Gordon G. Chang (Photo in public domain and from Voice of America China)

(update below)

Journalism based on sensationalism and crude exaggeration is by historical definition known as yellow journalism. A recent article at The Daily Beast by Gordon G. Chang, which accuses former NSA contractor Edward Snowden of lying, is this kind of despicable journalism.

The headline decided upon by an editor at The Daily Beast is “Snowden Lied About China Contacts.” The premise is that Chang apparently has some sources he contacted to prove that Snowden lied. If he is lying, should he really be given clemency? Maybe he isn’t a whistleblower after all. Maybe he is a spy. (Gasp.)

For the record, some biographical details for Chang include being a lawyer, author and television pundit. He’s the author of The Coming Collapse of China. It suggested China would collapse by 2006. Or, before 2010. One reader’s review included the sentence, “Unless you like arguments like ‘a Muslim in Xinjiang doesn’t like all the pork in Chinese food, therefore China is bound to collapse,’ you’re not gonna get anything out of this book.” He also was a regular on “The Glenn Beck Program.”

What’s the alleged lie?

“I have had no contact with the Chinese government,” Snowden wrote in a Q&A on the Guardian website while taking refuge in Hong Kong in June. “I only work with journalists.”

That’s far short of the truth. By the time he wrote those words in the online chat, Snowden, according to one of my sources in Hong Kong, had at least one “high-level contact” with Chinese officials there. Those officials suggested he give an interview to the South China Morning Post, the most prominent English-language newspaper in Hong Kong. This is significant because, as the Post noted, Snowden turned over to the paper documents that contained detailed technical information on the NSA’s methods. Included in these documents were Hong Kong and Chinese IP addresses that the NSA was surveilling. The disclosure of those addresses was not whistle-blowing; that was aiding China.

The Post, my source told me, had sent two reporters to interview Snowden. The paper did not give a byline to one of them, a Chinese national serving as the deputy to Editor Wang Xiangwei, who openly sits on a Communist Party organ in the Mainland. That reporter is suspected to have then supplied Snowden’s documents to Chinese agents. Beijing, it appears, was able to cover its tracks while obtaining information from the so-called whistle-blower.

Beijing “appears” to have covered its tracks is pure speculation, not fact. “Suspected to have then supplied Snowden’s documents to Chinese agents” is as well. Chang does not know if Beijing has copies of information from Snowden, yet, like other pundits who have made a name for themselves by disseminating unfounded allegations against Snowden, he advances this claim.

A reporter the South China Morning Post (SCMP) did not give a byline may have been someone who was a member of the “Communist Party organ in the Mainland,” but, unless that was openly shared when Snowden met this person, how would Snowden have known? In any case, Snowden made a calculation that the information being handed over could be given to the news organization and it would not jeopardize the part of NSA’s mission and objectives that are reasonably justified to him.

What Snowden revealed to SCMP was the following: “extensive hacking of major telecommunication companies in China to access text messages”; “sustained attacks on network backbones at Tsinghua University, China’s premier seat of learning” “hacking of computers at the Hong Kong headquarters of Pacnet, which owns one of the most extensive fiber optic submarine cable networks in the region.”

Essentially, he exposed the hypocrisy of the US government. While campaigning against China’s cyber exploitation of networks in the US government and of US companies, it was also waging cyber warfare on institutions and companies in China.

This information did not include details on how the NSA was thwarting Chinese cyber attacks against American companies and government agencies. It did not detail how they were fighting off efforts to steal state or trade secrets.

It is not fair to be general and suggest the documents detailed “NSA’s methods.” Methods for what? Chang could not begin to comprehensively articulate this because he does not know.

Notice how agreeing to give an interview to an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong becomes engaging in espionage where documents would be handed to intermediaries that would ensure documents wound up in the hands of the Chinese government in Beijing. Also, who is this contact? What to Chang constitutes a “high-level contact”? How “high-level” does an official have to be to be this kind of a contact?

