SocraticGadfly: Snowden: Permanent Record or First Draft of Hand-Waving?

February 25, 2020

Snowden: Permanent Record or First Draft of Hand-Waving?

Permanent RecordPermanent Record by Edward Snowden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The book gets three stars for the questions it raises, and no more for that than not answering them. The questions aren't about the NSA et al, they're about Snowden and his imperfect record, and they're the basis for the review, which I think catches him in at least one full-on lie.

That’s my honest take on Edward Snowden after “Permanent Record.”

With more questions than answers, this is an expanded version of my book review, diving further into some of these questions the book raises, why I think some of his responses to the outside world's interpretation of his actions (and not just the deep state and its political supporters' responses — some left-liberals and leftists raise one eyebrow, at least, about Snowden) are hand waving, and more.

The questioning starts about three-quarters in, when he tells us he’s made “The Decision,” and now he’s trying to figure out who in the media to approach. He’s also said that most journalists reporting on NSA issues are basically noobs about technology. One of the two he most extensively hooked up with, Greenwald, certainly is.

But, he mentions one name at this same time: James Bamford. Bamford is not, AFAIK, a tech noob; after all, some of his writing has been for Wired. And, having written multiple books on these issues, he knew then and still knows his way around both CIA and NSA.

So, question 1: Why didn’t Snowden approach him? Or, per Bamford’s interview with Snowden in Moscow, and Bamford mentioning him, Bruce Schneier? Per that link, I also find it interesting that Bamford didn't ask Snowden that very issue himself. No, I don't think there's some Bamford-Snowden conspiracy; I just mean "interesting" in the everyday sense that Bamford overlooked this. I Tweeted my original review to Bamford and asked him this very question; no response.

That leads to question 2. Snowden talks about cooling his heels in Hong Kong while getting people to bite. What journalists DID he talk to besides Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman and Ewan MacAskill? Or did he talk to any? Related — given that his goal was to leak to a trusted professional journalist or three, how much advance planning did he do? Or not? Care to connect this to other things, Snowden?

Question 3: What is he not revealing about his time in Hong Kong before meeting Greenwald and Poitras? See this link for some discussion of this issue. More here. I’m not saying I agree with every take, and I certainly don’t agree with the person’s or group’s background — that site looks to be straight “The Resistance,” and on Snowden, the pieces seem to be smears. And, since it links to Edward Jay Epstein, a lawful program can still be highly immoral. See “separate but equal.” And Snowden never claimed the programs were “rogue.”

Question 4 goes straight to Snowden: If he did get other serious nibbles, did they not pan out? Did he cut them out? Why? This ties back to both questions 2 and 3, of course. Again, without a detailed timeline from Snowden (which could include a hacker busting into his credit card and/or any cellphone records), we're left to wonder.

Question 5, or really, a series of related questions: What does he think about Poitras and Greenwald (actually Greenwald, basically) ultimately NOT publishing most of what he gave them? As in about 90 percent? What does he think about the lies, as I see them, by Greenwald and Intercept flunkies, that Intercept, owned by a billionaire, didn’t have the money to do more? What does he think of this decision including sealing access to these files, especially since Intercept is the only place to which he gave full access? More on that whole issue at this site, one of many places to discuss the issue. Snowden looks like he had less than the best judgment, in part given Greenwald's subserviance to Pierre Omidyar before Snowden tagged him.

Question 6: Given Omidyar’s own access to the national security state, did Snowden not think of this possibility in advance? I mean, Glenn worked for Pierre on salary. He wasn't an independent journalist. He wasn't even a regular, but contracted, contributor like he was with the Guardian. Again, seems to "go to character, your honor" (on both Greenwald and Snowden), to use an old legal phrase.

Question 7: Did he not, at this point, rethink going to Wikileaks? If he did not think of that, why not? Is he that technologically constrained inside Russia today?

Question 8: Had he thought about Greenwald stovepipeing this information? Had he considered Greenwald’s past, or even some of Poitras?

Question 9: Did he really not think that the almighty US Government would find him sooner rather than later? In other words, why didn’t he book a flight to Ecuador as soon as he cut the video with Poitras? Why linger in Hong Kong? For THAT matter, why not go directly to Ecuador, which gets directly to Question 10, and directly to catching Snowden in what seems to be an outright lie.

Question 10: How does he reconcile him allegedly having a plan to go to Ecuador with him stating a dozen pages earlier that he chose NOT to originally go to Latin America (page 284) because “Africa and Latin America were no-go zones too — the United States had a history of acting there with impunity.” Given the other denials of transit, why not fly to, say Ecuador’s embassy in either Beijing or Hanoi?

And, at that point, I think we’ve caught Snowden in an outright lie.

Question 11: The passport and the time frame. Edward Jay Epstein notes that, a day before he left Hong Kong, the US had ALREADY invalidated his passport except for return to the US. Therefore, his claim it has been invalidated in midair is a technical Jesuitical truth at best and a lie at worst. Care to address that?

Question 12: Why does he never mention direct Russian involvement? Why does he never mention he lives in a country that spies on people more than the US? If the US claims are all true, why didn’t Hong Kong arrest him? How much was Beijing involved?

Question 13: This is unrelated to the spying, but if you were such an idealist, and already at least a bit informed at age 20, why didn’t you oppose the Iraq War? Related: Why, as late as 2011 in Hawaii, were you that shocked that we gave raw intell to Israel?

Tentative thoughts and answers.

Unlike The Resistance grifters et al, I don’t think Snowden is a traitor. I do think, though, that per the amount he talks about games in the book, he is, was, has been, and will continue to be running his own game, and it’s not the one of naïve idealist. Is it as an Assange-type anarchist of sorts? He did officially support Ron Paul for Prez in 2012.

Answers to specific questions.

1.    Roping in Bamford would have avoided issues, or exposed issues, under 3, 5, 6, 11 and 12 at least. Whether this was deliberate or not, not talking to somebody smarter than Greenwald left Snowden more open to claims of being a Russian plant or dupe than is necessary.
2.    I don’t know that Snowden will ever tell us that.
3.    I’m not sure how much is “real” in those links; they are from a Resistance group. Nonetheless, it at a minimum leaves Snowden open to charges of being disorganized in the face of all of the issues.
4.    Related to 2.
5.    I doubt Snowden will ever tell us that, either. In part, it gives him an ongoing game to play with the NSA. In part, given his espoused libertarian tendencies, and his relative dismissal of the degree that Big Biz spies on us, I think he kind of likes it. Maybe he knew more in advance here than he lets on.
6.    See above.
7.    No, because it would have undermined 5-6.
8.    See above.
9.    This one is really a puzzler for me. Since I don’t think he’s a Russian agent, the best I can lay this to is further disorganization. At a minimum, it doesn’t speak well for him overall.
10.    See 3 and 9. But at what point is this actual disorganization vs apparent disorganization?
11.    Obviously Snowden had to fly. Literally. It’s a semi-white lie to enhance his martyrdom.
12.    Beyond the obvious reason of having worse accommodations in Russia, or even being turned over after being wrung dry? The Chinese angle still makes me wonder. I’m sure it’s in the background somewhere.
13.    The “idealism” is probably about 1/3 pose, if not more, by 2003. By 2011, it’s entirely a myth. If not, Snowden really IS an idiot.

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Some of these questions are by no means unique to me. For example, Ken Silverstein has told me that he thinks the Russkies honeypotted Snowden. Now, he's married, isn't he? Yeah, but plenty of married men get honeypotted. Or maybe it was a gay honeypotting.

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