Snowden - II
by Michael Brenner on 12 Jul 2020 1 Comment

People like Snowden were not privy to the details. But the implications of the technical tasks they were doing pointed to the conclusion that such a compact was in place. Lawlessness was destined to win. In particular regard to elite political consensus, let us recall the bipartisan cabal formed by President Bush in 2002 to launch a radical surveillance program that they acknowledged was illegal and nullified the Fourth Amendment. There was the Deistic push to all that followed. That story was recounted by James Risen in his 2006 book STATE OF WAR – a story that his New York Times editors had in October 2004, but withheld under direct pressure from the Bush White House.


The cabal’s members included all the Congressional leaders from both parties (Pelosi, Daschle, Feinstein on the Democratic side), the Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief Justice Rehnquist, Robert Mueller – Director of the FBI, as well as the heads of the principal Intelligence agencies and their chief subordinates: General Michael Hayden at the NSA, George Tenet at CIA, and Admirals Thomas Wilson and Lowell Jacoby at DIA. They were sworn to secrecy – an oath they’ve observed to this day. The big IT companies provided helpful services while denying that awkward fact. After all, they were doing something similar for their own deceitful commercial purposes.


Thereby, the equivalent of a “Line of Blood’ was drawn that placed the leaders of America on the side of clandestine criminality. That truth foreclosed any chance of the country’s coming to terms with what constitutes a revision of the Constitution without due process. Overcoming it was certainly not something that an Obama had either the conviction or courage to try doing. Snowden did. The vehemence of his denunciation and persecution by Obama and other self-styled liberal humanists can be explained by the juxtaposition.*


They, and America’s political class generally, cannot understand a man like Snowden. Just what makes him tick is beyond their comprehension. That dread of the unknowable stokes their passionate enmity toward him. Moreover, he might inspire others of similar character. The prospect of an upwelling of such persons exposing the deceit, lawlessness - and incompetence - that had become endemic in the most sensitive corners of the American government was nightmarish. Even worse, it undercut their cultivated self-image as public servants of rectitude. Therefore, the instinct of Obama, Holder, Hillary, the NYT editors et al was to crucify Snowden.


Snowden rose rapidly into more and more responsible positions – propelled by his talents, his innovative mind and technical curiosity. With promotion came even greater access to the sweep of the IC’s surveillance activities. From Tokyo to Maryland to Hawaii, he encountered PRISM in all its troubling dimensions.


“PRISM is a code name for a program under which the United States National Security Agency (NSA) collects internet communications from various U.S. internet companies. The program is also known by the SIGAD US-984XN. PRISM collects stored internet communications based on demands made to internet companies such as Google LLC under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to turn over any data that match court-approved search terms. The NSA can use these PRISM requests to target communications that were encrypted when they travelled across the internet backbone, to focus on stored data that telecommunication filtering systems discarded earlier, and to get data that is easier to handle, among other things”.


It was his involvement with PRISM that convinced Snowden of the imperative to expose it. For he was now an active contributor to a criminal operation – an aggressive multi-dimensional program that was routinely violating Americans’ basic constitutional rights while promising even deeper encroachments. Nobody was inclined to do anything about it. 


Under the pressure of being Dell’s chief technologist for the CIA account and recoiling from the programs he was directing, Snowden began to suffer nervous seizures. Finally diagnosed as a form of epilepsy.


Back in Hawaii, his plans began to crystallize. They were encouraged by a talk given there by the CIA’s chief technology officer ‘Gus’ Hunt. He informed the audience that “At the CIA, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang onto it forever”. There were journalists there from the ‘high tech’ press and journals. Hunt mentioned to them, in a private discussion, that the agency could surveil every one of their communications – much of it through their smart phones, activated or not. None of them reported on what was said. Mysteriously, a video of the talk appeared on You Tube – site visited by a total of 302 people in 6 years. Some of those journalists might very well be commenting on Snowden’s book in reviews heavy on the Lindsay element.


The date was March 20, 2013. Exactly 7 days earlier, General James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. In response to a direct question from Senator Wyden as to whether the NSA conducted mass surveillance of Americans, Clapper replied: ‘NO”. His lie represented criminal perjury, a perjury ignored by all parties.


