If Russian And Chinese Intelligence Could Supposedly Get Access To Snowden's Documents So Easily, Why Couldn't The NSA Figure Out What He Has?

from the allegations-are-great-if-you-never-have-to-prove-them dept

Democracy Now! recently hosted a debate between ardent NSA supporter Stewart Baker and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. The entire debate is worth watching/reading (a full transcript is provided) but Baker's opening statement reiterated a claim some NSA supporters have made in an effort to portray Snowden as at least an accidental traitor, if not a more deliberate conspirator.

What Edward Snowden did was quite deliberately change jobs to gather as much, perhaps millions of documents, from as many places as he could around the National Security Agency, but involving other agencies, as well. He stored them on a computer and handed them out to—who exactly, we don’t know, but certainly to journalists, and with controls that probably make it likely that sophisticated intelligence agencies have been able to get access to them, and allowed them to be disclosed at the journalists’ discretion, more or less with some guidance from Snowden.
Now, Baker may have misspoken when he said "sophisticated intelligence agencies have been able to get access to [the documents]," but if so, he was never questioned about it. The mention of "controls" would seem to indicate he meant "haven't" instead of "have" (it's "have" in both the transcript and the video), but its not as though this -- that the Chinese/Russians obtained access with or without Snowden's permission -- hasn't been heavily implied before. (And Baker does follow it by stating that the leaks damaged the NSA's ability to "keep an eye on Iranian and North Korean and Chinese and Russian operations.")

Reporter Kurt Eichenwald declared back in November that Snowden "left all of his documents in Hong Kong" and implied the whistleblower was working with the Chinese government. A former NSA official claimed Snowden was a Russian spy and was working in concert with Russian intelligence and Wikileaks to hand over his documents to the Russians. Others have speculated that Snowden's security measures had been subverted the moment he set foot in Hong Kong/Russia.

Back in the real world, the NSA still admits it has no idea what Snowden has in his possession. (Or, rather, what's been distributed to journalists around the world. Snowden apparently "divested" himself of his "holdings" before heading to Russia.)

The underlying implication of these claims is that even with Snowden trying to protect the documents, it's likely that intelligence agencies in these two countries were able to gain access. That claim is either a) ridiculous or b) an indictment of the NSA's internal security and hacking prowess.

If we're to believe the Russians or Chinese gained access before Snowden unloaded the document trove, the question becomes why hasn't the NSA -- arguably the top intelligence agency in the world -- been able to gain access? After all, our spycraft is the best spycraft and the NSA's tools are apparently some of the best in the world. And yet, even with an inside track -- its own internal systems -- the NSA still can't figure out what Snowden grabbed.

If the NSA can't get to Snowden, then it's unlikely any other intelligence agency did either. This puts those pushing this narrative in the position of claiming Snowden worked directly with foreign intelligence agencies to provide them with sensitive documents, an assertion that few of the NSA's most fervent supporters are reluctant to make.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: china, edward snowden, nsa, russia

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 Feb 2014 @ 12:54pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I really doubt they have any idea what exactly he grabbed actually, considering how many blatantly false statements they've put out, statements that were almost immediately shown to be lies with the next release of info on their actions.

    You do not flatly state 'I have not done X', when you know the other person has evidence to the contrary, and they've been burned on that several times, which is why they've moved to general statements with no hard yes/no's on what they've done.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.