BFP Exclusive- Former CIA Officer & Whistleblower Frank Snepp Responds to Sibel Edmonds’ Article on Snowden-Greenwald

“The journalists’ “sugar daddies,” as you call them, will have to get in line if they want to exploit Snowden’s revelations against us.”

By Frank Snepp

Your post admirably demonstrates why “boiling” figures in the title of your blog. Your outrage burns like a cascading incendiary right through the entire piece.

You perform an invaluable service in showing how the documents-count for Snowden’s boost has dramatically altered — from Glenn Greenwald’s July cite to der Spiegel of 9,000-10,000, to his claim of 20,000 to the Brazilian Senate, to the UK/David Miranda takedown count of 58,000, to the NSA quote of 1.7 million.

You also make an extremely important point in noting that the “spider-crawler” technology that Snowden apparently used to “scrape” up files at Booz Allen couldn’t possibly have allowed for the kind of judicious scrutiny and selection that he originally claimed for himself. He made this claim early on, as you’ll recall, when he tried to separate himself from Bradley Manning and his grab-bag approach to the military files he plundered for Wikileaks. Based on a New York Times story of February 9, the technology he and Manning used was roughly the same. So Snowden exaggerates or prevaricates in pretending he was somehow more careful and discreet than Manning (now Chelsea Manning).

As for the discrepancies you’ve noted in the Snowden documents-count, they dazzle the imagination with possibilities.

In a New York Times magazine piece published by Peter Maas on August 18, Greenwald is quoted as saying that Poitras had documents with her when she joined him for their flight to Hong Kong last summer. Thus she went into their meeting with Snowden after having already received some material from him.

By the time Greenwald and the Guardian’s Hugh MacAskell left Hong Kong on or about June 10, according to one of your previous BFP posts, Greenwald was ready to maintain that he had received everything Snowden had to give them.

But on June 12, Snowden made comments to the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong that indicated he still had a stash with him. So clearly, by his own perhaps unwitting acknowledgement, he had NOT given all copies to Greenwald by that point.

In his interview with the Hong Kong reporter Snowden revealed that NSA was surveilling Chinese targets on the island and the mainland. Greenwald seems to have been caught by surprise by these revelations for he later acknowledged publicly that he probably wouldn’t have published these leaks himself and felt Snowden had done so to ingratiate himself with the Chinese. Greenwald’s alleged aversion to exposing such operations is laughable given his later willingness to blow equally sensitive secrets. But it does appear that he realized that Snowden was off on his own track.

According to the Maas article, Poitras slipped out of Hong Kong on June 15. She may have been carrying the very documents Greenwald later claimed had been transferred to them both, or even files he had not seen. Indeed it is possible that Greenwald had none or only a portion of the Snowden stash upon his own departure from Hong Kong and meant to pick the rest up later from Poitras.

His decision to send his partner David Miranda to Germany in August to link up with Poitras and collect 58,000 documents from her strengthens the likelihood that she was, until then, the main custodian of the Snowden files, whatever their number. 

Either way, it is apparent 1) that more documents are circulating than Greenwald originally claimed; 2) that Snowden wasn’t the discreet security-minded thief he originally pretended to be; and 3) that Poitras is the wild card in all the confusion. She accompanied Greenwald to Hong Kong with more documents than he had previously seen, and later, and after returning to Germany, she retained more documents that he had carried with him out of Hong Kong.

It is impossible to sort out from all this whether the 58,000 documents that Miranda was carrying when detained at Heathrow in August were part of Snowden’s original handoff in Hong Kong, were an additional dollop that Poitras had separately gotten from him, or represented everything the two journalists now describe as the Snowden file.

To further complicate things, the NSA’s pilfered-documents count of 1.7 million may be a guestimate of how many files Snowden’s spider-crawler had access to, rather than a tally of what was actually stolen.

Bottom line: Greenwald and Poitras are in a position to clarify much of this, and if they were objective journalists truly committed to transparency and accountability, they would do so in a heartbeat. But they haven’t.

While we’re doling out journalistic responsibilities, let’s not forget Barton Gellman of the Washington Post and Hugh MacAskell of the Guardian, both of whom were part of the original Snowden daisy chain.

Gellman apparently received his own share of the Snowden files from Poitras directly or via the encrypted conferencing system that she and Snowden set up during the time he was pilfering the Booz Allen/NSA mother lode in Hawaii. She was close enough to Gellman to share a by-line with him on his own original Snowden story for the Post, and, as Greenwald revealed to Peter Maas, she was the technical mastermind behind the transfer of the Snowden files to his journalist-collaborators.

