Newly Obtained Documents Prove: Key Claim of Snowden’s Accusers is a Fraud

https://theintercept.com/2017/03/21/newly-obtained-documents-prove-key-claim-of-snowdens-accusers-is-a-fraud/

For almost four years, a cottage industry of media conspiracists has devoted itself to accusing Edward Snowden of being a spy for either Russia and/or China at the time he took and then leaked documents from the National Security Agency. There has never been any evidence presented to substantiate this accusation. In lieu of evidence, the propagators of this accusation have relied upon the defining tactic of tawdry conspiracists everywhere: relentless repetition of rumor and innuendo based on alleged inconsistencies until it spreads far enough through the media ecosystem to take on the appearance of being credible. In this case, there was one particular fiction – about where Snowden spent his first 11 days after arriving in Hong Kong – which took on particular significance for this group. They insist that Snowden, contrary to what he has always maintained, did not check into the Mira Hotel on May 21, 2013, the day after he arrived in Hong Kong. Instead, they assert, he checked-in only on June 1, which means Snowden has 11 “unaccounted-for” days from the time he arrived in Hong Kong until he met with journalists at the Mira in the beginning of June. They have repeatedly leveraged this Missing Eleven Days into the insinuation that Snowden used this time to work with his Russian and/or Chinese handlers in preparation for meeting the U.S. journalists in Hong Kong. While such reckless conspiracy-mongering is often relegated to online fringes, this accusatory fable found its way to the nation’s mainstream journalistic venues: the Wall Street Journal, Slate, Yahoo News, Lawfare, Business Insider; these media conspiracists were subsequently joined by several former officials of the intelligence community now embedded in the pundit class in affirming this tale. These outlets have repeatedly laundered and thus sanctioned the tale of the Missing Eleven Days, despite its utter lack of any journalistic basis. Most remarkably, these conspiracists were permitted by these media outlets to repeat this lie about Snowden’s Missing Eleven Days over and over, all in service of suggesting that he was acting as an agent of a foreign power, despite the fact that even top intelligence officials who loathe Snowden have repeatedly said that they do not believe – and have seen no evidence to suggest – that he worked with any foreign government, including Russia. Obama’s own acting CIA Director Michael Morell told the Daily Beast’s Shane Harris in 2015: My own view on this question is that both Chinese and Russian intelligence officers undoubtedly pitched him—offering him millions of dollars to share the documents he had stolen and to answer any questions they had about the NSA and CIA. But my guess is that Snowden said, “No, thank you,” given his mind-set and his clear dislike for intelligence services of any stripe. The NSA’s second-highest official at the time of the Snowden leak, Chris Inglis, was similarly clear that no such evidence exists: NSA’s Deputy Director on the "Russian Spy" theory:https://t.co/BrRNo4zExx — Edward Snowden (@Snowden) June 13, 2016 But these media conspiracists have gotten away with this fable of the Missing Eleven Days in Hong Kong and similar tales because their core assertions were deliberately designed to be insusceptible to being affirmatively disproven. Because their accusatory story rests on claims of invisible and hidden events, they could not be exposed as frauds with definitive documentary evidence – until now. Newly obtained documents conclusively prove that the central tale invented by these Snowden-accusing commentators is a wholesale fabrication. These documents negate the edifice on which this entire fiction has been based from the start. The campaign to depict Snowden as a Russian or Chinese spy has centrally depended upon the accusation that he is lying about how he spent his first 11 days in Hong Kong. Snowden’s version of events has never changed from the very first interview we published with him at the Guardian: on May 20, 2013, he boarded a flight from Honolulu to Hong Kong, checked into the Mira Hotel on May 21 under his own name, and then stayed continuously in Room 1014 at the Mira as he waited for the arrival of the journalists with whom he was working, paying for the room with his own credit cards. As the journalists working on the Snowden documents, Laura Poitras and I arrived in Hong Kong on June 2, and spent the next eight days working with Snowden in Room 1014 at the Mira. Snowden thus stayed continuously at the Mira from May 21, the day after he arrived Hong Kong, until June 10, when he left due to the media craze triggered by our Guardian article revealing his identity. But this group of accusatory journalists has repeatedly accused Snowden of lying about this time-line. They insist that Snowden checked into the Mira Hotel for the first time only on June 1: eleven days after he claims he did. They have thus spent years discussing the significance of what they ominously refer to as “The Missing Eleven Days.” This sinister Missing Eleven Days has become key to the tale they have woven to prove Snowden is a spy. But that claim is an outright lie, and always has been. Documents now provided by the Mira Hotel to Snowden’s lawyers in Hong Kong prove the truth of exactly what Snowden has always said: that he checked into the Mira Hotel on May 21 and stayed there, under his own name, continuously through June 10. Snowden’s original reservation, made through booking.com, confirms that the check-in date was always May 21, and the reservation was originally scheduled for 10 nights (check-out on May 30). The