Well, it seems like we've heard an opinion on Ed Snowden from nearly everyone in the intelligence community, barring the rank-and-file. (Of course, we've been assured by "unnamed sources" and various named officials that they're all extremely irate that they've been portrayed as the collective eyeball staring through the national peephole. Curiously, we've been offered no proxy opinion on the multiple abuse incidents...)
Finally, the Inspector General of the NSA has weighed in on the Snowden situation, and his comments are indistinguishable from any other die-hard NSA defender's.
During a day-long conference at the Georgetown University Law Center, Dr. George Ellard, the inspector general for the National Security Agency, spoke for the first time about the disclosures made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
In addressing the alleged damage caused by Snowden’s disclosures he compared Snowden to Robert Hanssen, a former FBI agent and convicted spy who sold secrets to the Russians.
It seems impossible for anyone connected with the national security framework to even acknowledge
that Snowden's intentions might be exactly what he's repeatedly stated they are: to inform the public about the NSA's pervasive surveillance efforts. He's never compared to other whistleblowers. Instead, the NSA Defense Squad compares him to infamous spies. To his credit, Ellard admits the only real
comparison between the two is the large number of documents taken.
But then Ellard adds this, which not only plays up the Snowden=spy equivalent, but also exposes a bit more of the national security mindset.
“Hanssen’s motives were venal, for cash perhaps or perhaps they were psychological, a desire to play a very, very dangerous game that is therefore very, very exciting. At the end of his career, Hanssen had almost 30 years in intelligence and counterintelligence. He knew exactly what was of value to his spy handlers and he was very specific in choosing documents to steal. He knew how to control his handlers better than they knew how to control him."
“Snowden, in contrast, was manic in his thievery, which was exponentially larger than Hanssen’s. Hanssen’s theft was in a sense finite whereas Snowden is open-ended, as his agents decide daily which documents to disclose. Snowden had no background in intelligence and is likely unaware of the significance of the documents he stole,” Ellard suggested.
It is quite possible that Snowden grabbed a bunch of documents without vetting them for "public interest," but to call his search efforts "manic" is just a cheap way to downplay both Snowden's technical skill and the agency's astounding lack of internal security.
What's more troubling is how Ellard views the press. Ellard calls the journalists Snowden gave documents to "agents," showing that he (and other national security insiders) view the world through espionage-tinted glasses. Journalists are now "agents," supposedly acting at the behest of their "handler," Edward Snowden. It's a smear thinly disguised as SIGINT shop talk -- a small-minded attempt to portray reporting leaks as a dark and nasty business.
What makes all of this more remarkable than the normal NSA defensive efforts is the fact that Ellard was Snowden's "proper channel
Ellard has been the NSA’s inspector general since 2007. In this capacity he has not spoken in a public forum before so that made what he said additionally significant. Had Snowden made the decision to report his concerns through approved NSA channels it would have been through Ellard’s office.
The route Snowden supposedly should have taken runs right through Ellard's office. And what Ellard would have given him in exchange for his concerns was a recitation of the NSA's talking points.
Ellard was asked what he would have done if Snowden had come to him with complaints. Had this happened, Ellard says would have said something like, “Hey, listen, fifteen federal judges have certified this program is okay.” (He was referring to the NSA phone records collection program.)
This offer to explain the (alleged) constitutionality of the program may have meant something if Ellard had made this statement at any point before June 2013. Delivering it now -- with all the inside information that's been uncovered since then -- is remarkably tone deaf. It shows that NSA officials still have no idea how to approach potential whistleblowers. Those in that position actually still think delivering stale talking points
will somehow dissuade someone who's truly shocked by the vast power and reach of the agency.
If you think this statement indicates Ellard's incredibly out of touch with the reality of the situation, the next assurance effort he offers removes all doubt.
“Perhaps it’s the case that we could have shown, we could have explained to Mr. Snowden his misperceptions, his lack of understanding of what we do. If not, I would have made the Senate and House Intelligence Committees open to him. Given the reaction of by some members of that committee, he would have found a welcome audience."
Really? Mike Rogers
? Dutch Ruppersberger
? Dianne Feinstein
? This is the "welcome audience" Snowden would have faced. They, like Ellard, would have rubbed his boyish head and told him not to worry about all these lawful programs he simply didn't "understand." And then they would have sent him on his way. (And, most likely, reported him to his superiors and redundantly suggested Ellard open an internal investigation.)
The "proper channels" wouldn't have given Snowden anything other than a swift ride to the "EXIT" door and some threats about just
how much of a living hell the NSA would make his life if he passed any of his knowledge on to the general public. Ellard's attitude towards Snowden shows how much hostility awaits those who find themselves unable to be good NSA company men/women. Following proper channels means being greeted with condescension, cliches and a lifetime of suspicion.