Just as the NSA-Snowden leak story was being broken by The Guardian via Glenn Greenwald, and to a lesser extent at The Washington Post, I thought about writing a post with the title this post bears.  In the crush of other things, and the uncertainty as to what was involved, it didn’t get written.

As events have unfolded, I’ve been hesitant to focus on motivations and agenda, because undoubtedly there is some good coming out. 

We’re more conscious of the totality of information gathered by government, the weak oversight, and the potential for abuse.  As a small government type, these disclosures are useful as to the threat posed by unaccountable big government.  Among other things, the Snowden affair is a stark warning as to the danger the gathering of private medical information under Obamacare poses not just from the government itself, but from leakers.  Imagine some HHS employee pulling a Snowden with your medical information.

Nonetheless, I’ve been uncomfortable how this has gone down.  We shouldn’t be kowtowed into silence just because some of the consequences of this espionage and theft are good from a privacy perspective.

Maybe Snowden and Greenwald have pure agendas, but I had my doubts at the inception, and still do months later.

As to Snowden, it still all seems too easy and too convenient.  He just happened to know exactly which job and in what manner to scoop up so much sensitive information that the NSA apparently can’t even figure out what he took.  He didn’t just take advantage of a position he held, he maneuvered himself into the position he needed to be in.  That’s not the usual whistleblower scenario.

Snowden didn’t even need to take the classified information and documents to blow the whistle, a fact rarely if ever pointed out.

Snowden then absconded with the data in a particularly professional manner, seeking safe haven in China (Hong Kong) just as the Chinese President was about to get confronted by Obama over Chinese cyber-espionage on U.S. companies, thereby taking the heat off the issue.  He then somehow miraculously managed to make his way to Russia, to the open arms of Vladimir Putin, who played a little hard to get, but not much.

All along Snowden says he hasn’t shared the stolen information with the two repressive regimes who just happen to be our two major geopolitical rivals and who have given him safe passage and now asylum.  Sure.  The Chinese and Russian intelligence services almost certainly already have sucked every gigabyte of information from every piece of electronics carried by Snowden, unless, that is, they didn’t have to by the time he arrived in person.

Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker makes this point as well:

As part of Snowden’s flight from American justice, he went to two of the most repressive and technologically sophisticated countries on earth. (Hong Kong is, of course, part of China.) In an interview with Greenwald, Snowden said that the authorities in those countries behaved like perfect gentlemen.

“I never gave any information to either government, and they never took anything from my laptops,” Snowden said.

Oh, really? Is he serious? Should anyone believe a word of this? China and Russia spend billions of dollars conducting counterintelligence against the United States. An American citizen walks into their countries bearing the keys to our most secret programs, and both—both!—China and Russia decline to take even a peek. That is a preposterous proposition. Even assuming that Snowden believes he had control of his computers 24/7 (he never slept?), there is simply no way that China and Russia would pass up that kind of bounty.

Snowden just doesn’t strike me as the innocent whistleblower he portrays himself to be.  So much of the information he stole that has been disclosed is old news, but headline grabbing, and politically damaging only to the U.S. (where are all the Chinese and Russian intelligence service whistleblowers, by the way?).

Is “whistleblowing” the reason Snowden took and disclosed the intelligence information, or the cover story to engender sympathy from people — like me — concerned about privacy rights which, by the way, don’t exist in China or Russia.

Snowden also is just too ready to deflect criticism with inappropriate analogies, as Toobin also points out:

In this debate, Snowden himself says, those who followed the law were nothing better than Nazis: “I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg, in 1945: ‘Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.’ ”…

There is obviously some legitimate debate to be had about the extent and the legality of American surveillance operations. But there is no doubt about the nature of China and Russia. Snowden’s pious invocation of the Nuremberg trials will probably be small comfort to the dissidents and the political prisoners whose cell doors may be locked a little tighter today because of what these authoritarian governments may have learned from his hard drive.

As to Greenwald, he has his own agenda.  His obsession with deriding supporters of Israel as “Israel Firsters” and his relentless false moral equivalencies meant to bring the U.S. and our allies down internationally make me suspicious. 

I guess you could call me a U.S. Firster.  I want the U.S. to maintain national security and intelligence agency superiority over the Chinese and Russians (and al-Qaeda, Iran, and others), provided that it is done in a way that does not breach the constitutional rights of American citizens.  I doubt the first half of that sentiment is shared by Greenwald, and he probably would criticize me for being concerned primarily with the privacy rights of American citizens. 

Part of the agenda probably is exposing violations of privacy, but I doubt that’s the only motivation.  Sure, Greenwald is part reporter; he’s also part activist, and it’s the activist part which increasingly seems to dominate his conduct.

Greenwald’s threat to release even more damaging information as a reaction to his partner being stopped by British authorities — he was, of course, carrying stolen information as John Podhoretz points out today — is just more evidence and a continuum of Greenwald using the treasure trove of information Snowden gave him as a hostage.  Do other reporters who break national security secrets make such threats?

Greenwald’s alleged past (and present) history of sock puppetry doesn’t help give me confidence that what we are seeing is what we are getting.

Maybe time will prove me wrong on all this.  Maybe Snowden and Greenwald are pure as the driven snow.  Maybe the result will be that we maintain our national security position vis-à-vis the Chinese, Russians and al-Qaeda and repair our privacy rights.

But I’m going with my gut at this point, unless and until proven wrong.

And you will not believe this, for sure, but I actually hope I am proven wrong.

Update 8-22-2013: Some readers seem not to care that this thing smells, but I do.  The author of this post thinks it smells too, David Miranda – Snowden’s Mule, and physical data (emphasis mine):

Look, boys and girls, you hold politicians to account, hold YOUR OWN  to account too. No fear no favour – stop turning a blind eye and swallowing the spin so uncritically.

Ask yourselves this damned obvious question. If the data was copied everywhere and it didn’t matter, why is Rusbridger talking about “copies in New York and Rio”?

Why is David Miranda carrying it on encrypted thumb drives?

Why is David Miranda acting as a go-between at all? …

But Miranda and Poitras used a human mule (if indeed we believe him, I absolutely don’t, that he didn’t know what he was carrying).

Why?  …

Ask yourselves if Glenn Greenwald, and Laura Poitras, are actively assisting Edward Snowden in his treacherous dissemination of classified, incredibly sensitive US and UK intelligence? From where I’m sitting, it looks like an attempt to fight charges in advance – by claiming that they are journalists and everything they do is covered by the First Amendment. Hence the New York Times putting Poitras on the cover of its magazine supplement this week and Greenwald’s repeated lies about the role of his husband and the events and aftermath of the detention to British journalists, unchallenged anywhere in the UK press, until I started tweeting about it  & wrote my last blog on the topic.

They hope that claiming a journalistic role will protect them when they are stealing, storing and disseminating classified intel about not just NSA snooping but America’s intelligence programmes against China, Russia and so forth…..

However, as with this post, it is for bloggers to ask the questions that journalists refuse to. Thank God for the internet, eh?

Bingo.  I can’t say with certainty, and I hope I’m proven wrong, but if you wanted to reveal incredibly damaging NSA information having nothing to do with privacy of American citizens, what’s the perfect cover?