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Beware Glenn Greenwald bearing leaks

Beware Glenn Greenwald bearing leaks

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?


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MouseTheLuckyDog | August 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm

You are wrong Greenwald is not half reporter and half activist. He is all activist and because of that he is half reporter.

I say give some rogue elements in the NSA the opportunity to drone them.

Go, Professor!

You only know what you know when you know it. “I smell a rat,” describes both Snowden and Greenwald roles. You have said so in a timely manner just like Sarah Palin correctly called out Obamacare death panels now innocuously labeled IPAB.

Where are the Commie whistleblowers? Victor Suvorov wrote in Inside the Aquarium that they were fed alive into a crematory oven and that the film was shown to Soviet Military Intelligence (GRU) trainees. How is that for Progressive motivation?

And with these celebrated personal lives I cite G.K. Chesterton who said that when you ignore the few big laws you end up with many, many little laws.

If Snowden ends up before an American court, maybe he can crib Bradley Manning’s remorse and rationalization.

Thank you, again!


    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to dmurray. | August 22, 2013 at 1:14 am

    I simply cannot fathom all the malice toward Snowden and Greenwald. I don’t care if Showden is a trained ChiCom or Russki spy. Sure, the leakages are important in the short term, but in the long term it’s vastly more important that the American people know what kind of monsters we have evolved in Washington, D.C., and what they’ve done to our beautiful constitution.

      Because their motivations tell us something of how to evaluate whether or not their claims are reliable. We know that Greenwald is not reliable, but what is Snowden’s reliability?

        JackRussellTerrierist in reply to SPQR. | August 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm

        I don’t assign motives of purity to either one of them. But, in my experience, the lack of altruist motive in no way challenges the accuracy of the information. This is true of most whistleblower-type situations. The whistleblower/rat may spill their guts out of revenge, anger or for $, but that doesn’t mean they’re lying.

        The stuff that Snowden has leaked is easily backed up by recent revelations that Snowden isn’t connected to.

        Ratting somebody out makes the ratter a rat but it doesn’t mean they’re lying or fabricating evidence. To take the astonishing steps that Snowden did and have it all be a hoax or unreliable just doesn’t wash.

        Occam’s Razor.

for me the jury is still out re: snowden.
I also was very bothered by the way it went down, also bothered by how he supposedly told us all sorts of stuff when many of us knew it to begin with. we were just called tin foil hatters when we said nsa was monitoring.
if greenwald was not involved I think I would be more charitable towards snowden, but I have suspicions so I am still keeping open mind.

Any US District Court would enjoin publication of a stolen copyrighted private work. Yet based on the Pentagon Papers case no District Court will enjoin publication of stolen classified material, even though there is an inherent copyright.

    The analogy fails for many reasons, but one is that works of the US government have no copyright by statute.

    JackRussellTerrierist in reply to sequester. | August 22, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    There are laws and regulations that protect classified government material, but copyright certainly isn’t one of them.

    Think about it. In theory, whatever the gov does belongs to “we the people.”

I think the phrase “U.S. Firster” speaks volumes. Those who are in the “Blame America” club are delighted by any mud thrown at Uncle Sam, and downright euphoric at any clump that sticks. There are others who will excuse any and all actions of Uncle Sam, as long at it is advancing our culture, economy, or political influence. Of course, there are varying shades of those ideologies.

I’m still undecided about Snowden. Not knowing what information he has taken is perhaps the biggest piece missing from this puzzle. If the federal government had the worst secrets imaginable about to be revealed by Snowden, I doubt he would still be alive. If he’s just confirming that the feds are spying on us…well, that’s troubling, but not earth-shattering, since we all know that by now.

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

Yes he did. Look at what happened to William Binney who worked for NSA, quit and blew the whistle on warrantless eavesdropping, and misallocation of funds. Binney claims a dozen FBI agents invaded his home and one pointed a gun at him while getting out of the shower. The government impounded his equipment and he had to sue to get back. Other NSA whistleblowers had similar experiences. While Binney did help expose NSA’s transgressions, he failed to gain traction. With no documents, it was just his word and NSA could deny everything. If Snowden wanted to be effective then he had to do exactly what he did. Notice it worked.

As for Snowden going to China and Russia, what choice did he have? The U.S. government can pretty well bully every other country by threatening to cut off or inhibit trade. It can deny a country access to loans from the U.S. Export Import Bank. Small counties like Ecuador or Bolivia are very vulnerable to U.S. bullying because their businessmen will pressure their governments to give in to prevent them from being cut off from U.S. markets. Yes a superpower with a super economy can really throw its weight around in the world. Unfortunately sometimes our government does act like a bully with its own citizens and other countries.

As for the Guardian and Greenwald, I don’t trust of them either. They both have an anti-U.S. agenda. But in this case, they are a valuable conduit to get the truth out. Sometimes we need to make an alliance with scoundrels in the interests of a greater good. So hold your nose and read the Guardian, but verify.

