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…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.
"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."
"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.