This is a post I've been meaning to write for sometime. I seen Snowden's name trending on Twitter, with the idea that Trump may actually pardon him. So I wanted to write this out now. Trump is insane, so he may actually be stupid enough to pardon him.
Some people I follow that are more freedom minded treat him like a hero of some kind because of what he exposed about the ongoing metadata program that the US government was running - in particular, PRISM. What I found irritating about this whole thing is that every action he has taken is ignored completely and all that matters is this one thing.
The goal of this piece is to demonstrate that Edward Snowden isn't some innocent and concerned citizen whistleblowing a data collection scheme, but a calculated and purposeful form of espionage and it remains to be seen if he's formally working with enemy governments or he's just ideologically motivated.
Edward Snowden Lied
Could you imagine getting paid the big bucks from the US government, with top secret clearance access, and being an advanced IT specialist as a high school drop out and the only formal education of GED from some local community college? This is what Snowden wants you to believe.
If this is true, I think Snowden really has exposed a true issue with the security agencies of the United States. The fact that some hack liar with no credentials, basic education and nothing going for him could just get access to top secret clearance is scary and even worse - take it home and out of the country. SCARY.
One of the issues with discussing facts about this is the difficulty in objective information. Snowden has what he says happened and what he is, while the security agencies are much more tight lipped - and for good reason. There is objective information out there that does help paint a picture of what happened. This picture is something that doesn't live up to the prestigious idea of an advanced IT specialist that just couldn't stomach spying on the American people.
From what I can gather, Snowden wasn't some specialist other than the guy that helped staff when their mouse stopped working or their email wasn't sending. Or working in the backend making sure the servers were up to date and applying patches as needed. The former seems more likely. Snowden worked for the private contractor Booz Allen Hamilton - a business that provides IT related services to government, industry and other types of large organizations.
What does it mean to provide IT services to a business? Exactly what you think: email accounts, computer logins, email servers, regular servers and such. It also includes the staff power to deal with the day to day problems that arise - "help my email isn't sending". Being just a man of a GED and he himself has claimed he is a Microsoft Solutions Expert
, the truth is probably closer to him being a low-tier member of the IT team that did the rudimentary tasks.
The idea of some low tier IT member having top secret classification access is highly unlikely. The notion that a privately contracted IT firm would be free to rummage through millions and millions of classified unencrypted documents is also non-sensical.
Edward Snowden Didn't Have Top Secret Clearance, So How Did He Get The Documents?
It's important to start that Snowden didn't work on PRISM or any sort of metadata collection program. The existence of these programs to him was non-existent. Based on his limited formal technical skills, his work would have been based on keeping the exchange server up to date, windows server computers running smoothly and helping staff login to their workstations. Even if you believe that Snowden was some sort of advanced IT guru, Booz Allen Hamilton is a business that does IT services. They don't build metadata collection programs, they build and setup the infrastructure one would run these things on. There's this clear divide that needs to be understood.
But the biggest evidence that Snowden had zero access to top secret documents came from the Senate Judiciary Committee:
A handful of agency employees who gave their login details to Snowden were identified, questioned and removed from their assignments, said a source close to several U.S. government investigations into the damage caused by the leaks.
Snowden may have persuaded between 20 and 25 fellow workers at the NSA regional operations center in Hawaii to give him their logins and passwords by telling them they were needed for him to do his job as a computer systems administrator, a second source said. [source
But there is more here that proves that the documents were encrypted and the system was designed so that IT professionals had no access:
The NSA says it drew up the memo that was sent this week to update the Judiciary Committee on steps the agency had taken to hold people accountable for Snowden’s unauthorized disclosures.
The civilian in question first admitted on June 18 that he had given his login credentials, in the form of a “Public Key Infrastructure certificate,” to Snowden, the memo says.
This was days after Snowden first went public as the source who supplied highly-classified documents about eavesdropping operations by NSA and some of its foreign partners to representatives of Britain’s Guardian and The Washington Post.
The memo said that when the unnamed civilian NSA employee gave the login information to Snowden, he knew it would give him access on a system known as NSANet to which Snowden otherwise was denied access.
At Snowden’s request, the NSA worker entered his password into Snowden’s computer terminal.
“Unbeknownst to the civilian, Mr. Snowden was able to capture the password, allowing him even greater access to classified information,” the memo says. [source] emphasis is mine.
Let's take a little bit to dissect what these things mean. First, Snowden gained access to documents by simply asking people in the office, that part of his IT work he needed their login/password. He did this to dozens of people. It appears that he did this until he was able to get the credentials of someone important enough to get him large level access.
The Public Key Infrastructure certificate is a bit more vague on what exactly it is, but it's a crypto based means of encrypted data transfer. This certificate would have been needed to appropriately authenticate and/or decrypt the documents he stole.
Premeditated Interest in the NSA
The most interesting thing about this whole thing is that it appears that Snowden had an interest in getting into the NSA for sometime. I realize this all could be a coincidence. I'd normally give the benefit of the doubt to someone. Maybe he really wanted to get into government security organizations, but the fact that he stole data purposefully that he didn't have access to and didn't know what they were - with the added addition of being a Ron Pauler libertarian leaning person
, I find it plausible that he was motivated from the start to steal information and undermine government.
What little we know about Snowden's personal life, we do know outside of extensive years of unemployment, he held a job as a security guard at the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language - which is a government funded defense research facility that the NSA uses.
