Snowden Author’s Tall Tale: NSA Was Deleting His Book — While He Typed It

FILED TO: Headline Articles

Of all the weird developments we’ve covered in the ongoing story of Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency files he leaked to Glenn Greenwald and others, it’s unlikely anything will ever top an article in The Guardian this week in terms of weirdness and, frankly, total crapola.

Luke Harding, the author of the new book titled The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man, published an item in The Guardian on Thursday detailing his bizarre adventures while writing the book. The headline: “Writing The Snowden Files: ‘The paragraph began to self-delete.'”

Yes, Harding wrote that while authoring paragraphs for the book that were particularly critical of NSA, the words began to mysteriously delete as if an unseen “divine” entity (we’re supposed to believe that it’s either the NSA or its British counterpart, the GCHQ) was pressing the delete key on his keyboard.

I was writing a chapter on the NSA’s close, and largely hidden, relationship with Silicon Valley. I wrote that Snowden’s revelations had damaged US tech companies and their bottom line. Something odd happened. The paragraph I had just written began to self-delete. The cursor moved rapidly from the left, gobbling text. I watched my words vanish. When I tried to close my OpenOffice file the keyboard began flashing and bleeping.

Over the next few weeks these incidents of remote deletion happened several times. There was no fixed pattern but it tended to occur when I wrote disparagingly of the NSA. All authors expect criticism. But criticism before publication by an anonymous, divine third party is something novel. I began to leave notes for my secret reader. I tried to be polite, but irritation crept in. Once I wrote: “Good morning. I don’t mind you reading my manuscript – you’re doing so already – but I’d be grateful if you don’t delete it. Thank you.” There was no reply.

I know, right? Let’s not beat around the bush here. This is total bullshit.

Several things about Harding’s tall tale.

1) Earlier in the story, Harding discussed his trip to Rio to meet with Greenwald. Out of nowhere a mysterious character, a stranger named “Chris,” approached Harding and asked if he’d like to go sightseeing. Chris, Harding deducted, was a CIA agent. It’s bizarre that a total stranger would ask to go sightseeing with another total stranger, but it’s entirely possible “Chris” was attracted to Harding and was merely asking him out. It’s also possible that Harding was making it up. We have no reason to take him at his word, given the climax of the story.

2) Reacting to the Rio escapade, Harding stated quite clearly that he would disconnect his computer from the internet while working. If so, there’s no way anyone would be able to remotely take over his computer.

3) If an NSA agent had infiltrated Harding’s laptop, why wouldn’t he or she simply delete the files? Seems like a rather obvious move to delete words that Harding was in the process of typing.

4) Harding wrote: “the keyboard began flashing and bleeping.” Indeed there are keyboards that light up, but keyboards simply do not “bleep.” Computers bleep, but not keyboards. I’ll let this one slide, though, because laptop speakers are near the keyboard (though still not the keyboard itself).

5) Speaking of laptops, Harding again repeated the claim that The Guardian‘s Snowden files were being kept on “laptops.” No mention of the desktop PC parts on display in the video that was posted smack in the middle of Harding’s new article. Why do reporters and editors from The Guardian continuously write that the files were kept on laptops, when nearly all of the destroyed computer parts shown are from desktop PCs? Regarding this item and #4, we have to ask again: how are these technologically illiterate people allowed to report on an issue that’s all about technology?

6) It’s hilarious that Harding began writing messages to the invisible deletion gremlin inside his laptop.

7) The simplest explanation is that his delete key was sticking. This happens all the time. Food gets in there; keys get worn after a while (even space age light-up ones); any number of reasonable explanations that should’ve been at the top of Harding’s list before ever reaching NSA or the GCHQ. Funny enough, in the comments under Harding’s article, the sole “Guardian Pick” comment was, “… Or you’ve got a bit of cheese stuck under the delete key of your laptop.” Could it be that other staffers from The Guardian think this is bullshit? Maybe.

8) If this had happened to me, I would’ve grabbed my phone and taken a video of it, especially if I was mental enough to believe it was a government spy. After all, Harding’s ostensibly a journalist tasked with gathering information and documentary evidence. But no. No video.

9) How does the cursor move “rapidly from the left, gobbling text?” The cursor only moves left-to-right when words are being typed, not deleted. UPDATE: A reader in the comments noted that perhaps Harding kept accidentally hitting the “Insert” key, which would delete words “from the left” as he typed them.

