A little preface: To say I dislike Edward Snowden and Glen Greenwald is putting my feelings mildly.
I think about the years leading up to this point and it draws out an ire that borders on fury. I was politely asked to write an article covering a facet of this, and I felt that I could not legitimately cover the topic without providing an underlying framework from which to write. However, I also realized that this article cannot be focused on my emotional state regarding that framework or its protagonists. So, as I sit here listening to The Raconteur’s “Salute Your Solution” (below), I will do my best to enlighten the reader, and perhaps come to a bit of closure as objectively as possible.
Let’s start with the protagonists.
Edward Snowden was a very talented systems administrator for the National Security Agency, under contract with Booz Allen Hamilton at the time of his disclosures. His family has a long history of working for the federal government in various respects. I have spoken with friends and coworkers who knew Snowden, and there is a consistent narrative of an exceptionally smart, quiet, and nice gentleman all around. His abilities exceeded just DevOps (sysadmin) and ran the gamut of cryptology; he had a deep understanding of network operations. One coworker suggested Edward was “sheep-dipped” from the Agency into the NSA, by the NSA. This means he continued to be employed by the Agency while working secretly for the NSA. This happens infrequently and is a way to ensure deniability.
Several people have suggested his work went beyond just simple DevOps and into areas of special technical operations (STO). This is certainly a possibility, but this ends the area in which I speculate. I cannot know what I do not know. Asking the government to release this is relatively futile. If it is speculative, you are asking the government to prove a negative. It is impossible to prove Snowden was NOT sheep-dipped—it’s only possible to prove that he was. Politically, Edward Snowden was very “third-party candidate” oriented. He was disillusioned with both parties and saw issues that ran across party lines in which he disagreed with strongly.
Further, behind many such individuals, a mythos quickly grows from who they are into what we want them to be. This includes the intelligence community. In the community, Edward Snowden has certainly been demonized and stamped “traitor.” Outside, he has been hailed as many things: idealist, patriot, etc. Both sides seek to create a mythos that fits their narrative best. Edward Snowden has ceased to be a person with qualities of good and bad, and has instead become a symbol to political parties less interested in the man and more interested in what he represents to their cause.
Glen Greenwald and Laura Poitras humanized Edward as much as possible, but ultimately lost sight of his humanity when they began to profit from his disclosures, using his story as a mechanism to boost their own needs. The intelligence community dehumanized Edward Snowden in order to detract from his narrative. He has been deemed a “self-publicizing narcissist” by Liam Fox, a former member of British Parliament, and has been the subject of hundreds of colorful epithets (including those from yours truly).
Ultimately, Edward Snowden is just a man. By any measure of a man, he is represented by his actions. As most of us know, words are cheap. If you are like me, you listen to what people say, and then look at what they do. We are all hypocrites at times. Not one of us sees ourselves as the villain in the narrative of our own lives. We are judged “heroes” or “villains” on any given day, sometimes more than once a day. Many of these judgments lack any context within the narrative of the person judged. We see other people as we most want to see them or want ourselves to be seen.
Glen Greenwald is a lawyer and a journalist, and majored in philosophy for his B.A. When he graduated from New York University School of Law he litigated cases of constitutional law and civil rights. Initially, Glen wrote for Salon, and then ultimately for The Guardian once he accepted Edward’s request for a meeting and interview. His political views are “constitutionalist,” but completely removed from either party.
Glen Greenwald’s writing reflects an acerbic fury towards the U.S. government in its national-security practices. His sharp opinions have led Pierre Omidyar to support his publication and journalism through the First Look Media venture, where he writes for The Intercept. It is worth noting that the UK detained David Miranda (Glen Greewald’s partner) for over nine hours at Heathrow National Airport under the Terrorism Act of 2000. By all accounts, Glen Greenwald is also an exceptionally talented and smart lawyer.
Laura Poitras is a documentary filmmaker. Her first notable success was as the director of “My Country, My Country,” a documentary that was nominated for an academy award. She covered the life of Iraqis under U.S. military jurisdiction in Iraq. This was followed by “The Oath“—about two Yemenis and their lives within the context of the Global War on Terror. These two people make up two parts of a trilogy, with the final piece expected to focus on Americans and surveillance.