hotel records confirm he arrived and checked-in on May 21, staying continually for the full reservation. Once that reservation ended, he extended it for one more day, then made another 10-day reservation through booking.com with a check-out date of June 13, and stayed continually through June 10, when he checked out. These newly obtained documents (all of which are available here and here) thus conclusively prove that the accusatory fable repeated and circulated over and over in U.S. mainstream media outlets – that Snowden did not check into the Mira prior to June 1 and thus cannot account for the mysterious Missing Eleven Days in Hong Kong – is a falsehood. Despite its utter falsity, it is hard to overstate how continually this lie was repeated in mainstream outlets until it metastasized into Truth among a certain set of journalists and pundits obsessed with the claim that Snowden worked for the Russians and/or Chinese governments. Editors at leading U.S. media outlets continually allowed this tale to be published even though there was never any evidence to suggest that Snowden was lying. It became their give-us-the-real-birth-certificate foundation for the conspiracy web about Snowden they have spent years spinning. That Snowden checked into the Mira only on June 1 was first asserted by a Wall Street Journal article published on June 10, 2013 – the day after we first revealed Snowden’s identity in the Guardian. The article made this claim in passing, with no basis identified. It did not remotely suggest that Snowden had lied: to the contrary, it seems to be a case where reporting on rapidly unfolding events sloppily but innocuously mis-stated what seemed at the time to be an ancillary fact: the date on which Snowden checked into the Mira Hotel. Alternatively, the reporter may have spoken with a clerk who looked only at Snowden’s most recently renewed reservation form (which began on June 1) rather than the first one Snowden signed upon checking in on May 21. Either way, nobody ever tried to vest the WSJ’s mis-reporting about the check-in date with significance until a year later when the paper’s op-ed page writer, Edward Jay Epstein, seized on what he thought was a critical discrepancy to build a sprawling, accusatory conspiracy theory that he ultimately parlayed into a book, a central theme of which is that Snowden systematically lied about this key event. Epstein repeatedly cited this Missing Eleven Days to suggest that Snowden could have been in cahoots with a foreign government. The first time he implied this was in a June 29, 2014 WSJ column, when he made these claims: From May 20, the day he landed, to May 31, according to a source familiar with the Defense Intelligence Agency report on the Snowden affair, U.S. investigative agencies have been unable to find any credit-card charges or hotel records indicating his whereabouts. . . . Mr. Snowden would tell Mr. Greenwald on June 3 that he had been “holed up” in his room at the Mira Hotel from the time of his arrival in Hong Kong. But according to inquiries by Wall Street Journal reporter Te-Ping Chen, Mr. Snowden arrived there on June 1. I confirmed that date with the hotel’s employees. A hotel security guard told me that Mr. Snowden was not in the Mira during that late-May period and, when he did stay there, he used his own passport and credit card. So where was Edward Snowden between May 20 and May 31? Epstein, screen shot, RT interviewAll of these claims are outright lies, as proven by the documents we are publishing toady. Snowden arrived at and checked-into the Mira on May 21, not June 1. He paid for the room with his credit cards. It defies belief that some anonymous official told Epstein that “U.S. investigative agencies have been unable to find any credit-card charges or hotel records indicating his whereabouts” given that the hotel records and credit cards were all in Snowden’s name. The whole story is false. Actual journalists – ones who are careful with and care about facts – fully recognized the baselessness of this key accusation. The New York Times’ reporter Charlie Savage, recipient of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, wrote a devastating denunciation last month of Epstein’s book in the New York Review of Books, featuring the issue of the check-in date discrepancy in indicting Epstein’s conspiracy theories as hollow: [I]t is unfortunate that Epstein builds his imagined scenarios upon allegations that may not be real facts. For example, Epstein gives sinister significance to the “fact” that Snowden arrived in Hong Kong eleven days before he checked into the hotel where he met the journalists, leaving his activities during that period a mystery. Snowden has insisted that he was in that hotel the whole time, waiting for the journalists to arrive. In one of his columns written in 2014, Epstein first claimed that there was an eleven-day mystery gap, citing his conversation with an unnamed hotel security guard. I am aware of no independent verification of this allegation. So as things stand, this “fact” appears to be vaporous. In subsequent correspondence between Epstein and Savage, the New York Times reporter repeatedly points to the lack of any persuasive or substantive basis for Epstein’s Missing Eleven Days claim, while noting how central this claim has become to the accusatory herd that has assembled around this theory: I remain unaware of any other place in the public record except Epstein’s work where this June 1 claim independently appears, ranging from numerous other news articles about Snowden’s time in Hong Kong to a September 2016 report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which—seeking to counter the premiere of Oliver Stone’s movie—scoured the government’s investigative file for material to portray