Via CNN, a perfect illustration of why even pols with deep libertarian sympathies insist on reserving judgment about this guy. The most amazing thing about it is how gratuitously self-destructive it is to Snowden’s credibility. No one doubts that the U.S. is cyberspying on China; if the feds are capable of putting something like PRISM together, they’re capable of exploiting Chinese security vulnerabilities. Confirming for a Chinese paper that we’re doing what everyone knows we’re doing doesn’t even qualify as a “leak.” His whole point in his Guardian interview with Greenwald, though, was that he’s not out to hurt American interests, merely to clue his fellow citizens into something the government’s doing to them that should concern them. Yakking to a Chinese paper about U.S. cyberespionage proves that that’s not quite true. He’s also out to embarrass the U.S. by revealing stuff that’ll raise tensions with other nations, even if the stuff he’s revealing is supported by most Americans.
Then again, we already had an inkling of that when the Guardian revealed a few days ago amid the FISA/PRISM bombshells that Obama had asked his natsec team for a list of potential overseas cybertargets. There’s nothing scandalous about that. Preparing for war contingencies is what the commander-in-chief and the country’s military do. But it’s embarrassing to the U.S. to have it revealed and it’ll cause diplomatic headaches with other countries, and evidently that’s enough for Snowden. The “best-case” scenario for him telling Chinese media that we’re spying on China is that he figures that inflaming local sentiment against the U.S. will make it harder for Chinese/Hong Kong authorities to extradite him. Which is to say, instead of gratuitously humiliating America, in this scenario he’s merely betraying state semi-secrets to protect himself. Somewhere Obama’s watching this CNN clip and smiling because he knows that, like it or not, he’s locked in a battle for public opinion with Snowden right now. And everyone who saw this segment this afternoon is now thinking the same thing: If Snowden’s willing to tell China this, what else is he willing to them that he knows? Advantage: Obama.
Actually, I spoke too soon in saying that he merely revealed something everyone knew in confirming that the U.S. spies on China. He was quite a bit more specific than that:
The Post said Snowden provided documents, which the paper described as “unverified,” that he said showed U.S. cyber operations targeting a Hong Kong university, public officials and students in the Chinese city. The paper said the documents also indicate hacking attacks targeting mainland Chinese targets, but did not reveal information about Chinese military systems…
“We hack network backbones — like huge internet routers, basically — that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” Snowden said, according to the paper. “Last week the American government happily operated in the shadows with no respect for the consent of the governed, but no longer.”
And here’s what our freedom-loving, Ron-Paul-supporting hero said about Putin’s fascist kingdom, which is using the idea of granting him asylum to score its own cheap propaganda points against the U.S.:
“Asked if he had been offered asylum by the Russian government, he said: ‘My only comment is that I am glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power,’” the Morning Post reported.
If there’s anyone who appreciates standing up to great government power, it’s Vladimir Putin. Imagine how heroic Snowden will look to middle America if he ends up essentially defecting to Russia. Incidentially, while Snowden’s comments to the Chinese paper were breaking this afternoon, Uncle Jimbo at Blackfive was posting his findings after looking into Snowden’s claim that he began training to join Special Forces back in 2003. That can’t be true, says UJ:
The 18 X-ray program is a way to go directly from the street to the Special Forces course. You first would attend basic and advanced individual training and then airborne school. Upon successful conclusion of those you head to Bragg for some prep training and the Special Forces Assessment and Selection course. If you pass all of those, then and only then do you start Special Forces training.
Mr. Snowden wasn’t even eligible for this program as he didn’t even graduate from High School.
Either Snowden left the military before ever realizing that he was ineligible for Special Forces or he deliberately exaggerated his ambitions in his Guardian interview. Add that to the other mysteries surrounding him, like how an IT guy managed to lasso such a large and diverse collection of documents. That’ll be the White House’s strategy against him going forward, I think — claiming on the one hand that data-mining helps thwart lots and lots of terror attacks and emphasizing on the other that Snowden’s story has holes in it and that he seems to enjoy sharing state secrets with China. Stay tuned.
Update: A succinct summary of Snowden’s comments to the Chinese paper from Dave Weigel:
Snowden’s problem is larger than domestic spycraft. It’s a problem with spycraft, period. The people circling him and now and dreaming of a “treason” case against him have to notice that.