Did Gellman get copies of some, all or more of what was handed to Greenwald, Poitras and MacAskell in Hong Kong, or later? Did MacAskill get copies of all of the stuff that Greenwald and Poitras pocketed? Are his copies the ones the Guardian later shared with the New York Times? And how reflective are they of what Greenwald and Poitras now control?

One thing seems fairly certain in all this: Gellman’s package included documents he was initially led to believe were his alone to exploit. They had to do with the NSA internet surveillance program codenamed Prism. According to his and Greenwald’s published accounts, Gellman was originally given the Prism documents as a Post exclusive. When the Post balked at Snowden’s prepublication demands, copies of these documents – or at least permission to report on them — went to Greenwald. He would later file a story about Prism just moments after Gellman surfaced his own in the Post.

In a follow-up “explainer” (that didn’t explain much) Gellman glossed over Poitras’ role in the Snowden leak-fest and treated Greenwald as a late arrival to the game. As Gellman told it, once the Post rebuffed Snowden’s demands, the leaker “made contact with Glenn Greenwald of the British newspaper the Guardian.”

Not so. Poitras had already brought Greenwald into her dialogue with Snowden. Once again she is the wild card.

Presumably Poitras knew all along what Gellman was up to since she shared a by-line with him on his Prism story. But she evidently kept from him her previous months-long interplay with Snowden and the Guardian reporter. Otherwise Gellman, in his explainer, wouldn’t have characterized Greenwald as a Johnny-come-lately, and Greenwald wouldn’t have responded as he did, announcing tartly via Twitter, “Bart Gellman’s claims about Snowden’s interactions with me – when, how and why – are all false.”

Any attempt to account for the Snowden documents, their whereabouts and number, must also contend with other imponderables.

For instance, Greenwald told the Daily Beast that some number of Snowden’s still unpublished stash have been handed over under a password arrangement to parties unknown, and will be released as payback to the powers-that-be if anything happens to the leaker. What are these Armageddon files, who’s got them, what’s their number, and why hasn’t Greenwald, the “objective” journalist, revealed all this rather than play bullyboy messenger on Snowden’s behalf?

Moreover, as Peter Maas reported in his Times magazine article, at least some information relating to NSA’s surveillance deal with Verizon – the subject of Greenwald’s first leak story – is floating out in the ether somewhere, thanks to his and Poitras’ impatience with the Guardian newspaper.

“When The Guardian didn’t move as quickly as they wanted with the first article on Verizon,” Maas wrote, “Greenwald discussed taking it elsewhere, sending an encrypted draft to a colleague at another publication.”

Who is that “colleague,” where is that draft, and was any of the supporting documentation attached? The “colleague” apparently is the kind of journalist Greenwald is, and is keeping what he knows from the public.

Finally, because of all the questions surrounding disposition of the Snowden files – who received, or shared, which files, and when – there are monumental chain-of-custody and verification problems.

Anywhere along the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras-MacAskell-Gellman-Miranda-Guardian-New York Times transmission belt, glitches, whiteouts and blackouts could have occurred. Documents could have dropped out, fabricated ones could have been added, amendments or distortions could have been slipped in – all without Snowden being aware. Whatever his original password precautions, he collected far more documents than he could ever have read or vetted in their entirety, and he has abdicated too much control over them since then to be certain of what is now being distributed in his name. 

I am almost beginning to feel sorry for the NSA damage assessment team tasked with figuring out just what kind of havoc Snowden has wrought.

If what we do know is any predictor, neither the NSA nor any of us will ever be sure which documents Snowden stole, what their numbers are, or where they have ended up.

I do believe the jury is still out regarding one thread of your blog – your concern that the free-floating Snowden files might somehow compromise our privacy or allow the journalists’ billionaire patrons, Pierre Omidyar of eBay-PayPal or Jeff Bezos of Amazon-Washington Post, to do so.

True, the files apparently contain a great deal of information about cyber warfare and the defenses the NSA has erected, or attempted to penetrate, and this may contain enough to allow expert hackers to dig into very private stuff here, there and everywhere.

But let’s face it, what the Snowden files confirm beyond all question is that the Russians and the Chinese are already deep into this racket. To the extent that Snowden’s leaks have strengthened their hand, or weakened our firewalls against them, he will also have deepened our exposure to privacy violations by our sworn competitors and enemies. The journalists’ “sugar daddies,” as you call them, will have to get in line if they want to exploit Snowden’s revelations against us.

