How do the workaday analysts at CIA -- the desk-jockies who put in ten, twenty, thirty years without any extraordinary advancement or pay raises -- feel about some of the articles appearing in the news lately? These stories indicate that a few select individuals rise within the CIA hierarchy about as quickly as you can sneeze. A few posts down, we mentioned the odd case of Avril Haines, a fairly young woman who recently landed the No. 2 spot at the Agency even though she has no history there. (Or so we are told.)
And then there's Eddie Snowden, NSA whistleblower extraordinaire.
We'll get to his unusual rise in a bit. But first, we should note that he showed up for an online chat
, conducted by the Guardian, in which he punctured the myth
that the NSA cannot make political use of its eavesdropping capabilities.
More detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on - it’s all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time. Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications. For at least GCHQ, the number of audited queries is only 5% of those performed.
Snowden later added: "Policy protection is no protection - policy is a one-way ratchet that only loosens." Beautifully put! Here's more wisdom from the Snowy one:
NSA likes to use "domestic" as a weasel word here for a number of reasons. The reality is that due to the FISA Amendments Act and its section 702 authorities, Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant. They excuse this as "incidental" collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications. Even in the event of "warranted" intercept, it's important to understand the intelligence community doesn't always deal with what you would consider a "real" warrant like a Police department would have to, the "warrant" is more of a templated form they fill out and send to a reliable judge with a rubber stamp.
If I target for example an email address, for example under FAA 702, and that email address sent something to you, Joe America, the analyst gets it. All of it. IPs, raw data, content, headers, attachments, everything. And it gets saved for a very long time - and can be extended further with waivers rather than warrants.
Some suspect that he has become a spy for China. Hell, I've toyed with that idea myself. (And so have you. Admit it, you bastard.) Eddie has this rejoinder:
Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.
He also has this observation about the infuriating state of American journalism:
“Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.”
Ed Snowden is clearly a bright guy -- and a born writer, if he should choose that profession. But even if we support what he's doing and saying, we must still ask: Who is this young man, and how did he rise so quickly?
Using published sources to solve that problem is no snap. The Guardian interview gives us a couple of further puzzle pieces which serve only to make the puzzle even more puzzling. For example, critics have focused on a discrepancy between his previously-reported income -- $200,000 a year -- and his actual salary for Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden:
The statement I made about earnings was that $200,000 was my "career high" salary. I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I've been paid.
Which raises (not "begs" -- I wish everyone would stop using that word) the question: Who paid Eddie $200k?
Elsewhere, we get this:
Leaving the US was an incredible risk, as NSA employees must declare their foreign travel 30 days in advance and are monitored.
We've been told that, at the time he left the country, Edward Snowden did not work for the NSA but for the intel-linked consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton
, which is largely owned by the semi-notorious Carlyle Group. The Bin Laden family was once heavily invested in Carlyle. In other words, Osama's close kin owned a company so thoroughly intertwined with the NSA that Snowden speaks as though Booz and No Such Agency are one and the same. So, like, suck on that
(There is some dispute
as to whether Carlyle and Saudi Binladen actually parted ways. One could also argue that Carlyle Capital -- a heavy contributor to the mortgage crisis -- did more harm to the world than Osama Bin Laden ever dared to dream. And don't get me started on Carlyle head Frank Carlucci...!)
An earlier post referenced the work of oddball writer Jon Rappoport, who has been styudying what we may call "the Snowden mysteries." Rappoport thinks that Snowden was, is and will remain a CIA operative
, and that he was given the job of ratfucking a too-big-for-its-britches NSA. I'm not persuaded by this theory, but I do congratulate Rappoport for asking some of the right questions.
The same questions are now being asked by more mainstream investigators. See, for example, this article
, which notes that Snowden was (as mentioned in his interview) a high school dropout.
He dipped in and out of course work over the next dozen years and was eventually certified as a Microsoft Solutions Expert — a gateway to tech jobs. But Snowden felt stuck in those first years of adulthood.
