Around two weeks ago, former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden sent a letter to Brazil informing the country that he would not be able to provide any assistance with investigations into United States surveillance—which may have involved crimes against Brazilian citizens—without an offer of permanent asylum.
The letter did not indicate that an official request for asylum from Brazil had been submitted to the country’s government. However, this was reported as Snowden seeking asylum in return for handing over secrets or information on US spying.
Subsequently, the Brazilian government was asked by reporters if it rejected Snowden’s request for asylum. They did and then the White House citied Brazil’s rejection of a request Snowden never made as further proof that he needs to come back to the US to face trial.
There is zero evidence that Snowden has tried to sell NSA secrets to any country or engaged in any deal-making to obtain permanent asylum. Also, no evidence has been presented to prove that he still has any copies of documents, which he took with him when he fled to Hong Kong.
Journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman have sets of documents, which Snowden provided. Snowden did not keep any copies of documents when he left Hong Kong in the summer (and was stuck in Moscow when the US revoked his passport).
Given all of the above, it is very troubling to watch shows, which give off the appearance of news programs, permit current and former US government officials to spread propaganda about Snowden when it is so clearly false.
On Sunday, Major Garrett, a chief White House correspondent, hosted CBS’ “Face the Nation.” The program began with an interview by former NSA director Michael Hayden, who emphasized that he no longer saw Snowden as a “defector” but was “drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language.” He now was beginning to think Snowden was a “traitor.”
GARRETT: What do you think he is?
HAYDEN: Well, I used to say he was a defector, you know, and there’s a history of defection — actually, there’s a history of defection to Moscow, and that he seems to be part of that stream. I’m now, kind of, drifting in the direction of perhaps more harsh language.
GARRETT: Such as?
HAYDEN: Such as “traitor.”
GARRETT: Based on what?
HAYDEN: Well, in the past two weeks, in open letters to the German and the Brazilian government, he has offered to reveal more American secrets to those governments in return for something — and in return was for asylum. I think there’s an English word that describes selling American secrets to another government, and I do think it’s treason.
Actually, that English word is espionage, not treason, however, that is beside the point. Here Hayden explicitly alleged that in letters to Brazilian and German officials he was trying sell secrets.
What was Garrett’s reaction? Garrett moved right on to the next question, one which gave Hayden an even greater opportunity to put forward propaganda.
GARRETT: Is the NSA stronger or weaker as a result of Edward Snowden’s disclosure?
HAYDEN: It’s infinitely weaker.
HAYDEN: Infinitely. This is the most serious hemorrhaging of American secrets in the history of American espionage. Look, we’ve had other spies. We can talk about Hanssen and Aldrich Ames. But their damage, as bad as it was, was fairly limited, and even though in both of those cases, human beings actually lost their lives. But they were specific sources, all right? Now, there’s a reason we call these leaks, all right? And if you extend the metaphor, Hanssen and Ames — you could argue whether that was a cup of water that was leaked or a bucket of water that was leaked. What Snowden is revealing, Major, is the plumbing. He’s revealing how we acquire this information. It will take years, if not decades, for us to return to the position that we had prior to his disclosure.
A responsible journalist would have said something about comparing Snowden to Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames. He or she would have asked whether there is any proof Snowden has sold secrets like Ames or Hanssen. The hyperbolic claim that NSA was “infinitely weaker” could have been tested. Even asking whether this was closer to whistleblowing than espionage would have been proper.
Did Garrett challenge any of this? No:
GARRETT: Are you afraid of more disclosures?
HAYDEN: Well, actually that’s a great question. because I saw, in your lead-in, you had Mr. Snowden saying, “My work is done.” Now, does that mean all the stories based upon the information he’s given to the press will stop? You know, he said he’s accomplished his objective. “I’ve already won.” But yet will the stories stop? I don’t think so.
GARRETT: And what are you most afraid of if the stories continue?
HAYDEN: What I’m most afraid of is that we’ll reveal our sources and methods, our tactics, techniques and procedures, to people around the world who will the American nation and the American people harm.
