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Belmont Club

The Prodigal Son

December 15th, 2013 - 6:50 pm

The Guardian claims that the NSA is willing to recommend amnesty for Edward Snowden in exchange for his cooperation. “National Security Agency officials are considering a controversial amnesty that would return Edward Snowden to the United States, in exchange for the extensive document trove the whistleblower took from the agency.”

An amnesty, which does not have the support of the State Department, would represent a surprising denouement to an international drama that has lasted half a year. It is particularly unexpected from a surveillance agency that has spent months insisting that Snowden’s disclosures have caused vast damage to US national security.

The objective here cannot be the recovery of the secrets in Snowden’s possession. Those are lost.  ”The NSA doesn’t even know how many documents Snowden has in the first place.” What is of greater importance is the circumstance that Snowden could not have stolen all those secrets himself. Therefore the amnesty offer, if genuine, cannot be conceivably aimed at “recovering” secrets which are now lost to the other side, but at discovering who else was involved.  Open source research has identified some of his external helpers, but who helped him on the inside?

One explanatory line, described in the New York Times, suggested that Snowden stole documents because the access logging software ordered by President Obama in 2011 had yet to be installed.

In October 2011, Mr. Obama signed an executive order establishing a task force charged with “deterring, detecting and mitigating insider threats, including the safeguarding of classified information from exploitation, compromise, or other unauthorized disclosure.” The task force, led by the attorney general and the director of national intelligence, has the responsibility of developing policies and new technologies to protect classified information.

But one of the changes, updating computer systems to track the digital meanderings of the employees of intelligence agencies, occurred slowly.

“We weren’t able to flip a switch and have all of those changes made instantly,” said one American intelligence official.

Lonny Anderson, the N.S.A.’s chief technology officer, said in a recent interview that much of what Mr. Snowden took came from parts of the computer system open to anyone with a high-level clearance. And part of his job was to move large amounts of data between different parts of the system.

But, Mr. Anderson said, Mr. Snowden’s activities were not closely monitored and did not set off warning signals.

Ed Epstein persuasively argued that Snowden did not act alone.

“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked, that is why I accepted that position.” My question would be, then: Was he alone in this enterprise to misappropriate communications intelligence? Before taking the job in Hawaii, Mr. Snowden was in contact with people who would later help arrange the publication of the material he purloined. Two of these individuals, filmmaker Laura Poitras and Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald, were on the Board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation that, among other things, funds WikiLeaks.

In January 2013, according to the Washington Post, Mr. Snowden requested that Ms. Poitras get an encryption key for Skype so that they could have a secure channel over which to communicate.  In February, he made a similar request to Mr. Greenwald, providing him with a step-by-step video on how to set up encrypted communications.

So, before Mr. Snowden proceeded with his NSA penetration in March 2013 through his Booz Allen Hamilton job, he had assistance, either wittingly or unwittingly, in arranging the secure channel of encrypted communications that he would use to facilitate the publication of classified communications intelligence.

He had people ready to help him make a getaway.

Mr. Greenwald and Ms. Poitras also flew to Hong Kong. They were later joined by Sarah Harrison, a WikiLeaks representative who works closely with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. Mr. Snowden reportedly brought the misappropriated data to Hong Kong on four laptops and a thumb drive. He gave some of the communications intelligence to Mr. Greenwald, who had arranged to publish it in the Guardian, and Mr. Snowden arranged to have Ms. Poitras make a video of him issuing a statement that would be released on the Guardian’s website. Albert Ho, a Hong Kong lawyer, was retained to deal with Hong Kong authorities.

This orchestration did not occur in a vacuum. Airfares, hotel bills and other expenses over this period had to be paid. A safe house had to be secured in Hong Kong. Lawyers had to be retained, and safe passage to Moscow—a trip on which Mr. Snowden was accompanied by WikiLeaks’ Sarah Harrison—had to be organized.

Why should Snowden come back? Well Moscow might actually be sending him back and at the same time arranging for his reception.