If we accept this chronology, we must conclude that he got his Microsoft certs after
he had worked at CIA and NSA. One wonders why a guy making $200k would bother. (As you'll see, a lot of the Snowden story would make more sense if we could add another ten years to his life.) One also wonders why the CIA would entrust its security systems to someone who doesn't have his certs, when so many people who do
have them are scrambling for gigs.
implies, but does not state, that he got his certs at a much earlier point. The piece also reveals that his online pseudonyms include "Wolfking Awesomefox" and "Chishinken," a name he seems to have used on Ebay
. (It's the Japanese word for "barley.") The above-cited article incorrectly states that he became Wolfking in 2010, even though the grand event actually occurred in 2008
. He has also used the nicks TheTrueHOOHA and Phish. At one point, he claimed to be a 37 year-old man
working for an anime art company located next door to NSA headquarters.
But let's get back to this piece
In 2004, he enlisted in the Army Reserve as a Special Forces recruit but less than four months later he was discharged.
Snowden struggled through a period of joblessness, spending long nights playing computer games and chatting online.
It would make more sense for him to seek his Microsoft certs at this time. Here comes the really strange bit...
In 2006, Snowden made a remarkable leap from security guard at the University of Maryland to security clearance. His new position with the CIA put him on the path to extensive travel, a six-figure income and extraordinary access to classified material.
How he managed that jump remains unclear.
I'm reminded of that cute bit in Grindhouse
, in which a "missing" reel allows the filmmakers to avoid explaining important plot points.
Here's an odd discrepancy: In an earlier statement, Snowden averred that he had worked for the intelligence community for nearly a decade. 2006 was a little more than six years ago. Is he counting his (abbreviated) period with the Special Forces? Or did he do something more interesting than play video games during the 2004-2006 period?
When he was 20, he wrote in an online forum
that employers "fight over me."
“Great minds do not need a university to make them any more credible: they get what they need and quietly blaze their trails into history,” he wrote online at age 20.
I can't help but wonder if Snowden comes from one of those "intelligence families" we occasionally read about. That would certainly go some ways toward explaining his leap-froggery up through the system.
His father, Lon Snowden
, recently gave an interview to Fox News, which does not identify his employer; however, this page
indicates that a Lon Snowden (probably the same fellow) is a "Retired Military Officer at U.S.Coast Guard" who, oddly enough, got his MBA just last year. Back in 1979, he was graduated with honors from the USCG Aviation Training Center, where he learned about aviation electronics. Lon's wife works for the federal court here in Baltimore.
Maybe some readers will find a way to scry spookiness in this history, but even I am not that
paranoid. On the other hand, we have this WP investigation
of Ed Snowden's life, which notes that he grew up within spitting distance of the NSA's Fort Meade headquarters...
Employees of the NSA and its corporate partners, dozens of which have offices in surrounding business parks, dominate nearby neighborhoods.
When Joshua Stewart, who grew up near Snowden and now works as a reporter at the Orange County Register in California, started talking to friends about the leaker, “we tried to come up with someone who didn’t have a security connection, and we couldn’t.”
This would indicate that Lon was something more than just an electronic engineer for the Coast Guard.
So we're left trying to figure out why the CIA tossed huge opportunities at "Wolfking Awesomefox" when he was a security guard -- rather than a student -- at the University of Maryland. Sure, Ed is quite intelligent, but there are a lot of bright guys out there, and many of them have degrees.
Mother Jones reveals that Ed worked for a covert NSA facility
located within the University.
On Sunday, the Diamondback, the university's student newspaper, noted: "Which facility and exactly where it was Snowden worked is unknown, but the NSA has connections to several university facilities, including the Laboratory for Physical Sciences, the Office of Technology Commercialization and the Lab for Telecommunication Science." Later, the university confirmed that in 2005 Snowden worked for less than a year as a "security specialist" for the NSA-linked Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL), which serves as a research center for the intelligence community.
The research done at CASL ranges from cultural and linguistic studies to work on "spycraft" technology...
Is the "security guard" story starting to fall apart...? Sure seems like it.