Former NSA Official Claims Snowden Set Agency Back A Decade, Tells Putin To 'Return' Whistleblower

from the mostly-fury,-some-sound,-otherwise-insignificant dept

Another former NSA official has offered his contribution to the “Snowden has destroyed the NSA” narrative. Jack Israel, former “technical director for NSA’s analysis & production directorate” has posted an op-ed at the Baltimore Sun that makes all the usual stops on the talking point circuit on its way to claiming the leaks have done “permanent damage” to the NSA.

Sept. 11th? Referenced heavily. The bulk of Israel’s op-ed recounts the agency’s actions after the Sept. 11th attacks, including its newfound interest in the internet. Rather than acknowledging the failure to collaborate that allowed a known terrorist (and 9/11 participant) to reenter the country unnoticed, Israel blames this on another, older leak.

Our sensors were trained on some of al-Qaida’s lieutenants, but there were no signs of an impending attack. Years ago, we listened to the communications of Osama bin Laden, but they went off the air when this source was leaked to the press…

So, according to Israel, the NSA decided to take a look at this new thing called the internet.

Much of the conversation the morning after focused on phone calls, a technology that NSA was long familiar with. But about 15 minutes in, someone opined, what about the Internet? This was a relatively new technology, one that some in NSA feared would cause the agency to “go blind” because of the dazzling volumes of information and endless variety of new and emerging communications modes such as chat, email, and even telephone calls over the Internet…

“How do we know they’re even using it?” the head of the data collection directorate asked. Several years ago we had sampled communications channels looking for al-Qaida and had not found a trace.

“They are,” a senior analyst responded. “They’re saying so in their phone calls.”

And the internet proved to be a huge source of data. Israel claims that “within six months,” the agency had compiled a huge terrorist database, thanks to these collections. But his recollection of this game-changing event glosses over the NSA’s apparent failure to surveil the internet. The NSA was already listening to terrorists’ calls. This much is apparent. But the terrorists were saying something and the NSA just wasn’t hearing it. Let’s repeat that last line.

“They are,” a senior analyst responded. “They’re saying so in their phone calls.”

So, if we’re to believe Israel’s take, then the NSA KNEW Al-Qaeda was “using the internet” but, until after the 9/11 attacks, didn’t do anything about it. Several years earlier it had “sampled communications,” but despite directly hearing from Al-Qaeda operatives about their internet activities, decided not to pursue that “dead end” again. I guess if we buy that story, then we can see his point about Snowden setting back the agency “ten years.” The agency apparently reacts with all the nimbleness of an oil tanker. It knew but did nothing, until it was too late.

But this isn’t the nadir of Israel’s op-ed. This interjection, hidden in parentheses towards the end of his piece, is. It’s not just stupid. It’s also poorly written.

To President Vladimir Putin: Give us Snowden. You already know everything from him.

It was made clear months ago that Snowden had completely offloaded his stash of documents before setting foot in Russia. Even if you find that hard to believe, the assumptions that Russian intelligence agencies have somehow either a.) cracked device security to gain access or b.) cracked Snowden himself to gain access are equally unbelievable. If “a” is true, then one needs to question the NSA’s inability to discover what documents have been “taken.” The “b” assumption relies heavily on other conspiracy theories, like Snowden working in conjunction with Russia or him being worked over to give up what he knows. Israel’s wording seems to suggest the latter, despite there being no indication that Putin wants Snowden around for anything more than annoying the US government. (This could change, of course, given the events in the Ukraine, and the US government’s stance against Russian intervention…)

“You already know everything from him” is a ridiculous assertion made even worse by Israel’s choice to put these exact words in that exact order. This clumsy stab at labeling Snowden a traitor follows a sentence equally abhorrent in its misrepresentation of actual events.

He and his supplicants at major press outlets here and abroad publish his revelations as if the national security of this country and the U.K. matter little.

I won’t argue the fact that Snowden’s leaks have damaged these agencies’ surveillance abilities. “Setting them back a decade” is a bit much. But the focal point of the leaks has mostly been the two agencies’ insistence on spying on their own countries. They may kick the surveillance ball back and forth to prevent directly spying on their fellow citizens, but the culture of sharing the GCHQ and the NSA have developed over the years makes this small distinction irrelevant.

