In mid-June of last year, at the vanguard of the Edward Snowden revelations, a Hong Kong attorney named Albert Ho met with Snowden to assist the NSA contractor’s plans to leave the Chinese city-state for points unknown. Following the meeting, Ho told The New York Times, “He didn’t go out, he spent all his time inside a tiny space, but he said it was O.K. because he had his computer. If you were to deprive him of his computer, that would be totally intolerable.”
You might also recall a pair of photos taken of Snowden in Moscow holding an open laptop adorned with a pair of stickers: a Tor encryption sticker and an Electronic Frontier Foundation sticker.
The point of noting the existence of at least one laptop in Snowden’s possession is to ask the following: Are we seriously supposed to believe that Snowden fired off a series of emails to various NSA officials, blowing the whistle on what he considered to be illegal and unconstitutional activities, but didn’t bother to retain a single copy of those emails on a laptop which he transported with him while on the lam?
Let’s rewind several days.
As we’re all aware by now, Snowden, for the first time ever, revealed to NBC News’ Brian Williams that he in fact tried to go through proper, internal whistleblowing channels before engaging in his plot to abscond with thousands of top secret, sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) files and leak them en masse to Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Barton Gellman. Snowden said NSA has emails to confirm this and called upon Congress to demand to see copies. Here’s how Greenwald reacted to this news:
The very next day, and in keeping with the 24 Hour Rule, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released an email exchange between Snowden and the agency’s Office of General Counsel. The content of the exchange had exactly nothing to do with material concerns regarding PRISM or bulk metadata collection. Instead it amounted to a basic civics question: does an executive order take precedent over federal statutes?
Suddenly Greenwald didn’t think the emails were such a big deal:
Uh-huh. So when the email exchange turned out to be a big nothing, Greenwald’s reaction magically transformed from “biggest news” to “irrelevant” news. Likewise, the ACLU called the email situation a “red herring.”
Now, if we really parse the hell out of Snowden’s civics question, as Marcy Wheeler dutifully attempted last week, it’s possible that he was asking it in reference to whether the president was hiding NSA’s actions from Congress. But that’s quite a stretch and by no means does it illustrate any actual whistleblowing.
Then, responding to ODNI’s release of the email, Snowden insisted there are many other emails that vindicate his revelation to Brian Williams.
Today’s release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities—such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies—are sometimes concealed under EO 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations. […]
I did raise such concerns both verbally and in writing, and on multiple, continuing occasions — as I have always said, and as NSA has always denied.
Fine. The onus, then, is on Snowden to produce those emails. And if he can’t, he ought to say exactly why not. But for a man whose entire professional life orbited around stealing and organizing TS/SCI files via at least two NSA contractors, and then badgering both Poitras and Greenwald for months, between late 2012 and early 2013, about what he had done, don’t you think he would’ve made it a point to save copies of his correspondence, if for no other reason but to have NSA officials on record responding to his claims? Don’t you think Greenwald, who loves a good Gotcha! quote (ask James Clapper), would kill for such material?
Furthermore, since day one of this affair there’s been an ongoing debate about whether Snowden is a traitorous leaker or a valiant whistleblower. But we’re only now hearing about email evidence proving his attempts to legitimately blow the whistle. Seems as though news about whistleblowing messages to both NSA’s general counsel and the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance should’ve been dumped to the press on the same day as that first video interview in Hong Kong. Or, at the very least, he might’ve mentioned this a long time ago. He’s certainly had plenty of opportunities.
That never happened, of course. Why? Perhaps someone should ask Snowden or his media flack, Greenwald. That is, if they don’t mind walking face-first into the propeller blades.
You know, for a gaggle of people who are so utterly obsessed with transparency, they’re astonishingly and frustratingly opaque about their own decisions and methods.