# # # #

*Frank Snepp is a Peabody-Award winning investigative journalist, author of two CIA memoirs, and focus of a major U.S. Supreme Court decision dealing with national security and the First Amendment. He posts on franksnepp.com.

 **To read Sibel Edmonds’ latest article on Snowden-Greenwald Click Here

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Comments

  1. Interesting assessment of the timeline. The elephant in the room remains – very little has been released and most (perhaps all) is non news.

  2. “I am almost beginning to feel sorry for the NSA damage assessment team tasked with figuring out just what kind of havoc Snowden has wrought…But let’s face it, what the Snowden files confirm beyond all question is that the Russians and the Chinese are already deep into this racket. To the extent that Snowden’s leaks have strengthened their hand, or weakened our firewalls against them, he will also have deepened our exposure to privacy violations by our sworn competitors and enemies.”

    Havoc? So it goes full circle. The “thief” who according to previous discussions has revealed “nothing new” has none the less aided and abetted Russia and China, “our sworn competitors and enemies,” with all sorts of revelations.

    The word “our” is about as misguided as Iraq is/was “our” sworn enemy. Is it possible to at least get to the point where it’s recognized that elite interests do not reflect the interests of the general populace, the latter of which I assume this article is intended. Russia and China (made up of people with all sorts of beliefs) are not my sworn enemy, but maybe their political elite and populations are the sworn enemies of elements within the rogue government operating in DC. Making this distinction is absolutely critical, given the way war is sold to the public.

    Further, I’m NOT almost feeling sorry for the NSA, and I wouldn’t even think about making such a remark, tepid though it may be, even if I actually thought Snowden was nothing more than a money hungry criminal. This is EXACTLY the kind of mess you get when you unrepentantly build a nation on things like manifest destiny, genocide, slavery, white male privilege, colonialism, cut throat competition by any method you can get away with, and then get offended when someone brings these issues up, as if this society has ever done anything more than pay lip service to our sordid past and present. Look forward, not back, Obama said. But the NSA swims in the waters of national karma, and “cleanup” isn’t something deserving of even a hint at pity. Damage assessment is just the continuation of a bankrupt system picking up the pieces, finding new forms and new methods for deception and control.

    And EXCUSE ME, “we” (the rogue govt and its complicit intelligence agencies that don’t actually represent the citizens and which learn from the past only to REFINE their murderous approach), have been killing people and destabilizing cultures in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Africa, etc of late. So if you want to get all nationalistic with this ‘our sworn enemies’ rhetoric, go ahead, but I find what appears to be an appeal to American exceptionalism both disturbing and frankly disgusting.

    Snowden didn’t compromise anything. He’s part of a broader context: The open and secretive systems that we (and I do mean we) accept, the leaders we allow into power, the rampant violence we fund, are the problems. This state of affairs is what is compromising our privacy and our livelihoods, but Snowden makes a nice scapegoat. I imagine blow back’s gonna be pretty extreme, and will not likely bring about any improvements, to say the least. Will I be faulting Snowden for the collapse of a historically corrupt system bound to eat itself? Not a chance. If he really is just another criminal opportunist, well welcome to the club. Most of our paychecks indirectly depend on corruption. Our banks have been kept afloat by liquid capital from the black market. He’s not undermining whistleblowing, because much of this society within which whistleblowing takes place has already been so thoroughly undermined and the crisis at hand is so large, that we appear to be unable to effectively respond to his revelations, regardless of his intentions.

    In the event of a major economic or environmental shock, ask yourself if at least at some level you appreciate the fact that the general public, your potential ally, is now aware of the surveillance apparatus (that you already knew about) that will be used to crush any dissent, and thus your friends and neighbors may be more sympathetic to your struggle. The gloves are off folks. Under our current system there is no justice: just winners and losers. Snowden’s a distraction from whatever you have to do to transform your own life and the community you live in, given the information you already possess.

    • Look forward, not back, Obama said.>>

      As if it’s possible to see anything ahead by leaving one’s past in darkness.
      I am in full agreement with everything you’ve said here, Luke.

  3. Unrelated to this article, which I thought well done, is how did Bradly Manning change his name? I didn’t think anyone was allowed contact with him? Did a sympathetic guard pass his wishes onto his Facebook page? And since when does everyone, including the MSM just change how they refer to someone without an official change of name? I don’t really give a crap what he’s called. I think he’s been horribly wronged. But it seemed like at some point everyone began referring to him as Chelsea?