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to raijin. | August 21, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Raijin, to use very English expressions
    “Bully for you, and your comments!
    Very good ol’ man”

    Very well said and Very True!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

The Obama Administration has been trying to “phony” this away from the beginning. Without actual documents, they would have been successful.

casualobserver | August 21, 2013 at 3:13 pm

I’m more on the fence about Snowden that any of the other players, nation’s included. He certainly has aligned himself with people and entities that do nothing for his credibility, however. And Greenwald has proven to me he seeks more than just exposing truth the moment he announced using information as a form of retaliation against the UK government.

The most damning facts about Snowden is the way the facts are coming out to build a story that shows how utterly deliberate he has been for quite some time. Whether or not he needed to abscond with so much classified information, so far it appears to have been his plan for a while. What isn’t clear, and the reason I being cautious about judging him, is how much he has actually decrypted and allowed Greenwald and others to see. All? I haven’t seen that printed. At least as I understand it, he has created his “insurance” by providing all the encrypted information to a few. But perhaps he hasn’t allowed access to everything. Given the history of Wikileaks, however, it is entirely possible they have convinced him to provide access to all. But it isn’t obvious, yet.

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to casualobserver. | August 21, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    I will keep reminding myself that all we the people know is “controlled” by the U.S. and U.K. state-run lie-stream media or by similar agenda-hacking entities.

    I never believe anything they say anymore.
    Believe the exact opposite and you’re probably closer to the truth.

PersonFromPorlock | August 21, 2013 at 3:27 pm

If you rely on personal virtue to motivate government – including government whistleblowers – you’re going to be disappointed. Assume the worst about Snowden and Greenwald, and what does it change?

Not A Member of Any Organized Political | August 21, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Of course the Communist Chinese and the Communist Russians would never FORCE Snowden to make false statements like that, now would they?

They’ve behaved like “perfect gentlemen” is a queer way to phrase it.

So consider the possibility that the Communist Chinese and the Communist Russians have already strip mined all the secrets and are now forcing a Snowden job of lies.

So you only worry about your privacy when a lilly white leakers discloses NSA secrets ? if Snowden was a convicted murderer and car thief would that make what the NSA is doing ok for you ?

Henry Hawkins | August 21, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Skepticism is a virtue, not something to apologize for.

The data Snowden is carrying is secure. I doubt the chinese or the russians can get into, except using the “hammer method” (eg taking a hammer and beating someone until they give you the password). Even then, the “Hammer” might fail, there may be fake drives hidden under layers of encryption that only Snowden knows is correct.

That and Snowden is more of a strategic win than any data they could obtain by force. Snowden is foremost a political refugee. He is facing persecution for civil disobedience against a government he has PROVEN has lied and broken its lawful boundaries in commencing general surveillance of nearly all private electronic communication. This is a straight prima facia 4th amendment violations. Furthermore it is a conspiracy that has done such things as retaliate against whistleblowers, and I believe much worse. Only if we had a man like this at the IRS what we could do.

If Obama wants the data out of Russian hands, all he has to do is grant him free passage to iceland or another country. Obama stupidly trapped him on route to iceland in Russia and then blocked his travel to any other country. If Obama truly cared about getting this data out of the hands of the Russians he could simply give him a pardon. However you think of Snowden and his disclosures, the disclosures have revealed a far reaching criminal conspiracy to deprive Americans of their liberty on masse. There is no defense to this charge, such as “I didn’t know what I was doing”. The conduct was “mala in se” and it was kept secret under the threat of violence. Those using the approved “channels” were destroyed personally and pushed into poverty, even so far as to

I know people are skeptical about Snowden, but the complaints have only been brass knuckles PR. If Snowden simply wanted to disclose confidential information to the Chinese or the Russians there are better ways to go about it. You certainly wouldn’t go tell reporters what you were planning to do because that would alert the government to what was about to happen. Which is exactly why Snowden left the country for hong kong. The Post went to the White House, and the White House initiated a . Geo-politically its the only place that makes some sort of sense. One of just a few nations that would go ahead and defy the United States. So I put it to your other readers, what other country would have made more sense given he could probably make just one flight? Russia. that’s about it.

To me overall, I see the NSA as an inherent threat to every civil liberty out there. They went beyond targeted scope surveillance and filters. They are actually recording everything. Even your most private communications. this is inherently dangerous. I am sure Obama wouldn’t let me use it on him or his friends, I don’t think Obama should be able to use it on anyone else. To pretend that this scoundrel that is in offie has not already abused this technology, I say this, “YOU ARE NIAVE AND FOOLISH” to trust this man with anything, especially our most private information.

Thank you, Professor. I have tried to make the same points over The Diplomad, but have not been half as eloquent as you. Snowden is no hero whistleblower; he operated like an intel operative, which is what I suspect he was. I have written a lot about him at

and elsewhere

and am always amazed by how many want to excuse what he and Manning did by pointing out how rotten the Obama administration is. Running off to the Chinese and Russians is not the action of a whistleblower. He is a lying traitorous weasel.