The problem for Snowden is knowing whether the hands that secretly guided him in stealing the secrets are not the same one beckoning him home. By now Snowden has been loaded up with disinformation by the Russians. When he returns — if he returns — Snowden will playback a tune.

James Angleton would have called Snowden the “disinformation line”. In his view the Soviets (as they were then called) operated in stereophonic. They played mutually reinforcing messages.  Of greater interest to him was the identity of the “feedback line”. For in order for Snowden’s line to be bought, it has to support one of the policy lines that Moscow already knows the NSA to be considering, the one they want US intel to buy.

The ‘sent’ defector — or in this the redefector — and the moles. Each supported the other.

So Angleton’s theory came down to two lines of communications that hooked up rival intelligence service. Through one line, the disinformation channel, the perpetrator of the deception fed the other intelligence service messages disguised as intelligence. Through the other line, the feedback line, the mole in the intelligence service receiving these messages reports on how they are being assessed, and answers such questions as: Have the messages reached the right parties? Are they believed? Have they been correctly interpreted? Have they been called into question by any unexpected intelligence resource? And what additional messages would make them more credible? Once they are established, these two lines form a loop that allows a deception to be highly-effective.

So of the several theories about “what went wrong at the NSA”, the Russians already have a favored narrative. And Snowden’s  job, wittingly or unwittingly, would be go back to sell it. Perhaps not deliberately, but he will have been exposed to snippets of conversation that will tend to confirm the preferred line.

One of the more interesting possibilities is that Snowden was unleashed in order to protect an even more vital foreign asset working in the bowels of the US government. For if Snowden was the bagman for a network operating inside the NSA undetected until now, why should they reveal their hand through the Guardian?  Why the did the cell not maintain their anonymity and kept stealing for Moscow and Beijing?  Why did they advertise their existence in the most public way?

To safeguard the privacy of Americans? From Moscow via Hong Kong?

Or was the goal to shut down a whole class of sources and methods, or at least cast it into disrepute so that its product might be rendered doubtful? This would only make sense if they feared those methods were coming perilously close to a crown jewel.  CNET writes, “Surveillance agency says it has spent tens of millions of dollars to remove computers the former NSA contractor had access to, including the cables that connected them to the network.”.

All of this is idle speculation and we may never be certain of the truth any more than we know with surety who owned Oswald. But the balance of probability is that Snowden, whether you regard him as a hero or a heel, is a pawn in a bigger game the outlines of which we can only guess.


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Top Rated Comments   
I think it very likely that they have finally figured out just what Snowden got, and that getting back what he has not yet released is of great importance.

But consider the larger picture relative to the US intelligence community. We had the false information prior to OIF, multiple leaks during the Bush Admin, Gen Petraus getting fired, the NSA phone data scandal, and now news that the retired FBI agent that disappeared into Iran was working for the CIA, directed by some “rogue agents.”

What does all this add up to? A bunch of pots going off half-cracked, or something that adds up to more?

We probably are like the blind men and the elephant, and the elephant in the room could either be a remarkably devious plan or plans – or yet more evidence of lack of management and a widespread misunderstanding of the concept of leadership at high levels. Or all of the above.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
1) who in their right mind would believe an offer of amnesty from this regime?
2) it would seem that what they are most upset about is not revelations of means and methods used to spy on hostile foreign powers; but rather the revelation that the bulk of the Federal government's spying is against the American people. And that revelation coincides with the information becoming public that every department in the Executive Branch has been suborned and co-opted by the White House political operation.
3) http://tinyurl.com/kdgeyf5

Subotai Bahadur
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
A New York Times reporter caught up with some of the Filipino Marines who rode out the supertyphoon in a World War 2 LST that drove the Chinese Navy into port. They had survived the storm. One of them related his subsequent adventures:

Upon reaching land for the first time in more than four months, Loresto went straight home. “Many people at my home do not know me,” he said, “because my mustache is very long, and my hair.” (Neither Loresto nor Yanto had shaved or had a haircut since they left for Ayungin in June.) “My barber said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ I said, ‘It’s me!’ He said, ‘I don’t know who you are.’ ” I asked him what the first thing he ate was, which was something we talked about on the boat, and true to his word then he said: “I ate vegetables. Vegetables, fruits, especially coconut.” The only souvenirs he brought back from Ayungin were dried fish, which he gave to his neighbors and friends, and a big shell that I think he plans to wear on a necklace.


http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/14/after-typhoon-haiyan-a-dispatch-from-the-south-china-sea/?emc=edit_tnt_20131214&tntemail0=y&_r=1

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (29)
All Comments   (29)
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Does it make any difference to anyone that a Federal Judge just ruled that the NSA data collection is unconstitutional?

Maybe Edward Snowden is the only lawful actor in this debacle.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
But I'm beginning to think anything is possible.

"The EPA’s highest-paid employee and a leading expert on climate change deserves to go to prison for at least 30 months for lying to his bosses and saying he was a CIA spy working in Pakistan so he could avoid doing his real job, say federal prosecutors."


http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/16/21911592-climate-change-experts-fraud-was-crime-of-massive-proportion-say-feds
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank God his actual work for the EPA is not in question -- that stuff he did on the few days he showed up at his desk.

Kern, Beale’s lawyer, declined to comment to NBC News. But in his court filing, he asks Judge Ellen Huvelle, who is due to sentence Beale Wednesday, to balance Beale’s misdeeds against years of admirable work for the government. These include helping to rewrite the Clean Air Act in 1990, heading up EPA delegations to United Nations conferences on climate change in 2000 and 2001, and helping to negotiate agreements to reduce carbon emissions with China, India and other nations."

Admiral work for what Government? Still, no reason to question those accomplishments. I suspect he did more damage to the American Economy than any Soviet Spy. Not to worry, there are plenty of others at the EPA to pick up the Burden. Central Planners of the World Unite!
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The name is Bond, James Bond. Ok that's not what it says on my passport, but I'm not really working for the EPA, you know. I'm working for wink, wink. I'd like a first class ticket to Kathmandu please. Have to check out the yaks and yetis old sport. And order a pre-takeoff martini for me please. Shaken not stirred."
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I think it very likely that they have finally figured out just what Snowden got, and that getting back what he has not yet released is of great importance."

The implicit assumption in attempting to get the files back is that even though Snowden got them, they were hashed, or encrypted. Hence the Russians have not yet been able to read them, though eventually they might. The idea is probably that if the NSA could get a list of files Snowden stole back, they then could control the damage and protect whatever was revealed.

But if they were stolen in an unreadable state, how did Snowden know which files to steal? Each file might require a combination of keys, so that no single password could open them all. To Snowden, they would be just be blobs unless he had key.

The whole thing becomes less puzzling if someone cued him in or selected the files. He could not have grabbed the "keys to the kingdom" by simply blindly laying his hands on items in the stream. He had to have a loupe to see those diamonds.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
That also occurred to me. But there is nothing to say that he did not hand off some cruicial items to his co-conspirators in Hong Kong, which is what I think most anyone would have done. And he could have told them if they don't get a call from him every day to release it, and if they did not get a call from him twice a day to give it back to the NSA.

Of course, his main value to the NSA may be to provide information on just how big the organization that supported him really is. Is it just him and a cople of friends? Is also it the Bush Admin Leakers in the intelligence commmunity? Is it THRUSH, KAOS, SPECTRE, the Aliens from V, or Dr. Fu Manchu?

You know, I used to have to load up my personal car with classified information and haul it over to the base classified destruction facility. This involved driving off base for a short distance. For a few minutes every few months I was driving the most valuable 1978 Toyota Celica in the world. For years thereafter I was haunted by images of having to change a flat tire and finding some classified document under the spare.

