operation, to get a visa and legend for Sarah Harrison, to get apartments, etc. needed for operations, and make it appear as if Snowden is a WikiLeaks freelance project, not scripted at the GRU/SVR/FSB.
2. Runa Sandvik, then at Tor Project, now -- to gain that critical distance -- just moved to Center for Democracy and Technology, was first beamed into a panel in Moscow in November 2012 with Russian intelligence expert Andrei Soldatov at the Sakharov Center, but obviously her connections go back before that.
3. Greenwald ostensibly hears from Snowden the first time on December 1, 2012, according to his book, but he's told the story six different ways, one of which might have made that date as early as November 2012. Poitras also hears from Snowden in December 2012 or earlier, not January as she claims -- that story has also been changed or questions about it dodged.
4. Runa Sandvik travels deliberately to Honolulu, ostensibly "on vaction" and attends a Crypto Party organized by Cincinnatus, who is none other than Snowden, on December 11, 2012. She finds out that he runs Tor nodes (servers through which Tor traffic can run) -- either right at the NSA or off campus in his own home, it's not clear. He tells her that he is recruiting other NSA agents (!) to run Tor nodes and that he needs a pack of Tor stickers as "incentive" to get them to do this. She mails him the pack of stickers later, she says.
5. Greenwald makes more serious contact with Snowden in March or April 2013, as he once admitted, and later changed his story about, and gets public keys with Poitras and Appelbaum and possibly one other NSA contractor to contact Snowden. When I later ask questions on an ACLU Facebook page of that NSA contractor what he was up to, the ACLU deletes the entire conversation.
6. Appelbaum claims he first begin communicating with Snowden in May to vet and interview him with Poitras, but more than likely he's been in touch long before that because he has long helped Poitras with comms. One possibility for direct contact for either or both or them or their cutaway friends is at the Spring Break of Code in late March-early April when Snowden could have plausible attended right before he flew to Ft. Meade for training.
These earlier contacts matter, because this is BEFORE Snowden steals some of his make documents (he began stealing in April 2012, we're told, and maybe earlier but some items date later like the Verizon court case documents would have to be stolen in April 2013).
7. Runa Sandvik goes to Hong Kong April 24-29, 2013.
8. Poitras, Greenwald, McCaskill and maybe Appelbaum (we can't rule out) go to Hong Kong to meet Ed on June 3, 2013 (or May 31 or June 1, there are multiple versions). His time-table has been misread or misreported numerous times so here's the most accurate version I can establish. He reveals his identity on June 5, 2013, the same day that Tor nodes in Russia found to be compromised and reporting to the Russian government show activity in Hong Kong.
9. By this time, Snowden has met with Russian diplomats and Russian enablers of some sort locally (journalists, human rights activists, lawyers of some kind) and of course Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks arrives in mid-June, just in case you forgot that it is WikiLeaks, not Glenn Greenwald running this op.
10. They leave for Moscow June 23, and supposedly stay in Sheremeytovo airport in a broom closet for 6 weeks, but Kommersant reports that they were picked up by diplomats from Ecuador, which has provided refuge to Assange in their embassy in London, and Venezuela. He is granted one year asylum in Russia. Harrison stays with him until Revolution Day November 7, 2013, comrades, and then goes to Germany as "she can't go home again."
11. Right before that, they are visited in Moscow by German leftists including the lawyer for the Baader Meinhof gang AKA Red Army faction, himself once jailed along with them. Yes, there are many fingerprints of the KGB's long-time coalition partners in this story, and German KGB enablers, including Putin, who served in East Germany when he worked for the KGB.
12. Greenwald and Appelbaum have an open falling out on Twitter over WikiLeaks' and Tor's challenge to Greenwald that he is sitting on Snowden revelations regarding the NSA's efforts to crack Tor. In fact, Greenwald is in the process of replacing Appelbaum temporarily with Bruce Schneir as his tech advisor, vetting the material and getting the Guardian to publish it. Greenwald leaves the Guardian over the same kind of accusations ultimately, because he now has Pierre Omidyar to fund him, but he never forgets being dissed publicly by Appelbaum.
13. Greenwald's book is scheduled to come out in April 2014, but is delayed until May. Meanwhile in April, some chapters are published and some people get copies of it. The fact that Snowden used the name Cincinnatus gets out, likely without the realization that it hooks up to the Crypto Party in Honolulu in December 2012 attended by Runa and in which Electronic Frontier Foundation is also referenced.
14. In April 2014, Runa Sandvik goes to Moscow. Fortuitously, she tears the RFID off her Norwegian passport. She meets with Soldatov and human rights activists, but that's the cover, although by this time, Soldatov may be a witting facilitator. She likely meets with Snowden and discusses how they are going to deal with the fact that Greenwald's book outs not only Cincinnatus, but Sandvik, i.e. Tor. There may have been an effort to get this scrubbed from the Internet in time, but due to mirror sites and such, it couldn't be done. Greenwald may have leaked this to get back at Tor and WikiLeaks (Appelbaum) for calling him a presstitute when he supposedly "sat on" the Tor revelations and they didn't appear right away in the Guardian.
15. While in Moscow, in April 2014 Runa gives some press interview, but declines to answer slon.ru directly whether Snowden still runs those Tor nodes or works for Tor; she says they don't discriminate and lots of people contribute (!).
16. In May 2014, Wired publishes a sanitized and reworked story of Runa Sandvik's role in the Crypto Party by Kevin Poulsen that can accentuate Runa's innocence. It never mentions that she went to Moscow the month before, although Runa was careful to leave a very public trail of her trip to dispel any sense of secrecy. Even so, you can tweet about trips and still have secret meetings, i.e. with Snowden.