Your argument strikes me as distinctly ad hominem – does it even matter what the motivations of Snowden, Greenwald, etc. were? If they were evil actors does does necessitate that what they are saying is untrue? The point is that they have disclosed some information that raises serious questions about our balance between national security and privacy. It goes without saying that many, many people are shocked by the extent of the government’s intrusion into our most personal lives. And if it wasn’t for these disclosures these intrusions would still mostly be unknown, unremarked upon, undebated.

How big a danger is terrorism? Is it worth giving up our constitutional protections to prevent terrorism? Is terrorism even really preventable? This is an important debate, and you can’t have a debate when one side of the debate refuses to even acknowledge there is anything to debate. And now they at least have to acknowledge these questions. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start.

Let me preface my comment by saying that I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, and was in the Marine Corps during the first Gulf war. I’m about as rah-rah American as they come.

Up until the last few years, I believed our government had honor and integrity. I knew that there were shady areas, but, overall, I believed in our government. I would have given my life for the country.

However, the events of the last 10 years have completely changed my opinion. I no longer believe our government has any honor or integrity. I refuse to even call it the “American government”, because it’s not a government based on American principles anymore. It’s become a banana republic government. On top of that, the social-engineering this country has went though has left it a shadow of the country that was at one time “The shining city on the hill”. On this site, all I need to do is say “George Zimmerman trial” for people to understand what I mean by that. I wouldn’t risk harm for this country anymore, much less give my life.

So my opinion of Snowden and Greenwald is one of “Hell, go for it, release it all”. Put another way, you don’t call the cops on a good neighbor who has a pot plant in their backyard. A pot plant in the backyard of the bad neighbor who curses at your children, breaks into your house and vandalizes your property? Yeah, you gladly call the cops on them, and hope the cops come with a SWAT team that beats the crap out of them.

Hong Kong’s citizens are fanatical about their free speech rights! Snowden really did his homework!

China is not looking for a showdown in Hong Kong because it’s an economic hub. And, China’s leadership isn’t stupid.

Putin isn’t stupid.

Our leadership, however, is flushing freedoms down the toilet. If you think Snowden is something, you should see Jesse Ventura’s take on a Conspiracy Theory!

What our government tried … because it has in its net the FIVE EYES: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the USA … is used a bullying method against Greenwald that backfired!

It didn’t take nine hours for this story to travel around the world. Cameron has expended his own political reputation, here. And, for what? A nine-hour “glee fest” at Heathrow?

David Miranda was NOT traveling to England! It was a “transit” stop. So in the future you can be sure people won’t be using British Air. And, they won’t take flights that have a stopover at Heathrow.

What did the seven agents get in return? Well? Journalism is not terrorism! Miranda was probably traveling with Poitras’ current film that she’s working on. Her two others on Irak are already available at Amazon. And, she’s been awarded the MacArthur prize. Plus, last year she came in second, in the documentary category, at the Oscar’s.

It’s all heavily encrypted. David Miranda did not have the key! So, the information sits at the airport. With legal action already taken by Greenwald. For Miranda.

I didn’t know Greenwald was also an American lawyer.

The call to Greenwald he received at 5:30 AM? ONE: It was meant to intimidate him. It was probably placed on Miranda’s cell phone. (Because Miranda had the password for that phone.) By now ALL PHONE NUMBERS HAVE BEEN CHANGED. You never moved and had to change your phone number? So, the Brit’s have the phone.

They can’t call Snowden, because this story has been carried so far and wide … everyone whom the Brit’s tried to “catch in the Net,” have taken all the necessary precautions.

When will Laura’s film be ready for production? Dunno. But once it’s ready it’s got a worldwide audience … thanks to the way the Brit’s handled this “thing.”

“Bully for you.” (Gee, I remember that being a British term. Used during WW2?) Well, Bully. Bully. Bully.

British law will be all over this.

Did the Brit’s try to steal Miranda’s Brazilian passport? YES. That’s what he screamed out loud in the airport’s lounge … before he got on the plane to Brazil.

Yes, too. America took away Snowden’s passport. So, he’s got a new one. From Russia.

While the story has such legs … It’s like Betty Grable’s.

Greenwald went to an American Law School. And, he passed the Bar. Really bright guy.

[…] Wisdom & a good point of view from Prof. Jacobson. “I guess you could call me a U.S. Firster…” […]

Propaganda artists. In bed with each other. (And, they say Greenwald’s “queer.”) What’s queer is that we don’t have journalists in this country, anymore. They’re also not worth reading. And, none of them can quite get their reputations high enough that they’ve got a byline anyone seeks out to read.

Meanwhile, I use Drudge’s links. To get to The Guardian. And, today’s Greenwald “episode” takes on Australia! Notifies the Australians with what their political turkeys are doing.

How long will it take for people to catch on?

It’s like Catch-22. People catch on.

[…] Glenn Greenwald | Edward Snowden | Leaks | NSA […]

Professor, there is a big problem with your mule theory: If Miranda is indeed a mule for Greenwald and associates, why is not Greenwald et al arrested? If Greenwald roams free, you can’t claim the motivation was that Miranda was a mule, because you can just arrest him and his associates and stop the transfers at the source, leaving aside the notion that they even need a mule. This is all silly non-logic gotchas.