Lines of Causation
Causation is a legal term defined as the “causal relationship between conduct and result.” That is to say that causation provides a means of connecting conduct with a resulting effect, typically an injury. In criminal law, it is defined as the actus reus (an action) from which the specific injury or other effect arose and is combined with mens rea (a state of mind) to comprise the elements of guilt.
Causation is only applicable where a result has been achieved and therefore is immaterial with regard to inchoate offenses. Edward Snowden and Glen Greenwald both have created subjective index points and assessments of causation in relationship to the disclosure of classified information. That doesn’t make them true. Both of them have de-contextualized the data they released to meet their own ends. Consider the “Left vs. Right Political Spectrum.” Shown at left is a highly simplified graph of the political spectrum. Now consider Edward Snowden. Edward Snowden has unilaterally determined that the U.S. has extended its legal reach. He now holds all of the documentation in his hands. Who does he approach with his unilateral revelation?
The “Right Wing” portion of this graph? Probably not. He’ll find very little sympathy regarding government overreach in this area of the political spectrum. The extreme right wing would, in effect, find Edward Snowden’s disclosures anathema to their very existence. How about the left wing? He probably will not find a lot of sympathy with the moderate side of the left wing, any more than the moderate side of the right wing (both of our political parties). The moderate left wing of this graph (toward the center) will still use the rule of law to effect policy. This leaves only a few others who would be receptive to these disclosures. Their very nature abhors the nature of centralized democratic government.
Importantly, as a lawyer, Glen Greenwald knows very well how to manipulate perceived causation to his advantage. In this case, it should be asked, why he has not posted everything at one time for anyone to see if he is truly transparent? His answer is that he must vet it to protect possible sources. And of course, so he can cherry-pick key documents to support his arguments.
What is meant by recontextualization? Recontextualization is an inductive process wherein an individual inductively comes to a conclusion based on one data point, and then based on that conclusion, seeks through a combination of cherry-picking and confirmation bias to affirm this and propagate this conclusion using data points extrapolated from the inductive conclusion.
An example would be if I provided two media articles to any individual with no depth of knowledge politically, the first with the headline, “USA uses the atom bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” the second, “Japan surrenders at sea.” If you read these out of order, you might assume that the USA is a highly antagonistic society with little regard for human rights. You might assume that the atom bomb was overkill. Whatever the conclusion of the individual, they have no frame of reference. It leaves out the years of warfare, an attack on Pearl Harbor, and the state of either military at the time.
Depending on who you give these articles to, their bent on the spectrum will depend (based on confirmation bias) what they believe. Now remember, everyone thinks they are politically moderate when “compared to x.” No one thinks they are the villain of their own narrative. So the left would likely agree with my argument that the USA is a largely antagonistic society with little regard for human rights. The right would disagree and suggest that the Japanese likely deserved it, since it’s clear, due to the word “surrender,” that they were in a conflict with the U.S. So each would respond in kind.
The major media corporations are excellent at recontextualization, and so is Glen Greenwald. Journalists seek the ethereal “truth.” These are the guardians of the fifth estate, an extrapolation of the “Estates of the Realm.” They seek to enlighten from a framework of existing confirmation bias. They generally make no attempt at divestiture from this. To see this, let’s look for a moment at journalistic ethics in summary.
The primary themes common to most codes of journalistic standards and ethics are the following.
Accuracy and standards for factual reporting
- Reporters are expected to be as accurate as possible given the time allotted to story preparation and the space available, and to seek reliable sources.
- Events with a single eyewitness are reported with attribution. Events with two or more independent eyewitnesses may be reported as fact. Controversial facts are reported with attribution.
- Independent fact-checking by another employee of the publisher is desirable
- Corrections are published when errors are discovered
- Defendants at trial are treated only as having “allegedly” committed crimes, until conviction, when their crimes are generally reported as fact (unless, that is, there is serious controversy about wrongful conviction).
- Opinion surveys and statistical information deserve special treatment to communicate in precise terms any conclusions, to contextualize the results, and to specify accuracy, including estimated error and methodological criticism or flaws.