Presumably, Snowden has his own considerable worries but I'll bet that is not one of them.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Snowden has threatened to post the material if he is "harmed" by the NSA, implying he has the keys. Well if he has the keys, the FSB can torture it out of him. But they have not. So either he has given them the keys, which he implicitly claims to have or they are all in the clear, which is why Greenwald can read them. Surely Greenwald and the Guardian can't read them without the keys? Or are they in the clear. In either case, there is no getting them "back".
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Which do you believe?

Kurt Mix deleted some text messages with one swipe of his finger on his IPhone and 'that "the charges against Mix are "unfair and baseless" and the product of investigators' "rank incompetence." '

http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2013/12/jurors_hear_closing_aruguments.html#incart_river

Or that he deserves a maximum of 40 years in the federal pen and fines of $500,000 for deleting a text about the flow rate that President Obama told the world would not affect the federal response in any case?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rT7IANtSjo&feature=youtu.be&t=40m10s

I'm shocked that anyone in law enforcement would not believe the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the USA!

SHOCKED!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjbPi00k_ME

The liberals at DOJ projected their own weaknesses on Mix, that they are cowards and would seek a plea deal, only to find that he is a man of courage. And fought them, just as he fought the leaking well.
(show less)
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
rwe said: I think it very likely that they have finally figured out just what Snowden got, and that getting back what he has not yet released is of great importance.

Yeah, but what are the odds?

I mean of getting it back, but also what are the odds that ANYTHING of that value was accessible to him? I'd like to think zero - although I guess we know better.

DR said: I've said this before: Snowden is merely a replay of the current power structure's leaders when they were his age: self-important brats bent on destruction. Snowden is what Obama and Hillary and Kerry once were, and he has come into being to bite them all in the ass.

Then that's Secretary Snowden, or President Snowden to you.


48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
When law enforcement knows a man is a pimp, they know that making a case against him will be nearly impossible because he is protected by a code of silence. So, they watch pimps to see if they break any other laws, even jaywalking, and arrest them when they can.

If Edward Snowden accepts amnesty, his problems only start. He had better not break any more laws because he will be watched. If he breaks even minor laws, he will be arrested. If his personal life becomes in any way scandalous, character assassins will photograph him in the act. They may come from TMZ or the National Enquirer rather than the NSA! Beyond that, it might be in the interests of Edward Snowden's handlers to assassinate him so that they will have a martyr they could deify for the masses. Selena was hardly immune from her fan club's president. The same goes for Mr. Snowden.

Edward Snowden will live with paranoia for the rest of his life – and yes, there are people who really are out to get him now, especially bereaved relatives of people he outed and left to die at the hands of some very nasty monsters. Edward Snowden would have been much safer in an American prison than he is now. He who swims with the sharks risks sleeping with the fish.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think it very likely that they have finally figured out just what Snowden got, and that getting back what he has not yet released is of great importance.

But consider the larger picture relative to the US intelligence community. We had the false information prior to OIF, multiple leaks during the Bush Admin, Gen Petraus getting fired, the NSA phone data scandal, and now news that the retired FBI agent that disappeared into Iran was working for the CIA, directed by some “rogue agents.”

What does all this add up to? A bunch of pots going off half-cracked, or something that adds up to more?

We probably are like the blind men and the elephant, and the elephant in the room could either be a remarkably devious plan or plans – or yet more evidence of lack of management and a widespread misunderstanding of the concept of leadership at high levels. Or all of the above.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've said this before: Snowden is merely a replay of the current power structure's leaders when they were his age: self-important brats bent on destruction. Snowden is what Obama and Hillary and Kerry once were, and he has come into being to bite them all in the ass.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
A whiff of Nosenko ?
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
1) who in their right mind would believe an offer of amnesty from this regime?
2) it would seem that what they are most upset about is not revelations of means and methods used to spy on hostile foreign powers; but rather the revelation that the bulk of the Federal government's spying is against the American people. And that revelation coincides with the information becoming public that every department in the Executive Branch has been suborned and co-opted by the White House political operation.
3) http://tinyurl.com/kdgeyf5

Subotai Bahadur
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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