Does this change anything? Not legally, I think, but maybe it’s another dent in Snowden’s image for some people like me and Michael Moynihan who were favorably disposed to him initially and whose feelings have grown more … nuanced ever since.
For the first time, Snowden has admitted he sought a position at Booz Allen Hamilton so he could collect proof about the US National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programmes ahead of planned leaks to the media.
“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”…
He also signalled his intention to leak more of those documents at a later date.
“If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment, independent of my bias, as to whether or not the knowledge of US network operations against their people should be published.”
Michael Tomasky reads that and dismisses Snowden as “nothing more than a spy.” Wasn’t he a spy when he made the decision to lift data off of NSA’s servers, though, irrespective of whether he took the job at Booz in the first place to gain access? This is news less because it affects his legal status, I think, than because it complicates the public sense of Snowden as some sort of total naif who may have decided to do all this relatively quickly, flush with indignation at what he suddenly learned about PRISM. Not so. He planned it for months, using false pretenses to get close to the material he wanted. It was a true intelligence operation, worthy of the CIA. it’s not even clear from the article, in fact, if he took the Booz job because he already knew what was going on at NSA and wanted more evidence or because he wanted to take a fishing expeditions of NSA’s servers. (Probably a combination of both.) The more interesting question, as Erick Erickson’s noted on Twitter, is whether this complicates the Guardian’s and WaPo’s roles in working with Snowden. Glenn Greenwald’s said before that his Guardian team was in touch with him in February, before he took the Booz job. That doesn’t prove anything; maybe Snowden never told them or WaPo of his plan to infiltrate Booz and tap the servers there. But obviously there’s a difference between (a) a source acting on his own initiative to lift government data and then dumping it on a reporter and (b) the source and the reporter planning together on how to lift that data. The feds are probably going to look at that now, if they haven’t already, but there’s no evidence of collusion as far as I know and the feds would probably be reluctant to prosecute in any case because of the horrible PR they faced after l’affaire Rosen.
Meanwhile, a tidbit from today’s NYT:
Albert Ho, one of Mr. Snowden’s lawyers, said that before the dinner began, Mr. Snowden insisted that everyone hide their cellphones in the refrigerator of the home where he was staying, to block any eavesdropping. Then began a two-hour conversation during which Mr. Snowden was deeply dismayed to learn that he could spend years in prison without access to a computer during litigation over whether he would be granted asylum here or surrendered to the United States, Mr. Ho said.
Staying cooped up in the cramped Hong Kong home of a local supporter was not bothersome to Mr. Snowden, but the prospect of losing his computer scared him.
“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,” Mr. Ho said. “If you were to deprive him of his computer, that would be totally intolerable.”
He took on the U.S. government and fled to China — and then, allegedly, Russia, Cuba, and Ecuador — all the while feeling that life would be intolerable if he had to go without using a computer for awhile? Maybe he is a total naif after all. Speaking of which, more from the Times:
Two Western intelligence experts, who worked for major government spy agencies, said they believed that the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong, and that he said were with him during his stay at a Hong Kong hotel.
If that were the case, they said, China would no longer need or want to have Mr. Snowden remain in Hong Kong.
I can’t tell from the way that’s worded if they have reason to believe it’s true or if they’re just making a safe assumption. The assumption is safe: I keep seeing Snowden defenders arguing that there’s no proof that he’s hurt national security even though, rationally, there’s no way a government like China (or any adverse power, really) would let an intelligence plum as prized as Snowden get away without shaking him down for something. Either they’re going to lift his hard drives or, if he’s encrypted them somehow, they’re going to get rough with him to decrypt them. (That may in fact be why he’s momentarily disappeared in Russia.) By his own previous admission, he’s chosen to hold plenty of damaging material back because he’s interested, supposedly, only in vindicating civil liberties in the United States. We know by now that that’s not true — some of the stuff he’s leaked is aimed simply at embarrassing the U.S., not at protecting Americans’ rights — and, in any event, many of his supporters seemed to take the position yesterday on Twitter that the ends kinda sorta justify the means when the feds are after you. If the only places he can hide are authoritarian states like Russia and Venezuela, even though they’re complete anathema to the civil libertarian ideals Snowden claims to hold, so be it. A man’s gotta protect himself, right? Wouldn’t that same logic justify giving sensitive U.S. info to whoever’s holding him, though? If the alternative is a federal pen, hey.
Via Mediaite, here’s Jay Carney grumbling about Russia and China. Between this fiasco and the war in Syria, the “reset” with Russia these days seems to amount to Putin kicking Obama in the stones every week or so.