After hiding out there for nine years:
“Edward received a Russian passport yesterday and took the oath in accordance with the law,” lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. “He is, of course, happy, thanking the Russian Federation for the fact that he received citizenship,” he continued. “And most importantly, under the Constitution of Russia, he can no longer be extradited to a foreign state.”
Snowden, 39, is wanted by Washington on espionage charges. He argues that his actions were in the interests of the United States. In any case, his revelations exposed the breadth of U.S. digital spying programs and altered the public’s understanding of technology, privacy and digital security.
Whether you consider him a hero or a traitor, the fact he's being treated so well by Putin while Brittney Griner is struggling to survive in a gulag in Mordovia should at least raise one eyebrow. But maybe not. Americans love to compartmentalize. This is as good a time as any to review what Snowden did to earn his notoriety:
An internal presentation of 41 briefing slides on PRISM, dated April 2013 and intended for senior analysts in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, described the new tool as the most prolific contributor to the President’s Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 items last year. According to the slides and other supporting materials obtained by The Post, “NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM” as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.
That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications. It is all the more striking because the NSA, whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.
The technology companies, whose cooperation is essential to PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley, according to the document. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted traffic of substantial intelligence interest during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.
Analysts who use the system from a Web portal at Fort Meade, Md., key in “selectors,” or search terms, that are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s “foreignness.” That is not a very stringent test. Training materials obtained by The Post instruct new analysts to make quarterly reports of any accidental collection of U.S. content, but add that “it’s nothing to worry about.”
Even when the system works just as advertised, with no American singled out for targeting, the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content. That is described as “incidental,” and it is inherent in contact chaining, one of the basic tools of the trade. To collect on a suspected spy or foreign terrorist means, at minimum, that everyone in the suspect’s inbox or outbox is swept in. Intelligence analysts are typically taught to chain through contacts two “hops” out from their target, which increases “incidental collection” exponentially. The same math explains the aphorism, from the John Guare play, that no one is more than “six degrees of separation” from any other person.
I don't expect many reading this to agree with me, but surveillance techniques like these are critical in identifying threats. You know, genuine conspiracies that target American citizens and/or government operations? Anyone? Bueller?
Here's the thing: we expect our security apparatus to detect and neutralize threats, and are outraged when they miss something. But it's like sausage-making; we don't want to know the details, we just want to enjoy the end product. And with White Supremacy emerging as a more dangerous threat to Americans, focusing exclusively on foreigners would be downright foolish. But frankly, that was foolish even before Billy Bob decided to show his ass. American citizens have always represented a threat, and have needed watching:
In the post-9/11 era, conventional wisdom holds that the jihadist threat is foreign. The conventional wisdom is understandable; after all it was 19 Arab hijackers who infiltrated the United States and conducted the 9/11 attacks. Yet today, as Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born cleric who became a leader in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, put it in a 2010 post, “Jihad is becoming as American as apple pie.” Far from being foreign infiltrators, the large majority of people accused of jihadist terrorism in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents. Moreover, while a range of citizenship statuses are represented, every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident except one who was in the United States as part of the U.S.-Saudi military training partnership.
No, I am not condoning the unlimited monitoring of American citizens (or even foreign visitors), but our security and intel people need certain tools to do their jobs. Even if those tools might scare us a little.
Cold War hangover...
If you're wondering why my opinions often seem hawkish on subjects like this, it's because I spent years in the military with operation security on my mind. And I have personal experience of dealing with the consequences when OpSec fails.
Too many of my friends on the left view "secrecy" as a monolithic wrong, when in many cases it is to ensure the safety of individuals, be they American citizens or foreign allies. Granted, it is also used by those who would conceal selfish or even criminal activities, so it is not a monolithic good, either. The devil (or angel) is in the details, and we have to grant some individuals the discretionary ability to parse those details.
But who watches the watchers?
To a certain extent, we do. In the form of our elected officials who sit on oversight committees. But that's not perfect, either. Our intelligence and security folks brief them on (some) processes and procedures, seeking at least tacit authorization for such. But those committee appointments are by their very nature political, and I (for one) am not comfortable with them knowing everything.
Imperfect. Some loops not closed, some activities not properly monitored.
But...in the aggregate, I have faith in our organizations tasked with protecting us, and their ability to police their own ranks. Some may say that what Snowden did was that very thing, and it could be true. I don't know. If (and it's a big "if") he had tried to deal with his concerns internally (he says he did), then his actions are somewhat understandable. But he was also a private contractor working for a lucrative firm, which (in my mind) calls that very practice into question.
Whatever the case, he's a Russian now. What secrets has he revealed to them? What work is he doing to earn a living in Russia?
I'm about as Lefty as they come and I agree with you on the necessity of intelligence operations and secrecy with proper oversight.
That's why who you elect to office in Congress or the Executive branch - they can use this information wisely to protect us or use it for their own political purposes.
Reading this, I'm reminded of observing the Cold War when I was growing up. Back then, I was a shortwave band listener and international shortwave stations were a very active propaganda outlet for both sides. It was curious, for example, to hear the defenses of Apartheid all through the 70s and 80s coming from Radio South Africa while the press on the ground was showing us a very different picture.
The propaganda broadcast by the USSR was particularly interesting. While, at times, it could sound quite reasonable with their point of view, even featuring commentaries from some Moscow journalists that would be quoted in US media, there was an undercurrent of ridiculous misinformation - stories about Soviet research on UFOs or ESP, quack medicine, conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination and other topics, or stories designed to stir up racial or religious animus.
All of these themes were kept alive on the shortwave bands (and right-wing AM talk) after the end of the Cold War, the rise of the Internet and shutdown of international shortwave broadcasters.
What struck me during the Trump years and seeing Putin's social media campaign to influence the US elections used the same techniques and themes I heard on Radio Moscow way back in the 1980s, designed to attract the local crackpots that would believe anything.
This is the type of thing that an intelligence service can point out, since they have an institutional history that can see these trends.
Probably the biggest failure of our elected leaders since the end of the Cold War wasn't publicizing what I'm sure our intelligence analysts were seeing about foreign influence in US elections in a way that more clearly showed how Putin was using the same themes and techniques he was familiar with from the USSR years. The right, with the kind of tepid and not well thought out release of this information, simply branded election interference as just a fake conspiracy theory, much like Radio Moscow would have done forty or fifty years ago.
Yeah, I wish they had.
But they had to tiptoe during the Trump Presidency. I mean, even though Trump booted him rather quickly, he did put Steve Bannon on the National Security Council after he was sworn in.
It must have been a frustrating time for intel folks, with that dipshit at the helm.