  4. Mr. Snepp says:

    “Any attempt to account for the Snowden documents, their whereabouts and number, must also contend with other imponderables.”

    If I were as intelligent as Mr. Snowden I would do exactly what he has done, i.e., keep US state agencies guessing about the whereabouts and number of the documents that I “stole”–to use Mr. Snepp’s gracious wording–from NSA who had stolen them from the rest of the world. I would make contradicting and vague statements not only about who and how many documents has but, for obvious reasons, also about the methods that I used to “steal” them from NSA. I don’t even have to be as intelligent as Mr. Snowden to realize why it is necessary to act this way.

    “Any attempt to account for the Snowden documents, their whereabouts and number, must also contend with other imponderables. ”

    If I were an FBI, CIA or DIA officer assigned to assess the damage from the Snowden Affair this would be my first and foremost task.

    If I were an FBI, CIA or DIA officer assigned to troubleshoot the political effects of the Snowden Affair I would do exactly this: I would try to discredit Snowden in the eyes of the public by using his and his associates’ contradictory statements, they made to keep us guessing, against Mr. Snowden and his associates to undermine their credibility and moral character.

    “Any attempt to account for the Snowden documents, their whereabouts and number, must also contend with other imponderables.”

    If I were an FBI, CIA or DIA officer specializing in “executive actions,” I would be eagerly waiting for my two colleagues above 1) establish the whereabouts and number of the Snowden documents and 2) sufficiently discredit Mr. Snowden and his associates in the public mind. Actually, I don’t have to as smart as our officers who specialize in “executive actions” to realize that only after the two tasks above have been completed, only then I can proceed to troubleshoot Mr. Snowden’s Case by using the troubleshooter with the sniper scopes.

    • If I were an FBI, CIA or DIA officer… I would…

      Or, maybe, I would tell people that’s what I would do. Or, just maybe, I would tell people that’s what I would tell people that I would do. Getting pretty smokey in here.

    • Great points Netter. Here’s another attempt to discredit the leaks in the above article:

      “Anywhere along the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras-MacAskell-Gellman-Miranda-Guardian-New York Times transmission belt, glitches, whiteouts and blackouts could have occurred. Documents could have dropped out, fabricated ones could have been added, amendments or distortions could have been slipped in – all without Snowden being aware. Whatever his original password precautions, he collected far more documents than he could ever have read or vetted in their entirety, and he has abdicated too much control over them since then to be certain of what is now being distributed in his name.”

      Snepp has no problem engaging in unfounded speculation here, and so he invites our speculation as well, which regardless of its veracity none the less helps to demonstrate the wider crisis of trust we now live with BECAUSE of the nexus between untrustworthy, powerful, secretive organizations, and disruptive technology. This is the wider existential problem.

      So just like the tobacco lobby and anti-climate change lobby, it’s not that you have to disprove the harms of tobacco or excessive GHG emissions, you just have to sew enough doubt to change the nature of the discussion, a course alteration which in this case prevents the discussion of what to do when trust is no longer deserved, no matter what the claims made by the govt. As Tice said to Peter B. Collins, they just need to open some new secret offices and change the names of some programs and voila, surveillance reform!

      In Snepp’s above example he could have pointed out that by having various eyes looking at the documents, fabricated information also has the potential of being found out. Inconsistencies can be discovered as stories emerge in competing media outlets. One of the reasons Greenwald gives for the delays in publication is the time spent in vetting the documents. If the NSA knew that they were just making stuff up, they would find a way to bring that to light and torpedo Snowden, GG, etc. In other words, it’s clearly not in Greenwald’s interest to try to mess with the documents even as he is launching a new media outlet, unless they want to sink their own multi million dollar cash boat. The same could be said of established media outlets. Why Snepp would put forward such a dubious line of thought is up for you to decide.

      On another note, I’m working on an informational brochure about some of these issues as a means to reach out to people outside of the cloistered discussions of BFP and the wider internet. I’d be happy to let you know when it’s done and ready for download if you are interested.

      • …by having various eyes looking at the documents, fabricated information also has the potential of being found out. Inconsistencies can be discovered as stories emerge in competing media outlets.

        That’s not the only benefit of giving the public access to all of the documents. We would also be able to find out if there are superficial narratives being controlled and disseminated by just a few billionaire funded guardians of the information. The right to know is essential to being an informed citizenry and to stopping the ongoing crimes against us.

