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Jun 25 2013

The Snowden drama keeps escalating

Apart from the drama surrounding the whereabouts of Edward Snowden, there have been fears that he would be the target of extreme acts to stop him revealing further information, either by kidnapping him and keeping him incommunicado or even worse, since the Obama administration has already said that they have the right to kill an American whom they think is an enemy of the state. And they clearly see Snowden as such, since they have charged him with espionage.

This is one reason that it was wise of Snowden to publicly reveal himself. If he hadn’t the government would have found him anyway and if he had disappeared while he was still an unknown, not one would have been the wiser. Now if anything happens to him, the Obama administration will be the immediate suspects.

But it looks like Snowden has taken even more precautions against being silenced.

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who Snowden first contacted in February, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Snowden “has taken extreme precautions to make sure many different people around the world have these archives to insure the stories will inevitably be published.” Greenwald added that the people in possession of these files “cannot access them yet because they are highly encrypted and they do not have the passwords.” But, Greenwald said, “if anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he told me he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives.”

The fact that Snowden has made digital copies of the documents he accessed while working at the NSA poses a new challenge to the U.S. intelligence community that has scrambled in recent days to recover them and assess the full damage of the breach. Even if U.S. authorities catch up with Snowden and the four classified laptops the Guardian reported he brought with him to Hong Kong the secrets Snowden hopes to expose will still likely be published.

A former U.S. counterintelligence officer following the Snowden saga closely said his contacts inside the U.S. intelligence community “think Snowden has been planning this for years and has stashed files all over the Internet.” This source added, “At this point there is very little anyone can do about this.”

The arrangement to entrust encrypted archives of his files with others also sheds light on a cryptic statement Snowden made on June 17 during a live chat with The Guardian. In the online session he said, “All I can say right now is the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”

All the people who were sneering at Snowden for being a high school dropout can only wish that they were as strategic a thinker.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    The fact that Snowden appears to be a good strategic thinker has nothing to do with his lack of formal education. The issue was, what did Snowden bring to the table that made him worth $200,000/year to Booz Allen and who at the NSA approved his hiring and his remuneration.

    As a matter of fact, I listened to a statement Snowden made the other day and was favorably impressed with him. Given his lack of formal education, I thought he spoke well and thoughtfully.

    I would note another strategic thinker with little formal education, namely Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln served only briefly in a military unit, had no military education or experience and yet came to have a far better grasp of military strategy then his opponent, Confederate President Jefferson Davis a graduate of West Point, soldier in the Mexican War, and Secretary of War in the Filmore cabinet. Abraham Lincoln was a great war leader, probably the best in American history. Jefferson Davis was a dried up old stick, more suited to the seminary then the presidential residence in Richmond. Davis’ incompetence in military strategy and his appointment of incompetent generals like Bragg and Hood cost the Confederacy any chance of victory. In fairness to Hood, he had lost an arm and a leg in previous battles, was addicted to laudanum to relieve him of constant pain and allow him to sleep and had no business commanding anything more strenuous then a desk in Richmond.

  2. 2
    ollie

    I think that the memo puts more strict criteria on killing American citizens than you say; there is something about an imminent threat.

  3. 3
    Mano Singham

    I wrote before about the broad way that Obama defines ‘imminent’: “The paper adopts a broad definition of “imminent threat”, saying it is not necessary to produce evidence that a specific attack is being planned if the target is generally engaged in plotting against the US.”

    “Generally engaged in plotting against the US”? How much vaguer can you get? Given that they have accused Snowden of espionage, that would cover it. In fact, they could stick that label on anyone since they do not need to provide any evidence.

  4. 4
    ema

    Because nothing says “strategic thinker” like being in possession of highly classified US documents and willingly exposing yourself to Chinese and Russian intelligence services.

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    the four classified laptops the Guardian reported he brought with him to Hong Kong

    In theory, systems containing classified data are carefully controlled. In reality, they are not. It says more about agency competence following the breakdown of “need to know” in the just-post-9/11 world. I’ve often wondered how much of what’s going on is simply that the emperor is lashing out in anger at the kid who pointed out he’s got no clothes – I’ve got to imagine that the other nations with real intelligence services have a pretty good idea how bad controls are, in the US. Back in 1993 I had a meeting at NSA HQ with a couple of bigshots who were well-known at the agency. So I went through the visitor queue and all that, was escorted to my meeting, did the thing, and was escorted back out. I think I was going to check my calendar or something, so I pulled my laptop out, at which point the agency guy turned white as a sheet because apparently I had committed an uber-super-duper security violation by taking my laptop in and back out. And I was going “WTF? If you had rules about that stuff, why don’t you tell your visitors what you expect?” It was pretty funny because, of course, everyone agreed that it simply hadn’t happened.

  6. 6
    Marcus Ranum

    Uh, you do realize that he briefed the Chinese right? On purpose. They didn’t have to waterboard him or anything. So I don’t see what your point is, unless it’s that you’re trying to portray Snowden as dumb but in fact portray yourself that way.

    Oh, by the way, one of the other technologies/techniques that the intelligence community makes use of is sockpuppets. I know one guy who runs sockpuppets on islamic blogs, and summarizes the traffic to the FBI. I wonder if they’re going to get the puppets out to trash Snowden?

  7. 7
    Marcus Ranum

    If being a whistle-blower is treason, then blowing your nose is an imminent threat.

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