Ultimately, if this doesn’t totally destroy whatever credibility The Guardian had left, I don’t know what will. The story has been continually accompanied by a not-so-subtle Alex Jones, paranoid, tinfoil-hat vibe from the beginning, but this is unmitigated InfoWars hokum. There’s no evidence here. None. Like many of the other NSA stories, this article is full of conspiratorial leaps of logic, misleading claims and outright nonsense. Again, how are we expected to believe anything published in The Guardian any more?


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  • CL Nicholson

    What’s sadder than this cloak and dagger gibberish is that once respected left of center news organizations like Democracy Now! are reporting on this nonsense as if the GHCQ doesn’t have better things to do than troll some random Guardian reporter.

  • vp

    Excellent article Bob.

  • ronbo

    If you hate your Constitutional rights, please comment. Excellent movement to the right; The NSA is now our best friend ever, ever, ever.

  • WiscoJoe

    It’s probably the same people that ‘hacked’ Sharyl Attkisson…

  • Gunnut2600

    So now the CIA operates from the universe based on the god awful film “Hackers”.

    I swear to god these people are morons. Its no different than 911 assholes basing their theories off their inability to understand simple physics and structural mechanics.

  • ultraviolet_uk

    “Again, how are we expected to believe anything published in The Guardian any more?”

    Which is why I stopped buying it when it became apparent to me what a complete abandonment of basic journalistic principles this whole sorry saga entailed.

  • Dago T

    2-word solution: Paper, pencil.

    • Bob Cesca

      What is paper, pencil? Do they have Angry Birds?

  • HilaryB

    I can’t help but feel a little sorry for people like this.

    • Bob Cesca

      Yeah. But then I think about what they’re up to and what they’re doing to journalism and I want to write ten more articles about this crapola.

      • HilaryB

        I do enjoy reading your articles about it.

  • Schneibster

    My keyboard occasionally gets stuck and won’t type an a or a j, or starts typing ts and won’t stop.

    I probably need to buy a can of air and blow it out while I’m vacuuming it.


  • condew

    The NSA conspiracy nuts are discrediting themselves. Good.

    • Bob Cesca

      If this was an isolated incident, it could be forgiven, but it’s practically every time.

      • ronbo

        Practically every time? You really need to read more.

  • kfreed

    Ya know, the Guardian was once a respectable news source before Greenwald got hold of it.

    Wasn’t Chez just asking what will become of Matt Taibbi, now in the Greenwaldian fold (“swallowed by the Vampire Squid”)? Here is your answer.

  • kfreed

    Oh brother. Or should I say, Oh Dudbro:(

    And we wonder why this whole NSA thing sounds so Alex Jones-ey in the hands of the Greenwaldians.

    I missed this when it came out (that’ll teach me to go on vacation). Did you know?…

    “The Koch brothers want you to hack for freedom”

    “The goal of the hackathon: ‘promoting liberty with the use of technology … Whether promoting individual privacy or protecting economic freedom, this event will be
    the first of its kind to hack on various sources of data for a chance towin $5000 in cash.”

    “Perhaps burned by the uproar among his work colleagues, the organizer of
    the hackathon, StumbleUpon engineer Aaron Ginn (a veteran of the Romney
    campaign), was careful not to mention some of the more inflammatory
    political causes pushed by the Koch brothers, such as their intense
    opposition to climate change activism, when he was interviewed by NPR.
    Instead, Ginn mentioned “immigration reform, and protecting your data
    from the NSA.”

    The Libertarian idea of “economic freedom” (besides privatization and deregulation):
    Bitcoin online drug cartel, money laundering, illegal gun sales, tax evasion, and more, using the anonymous Tor network:

    Ever since the feds busted up their Libertarian online crack house, the “NSAAAAAA!” squeals can be heard from miles away:

    You know what else Tor is used for? Ask Target:

    So, it’s kind of a “Eureka!” moment when you realize why the Koch cartel (whose Cato asshats are responsibele for the Patriot Act) and the NRA are suddenly “concerned” about our “privacy rights” and are throwing their full support behind the (anti-NSA) USA Freedom Act (besides using it as a Rand Paul fundraiser and GOTV drive):

    “Advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Rifle Association and privacy-rights group [Koch-sponsored] Stop Watching Us have all pledged their support for the legislation.”

