The Falcon and the Snowden

It turns out that the lunatic leftist Glenn Greenwald has relied on one source for his Guardian articles blowing the anti-terror surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency — one Edward Snowden. Snowden has an unusual background for a security expert with a top-secret clearance. He holds a high-school equivalency degree and expertise in digital security systems, leading to his most recent position as he describes it — a $200,000 a year NSA-contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii.

Although the motives for Snowden’s treachery appear to be ideological rather than commercial, he reminds me less (or not at all) of Daniel Ellsberg than of Christopher Boyce, the then-young gadabout known as “the Falcon” who went to work for defense contractor TRW and secured a top-secret clearance. Through his position he had access to classified documents concerning secure communications, ciphers and spy satellite development. He teamed up with a high-school buddy (“the Snowman”) to sell the documents to the Soviet Union.

When their scheme fell apart, one couldn’t help but wonder what somebody like Boyce was doing with a top-secret clearance in a position to do as much damage as he did. Watching the video of Snowden’s interview with Greenwald posted with the Guardian article, one can’t help but wonder the same about Snowden.

Snowden presents himself as an ardent opponent of “the surveillance state” — from a hotel room in Hong Kong. I hear the clock striking thirteen.

Snowden is taking advantage of room service and running up a substantial tab. He’s also dependent on the kindness of Chinese strangers. What does he do when the cash runs out? Asked whether he plans to defect to China, Snowden disagrees with the premise that “China is an enemy of the United States.” Snowden opines: “It’s not.”

Despite conflicts between the United States and Chinese governments, the peoples of the two countries do not care, he said. “We’re not at war, in armed conflict…we’re the largest trading partners,” he said.

Iceland is in any event a country more to his liking. “My predisposition is to seek asylum in a country with shared values. The nation that most encompasses this is Iceland. They stood up for people over Internet freedom.”

Times have changed. Unlike Boyce, Snowden said he did not plan to sell secrets to Russia. “Anybody with the positions of access and the technical capabilities that I had, could, you know, suck out secrets and pass them on the open market to Russia,” he said. “They always have an open door, as we do.”

Snowden claims rather large powers from his perch at Booz Allen. “I had access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world,” Snowden said. “The locations of every station we have, what their missions are….If I had just wanted to harm the U.S., you could shut the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that’s not my intention.” We can be grateful for small favors.

“I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone,” Snowden said, “from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, even the president if I had a personal email.” I’m not sure what that means, but you get the drift.

Snowden speaks ominously of his fate: “We’ve got a CIA station just up the road at the consulate here in Hong Kong,” he said. “I’m sure they’re going to be very busy for the next week. And that’s a fear I’ll have to live for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be.” Somebody get me rewrite!

NBC quotes Snowden: “They could put out an Interpol note. But I don’t think I have committed a crime outside the domain of the U.S. I think it will be clearly shown to be political in nature.” I’m not sure what that means, but again you get the drift.

He called NSA intelligence activities “the architecture of oppression.” I guess that means the NSA could misuse its powers. That’s why they are hedged about with the restrictions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Snowden doesn’t mention them, but the espionage laws of the United States must also be a key piece of the “architecture of oppression.” They are intended to prevent what he has done, and from our having to rely on someone like Snowden to make these judgments on our behalf: “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest,” he said. “There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.” Mr. Snowden, thank you for your consideration.

Snowden’s emergence seems to me to have one incidental benefit. It clears up an issue that was left dangling last week. I think it puts the lie to the speculation that Obama is somehow behind the leaks that Greenwald has featured in his Guardian articles. It must be a source of some comfort to Snowden, however, that Obama’s Department of Justice has brought the enforcement of our espionage laws into such disrepute.

NOTE: I have drawn here from useful posts on Snowden by Garance Franck-Ruta and Bill Gertz. I have also corrected a few stray references to Snowden as “Holden” in the original version of the post, a mistake resulting from early-morning caffeine deficiency.

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