That’s just the way the game is played in Washington on security cum spying matters. There are two kinds of people: those who have bullets in their guns; those who hold meetings and issue communiques.


First, though, Snowden wanted to dig deeper in that holy-of-holies: the CIA’s X program He sought and obtained a position as a Dell contractor that brought him into XKEYSTORE. “X’s” capacities exceeded by far those of PRISM. They were truly Orwellian. In its essence, the operation used all manner of an individual’s electronic communications devices to track and record his every movement: his emails, other social media messaging, his Internet searches, telephone calls, etc. The extent of the population globally thus targeted was stunning.


Snowden recounts how his random probes turned up the electronic surveillance of an Indonesian academic. The man had gotten on the American suspect list merely by responding to the notice of a university research position somewhere in Iran. He had no technical qualifications nor was he a political or religious activist. Yet, there he was featured on the monitor in the act of working at his PC (the instrument that was video-taping him). He had a toddler on his lap. The baby looked at the computer screen and straight into Snowden’s eyes. If Snowden had any lingering doubts about his planned actions, that experience erased then.


Many of you reading this doubtless have similar files of revealing material stashed away somewhere in the NSA/CIA archives. That is all the more likely if you have had some association or contact – however benign - with persons/institutions in Russia, Iran, China, Pakistan or with any political personality in Venezuela or Bolivia who challenges the oligarchs. In the improbable event that the snoops felt any constraint about this fine-grain surveillance of an American citizen, they always could rely on one of their partners in the 5-Eyes Network, the Anglo Intelligence consortium, to do the dirty work for them – especially GCHQ in the U.K. that enjoys vast authority to do just about anything.


Moreover, were a British media outlet to uncover a sensitive and legally dubious action, HMG has the power to issue DSMA-Notice (Defence and Security Media Advisory Notice) - an official demand not to publish or broadcast the item for reasons of national security. Concretely, that means Boris Johnson can block The Guardian or anyone else from publishing the counterpart to PRISM or ‘Z’ material on pain of criminal prosecution.


For Snowden, that knowledge became an intolerable burden. He felt a compelling obligation to act. He did so with remarkable bravery – on his own – driven by the imperative to get the story out regardless of personal consequence. He meticulously prepared his personal affairs in expectation that soon he would be either dead or destined to spend the rest of his life in prison. He confided in no one – fearful for their safety and his arrest.  Snowden was acutely aware that a problem shared was not a problem halved – but a problem doubled. The rest is history.


Edward Snowden is a courageous and honorable man. That cannot be said of the present Director of the CIA: the black-site torturer, Gina Haspel, who showed mislabeled photos of maimed children to Trump as part of a plot to push him into a major military intervention in Syria; of the long-time Director of National Intelligence: the felonious perjurer William Clapper; of Haspel’s predecessor: the congenital liar John Brennan who directed the break-in of the Senate Intelligence Committee computer files in order to protect Haspel and her ilk.


Nor can it be said of the President who commanded him to do so – the same man who expanded and concealed electronic surveillance, who prosecuted all those who threatened to reveal these illegal programs, and who used them to identify and arbitrarily to assassinate Americans without trial: Obama, the nation’s self-anointed Preacher-In-Chief, who renders unto Caesar unfailingly. Snowden is a far better person than any of them.


There was a time in America when a Snowden would be celebrated as the model of an idealistic young man whose devotion to principle placed justice before self-interest. Nowadays, the baying pack of scoundrels, careerists and bumblers who run the country howl for his traitorous hide.  Obviously, there are exceptions. Yet, one is hard-pressed to identify voices raised on his behalf.


Numbered among the self-styled patriots who call Snowden traitor are Diane Feinstein and Nancy Pelosi. Yet they were among the conspirators in 2002 who acted to violate the Constitution they had sworn to uphold through a criminal project with malice aforethought. Is it they who deserve impeachment – if not criminal prosecution? In the Poet’s words: “Guilty is a word unspoken except where Innocence dares to plead”. Snowden may be guilty in some technical legal term; he, though, is the loyal citizen who defended the Constitution – not Feinstein, Pelosi and their co-conspirators.