    Bonus: in case anyone was worried that the virtual Libertarian Utopia, Silk Road, is kaput, three more online drug cartels have sprung up to take its place:

    “Sheep Marketplace”… now that there is funny, don’t care who ya are:

    And here’s where the Paulite Snowdens of the world fit into the grand Libertarian scheme:
    “Dread Pirate Roberts 2.0: An interview with Silk Road’s new boss – New leader wants Silk Road to publish gov’t secrets”

    “Freeedoooommmm!” ROFL. yeah, right. It turns out the Internets are good for finding out shit, too:)

  • Sabyen91

    The left now has a WND of its own…

  • JozefAL

    I guess Mr Harding must’ve gotten a new piece of equipment to produce his item for “The Guardian” since it doesn’t appear to have succumbed to any mysterious deletions. Either that or the little ghosts who were disappearing his “usually critical of the NSA” comments were a lot LESS interested when it came to his little exposé about the disappearances.

  • Trulyunbelievable2020

    “If an NSA agent had infiltrated Harding’s laptop, why wouldn’t he or she simply delete the files? Seems like a rather obvious move to delete words that Harding was in the process of typing.”

    I once talked to an American who was working as a journalist in Russia. The stories that she was working on were really puff pieces with no political implications, but she said that on several occasions she had come home to find muddy foot prints on her bedspread and that important travel documents would sometimes disappear before trips only to reappear on her desk the day before her departure.

    The whole point of these tactics is to creep someone out and let them know that they’re being watched. I don’t think that anyone would bat an eye at the suggestion that the FSB does this sort of thing. Why is it so laughable to think that the Americans and Brits wouldn’t?

    One of the reasons that some of us crazy extreme left-wing right wing libertarian communist wingnuts are concerned about the NSA is that intelligence agencies have a long history of doing absolutely ridiculous shit. These are the folks who tried to kill Castro with exploding cigars, poisoned wetsuits, and booby traps hidden in conch shells. These jokers even tried to drug him so that his beard would fall out and dose him with LSD. Speaking of LSD, we’re talking about the same agencies that set up fake brothels with one-way mirrors so that they could drug unsuspecting johns and observe the effects.

    All of these things seem ridiculous. They seem like the stuff of conspiracy theories. But they are all confirmed to have happened. In light of this history, I don’t see why it’s so absurd to believe that American or British intelligence would use sophisticated hacks to mess around with a reporter.

    In any case, Harding doesn’t claim that he knows that he was being hacked or followed with any degree of certainty, as you would appear to suggest.

    “Coincidence?” he asks in the fifth paragraph, “Perhaps.” Later he concedes that, “Such moments may, of course, have an innocent explanation.” Towards the end he wonders who, if anyone, might have caused these issues: “An aggrieved analyst at the NSA’s Fort Meade spy city? GCHQ? A Russian hacker? Someone else intent on mischief?”

    The whole story is about the concerns that one suddenly starts to have in “an atmosphere of furtiveness. And perhaps mild paranoia.”

    Once more, it’s amazing that you don’t realize how hypocritical it is to criticize journalists for putting information in what you deem to be the wrong paragraph while completely omitting relevant details in your own attempts to summarize their work.

    • repugnicant

      They might be coming for you in the middle of the night. Be on your toes… or, sleep with the trusty one eye open.

      • Trulyunbelievable2020

        Can you please explain to me why we can all concede that our intelligence agencies did absolutely insane things during the twentieth century and that foreign intelligence agencies still do absolutely insane things (e.g. polonium poisoning) but the suggestion that our intelligence agencies could currently be doing something so mundane as fucking with a reporter is such a ridiculous idea?

        • Sabyen91

          Can you explain why you believe the government was actually doing this?

          • David Atkins

            That’s the whole argument in a nutshell, going back to day zero on June 9:

            Could they do this? Yeah, I guess.

            Are they doing it? I don’t know, maybe, but why are you so eager to leap to the conclusion that they are?

          • feloniousgrammar

            Strange how an agency that spies on everyone 24/7 has time to read and analyze this random guy’s screed as he types it. You’d think the NSA was promoting his book, making him look all heroic and shit for typing words about the NSA. Being a superhero he-man spy has never been easier.