After this, Snowden allegedly worked for the CIA. The problem with these facts is that there are no credible sources for anything at all, other than the story Edward Snowden told. It's unfortunate. I have to say the gaps in the story is what makes this all so ridiculous because the media, Wikipedia and the general population treats this... extraordinary... story as truth without a degree of evidence. I just can't connect the dots of how a high school drop out that is working as a security guard and then is working for the CIA making hundreds of thousands a year as a special advanced computer specialist is a joke.
I mean this is speculation on my part, but the guy has had an obsession with the intelligence agencies of the US government and has been looking for privileged access to their facilities. He lied about what he did with his work at Booz Allen Hamilton, I think it's fair to say that his unverifiable fantasy of 20 year old security guard to James Bond computer guy at the CIA is probably fabricated. Maybe he was able to secure a job as a receptionist at the front desk?
Let's focus on the facts which matter the most.
These are facts discussed so far:
- High school dropout, that eventually obtained a GED at a local community college.
- Has a basic Microsoft certification for working with Microsoft based products/systems
- Lied about what he did at Booz Allen Hamilton
- He didn't have access to classified information
- He didn't know about the existence of PRISM or any of the programs the NSA was doing - other than what was public knowledge already.
- He manipulated and defrauded employees at the NSA
There are a few pieces of information we need to understand too. Snowden didn't discover the PRISM program, took the information about it and shared it with the world. He stole millions of documents on a variety of internal operations, fled the country and then went through them. This is the pivotal part of this whole thing that makes him a treasonist.
Some of the documents stolen were about PRISM, but many other classified information was taken out of the estimated 1.7 million documents stolen. And it's hard to determine the exact details since the NSA isn't going to say the info, so we can only go off of what was released to the media. Here's the list from Nicholas Grossman
- 31 offensive American cyber operations in 2011, including some against Iran and North Korea relating to nuclear proliferation
- NSA surveillance of terrorist networks, including details of what the U.S. knows about al Qaeda’s efforts to jam, hack, and shoot down American drones
- The location of 80 NSA surveillance teams around the world
- Intelligence cooperation between the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand
- A Swedish intelligence operation targeting Russian leaders, which passed on information to the NSA
- NSA monitoring of Chinese telecom company Huawei to investigate ties to the Chinese military
- NSA interception of Taliban emails and phone calls in Pakistan
- A CIA operation to determine the loyalties of recruits in Pakistan
- The CIA’s line-item “black budget”
The problem with the average person, is that they don't understand what it means to be a whistleblower. Many people treat whistleblowing as simple as "they exposed something I want exposed, therefore they're a whistleblower and their are no consequences for them." That's not how it works. Whistleblowing actually has standards in law. As an engineer, my licensing knowledge requires knowing how to whistleblow properly
First, you actually work on the project that you view as unethical, dangerous, etc. Which means you have access to the details that allow you to conclude that it is unethical, dangerous, etc. You report to your superior that this is unethical, dangerous, etc and wait to see if they act. If they don't act, than take this outside the organization to the media/public/watchdogs. Lastly, you wait to be judged for your actions. And for that last part, you have to stay to be judged. You and you alone are not the judge and jury on whether something unethical and deserving of whistleblowing. If you're exonerated, you made the right choice - if not, you're punished. As it should be.
Let's go through this piece by piece. Snowden didn't work on PRISM, metadata programs or was aware of any of the operations within the NSA. Snowden didn't report this to a superior, precisely because he didn't know about it. He illegally accessed documents that he didn't know the content of. He learned of the contents of these documents AFTER he illegally obtained them. In a short period (a day or two) of time he downloaded 1.7 million documents, many unrelated to PRISM, and fled the country avoiding standing behind his leak of information. Yes, he didn't read 1.7 million documents in a day or two.
Probably the worst part of this is that he traveled through foreign countries regarded as strategic counter parts, while they had full knowledge that he had these documents. The idea that he is living and existing (being able to afford the necessities of life) in Russia without any sort of quid pro quo is highly unlikely.
Another piece is that Snowden gave the documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, and Ewen MacAskill. The fact that he left the documents with Greenwald, to share at his discretion really is the cherry on top of this sundae of espionage.
One last fact is that the metadata collection program was a publicly known thing. I find it ironic that Redditors that were upvoting metadata being taken from cell phone companies for years before Snowden was completely forgot. The media was talking about this in 2002
I think by the vary nature of what Snowden did excludes him from a whistleblower status. He took millions of documents, whatever he could get his hands on, and then immediately fled the country. The discoveries that are so bad were discovered later. He has lied about how he obtained this information and it appears he has lied about much of his life.
Snowden basically gave the public the name PRISM to a program that was already publicly known.
The supposed proponents of Snowden fall into two camps: ones that are completely ignorant of what he did and just understand the media narrative; the others are what can be best described as the nihilistic haters of America - this includes the libertarian type and the liberal type. They're unconcerned with the actions that this person took. They don't mind that he stole and exposed documentation that was purely for rights protecting actions - that terrorists can actually use for their benefit. In their view, the NSA has no legitimate role and, just like the US government, is truly the evil at it's core in everything it does.
Just so there is no confusion, I think a domestic metadata collection program is wrong and should be abolished immediately. Metadata collection may have a reasonable use on our enemies, but it isn't for use on the domestic population as a whole. With that said, Snowden is not a hero for exposing this. He stole what he could and proponents like how they can politically use the content. Snowden is like someone that drinks and drives, plows into a van killing everyone in it and one of the passengers happens to be a criminal... and everyone cheers hero. I realize that's a bad example to compare to because drinking and driving could be described as an act of negligence. Snowden's actions are more akin to renting a transport truck, taking it to a festival and running over everyone you can - and one of those people turns out to be bad guy. Hero status.
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