Snowden Accuses UK Gov't Of Leaking Documents He Never Leaked To Make Him Look Bad

from the a-bad-game-of-chess dept

The UK's Independent newspaper today had an "exclusive" article, in which they claim that documents from Ed Snowden's leaks revealed a secret internet surveillance base in the Middle East run by the UK government. There's just one problem. While the article implies (though does not state) that it got those documents from Snowden, Snowden says he's never talked to nor given anything to The Independent. Instead, he argues, that he's worked carefully with key journalists (namely, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman) to make sure that the things they publish don't reveal anything that might put anyone in danger. Snowden suggests, instead, that this is the UK government itself releasing this information in an attempt to "defend" the detention of David Miranda.
I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.

It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post's disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.
If you read the Independent's coverage carefully, they never actually claim they got the documents from Snowden, even if they leave that impression. Instead, they claim that "information on [the base's] activities was contained in the leaked documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden." In other words, they got that information from someone else -- almost certainly the UK government. And, yes, that's convenient timing for the UK government to claim that some of the documents that Snowden downloaded might contain useful information to terrorists, so that they can then turn around and argue that they detained Miranda and took all of his electronics (and destroyed a Guardian hard drive) to avoid having this information "fall into the hands of terrorists."

The Independent article also implies that the UK government is afraid that Greenwald is going to start revealing this type of info in response to the Miranda detention, even though there's no basis to believe that all. Greenwald has been quite careful so far not to reveal any information that puts anyone at risk, so it's odd to believe that he'd start doing so now. Of course, it's fairly bizarre since the Independent story itself contains tons of details -- the kinds of details that Greenwald has avoided.

If Snowden's assertion is correct -- and it does seem like the most plausible argument at this point -- then it highlights the ridiculous lengths to which the UK government is going: releasing potentially damaging information that Snowden himself has avoided revealing just to suggest that Snowden was leaking damaging information. Incredible.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Aug 2013 @ 10:37am

    And another thing...

    The implied assumption in all of this posturing is that Snowden is the only leak vector.

    But that's ridiculous. Snowden just happened to be the one that's talking to Greenwald et.al. The other leak vectors aren't talking to journalists: they're reporting to Beijing and Moscow and Tehran and elsewhere because that's their job.

    Look, Snowden was a low-level contractor. He's not a trained espionage agent. And yet he walked out with enough material to OMG ENDANGER NATIONAL SECURITY OMG OMG!

    Well, at least per some government officials (who are lying) and some commentators (who are idiots).

    But if we accept that ridiculous premise, for just a moment, and grant that Snowden is sitting on a whole bunch of sensitive material, then we must ask: how much material have the professionals managed to exfiltrate from the same operations?

    After all, they're trained to do this sort of thing. They've spent years or decades on it, positioning themselves and gaining access. And no doubt their spymasters are careful about how they use the information, lest they provide a clue that what they have and how they got it. They should be and most likely are doing a waaaay better job of this than Snowden did.

    Please don't tell me this isn't happening. Of course it is. They spy, we spy, everybody spies on each other. And given that the chimps in the US still use lie-detector tests to screen employees...well, let's just that their chances of nailing a competent spy before he/she goes to work for the NSA or CIA or FBI aren't very good. But that's okay, because the same thing is true in other countries, where Americans are working inside their intelligence services and funneling info back to Washington.
    And this is before we even get to bribery and blackmail, affairs and deceptions, screwups and lost laptops, and all the other ways that country A's "secrets" become country B's "oh that's interesting". (And let's not forget secondary leakage: if country C's agent happens to be in the room when country B is reviewing country A's secrets, now country C knows too.)

    So let's stop pretending that Snowden is the only or even the most important leak vector. There are too many people with access to too many "secrets". I wouldn't be surprised at all if the total volume of information Snowden's shared with Greenwald is insignificant compared to what leaks out every week, one way or another.

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