As one old enough to remember the Pentagon Papers debacle in the Richard Nixon administration, I had an ominous premonition last June that Edward Snowden's release of what seemed packing-crates-full of classified materials would expose egregious wrongdoing on the part of our National Security Agency (NSA) and the 15 other intelligence services that operate under the aegis of the Directorate of National Intelligence.
Snowden's trove of papers – perhaps "library" would be more descriptive – were leaked, or betrayed, in digital format to the Guardian in London and the Washington Post here at home. At the time, Snowden was an unknown clerical civilian contractor with 'top-secret' security credentials in the employ of the respected Booz Allen Hamilton management consultancy.
Along with the rest of the world, I've been waiting now for ten months for the shoe to drop.
Snowden was initially lionized, much as Daniel Elsburg was back in the day, as a man who sought to save the republic from snoop-minded zealots within government who were hell-bent on twisting America into a nation that mirrors George Orwell's 1984 . But "where's the beef?" as Walter Mondale used to say?
The only person who has been charged so far with breaking any laws is Edward Snowden himself, who breached his own oath to preserve state secrets. The mainstream media, perhaps with its own ax to grind in this case, has been slow to tell us what's really going on. If indeed anyone really knows.
And now comes Edward Lucas, a distinguished senior editor at what has perhaps become the finest weekly newsmagazine with truly global reach, The Economist , who says in a cogent new ebook, the Snowden Operation: Inside the West's Greatest Intelligence Disaster, (2014: Kindle Singles), "I cannot see the heroic virtues in the Snowden affair which others have celebrated."
"Nobody has proved that the NSA or GCHQ committed grave and deliberate breaches of the law," Lucas asserts. "In the big scandals of the 1960s, the FBI illegally bugged American citizens and tried to blackmail the government political opponents … No comparable examples have been produced now, and I do not believe any will be."
The most astonishing thing we've learned in the ten months since Snowden began his extraordinary disgorgement of classified government materials is how little qualified Snowden was for work within the intelligence community.
Here is a young man who was unable (or unwilling) to complete high school! Yet, as a soi-disant "computer wizard" (words he used to describe himself in an article he wrote for Ars Technica in May 2006), he began an intelligence career after a disastrous 5-month stint in the Army which ended abruptly when , he alleges, he broke both his legs. To me "computer wizard" conjurs up John von Neumann or Alan Turing. Edward Snowden? I don't think so.
An Army spokesperson confirmed to British media last year that Snowden was indeed discharged September 28, 2004, just 147 days after enlisting on May 7th of that year. Snowden "did not complete any training or receive any awards," the Army flatly asserts.
OK, so Snowden left the Army without a GCE or any certificates of having completed any training. At this point, he had completed 6th grade in elementary school.
Snowden tread water for a year in 2005 as a "security specialist" at the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Study of Language , an entity that is mainly funded by the USG, though it is a public facility with no secret or classified activities. He did not have a security clearance.
And then, beyond credibility, in 2006 he joined the CIA – without so much as a high school diploma and after an Army career that can charitably be described as undistinguished. And this in an environment where new graduates of America's finest colleges – Stanford, Dartmouth, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and so many other top schools – vie with one another for highly coveted positions in America's clandestine services. How could this happen?
Well, it happened in part because Snowden was not an intelligence officer, merely a clerk, a sort of computer mechanic who made sure the gears were oiled in the computer hardware. At no point was Edward Snowden an analyst or case officer. His only job was to make sure computer cogs meshed without squeaking or grinding. Snowden was at the lowest level of the intelligence food chain. He was not doing analysis, much less case work.
After an unmemorable 3-year career, Snowden resigned from CIA early in 2009. Because he still held valid security clearances, Dell then took him on as a lowly "sysadmin" to service computers within a National Security Agency project on a US base in Japan . Dell records show he remained on their payroll for four years, until 2013. It is now thought that it was during his stint with Dell, when he had unrestricted access to hardware within the bowels of the NSA network, that he used thumb drives to copy top secret documents.
By March 2013, Snowden was on the move again, this time to Booz Allen Hamilton. Just eight weeks later, on May 20, 2013, Snowden flew to Hong Kong to meet with British journalists. And by June 5, 2013, the world learned of him in a series of articles about classified surveillance programs that appeared both in the Guardian and the Post . What motivated him to make this break, or perhaps more important, who motivated him?
Lucas points to evidence that Snowden from the outset was working for the Russians.
In the months that have passed since June 5th of last year, I have been waiting for the media to get a grip on this story and interpret what Snowden has revealed and why. It hasn't happened.
Lucas's short ebook (about 80 pages) is the first to raise the absolutely critical issue which no one else has touched: namely, that while it may have been useful in a general way to show the extent of NSA's covert domestic internet activities and its intrusion into American life, there has been little or no discussion of how seriously Snowden has damaged and compromised the national security apparatus of the United States, the very machinery we rely upon to keep us from suffering a repeat of 9/11.
Lucas is a serious journalist with 30 years' experience covering intelligence actives. He is no shill for CIA, NSA or GCHQ in England. He wrote Deception in 2011, and The New Cold War in 2008. Lucas makes clear, in lucid, flowing paragraphs ripe with evidence, how gravely Snowden has breached America's and Britain's national security apparatus. He points out, quite rightly, that in the clamor to punish governments for allegedly violating the privacy of average citizens, what's been dangerously forgotten is that America and the UK have potent, lethal enemies whose plans it is essential that our policy planners have access to .
That access is what NSA, GCHQ and others provided, but may no longer be able to provide because Edward Snowden has treacherously revealed sources and methods that have caused the well to run dry. It is possible, too, that double agents in Russia, Iraq, Iran, and other hostile nations have been hunted down, tortured, and liquidated for their cooperation with US authorities. And so the question remains: For whom was Snowden working?
"On June 21st," Lucas writes, "America revoked Snowden's passport. He flew to Russia with another travel document – apparently one issued by the government of Ecuador via its embassy in London, where the fugitive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ekes out a claustrophobic existence. "
Did Snowden end up in Moscow by mere happenstance? Or did he go there as part of a long-term plan? We just don't know.
"Snowden's life in Moscow is shrouded with secrecy," Lucas tells us. "He has a job, but nobody knows where. Barring a brief, staged meeting with journalists and activists at Moscow airport, he sees only his supporters … With his public utterances controlled, it would also be easier to prevent him blurting out facts that would undermine the story of an innocent whistleblower acting purely on his own initiative. "
Slowly but surely, Lucas takes us to a place where I was hoping he would not go, a very dangerous place that suggests that Snowden has become a pawn of people whose interests are not in synch with those who seek to preserve American lives.
Snowden "has not given a proper press conference or opened himself to any form of scrutiny (odd behavior, some might think, for an apostle of transparency). Nobody knows where he lives. None of this inspires confidence in the idea that he is a free agent. It supports the theory that he is a Russian one. "
The jury is not yet in, of course, though Edward Lucas has given us a stunning preview of what the verdict may be. Time is on the side of truth in these matters. It is very likely that, in a matter of months or years, we will know with great confidence just what Edward Snowden was all about and why. In the meantime, we should all be concerned that he was not looking out for the best interests of his country, and that this bright, naïve, undisciplined dilettante with two broken legs and an empty resume has become the witting or unwitting tool of Vladimir Putin , a man whose intelligence credentials are not in doubt.
Lucas has written a stunning, brilliant short book that I could not recommend more highly. It's by far the best piece of journalism yet to emerge concerning the Snowden scandal. Let's hope it is not the last. There is more to be told. Stay tuned.
Credit To Frank T Kryza