REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: EDWARD SNOWDEN A RUSSIAN SPY? BEWARE THE SPIN DOCTORS!

Edward Snowden along with Sarah Harrison of WikiLeaks (left) at a press conference in Sheremetyevo

Let me try to break this down. President Obama is right about something. When the next terrorist attack on the “homeland” happens…notice not ‘if’ but ‘when’…we will demand to know why the intelligence services did not know about it. There is no guarantee that we will know about it even though we have created a global surveillance state that collects everyone on the planet’s meta-data, e-mails, text messages, social media posts and so on. We collect it and store it in these HUGE…monstrous…facilities in Utah that we pay for. The reality is that no one knows what to do with this data. Despite the global collection, there is no proof that this massive spy effort has thwarted even one act of terror. Not one. That being said, its impossible for me to see how creating an Orwellian surveillance state makes us any safer. I also wonder what is the real reason we have created this monster in the first place.

Don’t expect Obama to do anything about it. Don’t expect congress to do anything about it. They won’t. The expansion of the N.S.A. was done, largely in secret, and at least, in part, through top-secret “black hole” budgeting and the Patriot Act. Don’t expect any real due process of law. That is handled by the top-secret FISA court which shrouds everything under the cloak of state national security. Here are some facts: Edward Snowden approached several supervisors and bosses at the National Security Agency about his concerns over the constitutional implications of global spying but mostly on domestic spying. According to him, he was rebuffed by the supervisors and bosses, however the N.S.A. does not deny that Snowden approached his bosses. When he took the data concerning the global spy apparatus of the N.S.A. he provided the material to journalists. Reporters. Not in the United States mind you but in Europe.

The U.S. mainstream media jumped on the government’s bandwagon when the leaks first started coming. “Traitor”, they called him. “Criminal…felon…thief,” where just a few of the adjectives thrown around by government mouthpieces and regurgitated by ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC. It would be weeks before the New York Times and The Washington Post began to seriously look at the material and when they did…a collective chill went up and down the spine of U.S. reporters. Ironically, these same media sources reported, with glee, Chinese hacks on the New York Times and Washington Post just prior to the Snowden revelations…remember those? Now…the story is all about the N.S.A. which truly makes most foreign surveillance efforts look like high schoolers.

Snowden's Aeroflot plane

So. Here we are. Bringing the story to you…the people. If you live in the United States, you have a right to know what the government is doing in your name. Of course, most of it is shrouded in secrecy and this is driving the intelligence hawks in the government crazy. The head of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said on Sunday he is investigating whether former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden had help from Russia in stealing and revealing U.S. government secrets. “I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands – the loving arms – of an FSB agent in Moscow. I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” U.S. Representative Mike Rogers told the NBC program “Meet the Press,” referring to the Russian intelligence agency that is a successor of the Soviet-era KGB.

Snowden last year fled the United States to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he was granted at least a year of asylum. U.S. officials want Snowden returned to the United States for prosecution. His disclosures of large numbers of stolen U.S. secret documents sparked a debate around the world about the reach of U.S. electronic surveillance. Rogers did not provide specific evidence to back his suggestions of Russian involvement in Snowden’s activities, but said: “Some of the things we’re finding we would call clues that certainly would indicate to me that he had some help.” Asked whether he is investigating Russian links to Snowden’s activities, Rogers said, “Absolutely. And that investigation is ongoing.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on “Meet the Press” that Snowden “may well have” had help from Russia. “We don’t know at this stage,” Feinstein said. Feinstein said Snowden gained employment at the National Security Agency “with the intent to take as much material down as he possibly could.” On the ABC program “This Week,” U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, also expressed his belief that Snowden had foreign help. “Hey, listen, I don’t think … Mr. Snowden woke up one day and had the wherewithal to do this all by himself,” he said. “I personally believe that he was cultivated by a foreign power to do what he did,” McCaul said.

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Asked whether he thought Russia was that “foreign power,” McCaul said, “You know, to say definitively, I can’t. I can’t answer that.” Rogers indicated that the nature of the material that Snowden obtained suggested foreign involvement. “When you look at the totality of the information he took, the vast majority of it had to do with military, tactical and operational events happening around the world,” he told the CBS program “Face the Nation.” Michael Morell, the former deputy CIA director, said he shared Rogers’ concern about what Russian intelligence services may be doing with Snowden. “I don’t have any particular evidence but one of the things I point to when I talk about this is that the disclosures that have been coming recently are very sophisticated in their content and sophisticated in their timing – almost too sophisticated for Mr. Snowden to be deciding on his own. And it seems to me he might be getting some help,” Morell said on “Face the Nation.”

Other U.S. security officials have told Reuters as recently as last week that the United States has no evidence at all that Snowden had any confederates who assisted him or guided him about what NSA materials to hack or how to do so. Snowden told the New York Times in October he did not take any secret NSA documents with him to Russia when he fled there in June 2013. “There’s a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents,” Snowden told the Times. In remarks aired on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” President Vladimir Putin discussed Snowden’s freedom of movement in Russia and that the American would be free to attend the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics. “Mr. Snowden is subject to the treatment of provisional asylum here in Russia. He has a right to travel freely across the country. He has no special limitation. He can just buy a ticket and come here,” Putin said.

