Has anyone been wondering, as I have, whether Edward Snowden has anything to do with all of this Russia stuff? Did he offer advice to Russian troll farms? Did he have anything to do with the timing of the releases of WikiLeaks, the hacking at the DNC? Or is he living a quiet life as a Soviet apparatchik, birthing little Snowdens with his girl, living in his rather posh and unstimulating little Siberia à la Doctor Zhivago? I know you will say I have read too much fiction, and I do tend to romanticize things. But there is something about a good spy story that is very satisfying because it is an exercise in both adrenaline and intelligence. And I would still like to know what Edward has been up to.
The answers could be in this very interesting article from September 2017 in Spiegel Online (der Spiegel). This is a fascinating interview between Snowden and a German journalist. What follows are a few tidbits to stimulate your appetite. Is Snowden a spy or just interested in oversight of government spying activities? Is he an expert on intelligence dos and don’ts or is he playing his own game? This is the stuff of spies and it certainly interests me. Enjoy, if this is in your wheelhouse.
Snowden: My personal battle was not to burn down the NSA or the CIA. I even think they actually do have a useful role in society when they limit themselves to the truly important threats that we face and when they use their least intrusive means. We don’t drop atomic bombs on flies that land on the dinner table. Everybody gets this except intelligence agencies.
Snowden: Since summer 2013, the public has known what was until then forbidden knowledge. That the U.S. government can get everything out of your Gmail account and they don’t even need a warrant to do it if you are not an American but, say, a German. You are not allowed to discriminate between your citizens and other peoples’ citizens when we are talking about the balance of basic rights. But increasingly more countries, not only the U.S., are doing this. I wanted to give the public a chance to decide where the line should be.
DER SPIEGEL: So, what’s the difference between the BND and the NSA?
Snowden: The most important difference is budget. How much play money do they have to throw around the sandbox? That really dictates the sort of capabilities. But Germany has tremendous capabilities because it is so centrally located and you sit on so many favorable geographic points, like the internet nexus DE-CIX in Frankfurt. It is like shooting fish in a barrel. It doesn’t actually matter how bad you are, doesn’t matter how poor you are, if all you have to do is dip a glass in the barrel and you come up with a fish.
Snowden: It wasn’t that difficult. Everybody is currently pointing at the Russians.
DER SPIEGEL: Rightfully?
Snowden: I don’t know. They probably did hack the systems of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic Party, but we should have proof of that. In the case of the hacking attack on Sony, the FBI presented evidence that North Korea was behind it. In this case they didn’t, although I am convinced that they do have evidence. The question is why?
DER SPIEGEL: Do you have an answer?
Snowden: I think the NSA almost certainly saw who the intruders were. Why wouldn’t they? But I am also convinced that they saw a lot of other attackers on there, too. There were probably six or seven groups. The Democratic National Committee is a big target and apparently their security wasn’t very good. The DNC refused to provide these servers to the FBI, which is really weird. So, I think the reality here was it was narrative shaping about the Russians.
Snowden: I’m not. He doesn’t even have the moral fiber to say, “I think this person is a spy.” Instead, he says, “Whether Mr. Snowden is a Russian agent or not cannot be proven.” You can literally say this about anyone. I thought, and I would hope, that in an open society, we had moved beyond the days when these secret police agencies were basically denouncing their critics. I’m not even mad about it. I’m just disappointed.
DER SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, many people, also here in Germany, have wondered what kind of concessions you had to make to become Russia’s guest.
Snowden: I’m glad you ask because again, this sounds right, he is in Russia, so surely he had to give something up, right? But when you start looking at it, it falls apart. I don’t have any documents or access to documents. The journalists have them and this is why the Chinese or the Russians couldn’t threaten me when I crossed the border. I couldn’t have helped them, even if they had torn my fingernails off.
DER SPIEGEL: It is still hard to believe for many that the Russians would let you in just like that.
This is the most recent article I could find on the subject and it does not disappoint. The article offers far more comprehensive information than the bits I have given here. Does it answer my original question about Edward Snowden? Well I have to say that he seems genuine, but I am not totally convinced that Snowden stayed out of Russian intervention in the 2016 election. It doesn’t seem like something he would do voluntarily, given that his actions at the NSA and since seem to be based in the ethical issues raised by spying rather than any interest in actual spycraft. This is a spy story that will not be wrapped up until sometime in the future.