NSA Losing Interest In Return Of Edward Snowden; “He Doesn’t Drink, Reads Dostoevsky, And Doesn’t Wear A Disguise
With Edward Snowden’s visa in Russia set to expire [Snowden’s lawyer has applied for an indefinite extension] this Thursday, July 31, 2014, the website Breitbart reported yesterday that “the National Security Agency (NSA) is beginning to lose interest in making any deals for his return,” to the United States. Warner Todd Huston, citing The Hill, writes that “NSA’s Deputy Director, Rick Ledgett, who oversaw the damage assessment regarding the Snowden leaks, pointed out at The Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, “that hundreds of thousands of pages of U.S. intelligence stolen by Edward Snowden, — are starting to age and become irrelevant.”
“As time goes on, the utility for us of having that conversation becomes less. It’s been over a year since he had access to our networks; and, our information, so the need for us to understand that greater level of detail is lesser, and lesser. As time goes on, his information becomes less useful,” Ledgett insisted.
‘He Doesn’t Drink, Reads Dostoevsky And, Doesn’t Wear A Disguise”
Alan Rusbridger and, Ewen MacAskill, of London’s The Guardian, recently interviewed the U.S. fugitive on the one year anniversary of his flight to Russia via Hong Kong — and, wrote a July 19, 2014 article of that interview. The authors claim that Snowden “feels less, not more isolated; and, if he is depressed, he doesn’t show it. At the end of a seven hour conversation,” they write, “he refuses a beer.” ” actually don’t drink,” he says. Mr. Rushbridger and Ms. MacAskill note that movie director Oliver Stone, who is making a movie about Snowden, “has visited Snowden in Moscow; and, wants to portray him as an out-and-out hero; but, he is an unconventional one: quiet, disciplined, unshowy, almost academic in his speech,” they write.
“Since arriving in Moscow,” the authors note, “Snowden has been keeping late, and solitary hours — effectively living on U.S. time, tapping away on one of his three computers (three to be safe; he uses encrypted chat also). If anything,” they write, “Snowden appears more connected and outgoing than he could be in his former life as an agent.” “You know, I think there are guys who are just hoping to see me sad. And, I think they’re going to be disappointed,” Snowden said.
“He is guarded on the subject of his life in exile,” the authors write. “I don’t live in absolute secrecy — I have a pretty open life — but, at the same time, I don’t want to go somewhere and have people pay attention to me, just as I don’t want to do that in the media,” Snowden said. He acknowledged he does get recognized. “It’s a little awkward at times, because my Russian isn’t as good as it should be. I’m still learning.” “He has been picking his way through Dostoevsky, and belatedly catching up with the series, The Wire, while reading the published memoir of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower,” according to The Guardian.
“He is not working for any Russian organization, as has been reported but, is financially secure for the immediate future,” the authors add. He reportedly received speaking fees from around the world; and, is also in the process of securing foundation funding for a new press freedom initiative, creating tools that allow journalists to communicate securely,” Mr. Rushbridger and Ms. MacAskill note. “But, push Snowden a little further on his life in Moscow, and he clams up,” they write. Snowden “thinks it is reasonable to assume that he is under some kind of surveillance by both the Russians, and the Americans,” they write.
“The Snowden-as-traitor-camp will take his reluctance to vouchsafe too many details as confirmation that he is, if not a double-agent, then a “useful idiot” for the Kremlin. He tackles some of those criticisms head on,” the authors note, with Snowden claiming that “he didn’t take a single document to Russia; and, had no access to them there. He never initially sought to be in Russia — “it happened entirely by accident.” “It’s a modern country, and it’s been good to me,” but, he would rather be free to travel,” they write.
“I can give a blanket response to all the Russian questions,” Snowden says. “If the [U.S.] government had the tiniest shred of evidence, not even that [I was an agent], but associating with the Russian government, it would be on the front page of The New York Times, by lunchtime.”
“What about the accusation that his leaks have caused untold damage to the intelligence capabilities of the West?,” they ask. “The fact that people know communications can be monitored does not stop people from communicating [digitally]. Because the only choices are to accept the risk, or to not communicate at all,” he says, almost weary at having to spell out what he considers self-evident.
“And, when we’re talking about things like terrorist cells, nuclear proliferators — these are organized cells. These are things an individual cannot do on their own. So, if they abstain from communicating, we’ve already won. If we’ve basically talked the terrorists out of using our modern communications networks, we have benefited in terms of security — we haven’t lost,” Snowden said.