The argument used by Rogers and others that Snowden has placed the U.S. military in danger is just a bald-faced lie. Some people will hear that and believe it but the truth is that the government has failed to show how any of these revelations have done anything except shed light on a massive surveillance state with global spying capabilities. Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower, strongly denies allegations made by members of Congress that he was acting as a spy, perhaps for a foreign power, when he took hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. government documents. Speaking from Moscow, where he is a fugitive from American justice, Snowden told The New Yorker, “This ‘Russian spy’ push is absurd.”

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Snowden, in a rare interview that he conducted by encrypted means from Moscow, denied the allegations outright, stressing that he “clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no assistance from anyone, much less a government.” He added, “It won’t stick…. Because it’s clearly false, and the American people are smarter than politicians think they are.” If he was a Russian spy, Snowden asked, “Why Hong Kong?” And why, then, was he “stuck in the airport forever” when he reached Moscow? (He spent forty days in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo International Airport.) “Spies get treated better than that.”

In the nine months since Snowden first surfaced, there has been intense speculation about his motives and methods. But “a senior F.B.I. official said on Sunday that it was still the bureau’s conclusion that Mr. Snowden acted alone,” the New York Times reported this weekend, adding that the agency has not publicly revealed any evidence that he was working in conjunction with any foreign intelligence agency or government. The issue is key to shaping the public’s perceptions of Snowden. Which is where people like Mike Rogers come in. To sway your opinion. Without any evidence, in fact contrary to what the F.B.I. has said, Rogers, on “Meet the Press,” went on to allege that “some of the things he did were beyond his technical capabilities. Raises more questions. How he arranged travel before he left. How he was ready to go—he had a go bag, if you will.” Gregory then asked Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and who was also a guest on the show, whether she agreed that Snowden may have had help from the Russians. She did not dismiss the notion. “He may well have,” she said. “We don’t know at this stage.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rogers made similar allegations, saying, “This wasn’t a random smash and grab, run down the road, end up in China, the bastion of Internet freedom, and then Russia, of course, the bastion of Internet freedom.”

Asked today to elaborate on his reasons for alleging that Snowden “had help,” Congressman Rogers, through a press aide, declined to comment.  Some observers, looking at the possibility that Snowden was in league with the Russian government before taking asylum there, have pointed to a report in a Russian newspaper,Kommersant, that before leaving Hong Kong last June Snowden stayed at the Russian consulate. Snowden’s legal adviser, Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, denied that report, however, saying, “Every news organization in the world has been trying to confirm that story. They haven’t been able to, because it’s false.”

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Snowden told me that having a “go bag” packed—something that Rogers described as highly suspicious—reflected his work deployed overseas for the C.I.A. He’d had a “go bag packed since 2007. It’s not an exotic practice for people who have lived undercover on government orders,” Snowden said. “It’s not the smears that mystify me,” Snowden told me. “It’s that outlets report statements that the speakers themselves admit are sheer speculation.” Snowden went on to poke fun at the range of allegations that have been made against him in the media without intelligence officials providing some kind of factual basis: “ ‘We don’t know if he had help from aliens.’ ‘You know, I have serious questions about whether he really exists.’ ”

Snowden went on, “It’s just amazing that these massive media institutions don’t have any sort of editorial position on this. I mean these are pretty serious allegations, you know?” He continued, “The media has a major role to play in American society, and they’re really abdicating their responsibility to hold power to account.” Asked about this, George Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC’s “This Week,” defended the coverage. Stephanopoulos pointed out that when the congressman Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, alleged that Snowden was “cultivated by a foreign power” and “helped by others,” Stephanopoulos pressed him for details, twice. “I did two follow-ups,” Stephanopoulos said, “and got as much as the congressman was going to give up.”

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Edward Snowden and this journalist agree that the American people are much smarter than the politicians who will lie, cheat and spin every way they possibly can to preserve the crap they have supported. Snowden is right. This story is huge. In fact, it’s beyond huge and admittedly hard for a lot of people to understand. Snowden was adamant that he wants to help, not hurt, the United States. “Due to extraordinary planning involved, in nine months, no one has credibly shown any harm to national security” from the revelations, he said, “nor any ill intent.” Moreover, he pointed out that “the President himself admitted both that changes are necessary and that he is certain the debate my actions started will make us stronger.”

“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy,” Obama said on Friday. Obama is right but he lacks the backbone to do anything significant about it. And why do I report this and why am I so passionate about it? The reasons are fairly simple. This global surveillance state was created in secret by our government presumably to keep us safe. Safe from whom? There is no evidence is has thwarted anything…at all. Where do we go from here. A top secret domestic and global spy program. A top-secret court where due process is hidden by a national security shroud and a government clearly out of control. I’m covering it because it is huge. It is, perhaps, the biggest story of our lifetime and it certainly presents a clear and present danger to our freedom and our way of life. My hope is that if I keep pounding this home and sharing with you what we are learning…YOU will demand something be done. No story I have ever covered in 30 years of journalism concerns me like this one does.

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