            He’s setting himself up for some mean practical jokes. His next story in the spotlight could involve a cocktail of powerful drugs and restraints. It sounds like any amateur could send him into a paranoid psychosis. It’s certainly beneath the NSA to bother with him.

        • Frederic Poag

          Fucking with a reporter no one has heard of? No, I can’t explain it because it’s stupid.

          Seriously why do that? Why not doing something effective like discredit him personally, or as Bob wrote crash his computer, you know something other than the “spooky keyboard delete”.

          Here’s my question for you: Don’t you think it says something about you Confirmation Bias that you’re so ready to believe this “reporter’s” story when it sounds just ludicrous on its face? If it happened multiple times you’d think he’d have gotten some evidence on it.

        • repugnicant

          Sorry, I’m still laughing…

    • reginahny

      I keep trying to reply to your bizarre comment but th

    • Frederic Poag

      Just gonna leave this here for you. Read at your leisure.

    • Frederic Poag

      Towards the end he wonders who, if anyone, might have caused these
      issues: “An aggrieved analyst at the NSA’s Fort Meade spy city? GCHQ? A
      Russian hacker? Someone else intent on mischief?”

      Or perhaps a writer grinding out a topical book with sleep deprivation coming off a caffeine jolt? Or, more sinister, a bullshit hack writer wanting to sell books to a niche market that caters to the paranoid who will believe anything as long as it’s anti-government conspiracy?

      Nah, it couldn’t be either one of those.

  • mrbrink

    The guy who wrote that should be wheeled out of journalism like Hannibal Lecter. Tell us all about the NSA ghosts living in your keyboard telling you what not to write through this appropriate face wear.

    The paranormals were doing him a favor.

    The ridiculously hyped angle of this story has driven the best of them to the dark side of integrity. There is a certain madness in the breath of every word written on behalf of Snowden’s and Greenwald’s honor. How many more must go insane trying to unravel the secrets of the mysteries of the big nothing dipper?

    • Lady Willpower

      Mr. Brink, you really turn a phrase like no other.

    • drspittle

      There is a simple and rational explanation. The NSA outsourced its DudeBro Terrorism Division to God.

  • Tort Master

    Using Occam’s Razor and such, there are only three reasonable explanations:
    (1) A ghostwriter;
    (2) Morpheus was contacting Luke Harding because he’s “The New One”; or,
    (3) Harding is lying to sell a story. Hell, people will lie to get on a Bigfoot TV episode.
    Seriously, I went to the Guardian link to make sure this was real paid-journalism. Did an author just admit to the world that he had seen the Jason Bourne equivalent of Bigfoot? Wow, it’s there. On a final note, Harding couldn’t find a techie expert to take apart his laptop? Bizarre and hopelessly not credible is the ceiling for this Guardian article.

  • Norbrook

    The symptom of having the keyboard “flash and beeping” is always a signal that … there’s a key stuck on the keyboard. All that someone needs to do is press a key (or several) down and held them there, and the NSA can take over your computer in exactly the same way!

  • Kim Williams

    My 8 year old grand daughter heard me reading the top paragraph to my hubby. Her comment made our week. “Is that why pap keeps that old write typer?” Apparently, I’ve complained about it enough for her to realize it’s only good for keeping the government from deleting your work.

  • feloniousgrammar

    You know when it gets cold all of a sudden and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? That’s them.

  • S in DC

    What an idiot. This guy must be fun to fuck with on April Fools.

  • formerlywhatithink

    Holy crap, if this guys book is written like this “article”, it’s gonna be freaking hilarious. Some choice quotes from it:

    “My hotel overlooked Copacabana beach; from the rooftop I could watch the surf and Rio’s rich walking their dogs. Greenwald suggested we meet along the coast in the Royal Tulip hotel. We sat in the lobby. To our left a man with his back to us played with his iPhone; another individual lurked nearby.”

    Oh shit, people on their iPhones in a hotel lobby? What is this world coming to?!?!?!?!

    Some more on “Chris”:

    “Chris wanted to take my photo, buy me a beer, go for dinner.”

    Yeah, I’m gonna go with the asking him out route on this, if, like Bob said, it actually happened.

    Of course, no good paranoid, conspiracy story is complete without some self aggrandizement (from his text with his wife):

    “”The CIA sent someone to check me out. Their techniques as clumsy as Russians.” She replied: “Really? WTF?” I added: “God knows where they learn their spycraft.”