Chang continues:

Specifically, it appears that agents of China’s Ministry of State Security were in contact with Snowden during his stay in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous part of China. “The Chinese already have everything Snowden had,” said an unnamed official to the Washington Free Beacon days after the leaker had left Hong Kong for Moscow. Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said that Snowden probably went to Mainland China during his stay in Hong Kong, a suspicion shared by some in that city.

Moreover, evidence suggests that Beijing orchestrated Snowden’s flight from Hong Kong. Albert Ho, one of Snowden’s lawyers, believes Chinese authorities contacted him through an intermediary to pass a message that it was time for Snowden to leave the city. “I have reasons to believe that… those who wanted him to leave represented Beijing authorities,” he was quoted as saying.

It is at this point that one must conclude Chang lacks a firm grasp of the concept of evidence. If something “appears” and a lawyer in Hong Kong who represented Snowden “believes” and a US representative, who is a fervent NSA advocate, “suspects” something “probably” happened, this is not evidence.

If I suggested that I believe Chang fabricated this entire story based off friends he knows in the Chinese government, who feed him gossip from within the government which he then treats as truth in order to make a living, I would be suggesting that with no evidence whatsoever. I would not be able to make this claim because I do not really know if Chang makes a living peddling Beijing chatter that supports his free market ideological views. I would have to admit I simply suspect it probably is true.

Unfortunately, Chang does not stop with the above. He adds:

We can only speculate as to the motives of the Chinese to frustrate Washington’s attempts to apprehend Snowden, but they did their best to make sure that American officials did not get the opportunity to interrogate Snowden. The last thing they wanted was for the U.S. to learn the extent of their penetration of the NSA and the FBI in Hawaii.

Some in the American intelligence community suspect Snowden was really a “drop box,” receiving information from NSA personnel working for China. In other words, he was used as a courier. [emphasis added]

Yes, and some in the American journalism community suspect you will write anything about China for a dollar, even if it shows you are a shoddy journalist.

Essentially, Chang is suggesting that Snowden was put on a flight so the US government would not find out the extent to which the Chinese have penetrated the NSA and FBI.

Beijing may also have encouraged Snowden to leave Hawaii. One of my sources indicates that Chinese intelligence, either directly or through FBI personnel working for China, tipped Snowden off that NSA investigators were closing in on him.

FBI personnel working for China tipped Snowden off? You have a “source” that tells you Chinese intelligence did this? The kind of source that would get your buddies at WorldNetDaily excited or a source that would lead to a legitimate investigative piece of journalism?

If it is true that the FBI has personnel working for China and they tipped off Snowden, that is a major story. You should probably not waste your time exposing Snowden as a “liar” and focus on what the US government is doing to root out Chinese infiltration you allegedly uncovered.

Now, it is reasonable to say with confidence Snowden did not provide documents to Chinese officials and help them—not only because there is no proof—but also because, as Snowden told New York Times reporter James Risen, “NSA has not offered a single example of damage from the leaks. They haven’t said boo about it except ‘we think,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘have to assume’ from anonymous and former officials. Not ‘China is going dark.’ Not ‘the Chinese military has shut us out.’”

Chang concludes:

At this point, allegations of Snowden’s shadowy involvement with Chinese intelligence in Hawaii remain unconfirmed, but the evidence suggests he lied about his dealings with Chinese officials during his stay in Hong Kong. That tells us he may have been more than just a “whistle-blower.”

Just because he raised critical issues that go to the core of our democracy does not mean Mr. Snowden is a hero. He may also have been a spy.

At this point, allegations of Chang’s shady cooperation with right wing lunatics, who have close ties to US intelligence officials, in order to produce journalism that amounts to propaganda remains entirely unsubstantiated. In fact, no such allegations have been made by this author.

However, The Daily Beast editor who approved this article should be ashamed of his or her self for publishing this story and giving the article its title. It seems to have adhered to the same journalism standards Chinese state-funded news media follows when producing content for mass consumption.

Update

One additional note—Journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted a link to this post written by Chang back in July. It’s very similar. The claims made by alleged sources are as dubious.

Chang has had nearly six months to develop better sources and confirm allegations he has been promoting and this is all he has? The Daily Beast should be embarrassed. They should claim they were misled by Chang and retract the story. It is one of the few ways to save face.