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.

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Filed Under: china, edward snowden, nsa, russia


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Feb 2014 @ 9:18am

    I hold to a different theory.

    Snowden gave all his intel to the Norwegian intelligence agency, but, being intelligent, the Norwegians found the info to be so ordinary, so pedestrian - that US agencies are dicks, not out of meanness but just because they can be dicks, knowledge that only some americans find astonishing - that they threw all that stuff into a dumpster. The Chinese and Russians recovered the intel and are using it to swap jokes - how many NSA agents does it take to change a lightbulb, that sort of thing.

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