Here are two segments of a quite extraordinary interview with Snowden: October 23, 2019


The CIA Record


Participants in the debates about the CIA and NSA share the usually unstated premise that what those agencies do counts. Intelligence is taken to be of capital importance. Well, let’s take a searching look at the record of their performance. There is an abundance of historical evidence about the success rate in the acquisition and deployment of Intelligence.  In truth, NSA/CIA performance since 2001 has been less than stellar. It is the striking failures that stand out.


1)      The American IC missed the many faceted Russian intervention into Syria in 2015. However we judge the consequences of that intervention, it was an embarrassing failure. By the testimony of an extremely high former Intelligence official, the NSA detected some of the Russian force movements, but they were interpreted as just a standard rotation or reinforcement.


We had no human assets sipping mint tea in a café overlooking the Bosporus, or an informant at a Russian shipyard or airfield who might have tipped us off. As to Syria, American officials have admitted that we have virtually no human assets there – the Kurds and the White Helmets aside. The IC boasts about the man they had at the very elbow of Vladimir Putin at the time. He’s the super-spy who now lives in a grand mansion in the Virginia countryside in the open. Exactly what he was so handsomely rewarded for is obscure. (Was he the one who fingered master spy Butina?)


2)    We also missed the fact that the Baghdad government of al-Maliki in the fall 2008 had decided to kick out all American military forces – despite the fact that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were meeting with his Ministers almost daily for discussions of a chimeral Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The announcement that we were forced to leave by December 2011 was made by the Bush presidency before the New Year. Hence, all declarations by Republicans – Trump, Mattis, Lindsey et al - that it was Obama’s fault are Goebbels class lies. That fact that they are repeated in Mattis’ recent book does not change that. All it does is confirm that the guys with rows of ribbons can be just as blatant liars as the psychopath in the Oval Office.


3)     The Intelligence agencies also missed, inter alia, Sisi’s coup in Egypt, Mohammed bin-Salman’s kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Harari, the post-Gaddafi chaos in Libya, Iran’s striking progress in missilry – demonstrated with éclat in the destruction of the Saudi petroleum complex – that nullified the US’ much discussed options for military action against them, Erdogan’s refugee assault on Europe in 2015, Russia’s historic accomplishments in developing a generation of ultra-sophisticated weapons that, in some respects, outclass our own. 


And, lest we forget, the failure to find Osama bin-Laden for a decade until a surprise tipster walked into our Lahore Consulate; and the failure to find al-Baghdadi until Iraqi Intelligence tracked him down in Idlib – perhaps with a tip-off from the Turks who were guardians of their long-time asset.


Successes were modest in the extreme. We did expose sleeper agent Anna Chapman after a decade or so – was it at Bloomingdale’s or Nieman-Marcus? Then there was Mueller’s heralded breakthrough in nabbing Maria Butina who had the audacity to join the NRA while in contact with its Russian chapter. The alleged gravity of her ‘crime’ matched the severity of her sentence: eight months in solitary confinement. That gratuitous cruelty gives insight into the meanness of the prevailing mentality in the IC/counter-terrorism world – as does the abusive treatment of Manning. The unjustifiably harsh treatment seems intended to magnify the seriousness of the supposedly heinous crime – otherwise unsupported by the evidence. “Make the punishment validate the fictional crime” as the Red Queen might say.


Since 9/11, we have spent approximately $1 trillion on Intelligence. Have we gotten our money’s worth? If not – why? You decide.

In the Spring of 2008, legislation to extend the broad powers of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FSIA) was before the Congress. Senator Barack Obama made strongly worded comments committing himself to opposing it – indeed, to filibuster against it. When the bill came up in June, he voted in favor. Responding to criticism of his volte-face, he wrote an open letter disparaging his critics as ‘my left-wing friends’. Three months earlier, he too had been one of those distained left-wingers. That was an augury of things to come.  


Right then it should have been obvious what manner of man was on the threshold of the White House. Such is our capacity for self-delusion that even today, 11 years later, I know of no public figure of the Democratic persuasion who is prepared to hold Obama to account. Yet they are free and easy with their denunciation of Edward Snowden – the villain, the traitor.

In the wake of the Snowden revelations, President Obama assured the country that “no one is listening to your phone calls”. It was a bald-faced lie.



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