Snowden as a liar. Perhaps someday the Mira’s records will emerge into public view and we will have more solid information to evaluate this question. Either way, my central point remains unchanged: Epstein treated the check-in claim as a factual anchor for his insinuations about what Snowden might have been doing earlier, but at the time he wrote his book (and still today) the evidence for this claim was insufficient to establish it as a proven fact. This is part of a recurring pattern with his methodology. Those Mira records have indeed now “emerged into public view,” and they prove what was clear all along: this whole theory was invented from whole cloth. As Savage argued: “wherever one falls in the spectrum of views about Edward Snowden’s actions, Edward Jay Epstein’s book about him is not credible because it indulges in speculation, treats questionable claims as established facts, and contains numerous inaccuracies about surveillance.” Unfortunately, large parts of the U.S. media do not adhere to the basic standards of journalism Savage applied to these claims. Here, for instance, is Epstein spinning his tale on the podcast of Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes, who concluded the published podcast with people literally applauding Epstein: All of that was totally false. But as a result of this type of uncritical treatment, this utter fiction for which there was never any evidence – that Snowden checked into the Mira 11 days after he claims, thus leaving almost two weeks of unaccounted-for time in Hong Kong – was laundered over and over in service of casting Snowden as a liar and a traitor. This lie about the Missing Eleven Days was repeated so often, in so many venues, that chronicling them all is impossible. Flagging some of the most flagrant, typical offenders will thus have to suffice. One of the most aggressive disseminators of this lie is the Yahoo News reporter Michael B. Kelley, formerly of Business Insider, who has spent years repeating and mainstreaming this Missing Eleven Days fable. So how about those 11 missing days in Hong Kong? http://t.co/5xf3LyzQ5K https://t.co/eIahZ1qmja — Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) September 29, 2015 On July 20, 2014, Kelley wrote an article for Business Insider under the headline “There’s An 11-Day Hole In Snowden’s Story About Hong Kong.” It began this way: Edward Snowden says that he wanted the U.S. to know where he was after he arrived in Hong Kong. But U.S. authorities still don’t know what he did for the first 11 days after his arrival. Kelley then added this sentence, in which he called a total falsehood a fact that had been “confirmed”: “But Edward Jay Epstein of The Wall Street Journal went to Hong Kong and confirmed that Snowden didn’t check into the Mira Hotel until June 1.” Illustrating the slimy insinuations constantly attached to this falsehood, Kelley ended his article this way: “To answer the question in three words: I don’t know where he was for these 11 days,” Epstein said in an interview. “It’s very important because if we knew where he was, then we’d know who he went to see in Hong Kong.” Strangely, no one seems to know — even though Snowden says he made it obvious. Snowden did exactly this: “made it obvious” where he was in Hong Kong by checking into the Mira under his own name and using his own credit cards – precisely to prevent smear artists from retroactively insinuating that he must be a spy given his untraceable activities. Yet none of that stopped Epstein or Kelley from making the claim anyway. Kelley, during his time at Business Insider, spent years claiming that Snowden lied about these eleven days. He was rewarded with a new job working for Yahoo News chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff. Kelley continued to spread this lie under the banner of Yahoo News. periodic reminder: It is still not publicly known how Snowden spent his time in Hong Kong from May 20-June 1, 2013 https://t.co/8NqBPFeZBq — Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) November 23, 2016 Cool. So now can we talk about the initial missing 11 days in Hong Kong & the huge trove docs not given to journos? https://t.co/7LCf83hzsU — Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) May 27, 2016 Nice to see @Snowden active, though it makes me wonder about those lost 11 days in Hong Kong http://t.co/8NqBPFeZBq — Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) October 12, 2015 One thing we probably won’t learn at the ‘Citzenfour’ premiere: How Snowden spent his first 11 days in Hong Kong http://t.co/8NqBPFeZBq — Michael B Kelley (@MichaelBKelley) October 10, 2014 Snowden says he didn’t cover his tracks in Hong Kong. But no one knows where he was for the first 11 days. http://t.co/DJLglvFmbG — Business Insider (@businessinsider) July 20, 2014 On September 13, 2016, Yahoo News published what it called a “Fact Check”, written by Kelley, of Oliver Stone’s film “Snowden.” In its headline, Yahoo purported that the article documents “5 key parts of Oliver Stone’s ‘Snowden’ biopic that don’t match reality.” Yahoo continued: “As with many Stone movies that are based on real events, the director took multiple liberties with the known facts. Here are five significant inaccuracies in ‘Snowden.’” The second purported “inaccuracy” was titled “‘3 weeks’ at the Mira Hotel.” Citing Epstein, Kelley wrote: “Snowden didn’t check into the Mira Hotel until June 1, despite having arrived in the Chinese special-administrative region on May 20″ He then drew this conclusion: “If Snowden didn’t check into the Mira until June 1, he initially visited someone else in Hong Kong. Albert Ho, one of Snowden’s Hong Kong lawyers, referred to the unidentified person as Snowden’s ‘carer.’ This person’s crucial role in Snowden’s escape has never been explained.” In sum, Kelley’s editors at both Business Insider and Yahoo News allowed him to repeatedly label as “confirmed” and “fact” and “known” a claim that was, in fact, a complete falsehood. He then used that fiction as the basis to construct an elaborate conspiracy that he has spent years pushing. Then there’s Slate, which also purported to fact-check Stone’s film in the form of a column by its national security columnist Fred Kaplan, who also peddled this fable. “This much is definitely known,” proclaims Kaplan: Snowden “flew to Hong Kong on May 20 after telling his bosses that he needed to undergo tests for epilepsy, and on June 2 checked in at the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong.” Kaplan began the review by announcing that “Stone’s Snowden is a bad movie, stuffed with myth,” but it is Kaplan’s own column which is guilty of that. Then we have the Daily Beast’s Michael Weiss and former NSA employee John Schindler, who has recently become a favorite of liberals for his frenzied conspiracies about Russia. Here is how this duo took this utter lie, presented it as fact, and then used it to imply that Snowden was a Russian agent: #Snowden hung out 1st in Hong Kong, ie China, post-defection. 10 days of missing time. Where exactly was he? Just putting that out there… — John Schindler (@20committee) June 12, 2015 On June 11, 2016, Schindler wrote an article headlined “Edward Snowden is a Russian Agent.” He featured this Missing Eleven Days lie from the start: “Snowden left his job in Hawaii with the National Security Agency in May 2013 and appeared at Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel on June 1,” Schindler asserted. He continued: “significant questions remain. Where was Snowden from 21 to 31 May 2013? His whereabouts in that period are unknown.” In June, 2015, the former NSA operative similarly wrote in the Interpreter: Where was Snowden during the last ten days of May 2013, after he left Hawaii but before he checked into Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel on June 1? It smacks of naïveté to think Beijing did not expect something in return for giving Snowden sanctuary en route to Moscow. This factually false claim was so laundered and sanctioned by journalists and editors who were either malicious or reckless that it ended up getting repeated as fact even by those who meant well. In Gizmodo, for instance, Adam Clark Estes urged readers to see CitizenFour, but criticized the film for what he regarded as important omissions, such as: “Where exactly was Snowden for the 11 days before he checked into the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong?” Upon release earlier this year of Epstein’s book – which was overwhelmingly denounced by reviewers as filled with unproven conspiracy theories – this claim about Snowden’s Missing Eleven Days was repeated as fact over and over. This mixed review of Epstein’s book in the San Francisco Chronicle was typical: On May 18 [Snowden] flew to Hong Kong, where he hid at a still-unknown location for 11 days before meeting the journalists at the Mira Hotel. Epstein emphasizes how carefully Snowden arranged things, as if “pulling strings.” He insinuates there may have been a hidden hand. The lie traveled internationally, as highlighted by this sentence in one of the few favorable reviews of Epstein’s book, from Brazil’s largest newspaper, Folha de S.Paulo, written by Igor Gielow: “The fact that [Snowden] had disappeared for 11 days in Hong Kong, carrying secrets before divulging some of them to the press, remains a mystery.” Note that Snowden’s 11-day disappearance is now “a fact.” All of this culminated with this falsehood being embraced by George W. Bush’s chief of the NSA and CIA, Gen. Michael Hayden. In an unsurprisingly gushing review of Epstein’s book, Hayden cites Epstein asking: “where was Snowden during those unaccounted-for first 11 days in Hong Kong”? Where “Snowden was” during this time is exactly where he said, from the start, that he was: at the Mira Hotel (the only exception to his unbroken stay at the Mira was the very first day when Snowden arrived in Hong Kong, having made no advanced hotel reservations before leaving the U.S. so as to not alert authorities, and thus grabbed the first hotel he found online: the Icon Hotel. After staying there the first night, he moved to the Mira on May 21 and remained there for the next 21 days). Yet again we find that the same U.S. media that loves to decry Fake News and mock “the Arab World” and “Russian-state media” and InfoWars for wallowing in baseless conspiracy theories routinely peddle their own as long as the targets are the right ones. The Economist, for instance, hailed Epstein’s screed as “a meticulous and devastating account.” This episode once again shows how easily and how often mainstream media outlets in the U.S. circulate and affirm complete fictions using the most authoritative tones, and how the journalists and editors responsible for it never pay any price for doing so. For three years, we watched as this lie was launched, then took root, then spread until it became unquestionable truth, notwithstanding the fact that it lacked any basis all along, as the NYT’s Savage noted. Now that the documents have emerged proving it to be a lie, the next steps are obvious for any media outlet with integrity: retractions and accountability for those who spread such false and toxic claims so recklessly. But that qualifier – “media outlet with integrity” – is a significant one, and for that reason, it is just as likely that they will allow their falsehoods, and those who spread them, to fester, unmolested by corrective action. The post Newly Obtained Documents Prove: Key Claim of Snowden’s Accusers is a Fraud appeared first on The Intercept.