Slander and libel considerations
- Reporting the truth is almost never libel, which makes accuracy very important.
- Private persons have privacy rights that must be balanced against the public interest in reporting information about them. Public figures have fewer privacy rights in U.S. law, where reporters are immune from a civil case if they have reported without malice. In Canada, there is no such immunity; reports on public figures must be backed by facts.
- Publishers vigorously defend libel lawsuits filed against their reporters, usually covered by libel insurance.
Harm limitation principle
During the normal course of an assignment, a reporter might go about gathering facts and details, conducting interviews, doing research, background checks, taking photos, video taping, recording sound. Harm limitation deals with the questions of whether everything learned should be reported and, if so, how. This principle of limitation means that some weight needs to be given to the negative consequences of full disclosure, creating a practical and ethical dilemma.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics offers the following advice, which is representative of the practical ideals of most professional journalists. Quoting directly:
- Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
- Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
- Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
- Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
- Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
- Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
- Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
- Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
Most journalism related to Edward Snowden disclosures actually stems from advocacy journalism. Advocacy journalism generally rejects objectivity in relation to the truth. The maxim when related to anything “true” is that it is in the eye of the beholder. It certainly is a great deal harder to behold anything intelligence related if you don’t actually work in intelligence. Instead, you use causality as the prime force behind your argument. More importantly, journalists claim that what they are in fact doing is contextualizing data, rather than recontextualizing it. Most journalism is not based on any empirical data, but rather a narrative where the author begins with the aforementioned premise and then uses human sources to verify or reject the premise. Human sources (from my own experience) are unreliable in vacuo.
Further, as any journalist will tell you, there is much they do not say. When I hear this, I immediately wonder how this differs at all from intelligence, and on what high ground a journalist can stand when they expose “facts” based on human sources, but retain information from the public. More importantly, who is, in fact, vetting the journalist? Once the story is written, its too late to take back its effect.
I’m not suggesting journalists need government oversight, but rather that the institution of journalism as a whole is failing. If the medium is the message, then sitting on CNN or FOX or, laughably, The Intercept, actually dilutes your message by a cadre of media representatives who have absolutely no idea what they are asking or talking about. It’s the equivalent of a 12-year-old asking a 45-year-old nuclear physicist about fission. The first question is, “How do you eat fission and what does it taste like?”
There are quite a few cohorts in the U.S. that suffer from what is termed persecutory delusion. This is defined by the DSM as:
…a delusional condition in which the affected person believes they are being persecuted. Specifically, they have been defined as containing two central elements:
- The individual thinks that harm is occurring, or is going to occur.
- The individual thinks that the perceived persecutor has the intention to cause harm.
-Freeman, D. & Garety, P.A. (2004) Paranoia: The Psychology of Persecutory Delusions. Hove: Psychology Press. Page 13. ISBN 1-84169-522-X
This is not restricted to the right or left. The left believes that because they share socialist or anarchical beliefs counter to a democratic government, the government persecutes them. The right believes that the government persecutes them to strip them of their rights, frequently a thin veil intended to disguise racial and sexual bigotry. But because of where Edward Snowden deterministically brought his compendium of classified information, it is, in this case, the left we are concerned with. This “left” is a loose coalition of socialists, communists, and anarchists. Members of this group constitute Anonymous, Julian Assange, Laura Poitras, Slavoj Zizek, Amy Goodman, Moxie Marlinspike, Griffin Boyce, and Jacob Applebaum among others. From the article “Fear and Loathing in the Tor Network”:
“One strange encounter has been nagging Griffin Boyce for months. He was eating lunch with a friend one afternoon late last March at an ornate Vietnamese restaurant in Washington, D.C. The place was practically empty, the final chill of an unbearably cold winter lingering outside. Curiously, a woman sidled up next to them, so near the two friends couldn’t help but feel crowded. “She picked the spot closest to us, two feet away, and ordered tea but didn’t drink it,” Boyce recalled. “She also seemed to be listening in. She left when we got the check, and watched us at the subway station.”