        • It’s been 9 months, and the chain of custody includes: Wash Post & billionaire Jeff Bezos, Billionaire Pierre Omidyar/PayPal/eBay, UK Guardian, NY Times (I wonder which billionaire is going to buy that one soon), Greenwald, Greenwald’s Husband, Poitras …. that we know of. To call it a public service? To buy that bs? Aha.

          • Sibel,

            I just want to say that in spite of some of my recent criticisms here at BFP, I don’t plan on financially supporting the Intercept or whatever Omidyar media group is, as I do here. I believe in your overall mission, your heroism as a whistleblower, and I commend you for hosting a range of views through the articles. Also it’s ridiculous to think people would agree on everything, and I find it sad when people need to agree on everything: ie ducks as you once called them. This site continues to be a primary destination for me. Thanks.

      • Please do!

  5. From the Wikipedia entry on Frank Snepp
    “As a result of losing a 1980 court case brought by the CIA, all of Snepp’s publications require prior approval by the CIA.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Snepp

    My question to Mr. Snepp. Was this piece on Snowden approved by the CIA?

  6. avatar tonywicher says:

    This interview of Stebe Pieczenik on the Snowden affair is worth a listen, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afrpAfAiyA0.

  7. avatar tonywicher says:

    I forgot to say the Pieczenik interview starts at about 15:00 into the video.

  8. avatar Bradley Fuller says:

    This is a self induced descent into a chamber of mirrors. Rather than speculate it is perhaps better to just stay the bona fide information and facts,as few as they are, as they are, and as they emerge. And perhaps E.S. could enlighten us somewhat with his side of the story at some point ?

    • avatar Mark Green says:

      I agree, yet just before I bow out of the speculation orgy…

      I haven’t read or heard anyone posit the following; Snowden was and is still in total control of the documents.

      He was supposed to have passed on his cache to Greenwald and also given copies to the rest of the team of journalists

      Is it more likely or unlikely that Snowden kept one or multiple copies of the cache somewhere (internet clouds)?

      Whether he kept additional copies for himself (to further educuate himself of their contents) or not, he still could be pulling all the strings and calling all the shots.

      Part of “The Deal’ in his releasing the cache to the various parties might simply have been that he directs which documents are released and when.
      He has stated he is still in contact with Greenwald.

      If he still has a copy, he could be firing off instructions to the journalists about what specifically to release.
      If he doesn’t have a copy, they could be sending him docs/articles for him to vet before they make their next move.

      This could be another reason why so few documents have been released to date.
      The journalists haven’t been given permission to release more.

      What do you think Mr. Snowden?

      • This could be another reason why so few documents have been released to date.
        The journalists haven’t been given permission to release more.

        He has publicly deferred to the editorial decisions of the journalists. What reason are you speculating the journalists have for deferring back to him, at this point?

  9. avatar Bradley Fuller says:

    Post script (as there is no “edit” feature, There is the smell of dead fish somewhere in this pile, and obfuscation is a double edged weapon. While blurring all may add to safety it can also increase peril with the present status quo of who knows what is valid or not becomes the final statement.

  10. The latest from Wayne Madsen… http://www.waynemadsenreport.com/articles/20140215

    “February 15-17, 2014 — Snowden was not alone: CIA faction behind leak of NSA document trove

    Sources within the U.S. intelligence community have told WMR, on the condition of anonymity, that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden gained access to and released tens of thousands of classified NSA documents because a faction within the Central Intelligence Agency was growing increasingly alarmed over the massive surveillance system controlled by NSA. In many cases, highly compartmented CIA covert operations abroad were made known to NSA because of the ability of the signals intelligence and cyber warfare agency to monitor full spectrum digital communications worldwide, including those of the CIA.

    A group of active and retired CIA officers, in addition to CIA contractors, set out to expose the NSA’s massive surveillance operations, as well as those of its foreign partners. Snowden, a former CIA employee who worked for the joint NSA-CIA Special Collection Service in Geneva, Switzerland as an official cover CIA employee attached to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and in Misawa, Japan under non-official cover with Dell Computer and Booz Allen Hamilton, was chosen by the CIA faction as the person best positioned to collect NSA documents and leak them to the media….”

    You can find the rest here… http://www.occurrencesforeigndomestic.com/2014/02/17/this-world-is-mental/

    In short, since the NSA was getting too big for the CIA’s britches, they used Snowden to monkeywrench the entire NSA, so the CIA can play unimpeded now…

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