    Coming soon to theaters near you: LUKE HARDING: SPYMASTER

    A little more self aggrandizement:

    “There was no fixed pattern but it tended to occur when I wrote disparagingly of the NSA.”

    What a jackass.

    And, as a bonus, some comments posted about the article (it’s almost like reading James, Jason or dubstub on this site):

    “This story is a great way of highlighting the potential incompetence of those in control of these powers of surveillance.”

    “To screw with his mind and let him know they were watching. Many people crumble under this type of threat.”

    “Well done LukeIt takes courage and perseverance to stand tall in the face of such ignorance paranoia, vandalism and aggression
    The ultimate in patriotism”

    “Wow. They installed stuff that let them take total control of your machine, keystrokes and all, and were arrogant enough to let you know. I hope that you recorded some of this stuff. It might also be a good idea to have a trusted and very competent security expert look over your machine.”

    “If the authorities are frightened of a peaceful intellectual like Luke harding, then we are all in the mire.”

    And that’s about all I could take of that (although, there are a few comments about the absurdity of all this as well).

    • Kevin M. Hagerman

      Straight out of a Jon Ronson article.

    • Norbrook

      Apparently he’s judging the CIA and the NSA by the standards of the Guardian’s editorial and IT staff.

    • Sabyen91

      “There was a man who was suspiciously driving behind me at the same rate of speed I was. Then I drove past Maple Street. He turned right onto Maple Street. I now know the general location of the Illuminati’s safe-house.”

    • ultraviolet_uk

      That penultimate one COULD be a skeptic pointing out what one would expect by way of evidence, bearing in mind what Occam’s Razor would suggest as the explanation.

  • Christopher Foxx

    Harding stated quite clearly that he would disconnect his computer from the internet while working. If so, there’s no way anyone would be able to remotely take over his computer.

    You’re forgetting about the wireless microwaves coming from the satellites. They can change things on your computer even when it’s off.

    • David Atkins

      The Steve Jackson board game ILLUMINATI in 1982 included orbital mind control lasers.

      Spooky how he could see thirty two years ago that all of this would come to pass.

  • formerlywhatithink
  • RilesSD

    Another theory, related to point #9 – he inadvertently hit the “Insert” key and when using the space bar, he was deleting his own text, “from the left.”


    • Bob Cesca

      Yep. Added your remark in an update above.

      • Christopher Foxx

        How does the cursor move “rapidly from the left, gobbling text?” The cursor only moves left-to-right when words are being typed, not deleted.

        True. Actually, the cursor doesn’t move at all when using the Delete key since Delete removes the character to the right of the cursor. I suppose this could be described as deleting “from the left” although that’s not how I’d describe it,

        I suspect Harding meant the Backspace key (did he actually refer to the key by name, or just describe his stuff as being “deleted” and a presumption has been made?) The Backspace key deletes from the left and moves the cursor while doing so. Most folks do say “delete” when using the backspace key.

        All of which is nit-picky tech minutia, of course. Harding is clearly deluded on much more substantial aspects of what he thinks he’s “reporting” on.

        • JozefAL

          Uh, no. The backspace key does NOT “delete from the left”. It deletes to the left. (Unless you’re typing on a Hebrew or Arabic keyboard.)

          Let me take the following sentence and show you how it looks when you backspace, character by character: The dingo ate my baby.

          The dingo ate my baby
          The dingo ate my bab
          The dingo ate my ba
          The dingo ate my b
          The dingo ate my
          The dingo ate my
          The dingo ate m
          The dingo ate
          The dingo ate
          The dingo at
          The dingo a
          The dingo
          The dingo
          The ding
          The din
          The di
          The d

          (The apparent duplicate lines reflect the “deleted” space.)

          As you’ll notice, the deletions are going TO the left.

          Deletes FROM the left would look this way:

          The dingo ate my baby.
          he dingo ate my baby.
          e dingo ate my baby.
          dingo ate my baby.
          dingo ate my baby.
          ingo ate my baby.
          ngo ate my baby.
          (and so forth)

          Quite a difference, n’est-ce pas?

          ETA: After posting the second group of deletes left-justified so the missing spaces that I’d typed (well, blank spaced) for ease don’t show up.

          • Christopher Foxx

            Uh, no. The backspace key does NOT “delete from the left”. It deletes to the left.

            Indeed. I sit corrected.


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