This means nothing. Griffin Boyce has zero training in surveillance, let alone surveillance detection. This is a clear indication of persecutory delusion. He bases his claims on the fact he works as a developer for Tor, which he develops because he feels persecuted. This is circular logic at its best. It’s a deep toilet bowl into which rational thought is flushed.
Here is Jacob Applebaum:
“’In the U.S., I’m fairly certain I’ve had a black bag job (a covert and often illegal intelligence-gathering operation) on my apartment,’ Appelbaum told Vice last year.”
While Jacob Applebaum certainly has had legal actions taken against him, there is good reason to doubt his claims and knowledge of what a “black bag” job is and what he thinks it entails. And yet the reader, based on the totality of the aforementioned article, is expected to believe this happens endemically and without any oversight.
Glen Greenwald is likely among these. Edward Snowden is not. Edward Snowden is likely an intelligent man who, under the auspices of “good intentions,” brought classified material to Glen Greenwald and Laura Poitras, who already suffered from a degree of persecutory delusions. Glen Greenwald likely suffers these from experiences as a gay man in the U.S., a country which still has yet to come to terms with homosexuality and where it still bears the weight of hate crimes against homosexuals.
But this alone is not enough. His work as a civil-rights lawyer and in national defense means his “worldview,” his inner narrative, has been shaped by only the poorest aspects of our government. The ones that end up at trial. The successes executed by our government generally never end up at trial. So add these two together with his existing disenfranchisement of the U.S. political system, and you have an excellent recipe for an intelligent, lucid man angry at the government for perceived overreach. He spoke this year at Socialism 2014 and last year at Socialism 2013 with other thought leaders on socialism within the U.S. Apparently, socialism is a much better conduit for his ideas than democracy.
In light of Glen Greenwald and Laura Poitras’s exposure of Edward Snowden’s disclosures, there are questions that should be asked. Why do these individuals feel so persecuted, but yet, in light of this, publish so much? (Or within their paradigm, are allowed to publish so much?) If they are indeed so removed from the political process in the U.S. due to their disenfranchisement, why do they cover it so much? They cover it from Brazil and elsewhere out of “fear.” Why don’t they stay in Brazil and make efforts there to create a transparent government? More importantly, why are they frequently in the midst of socialists? Really, we should say communists and anarchists. There was no USCR, only the USSR. Socialism is a flimsy guise in which true communists hide.
Do they think this is the audience for their publications? Why does Glen Greenwald continue to publish classified material completely unrelated to these so-called surveillance programs? Is there an ulterior motivation for what they are doing? It seems clear that they are not following journalistic ethics through recontextualization. If there is ulterior motive, does it seek to polarize the nation by pitting its citizenry against its elected government? Like the dog chewing off its own tail, the best way to sink a government is to turn its people against it. Finally, how does this polarization benefit Glen Greenwald and his cadre?
But what about the surveillance?
The people that can answer this question continue to be bound, by law, to not disclose it, even though it means the “debate” on surveillance is one-sided. Ultimately, regardless of how slow the law is or how ineffectual it can be at times, it is our adherence to it (until it changes) that forms part of our social contract with our nation. If Glen Greenwald and Laura Poitras really felt that there was an issue with our government, they could have worked in the Open Government Initiative. Instead, they have become antagonists against legitimate efforts to make the government more transparent, criticizing both the speed and efficacy of any effort that shows promise. Transparency is good in every realm of the government but intelligence.
I wouldn’t be writing here if I didn’t believe in transparency. If you force your elected officials to be transparent, they cannot by definition be complicit in the poor oversight of the intelligence community. However, the intelligence community keeps secrets. The intent is not to keep secrets from the public, but our adversaries. Keeping secrets from the public is a byproduct of keeping secrets from our adversaries. This is not an article on whether the USG did or did not conduct illegal surveillance of America. It did not. Rather, America will not see the full ramifications of what has been disclosed for years, although it is beginning to see these effects. But also, if two wrongs were done here, we cannot undermine our legal system by prosecuting the overreach of the government without also prosecuting Glen Greenwald and Edward Snowden. At the most basic level, two wrongs do not make a right.
Should you listen to Edward Snowden’s recommendations on privacy?