The NSA’s defenders are running out of steam. They can’t seem to find any real justification for these pervasive surveillance programs and have resorted to hurling mealy-mouthed insults at Snowden and various journalistic entities from the relative safety of op-ed pages and anonymous statements.

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Comments on “Former NSA Official Claims Snowden Set Agency Back A Decade, Tells Putin To 'Return' Whistleblower”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Only a decade?

Sadly, that will likely only happen when enough countries get tired of being treated like little more than extensions of the US, and finally stand up for themselves.

When enough countries flatly and clearly tell the US ‘NO’ next time they try and force changes to the other country’s laws and government to suit USG and US corporate interests, then the imperialist drive might weaken, but as long as other countries are more than happy to screw themselves, and their citizens over, because the USG ‘asked’ them to, then they’ll continue treating other countries like crap.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Only a decade?

“When enough countries flatly and clearly tell the US ‘NO’ next time they try and force changes to the other country’s laws and government to suit USG and US corporate interests, then the imperialist drive might weaken”

Maybe. But Us history demonstrates that when this happens, our imperialist drive doesn’t weaken at all. It just gets more militaristic. We have, throughout our history, attacked nations when a) we knew we could beat them and b) they didn’t do what we want.

What the US needs is to stop being the Only Big Dog On The Block. We need a multipolar world, not a unipolar world. The longer we are in this position, the farther into despotism we fall.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Only a decade?

Being in a bipolar world with the USSR is what gave the US the impetus to build itself up to the point it is now. A new major threat would simply unite the country in further expansion of the military and intelligence apparatuses. What the US needs is to collapse under its own onerous weight which IMO we’re starting to see right now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Increasingly there are calls to investigate the GCHQ and it’s methods for finding out how much is actually legal and to discuss what should be done to pull them back.

While it seems to be occurring a bit slower here, yes the same thing is in action and can’t be stonewalled forever. Not only is political pressure building to make changes but corporate and big money are pushing for the same. They are seeing the beginnings of leaving them out of lucrative contracts and sales, simply because they are in the US and can not guarantee security of information no matter what they promise against the laws being used to reveal the same to those security agencies.

Make no mistake, being left out of the running for sales and contracts will be expensive, extremely so given the nature of global business. A $4 billion dollar contract is gone from Brazil over it. Many are now questioning why the US should have so much control over all things internet, seeing as no one can trust them not to violate privacy issues. This will continue with increasing strength until the US can prove it no longer does this. To do so will mean a total revamping of privacy laws as well as calling all the security branches to heel. At this point we are a long ways from that.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Many are now questioning why the US should have so much control over all things internet”

As well they should. The US abused its position.

“This will continue with increasing strength until the US can prove it no longer does this.”

Which is something that is literally impossible to do. The closest we could come is for a long time to go by without any sign of misbehavior.

Trust, once lost, is very difficult — and sometimes impossible — to regain.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Tells Putin To ‘Return’ Whistleblower”

They’re still harping about trying to get him back? Still can’t accept the fact that they lost? I thought they finally got over this. Give it up already, you lost. What sore losers. They have to turn everything into an issue of them getting their way and they are so insistent on getting their way completely that when they fail to they have an indefinite temper tantrum.

Kronomex (profile) says:

“In 1990 we heard that terrorists were using something called “telephones” and as such these “telephones” could mean the end of the tin can and string monitoring system we currently employ. We should look at instituting this new technology as soon as possible. On another note; we have heard talk of using connected computers more sophisticated than our Apple Abacus system (please note that the 1990 blue and red beads will be available for upgrades within three months) Mark 1 being used for communications. Be assured that there is no evidence for this ever happening.”

limbodog (profile) says:

>The NSA’s defenders are running out of steam

No, not at all. They have all the time in the world. Just be wishy washy and lie until this loses the public interest. Nothing changes, and you go back to what you’re doing. The US Congress and POTUS have indicated that they have absolutely no intention of changing the status quo. That lying to them is fine, if you do so in the name of “intelligence gathering” or “fighting terror”.

So I have to disagree. A lack of steam is not their problem. The only thing they have to fear is public outrage, which has never reached very high on this.

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