“There still remains the charge that he has weakened the very democracy he professes to want to protect,” wrote The Guardian. “al Qaeda, according to MI6 Chief Sir John Sawers, have been “rubbing their hands with glee.” “I can tell you right now that in the wake of last year, there are still terrorists getting hauled up, there are still communications being intercepted. There are still successes in intelligence operations that are being carried out, all around the world.”
“Why not allow the intelligence agencies to collect the haystacks of data — so, they can look for the needles within?, asks The Guardian.
“Snowden doesn’t like the haystack metaphor, used exhaustively by politicians and intelligence chiefs in defense of mass data collection,” wrote the authors. “I would argue that simply using the term “haystack” is misleading. This is a haystack of human lives. It’s all private records of the most intimate activities, that are aggregated and compiled again, and again, and stored for increasing frequencies of time.”
“When did he last read George Orwell’s 1984?” “Actually, quite some time ago. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think we’re exactly in that universe. The danger is we can see how [Orwell’s] technologies now seem unimaginative and quaint. They talked about things like microphones implanted in bushes and cameras in TVs that look back at us. But, now we’ve got webcams that go with us everywhere. We actually buy cellphones that are the equivalent of a network microphone that we carry around in our pockets voluntarily. Times have shown that the world is much more unpredictable and dangerous [than Orwell imagined],” Snowden replied.
“Regarding his own digital habits, Snowden won’t use Google or Skype for anything personal,” wrote Mr. Rushbridger and Ms. MacAskill. “They just put Condoleeza Rice on their board, who is probably the most anti-privacy official you can imagine. She’s one of the one’s who oversaw [the warrantless wire-tapping program] Stellar Wind, and thought it was a great idea. So they’re very hostile to privacy,” Mr. Snowden claims. “Instead, he recommends SpiderOak, a fully encrypted, end-to-end, “zero-knowledge” file-sharing system.”
“He is extremely alarmed by the implications of NSA and Britain’s GCHQ documents, which showed their engineers hard at work undermining the basic security of the Internet — something that also concerned Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world-wide-web,” wrote the authors. “What people often overlook is the fact that, when you build a back door into a communication system, that back door can be discovered by anyone around the world. That can be a private individual, or security researcher at a university, but it can also be a criminal group or foreign intelligence agency – say, the NSA’s equivalent in a deeply irresponsible government. And now, that foreign government can scrutinize not just your bank records, but your private communications all around the Internet.”
“What last year’s revelations showed us,” said Mr. Snowden, “was irrefutable evidence that unencrypted communications on the Internet are no longer safe. Any communications should be encrypted, by default,” Snowden contends. “This has big implications for anyone using email, text, cloud computing — Skype, or phones to communicate in circumstances where they have a professional duty of confidentiality,” the authors wrote. “The work of journalism has become immeasurably harder. Journalists have to become particularly conscious about any sort of network signaling; any sort of connection; any sort of license-plate reading device that they pass on their way to a meeting point; any place they have used a credit-card; any place they take their phone; any email contact they have with the source. Because that very first contact, before encrypted communications are established, is enough to give it all away.” To journalists, he [Snowden] would add, “lawyers, doctors, investigators, possibly even accountants. Anyone who has an obligation to protect the privacy of their clients is facing a new and challenging world.”
I am not buying what Mr. Snowden and The Guardian’s reporters are selling. Edward Snowden keeping his sleep patterns compatible with U.S. time, and not Russian — is telling. He will no doubt in time, change that schedule; but, I suspect he will end up like nearly all the other U.S. spies and defectors that went to Russia seeking greener pastures and the other side of the rainbow. Nearly all died of depression, excessive alcoholism, and disenchantment with a country that not only did not measure up to their expectations; but, were far removed from the liberties and freedom of the individual that is the hallmark of the United States.
Yes, perhaps the U.S. government, and in particular the U.S. Intelligence Community and in particular NSA, may have gone beyond what the intent of the Congress, the Patriot Act and the FISA Court envisioned. But, we all know what 20/20 hindsight is. The fear of another 9/11 was palpable in the U.S., in the months and years after the attack; and, if we have another such damaging attack on the U.S. homeland, we’ll be wishing that Edward Snowden never existed. V/R, RCP