Recently Edward Snowden was invited to comment on what you should use for privacy by what appears to be nincompoops. Over here at TechCrunch, while attending the New Yorker Festival, Edward Snowden spoke on privacy and recommended everyone use encryption. Most of the New York Festival attendees didn’t know what a P-box is, let alone how to determine what is “good” encryption. They are relying on good old Edward Snowden to identify it for them. Here is his recommendation:
“He added that, on an individual level, people should seek out encrypted tools and stop using services that are hostile to privacy. ‘We’re talking about encryption. We’re talking about dropping programs that are hostile to privacy. For example, Dropbox? Get rid of Dropbox; it doesn’t support encryption, it doesn’t protect your private files. And use competitors like SpiderOak that do the same exact service but they protect the content of what you’re sharing.'”
Given Snowden’s apparent intelligence, this seems disingenuous at best. He’s referring to point-to-point encryption from user to service. That’s cool. SpiderOak does provide that. Dropbox does not. SpiderOak is also “zero knowledge” on the back end. No one sees your passwords or hashes. So here’s the failure. If the FBI decide to come a-knockin’, they won’t waste time with your user-to-service encryption to get you. They’ll first subpoena the company, then they will subpoena the employees of the company because they will be accused as accessory to a crime (like sharing kiddy porn) and then what was once “zero knowledge” will quickly become “ass-tons of knowledge,” because most employees are spineless and most owners of companies want money to stay in business.
They don’t have to subpoena a guy and then ask for passwords. They can subpoena a guy and then ask him to start logging passwords and processes. Once they have the logs, they can have their own cryptology team go over it at their leisure, or it’s already been done for them by the company. It’s not about the encryption. It’s about the people. Since SpiderOak is a wholly-owned U.S. corporation (citizen) and has U.S. citizens as employees, they are bound by U.S. law. This means if an email is sent from a terrorist that suggests they use XYZ SpiderOak account, guess what? SpiderOak is unwittingly assisting them. Now they can do the right thing, and pass him over (see how this leads to logging?) or the wrong thing and obstruct justice.
So if you really want to make the switch from Dropbox to SpiderOak because you’re afraid of the man, you’ll probably waste your time. However, if you are worried about Russian for-profit hackers, it might be warranted. But in general, the government doesn’t waste man-hours, resources, money, time, etc. to invent or fabricate claims of this against people. Largely because it is too incompetent to accomplish this successfully, but also because there are much bigger issues at stake than you keeping naked pics of your preggers wife on Dropbox.
Now if you want personal encryption, PGP can encrypt all your files on your machines and then you can upload the encrypted files to either SpiderOak or Dropbox, and it won’t matter. The connection won’t be encrypted at Dropbox, nor will the data stored on their servers, but your files will stay in an encrypted state until you supply your key. You can do this pretty easily with TrueCrypt by creating an encrypted volume that stores your files, and then uploading the volume to your favorite cloud application. However, TrueCrypt shut down due to a self-identified compromise. If you believe this and you’re running Linux, just use LUKS, VeraCrypt, or DiskCryptor. You can always use Bitlocker on Windows. For someone who is supposed to know better, maybe Snowden should point these things out to the public rather than encourage people to scurry from one cloud app to another.
As far as the rest of his suggestions, who you are you hiding from? If it’s the government, encryption won’t stop the government from tapping your phone or breaking encryption. If you’re breaking the law, particularly in relationship to terrorism, you should be prepared to accept the consequences. The government doesn’t identify you as supporting terror by starting a tap randomly on any given person’s phone. They follow leads from other terrorists, which then gives them the authority based on probable cause to tap cell phones using an IMSI catcher. The NSA’s massive program is largely directed abroad, but functions on the same systems you use to issue data back and forth.
Our adversaries all use the great American invention of the Internet and the subsequent invention of Gmail (also American) and Facebook (also American) against us by undermining their intended use. The NSA monitors this activity and that of any Americans who are related these foreign activities. Because that is called facilitation or support. As you can see in Canada, there are natural-born Canadian citizens who are radicalized and work with terrorists. If you are hiding from the Russians, Chinese, or criminals, contact me.
Reciprocity is a bitch, and you live in the land of the free. You shouldn’t be hiding. They should be hiding.