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Media ought to discover motives of WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 whistleblower

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/mar/12/media-find-out-motives-of-vault-7-whistleblower

Leak of CIA documents raises questions about what’s going on behind the scenesIn any big data leak story, the “why?” and the “who?” tend to matter as well as the “what?” We need to remember the horrors of the Afghan war that sent Chelsea Manning to WikiLeaks – and the disgust over unmonitored mass surveillance that made up Edward Snowden’s mind for him. In sum, the ideals of the whistleblower matter too, and so does the social purpose fulfilled (as when America, for example, cleaned up its act after Snowden). What, then, about “Vault 7”, the 10,000 or so CIA documents revealed via WikiLeaks last week (many of them, in the nature of things, as yet unread)? What was the leaker so exercised about? TV sets secretly monitoring the front parlour, a kind of Gogglebox in reverse? Continue reading…

Former CIA Analyst Sues Defense Department to Vindicate NSA Whistleblowers

https://theintercept.com/2017/02/10/former-cia-analyst-sues-defense-department-to-vindicate-nsa-whistleblowers/

In 2010, Thomas Drake, a former senior employee at the National Security Agency, was charged with espionage for speaking to a reporter from the Baltimore Sun about a bloated, dysfunctional intelligence program he believed would violate Americans’ privacy. The case against him eventually fell apart, and he pled guilty to a single misdemeanor, but his career in the NSA was over. Though Drake was largely vindicated, the central question he raised about technology and privacy has never been resolved. Almost seven years have passed now, but Pat Eddington, a former CIA analyst, is still trying to prove that Drake was right. While working for Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., Eddington had the unique opportunity to comb through still-classified documents that outline the history of two competing NSA programs known as ThinThread and Trailblazer. He’s seen an unredacted version of the Pentagon inspector general’s 2004 audit of the NSA’s failures during that time, and has filed Freedom of Information Act requests. In January, Eddington decided to take those efforts a step further by suing the Department of Defense to obtain the material, he tells The Intercept. “Those documents completely vindicate” those who advocated for ThinThread at personal risk, says Eddington. The controversy dates back to 1996, when Ed Loomis, then a computer systems designer for the NSA, along with his team worked to move the NSA’s collection capabilities from the analog to the digital world. The shift would allow the NSA to scoop up internet packets, stringing them together into legible communications, and automating a process to instantly decide which communications were most interesting, while masking anything from Americans. The prototype, called GrandMaster, would need to ingest vast amounts of data, but only spit out what was most valuable, deleting or encrypting everything else. Then in the fall of 2001, four passenger airliners were hijacked by terrorists as part of a suicide plot against Washington, D.C., and New York City. The U.S. intelligence community faced a disturbing wakeup call: its vast collection systems had failed to prevent the attacks. Yet, in response, the NSA simply started collecting more data. The NSA sent out a bid to multiple defense contractors, seeking a program that could collect and analyze communications from phones and the internet. Science Applications Internal Corporation, or SAIC, won the contract, known as Trailblazer. Meanwhile, internally, NSA employees were developing a similar, less costly alternative called ThinThread, a follow-on to GrandMaster. ThinThread would collect online communications, sort them, and mask data belonging to Americans. Those involved in ThinThread argue that their approach was better than a collect-it-all approach taken by NSA. “Bulk collection kills people,” says Bill Binney, a former NSA analyst, who rose to be a senior technical official with a dream of automating the agency’s espionage. “You collect everything, dump it on the analyst, and they can’t see the threat coming, can’t stop it,” he says. Binney built a back-end system — a processor that would draw on data collected by ThinThread, analyze it, look at whether or not the traffic was involves American citizens, and pass on what was valuable for foreign intelligence. “Bulk acquisition doesn’t work,” agrees Kirk Wiebe, a former NSA senior analyst, who was trying to help convince NSA of ThinThread’s value at the time. The analysts are drowning in data, and Binney and Wiebe believe ThinThread would have solved the problem by helping the NSA sort through the deluge automatically while protecting privacy using encryption. But Binney and Wiebe say advocates of ThinThread hit every possible bureaucratic roadblock on the way, sitting in dozens of meetings with lawyers and lawmakers. In the meantime, Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of the NSA at the time, said he decided to fund an outside contract for a larger effort, focused on gathering all communications, not just those over the internet, as ThinThread was designed to do. Additionally, while ThinThread masked American communications, Hayden’s legal and technical advisors were concerned the collection itself would be a problem. Some of Hayden’s senior officials at the NSA came from SAIC, the company that won contract to design a proof of concept for Trailblazer. “A tiny group of people at NSA had developed a capability for next to no money at all to give the government an unprecedented level of access to any number of foreign terrorists,” Eddington says. “Instead that system was shut down in favor of an SAIC boondoggle that cost taxpayers, by my last count, close to a billion dollars.” He argues the contract, and the “incestuous” relationship between the NSA chief and the contractor never received the scrutiny it deserved. “It was clearly an ethical problem,” Loomis said. Ultimately, however, the NSA went with Trailblazer. Hayden rejected the ThinThread proposal because the intelligence community’s lawyers were concerned it wouldn’t work on a global scale, and that it would vacuum up too much American data. Hayden has continued