17. In May 2014, WikiLeaks also orchestrates the "outing of the fifth country as Afghanistan" to try to embarrass Greenwald, and also outs the role of Jared Cohen supposedly in getting telecom towers moved to US army bases where supposedly they are then opened up to the NSA to monitor everybody's conversations.
18. Soldatov (who hosted Runa twice, once via Skype and once in person in Moscow), publishes a critical review of Greenwald's book, in which he slams Edward Lucas, reiterates that he thinks NSA revelations of spying on people is a good thing, but says Greenwald isn't telling us anything about Snowden's Moscow adventures in his book. The purpose appears to be to slam Greenwald on behalf of, in concert with WikiLeaks, while raising some questions about Snowden to appear plausible. Or perhaps the crypto-crypto kids are done with Snowden now, too.
2. Soldatov has written this sarcastic tweet, which I take to mean he does not wish to be called a WikiLeaks agent or a Russian agent and that heaven forfend, even to raise these questions is to engage in "conspiracy theory."
I've not called him either, of course, but since he seems to take objection to the "on behalf of" here, I'll cross that out, but I stand by "in concert with" - because it is. WikiLeaks is engaged in an avid campaign now to discredit Greenwald but preserve the value of Snowden. Soldatov thinks Snowden is just dandy for challenging Greenwald and starting the Internet debate in Russia. I disagree strenuously.
Soldatov has been a critic of WikiLeaks, i.e. here back in 2010, but in doing so, he's also conveyed his critique of Western journalism as "in a crisis" and his belief that American military reporting that Iran supplies Iraqi insurgents can't be trusted.
19. A privacy and security conference convened in Sweden demonstratively does not invite Assange, Appelbaum, Snowden or other Snowdenista, and they squeal about blacklisting. Carl Bildt is involved. Europeans are letting it be known that they will oppose the NSA, but not by joining ranks with the radicals of WikiLeaks and Tor.
20. Runa publishes in Forbes on May 28 a highly-viewed story about the sudden shut-down of TrueCrypt and warnings that it is no longer secure -- a story that was already racing across various nerd fora and social media -- ensuring maximum panic mode. TrueCrypt was Snowden's favourite program inside Tails, which he used on a USB to ensure that his encryption wouldn't be hacked by the NSA, or so he thought. He is famous for claiming:
Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on. Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.
Well, not just endpoint security, Ed.
21. UPDATE And my later discovery of another account very likely used by Snowden -- @OahuCryptoParty on Twitter, now "suspended" -- illustrates that Runa Sandvik, Jacob Appelbaum, Parker Higgins and others all were speaking to Snowden in December 2012; in January 2013 and via the list serve for CryptoParty, even in May 2013.
If Greenwald leaked the Cincinnatus name so that Runa could be found by Cryptome or anyone, then he may be willing to do more to throw Tor and WikiLeaks under the bus. He may find it convenient even to let them appear to have wholesale recruited and deployed Snowden even with the Russians -- because it will no longer matter.
He may feel that if the outing of the Russian connection -- so blatant and so staring at us all this year anyway -- is the price he pays for discrediting WikiLeaks, so be it. He will have sequestered himself behind the wall of journalist privileges, and he can say "even if" WikiLeaks and the Russians worked to recruit and deploy Ed, so what? The main point is that revelations were made, and reforms, even if weak are being made, and it's all good.
In other words, I think the Russian role and the exploitation/collaboration with WikiLeaks will just keep seeping out like blood from a bandage, and soon it will be the least-kept secret and something "everyone knows" so that "everyone" doesn't care about it. Snowdenista resources will work overtime to make the point that NBC's star source of the year can't be wrong, and even if he worked with the Russians, so what, that's what it took. And besides, the Russians aren't so bad anyway.
We're all waiting for some big Philip Agee sort of confession or revelation on this story or thinking it's going to be a long-term but ultimately inevitable process like Alger Hiss. But in our modern times, everything is always online and always leaked and always visible, so it's more about the attention economy and good search capacity.
Eventually, it's all on Cryptome or WikiLeaks or even Twitter, and people put it together, but by then, it's been saturated into the background to denude it of its revelatory power.
Time and again, Greenwald and others have already set up this proposition: even if it turns out Snowden is a Russian agent now, it doesn't matter, he did a good deed. If it turns out that he was a Russian agent before, well, that reduces some of his support, but for many people, still doesn't undo the fact that he did a good deed. Many will continue to see Russia in the same "progressive" light that they saw the Soviet Union, despite its support for mass murder.
Here's the thing: This is not a game that will be won in the end merely by exposing Snowden as a Russian agent. Those who know such things knew that already, and those who aren't ideologically twisted get it soon enough.
It's rather a game of exposing the whole apparatus -- WikiLeaks, Tor, Foundation for Freedom of the Press, Electronic Frontier Foundation -- in their higher meta game in which Snowden is only one operation in the war for maximum encryption, a war that is only to their advantage, and not to that of liberal democracies -- and ultimately to Russia's advantage.
The arms war in encryption they have unleashed and continue to unleash through many rounds may be deterred by things like the feds shutting down Lavabits -- Ed's email, which he used under his own name and"Cincinnatus" -- and the shutting down of TrueCrypt -- one of the encryption programs he relied on -- possibly with a National Security Letter. Let's hope! Maybe Tor will be next (and it will be next).
But until society gets a grip on the war of encryption itself and what it means, we will see many more rounds of this.