The revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) obtaining the telephone and internet records of Americans is and should be disturbing – until the full course of facts are known. The more paranoid among us are likely heading off to Homing Pigeons R Us or stocking up on cans and miles of string. But that’s understandable.
To the civil liberties purists, this is proof that the government wants to control us. To the conservative population, it’s more evidence of Barack Obama’s Stalinist intent. To liberals, this is another right wing attack on their beloved POTUS.
Actually, it’s none of these.
Given the seriousness of these current events, it is necessary to look at what information is available and study it carefully. So far, the knee-jerk outrage is dominating the conversation and the reputation of an agency that has provided security and safety to the nation for over 60 years is being damaged without warrant.
In the last decade, there have been five people touted as NSA “whistleblowers;” Bill Binney, Tom Drake, Adrienne Kinne and David Murfee Faulk and, now, Edward Snowden.
It would violate an oath for me to discuss Binney and Drake, but I will say that neither of them are the noble, conscience-driven patriots they’ve been made out to be. Kinne and Faulk were intercept operators appalled that NSA was intercepting the calls of armed forces personnel in the Middle East. This story died quickly as the public realized the true nature and intent of those intercepts as a standard and cautionary practice to diminish the potential of security breaches from war zones.
Snowden, based on accounts in the press – the only information I have seen or am aware of – is nothing more than an opportunistic loser. More on him later.
Consider that NSA, founded in 1952, has employed tens of thousands, no doubt hundreds of thousands of civilian, military and contractor personnel in those 61 years. Online speculation suggest as many as 30,000 people are NSA-associated at any given time, so it would not be overreaching to use, as an estimate, 500,000 in the course of its history. And, of course, this dosn’t include the tens of thousands of foreign, private industry and academic partners and members of Congress – and their staffers.
Out of well more than a half a million people, five – FIVE – have had suffered such moral indignity to become “whistleblowers.” That would be .00001%. It is more than reasonable to expect that, given the diverse and eclectic nature of the NSA population, including those not in its employ but privy to its work, in 61 years a substantially higher percentage of individuals would have blown the metaphoric whistle. But that is not the case. It’s one one hundred-thousandths – or less since I’ve used a very conservative estimate of total employees.
One one of that miniscule number is Edward Snowden, the current poster child for privacy and citizen rights.
There are holes – damaging holes – in the Edward Snowden story. This self-styled “whistleblower” is being hailed as a hero by those who either choose to ignore the obvious or are not smart enough to notice it.
A high school, community college and military drop-out, Snowden apparently could do no more than an “equivalency degree” in three years between 1999 and 2005. He was gone from the Army reserves in four months, claiming he was discharged after he broke his legs in an accident. An Army spokesman said he could not comment on Snowden’s claim that he broke his legs in training because it involved medical records. Ironic, isn’t it? His medical records are sacred, yet …
Snowden has stated that he was a security guard at NSA – which would have been with a contractor – before working as “information technology” with the CIA. I’ll stop here because this brings up a critical point.
When people claim they did certain things with certain intelligence agencies, we – primarily the news organizations – pretty much take them at their word. This is because the CIA, NSA, DIA and all the other Secret Sisters will not confirm or offer what present or former employees did. There are approved resumes that are very generic, but those resumes won’t say “covert officer,” “field operative” or anything else beyond the very basics. With Edward Snowden, we really do not know what he did for whom.
He says the CIA stationed him in Geneva in 2007 (will Langley confirm?) and that he left two years later. Why? Sounds like a pretty nice gig to me.
According to reports, Snowden said he left the CIA in 2009 to work for private contractors Dell and Booz Allen. It was with Booz Allen that he got assigned to NSA offices in Japan and Hawaii. If this story didn’t already, things begin to smell.
Booz Allen said he has been an employee since March. According to the timeline, in three months, Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen in both Japan and Hawaii.
Snowden told The Guardian he had access to the full rosters of everyone working at NSA, the entire intelligence community and undercover assets around the world. This is a lie. Snowden may have had access to NSA’s in-house directory and, possibly those of some agencies, but he was NOT privy to “everyone” or the “entire” community and he sure as Hell didn’t get the names of “undercover assets around the world.” Such information is highly compartmentalized as is much of what Snowden alludes to know. One of the IC’s handling instructions such as NOFORN (Not for Foreign Dissemination) is one that specifically eliminates contractors from having access. As a contractor, there is quite a bit of information unavailable to Edward Snowden.
Snowden told The Guardian he made about $200,000 a year. Therein another curiosity to the story. This would have an un-degreed high-school dropout making as much as the highest paid Senior Executives in government.
Here is the Office of Personnel Management pay scale for Hawaii. It tops out at $151,000. And that grade, 15, is not possible to attain without a college degree. I don’t know what Booz Allen’s pay scale is, and I’m sure there are cost of living provisions for high-dollar Oahu, but $200 grand is a bit steep.
I’ve not found specifics about his life or work in Japan or by whom he was employed, but we now know that he went to Hawaii, at least, with the intent to collect and leak classified documents.
In January, Snowden reached out to a documentary filmmaker and journalist, Laura Poitras, and they began to correspond. In mid-February, he sent an email to Greenwald, who lives in Brazil, suggesting he might want to set up a method for receiving and sending encrypted emails. He even made a YouTube video for Greenwald, to take him step-by-step through the process of encryption.
TIME AND PLACE
So Edward Snowden hops off to Hong Kong to leak his story and seek asylum. The geography cannot be ignored nor can the timing. The PRISM story was published the day before President Obama began his summit in California with Chinese President Xi.
For years, the U.S. Intelligence Community, led by the National Security Agency, has been warning the government about Chinese government-sponsored hacking and other intrusions into American information systems. There is no speculation about Chinese government involvement; it has been proven. For this story to break at the same time the two President’s are meeting is just too delicious a coincidence.
A simple internet search on “China cyber warfare” will deliver to your browsers over two million hits. We are, without possible doubt, at war and in this digital conflict, the People’s Republic of China fears the National Security Agency far more than they do our nuclear arsenal.
The “revelations” by Edward Snowden, hiding in China, are working to discredit NSA and has the potential to diminish the greatest threat to our adversaries – be they governments or terrorists.
There is already an outcry about attacking the messenger, but the questions MUST be asked; Why did Edward Snowden do what he did? How accurate are his allegations?
Coming in Part 2: THE DATA