dismissing concerns years later as the grumblings of disgruntled employees. Hayden told PBS Frontline ThinThread “was not the answer to the problems we were facing, with regard to the volume, variety and velocity of modern communications.” In 2002, Wiebe, Binney, Loomis, Drake, and Diane Roark, a Republican staffer on the House Intelligence Committee who had been advocating for ThinThread, united to complain to the Defense Department’s inspector general, arguing that ThinThread, while still a prototype, would be the best surveillance system. The oversight body completed its report in 2004, which included major concerns about Trailblazer. “We talked about going for the nuclear option,” Wiebe said, referring to discussions at the time about contacting the press. But Drake went it alone, however, never telling his colleagues what he planned to do. Stories about the disagreements started showing up in news headlines based on leaks. The Bush administration in 2007 sent the FBI after the whistleblowers, raiding each of the whistleblowers’ homes who raised complaints to the Pentagon inspector general. Drake faced espionage charges after speaking to a reporter from the Baltimore Sun about the alleged mismanagement and waste in the NSA. Though Drake wasn’t sent to prison, he lost his career in government, and now works at an Apple store. The question of whether ThinThread would have provided a better capability than Trailblazer was never resolved. While ThinThread never made it to production, some of the analytic elements, minus the privacy protections, made it into Fort Meade as part of a massive surveillance program now known as Stellar Wind. But there may be a way to settle the debate. The watchdog agency tasked with oversight of the Department of Defense completed a full investigation into the battle between ThinThread and the Trailblazer. The Pentagon inspector general published a heavily redacted version of that investigation in 2011; that report is now the only public record available, aside from the account of the whistleblowers who exposed it. Despite everything that’s come out about its surveillance programs, the NSA still won’t release the full ThinThread investigation. “I don’t really know what they’re trying to hide,” said Loomis. Loomis says he thinks those redactions were more for the sake of Hayden’s reputation than protecting real classified information. He eventually documented the saga in a self-published book called “NSA’s Transformation: An Executive Branch Black Eye.” Drake told The Intercept in an email that efforts to uncover the Pentagon inspector general’s ThinThread investigation were a large part of his defense. Since then, the Office of Special Counsel concluded last March that the Department of Justice may have destroyed evidence that might have helped exonerate him. In the meantime, however, hope is fading that the entire story of ThinThread will emerge from behind the government door of secrecy. “We’ve been trying for 15 or 16 years now to bring the U.S. government the technical solution to save lives, but they fight us left and right,” said Wiebe. Eddington says the ThinThread controversy demonstrates the lack of oversight of the intelligence community. “The mentality that gave us this system is still in place,” he says. “We could see this become de facto permanent,” he said. The post Former CIA Analyst Sues Defense Department to Vindicate NSA Whistleblowers appeared first on The Intercept.

Watch How Casually False Claims Are Published: NYT and Nicholas Lemann Edition

https://theintercept.com/2017/01/10/watch-how-casually-false-claims-are-published-nyt-and-nicholas-lemann-edition/

Like most people, I’ve long known that factual falsehoods are routinely published in major media outlets. But as I’ve pointed out before, nothing makes you internalize just how often it really happens, how completely their editorial standards so often fail, like being personally involved in a story that receives substantial media coverage. I cannot count how many times I’ve read or heard claims from major media outlets about the Snowden story that I knew, from first-hand knowledge, were a total fabrication. We have a perfect example of how this happens from the New York Times today, in a book review by Nicholas Lemann, the Pulitzer-Moore professor of journalism at Columbia University as well as a long-time staff writer for The New Yorker. Lemann is reviewing a new book by Edward J. Epstein – the long-time neocon, right-wing Cold Warrior, WSJ op-ed page writer and Breitbart contributor – which basically claims Snowden is a Russian spy. The book has been widely discredited even before its release as it is filled with demonstrable lies. The usually rhetorically restrained Bart Gellman, whose work on the Snowden story at the Washington Post won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, called the book “bad faith work,” filled with “distortions” and “baseless and bizarro claims,” several of of which he documented. I’ve documented some of the other obvious falsehoods in the book. Suffice to say, so fringe is Epstein’s conspiracy claim that even top NSA and CIA officials – who despise Snowden and have repeatedly attempted to disparage him – have rejected the book’s central conspiracy theory that Snowden has worked with the Kremlin. In 2014, Epstein, citing what he claimed a government official told him “off the record,” wrote my favorite sentence about this whole affair, one which I often quoted in my speeches to great audience laughter: “there are only three possible explanations for the Snowden heist: 1) It was a Russian espionage operation; 2) It was a Chinese espionage operation; or 3) It was a joint Sino-Russian operation.” He’s apparently now opted for Door #1. Lemann himself is highly dismissive of the book’s central accusations about Snowden, and does a perfectly fine job of explaining how the book provides no convincing evidence for its key conspiracies: Epstein proves none of this. “How America Lost Its Secrets” is an impressively fluffy and golden-brown wobbly soufflé of speculation, full of anonymous sourcing and suppositional language like “it seems plausible to believe” or “it doesn’t take a great stretch of the imagination to conclude.” Lemann’s review is worth reading to see what a farce this book is, and especially – for all those authoritarian liberal New Cold Warriors tempted to embrace the book because it