There are, supposedly, only two newspapers Snowden is working with: The Guardian and the Washington Post. (The NYT, wanting in on some of this Snowden action, announced today that it’s launched a partnership with the Guardian to that effect.) He’s been interviewed by others, but it’s only Greenwald and WaPo’s Bart Gellman, I believe, who have copies of what Snowden lifted from the NSA. Lo and behold, the Independent revealed last night that the UK is operating a base in the Middle East that it uses to intercept local communications. Money quote: “The Independent is not revealing the precise location of the station but information on its activities was contained in the leaked documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden.”
Wasn’t me, says Snowden, in a statement posted by Greenwald:
I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.
“It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.”
Note that Snowden doesn’t deny that the info on the base could have come from his documents. It might be in there, he seems to be suggesting, but he deliberately hasn’t leaked “harmful” information because this is about civil liberties, not about damaging western governments willy nilly. Which is nonsense: He’s leaked information before that has nothing to do with U.S./UK citizens being spied on and everything to do with routine espionage against foreign governments. But whatever. His theory, and Greenwald’s, is that this is a false flag op against him by the British government itself, leaking something which they knew the public would disapprove of in order to hurt Snowden’s and Greenwald’s credibility:
Ludicrous, says Joshua Foust. He has another suspect:
Greenwald, naturally, has a theory. He writes that Snowden claims the UK government itself leaked the documents. Greenwald then goes on to concoct some preposterous theory amplifying this idea, as if Whitehall would deliberately undermine its own nascent intelligence operations just to score some minor point against Edward Snowden. Contrary to Greenwald’s claims, exposing a compartmented program located in a sensitive country does not, actually, help them — in fact, by exposing sensitive operations in a sensitive location it does the very harm that necessitated classifying the program to begin with…
After his partner was detained, Glenn Greenwald threatened to release more documents exposing UK spying activities. He tried to walk it back — a courtesy he denies other journalists all the time — but the meaning was clear. Greenwald was mad, and he was going to punish the UK as a result.
Now, suddenly, a new tranche of documents exposing foreign espionage facilities — for which there is no legitimate public interest defense, since this station does not infringe on the civil liberties of British or American citizens — appears in the media, mysteriously without any of the bylines normally associated with such leaks.
Foust’s theory of the leak is conjecture, but then so is Greenwald’s. And Foust is right that the idea that the UK itself would sacrifice the secrecy of a sensitive base just to make Snowden look bad seems absurd. If the base is of so little use to them that they’d out it themselves, why’d they keep it secret in the first place? Beyond that, there’s no firm reason to believe that either the U.S. or British government knew that Snowden’s files contained material on the British base. To this day, the NSA still isn’t entirely sure what he took. Could be that the Brits discovered the material in the Snowden-related stuff they seized recently from Greenwald’s partner David Miranda, but that was all likely encrypted. Could they decrypt it that quickly? Could they decrypt it at all? Also, to think that Independent would pass on a bombshell story about UK authorities passing around their own copies of Snowden’s files to out their own intelligence hubs in order to write a mundane piece about a British spy center in the Middle East that surprises no one is hard to believe.
An exit question, then, for those who’ve been following Snowdengate day by day: To the best of your knowledge, who has access to Snowden’s treasure trove? Greenwald and Gellman, obviously, as well as Laura Poitras and Miranda. Wikileaks might have some access. Who else? Russian and Chinese intelligence could have lifted some or all of it, but who knows if they’ve decrypted it (did they even get it in encrypted form?) and there’s no reason why they’d feed it to the Independent. The NSA and British intel probably have some idea of what he took but evidently not the complete picture. Who else? A final nerve-wracking possibility raised by Foust is that someone in Snowden’s inner circle somehow lost control of part or all of the archive and now Mister X is leaking it against Snowden’s wishes. That’s the worst-case scenario for everyone, including Snowden (assuming he’s semi-serious about not trying to harm U.S./UK interests), since if this is a set up by the British they can at least be trusted not to leak stuff that’s too damaging to their own security. No such guarantee with Mister X. Maybe the genie’s out of the bottle.