What was Snowden’s heist?

The most important column published online today is Edward Jay Epstein’s Wall Street Journal column “Was Snowden’s heist a foreign intelligence operation?” The column is behind the Journal’s subscription paywall, but it is easily accessible via Google.

Ed makes the case that Snowden’s heist of intelligence data was part of an intelligence operation conducted against the United States. Here is how Ed’s column opens:

Edward Snowden’s massive misappropriations of classified documents from the inner sanctum of U.S. intelligence is mainly presented by the media as a whistleblowing story. In this narrative—designed by Mr. Snowden himself—he is portrayed as a disgruntled contractor for the National Security Agency, acting alone, who heroically exposed the evils of government surveillance beginning in 2013.

The other way of looking at it—based on the number and nature of documents Mr. Snowden took, and the dates when they were taken—is that only a handful of the secrets had anything to do with domestic surveillance by the government and most were of primary value to an espionage operation.

Ed reports that a former member of Obama’s cabinet suggested to him off the record in March this year that 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. Ed notes:

Mr. Snowden’s critics regard the whistleblowing narrative as at best incomplete, at worst fodder for the naïve. They do not believe that it explains the unprecedented size and complexity of the penetration of NSA files and records. For one thing, many of his critics have intelligence clearance. They have been privy to the results of an NSA investigation that established the chronology of the copying of 1.7 million documents that were stolen from the Signals Intelligence Center in Hawaii. The documents were taken from at least 24 supersecret compartments that stored them on computers, each of which required a password that a perpetrator had to steal or borrow, or forge an encryption key to bypass.

In an email last night, Ed writes that he is off to Hong Kong to continue his investigation of Snowden. In the meantime, we have this important column that is full of interesting details and worthy of your attention.

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