smears Snowden as a Russian operative – to understand who Epstein is and the ideological agenda to which he’s long been devoted. Nonetheless, there is one statement in Lemann’s review that is misleading in the extreme, and another that that is so blatantly, factually false that it’s mind-bogging it got approved by a NYT editor and, presumably, a fact-checker. But it is worth looking at because it illustrates how easily this happens. Here’s the first one: Snowden, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and their immediate circle of allies come from a radically libertarian hacker culture that, most of the time, doesn’t believe there should be an N.S.A. at all, whether or not it remains within the confines of its legal charter. Though ambiguous about who exactly it is describing, this passages strongly implies that Snowden “doesn’t believe there should be an N.S.A. at all.” Snowden believes nothing of the kind. In fact, he believes exactly the opposite: that the NSA performs a vital function and many of their programs are legitimate and important. He has said this over and over. That’s why he wanted to work for the agency. It’s why he refused to dump all the documents he took and instead gave them to journalists, demanding that they only publish those which expose information necessary to inform the public debate: precisely because he did not want to destroy NSA programs he believes are justifiable. It’s unclear who Lemann means by Snowden’s “immediate circle of allies” but I personally have never heard anyone who qualifies as such express the cartoon view Lemann has manufactured here. What I’ve heard from both Snowden and his “immediate circle of allies” has been quite consistent: that – as is true of all countries – it is legitimate for NSA to engage in targeted surveillance (i.e., monitoring specific individuals whom a court, based on evidence, concludes are legitimate targets) but inherently illegitimate to engage in suspicion-less mass surveillance (i.e., subjecting entire populations to monitoring). Everything Snowden has said and done is the antithesis of this absolutist abolish-the-NSA view Lemann concocted (indeed, Snowden has been harshly criticized by actual radicals for being too protective and supportive of NSA’s functions, as have the journalists who worked with him for refusing to dump the whole archive). But while that passage from Lemann is misleading, his final paragraph is outright false as a clear factual matter: This time around, [Epstein’s] concern seems to be half with the celebratory closed loop between Snowden and the journalists who covered him, and half with the causes and consequences of a major security breach at the N.S.A. The heart of the matter is the second of these concerns, not the first. In the Snowden affair, the press didn’t decide what stayed secret, and neither did Congress, the White House or the N.S.A. Snowden did. This is the exact opposite of the truth. It is a fundamentally false description of what happened. Most amazingly, the New York Times knows first-hand that this claim it just published is false because of its direct involvement in reporting the Snowden archive. Not a single document that saw the light of day was published because Snowden decided it should be: literally not one. Snowden played no decision-making role whatsoever in determining which documents were published and which were withheld. What happened was exactly the opposite of what Lemann told New York Times readers: it was the press, not Snowden, which decided what stayed secret and what was reported. After giving the journalists with whom he worked the documents and asking them to withhold those which could harm innocent people or destroy legitimate programs, Snowden lost all ability to control what was and was not published. As is true of most leaks – from the routine to the spectacular – those publishing decisions rested solely in the hands of the media outlets and their teams of reporters, editors and lawyers. Every Snowden document ever published was published by a media outlet with teams of professionals, which means that not one Snowden document was ever published without multiple reporters, editors and lawyers jointly deciding that the public interest was served by its publication. The New York Times knows first hand that Lemann’s claim is false because that paper possessed a large portion of the Snowden archive, and published all of its stories without ever obtaining Snowden’s permission. Indeed, Snowden at times vehemently disagreed with the decisions made by the NYT and other outlets to publish certain material. As Snowden told Time: “There have of course been some stories where my calculation of what is not public interest differs from that of reporters, but it is for this precise reason that publication decisions were entrusted to journalists and their editors.” As the ACLU’s Ben Wizner, who represents Snowden, explained: “He didn’t want and didn’t think that he should have the responsibility to decide which of these documents should be public.” Anyone who has even casually followed this story knows this was the journalist-driven process that determined which documents got published. Ironically, the most controversial Snowden stories – the type his critics cite as the ones that should not have been published because they exposed sensitive national security secrets – were often the ones the NYT itself decided to publish, such as its very controversial exposé on how NSA spied on China’s Huawei. It was the NYT’s David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth and their editors – not Snowden – who decided that this program should be exposed. That same dynamic drove every story based on Snowden documents. Even if one wants to argue that Snowden bears some moral responsibility for exposure of this program by virtue of having made these documents available to news outlets, it is undeniably true – to reverse Lemann’s formulation – that Snowden didn’t decide what stayed secret. The press did. As the ACLU’s Wizner simply put it about Lemann’s review: “the last lines are just false.” (One great irony highlights this dynamic: in September, Perlroth – after exploiting Snowden’s leaks for her own benefit – argued that her own source should not be pardoned on the ground that he leaked documents “that had nothing to do with privacy violations.” But it was she, Nicole Perlroth – not Snowden – who decided