Hayden is not even consistent. He already wrote back in July that Snowden had revealed “American intelligence’s tactics, techniques and procedures” to adversaries, yet here he tries to create fear that it will happen in the coming months.
A similar exchange played out last week on ABC’s “This Week” with host George Stephanopoulos when Stephanopoulos was talking to Representative Mike Rogers, a leading NSA advocate and chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
ROGERS: Listen, I do think he should come home — I’d personally pay for his plane ticket — and be held accountable for his actions.
Here’s where I think he’s crossed the line now, George, he has contacted a foreign country and said, I will sell you classified information for something of value. That’s what we call a traitor in this country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re talking about his open letter to Brazil?
ROGERS: Absolutely. He has traded something of value for his own personal gain that jeopardizes the national security of the United States. We call that treason. And I think that letter — I think very clearly lays out who this gentleman is and what his intentions were clearly. And so would I like him to come back? He should come back. He didn’t use any of the whistleblower protection avenues laid out before him. None. Zero.
He went to the press. Then he went to the bastion of Internet freedom, China, and then Russia, to lay claim, claims that, by the way, this individual report dominated by law professors just said there was no scandal, no surveillance under the 215 program. All of the things that he’s been saying I think been repudiated by this report. All of that I think we need to take into consideration. [emphasis added]
Stephanopoulos does ask a follow-up for clarification. However, once it is clear that Rogers is talking about the open letter to Brazil, Stephanopoulos does not correct him.
Also, Stephanopoulos has done enough segments on Snowden by now to understand that Snowden was not trying to go to Russia. He became stranded in a Moscow airport on his way to Latin America.
Did Stephanopoulos challenge any of what Rogers said after he clarified his point and made it clear he was referring to an open letter to Brazil?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, you’ve warned that the terror threat may be increasing again, al Qaeda on the rise again. And we know that they have targeted the Christmas season before. Do you have any more reason to be especially concerned right now? Is the threat level going up around this holiday season?
ROGERS: Well, I think — and any national holiday that we would experience here, like Christmas, is something that we are concerned about. I don’t think I see any other threat stream that I wouldn’t say is out of the norm. But again — and the reason we see that is because there are more affiliates, more al Qaeda affiliates from around the world, al Qaeda in the Magreb, al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, you have al Shabaab now claiming some al Qaeda affiliate, al Sharia in Libya, all of these groups want to have and have the aspirations to commit acts of violence against westerners and the United States that’s why this threat has grown.
Absolutely not. Instead, Stephanopoulos teed up Rogers to spread some holiday fear to justify the NSA’s continued transformation of the world into a massive surveillance state.
Snowden had a wide impact this year. His disclosures ignited a debate on NSA surveillance capabilities that would never have happened if he had gone through “proper channels” instead of providing documents to journalists.
Throughout the year, US media have alleged that Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies probably obtained copies of the secrets Snowden took, that terrorists were changing their tactics as a result of disclosures, that NSA’s bulk data collection thwarted over 50 terror plots, and—the most popular claim whenever the truth of what government is doing manages to get out—that “national security” had been damaged.
NSA has been desperate to feign transparency by engaging in clear public relations operations. Revolving door journalist John Miller essentially produced an infomercial for “60 Minutes” that had the blessing of NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander and gave the NSA plenty of opportunity to spout propaganda without challenge.
Remarkably, not even the best efforts to push false government talking points have succeeded. The government has been unable to truly undermine Snowden and the work of journalists around the world reporting on documents. They have had to reluctantly embrace the debate—even pretend they “welcome” it. They have had to setup a review group to provide recommendations on how to make cosmetic changes to restore trust in the NSA.
Government officials have never had control, and, as more stories with disclosures are published in 2014, expect the spread of propaganda to continue and expect US journalists or pundits to actively or unwittingly participate in the dissemination of such propaganda intended to undermine Snowden and pushes for curtailing NSA’s vast surveillance powers.