to expose, on the front page of the NYT, the NSA’s spying activities on Huawei.) How can the New York Times allow Lemann to make such a blatantly false claim about how this reporting took place and who made the decisions about what should and should not be secret? One of the great benefits of new media – of online reporting – is that one can provide proof of one’s claims in the form of links (as I’ve done here), so that readers can determine if journalistic claims have evidentiary support. That is such a vital exercise because, as Lemann and the NYT just demonstrated, it is so often the case that the most influential media outlets publish factually false statements using the most authoritative tones. This episode illustrates yet again why everyone is well-advised not to believe assertions from any authority or institution that are unaccompanied by evidence you can see and evaluate for yourself. * * * * * As is true of many enduring news stories, there are several zombie myths associated with the Snowden story that will never die no matter how often they are debunked. Perhaps the most annoyingly persistent is that Snowden said at the start that he was only exposing privacy violations on Americans, so that one can prove he’s a liar by demonstrating that he also leaked documents pertaining to spying on foreigners. But Snowden never said anything like that. From the beginning, he always said the exact opposite: that he greatly values the privacy rights of Americans but also values the privacy rights of the 95% of the world’s population called “non-Americans.” As Snowden said in his first online interview with readers that I conducted back in June, 2013: “Suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it’s only victimizing 95 percent of the world instead of 100 percent.” That Snowden said he only wanted to expose privacy violations on Americans is just one of those falsehoods that no matter how many times you disprove it, commentators for some reason feel perfectly entitled to keep repeating it. The post Watch How Casually False Claims Are Published: NYT and Nicholas Lemann Edition appeared first on The Intercept.

Newly Declassified House Intel Report on Snowden Is “Rifled With Obvious Falsehoods”

https://theintercept.com/2016/12/23/newly-declassified-house-intel-report-on-snowden-is-rifled-with-obvious-falsehoods/

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Thursday unveiled its full 37-page report on its three-year investigation into Edward Snowden, drawing even more criticism for conclusions that have been called biased by supporters of the former NSA contractor. The report, released just days before a holiday weekend, is an extended version of a highly acerbic–and disputed–unclassified summary the committee published in September, describing the former NSA contractor as a “serial exaggerator and fabricator.” Snowden and other critics have vehemently denied the report’s conclusions. The House Committee authors allege Snowden’s concerns had more to do with petty workplace spats than moral uncertainty, citing interviews with his coworkers as well as his superiors—and suggest that he is not legally a whistleblower because he did not take advantage of internal channels available for formal complaints such as Congress and the Inspector General. Snowden quickly derided the report, which delves into his personal and professional life, often citing seemingly petty workplace grievances. He tweeted to his more than 2.5 million followers that the document is “rifled with obvious falsehoods”—citing reporting by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Barton Gellman, who has also criticized the report. The extended report, according to U.S. News & World Report, actually addresses some factual concerns critics had about the summary published in September. The original report argued Snowden overstated his injuries and lied about his education, while the full investigation includes contrary evidence. Expanding on Snowden’s career in the CIA, NSA, and the private sector as a contractor to the intelligence community, the report accuses the former systems administrator of regularly meeting with Russian intelligence agents since his arrival in Moscow, where he is currently living in exile. He fled after sharing classified documents with journalists (including Intercept co-founders Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras) detailing to the NSA’s global surveillance regime. After attempting to make his way to Ecuador, he was stranded in Russia when the U.S. revoked his passport. Snowden has said he would return home if he could have a fair trial and the right to argue a public interest defense of his actions, something not permitted under the Espionage Act. Snowden directly challenged the assertion he is in any kind of contact with Russian intelligence agents—pointing to a mistranslation in the report from a Russian ambassador. According to Snowden, NPR cut the ambassador off before he could say he was merely speculating that Snowden had provided the Kremlin with intelligence. Plus, Snowden notes, he is regularly critical of Russian policy at the risk of his own safety and security. According to the House Committee, Snowden began stealing internal documents much earlier than he has admitted, shattering his timeline of an alleged breaking point in 2013 when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper distorted information about NSA surveillance during a Congressional hearing. The report also still includes extensive redactions, including 13 “high risk” national security consequences of Snowden’s actions. Much of the report’s explanation of how Snowden took the information also remains secret. Some members of Congress celebrated the report’s declassification. “The American people have every right to know the extent of the damage Edward Snowden did to our national security, and I applaud the declassification of the House Intelligence Committee’s report,” Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., NSA and Cybersecurity Subcommittee Chair, wrote in a statement on Thursday. After challenging many points, Snowden turned to the committee’s attacks on his character: “Was I pain in the ass to work with? Perhaps; many technologists are. But this report establishes no worse.” The post Newly Declassified House Intel Report on Snowden Is “Rifled With Obvious Falsehoods” appeared first on The Intercept.