Edward Jay Epstein of The Wall Street Journal has published an article in which he lays out the argument of Edward Snowden’s most ardent critics.
Their primary allegation is Snowden is a witting or unwitting agent of a foreign intelligence operation against the U.S. (rather than a whistleblower).
A former member of President Obama’s cabinet told Epstein in March “that there are only three possible explanations for the Snowden heist: 1) It was a Russian espionage operation; 2) It was a Chinese espionage operation, or 3) It was a joint Sino-Russian operation.”
Snowden left Hawaii on May 18, gave documents to journalists in Hong Kong in early June, and eventually flew to Moscow on June 23. The 30-year-old now lives in an undisclosed location in Russia.
Top U.S. officials have previously asserted Snowden accessed or “touched” up to 1.7 million documents, and the vast majority he took were related to American military capabilities.
Snowden denies he intended to take military information. He also contends he gave up all of the classified information to the journalists he met in Hong Kong — but there are numerous indications that is not the case.
On June 12, two days after parting ways with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, Snowden told the South China Morning Post he wanted to go through the information he had and leak more later.
Epstein, citing current and former government officials with intelligence clearances, reports Snowden stole documents from “at least 24 supersecret compartments that stored them on computers, each of which required a password that a perpetrator had to steal or borrow, or forge an encryption key to bypass.”
The NSA believes Snowden started downloading documents in mid-2012 while working at Dell in Hawaii. An NSA civilian employee resigned in January after inadvertently letting Snowden use his password to access information he was not authorised to see.
Snowden reportedly installed a web crawler to scrape specific documents when he began his job at Booz Allen in mid-April 2013. The two documents with the biggest domestic implications — the Verizon order compelling U.S. phone records and the PRISM slides — are from April 2013. However, U.S. officials say most of the documents have nothing to do with civil liberties or whistleblowing.
Beyond the stolen cache, Snowden’s knowledge of the NSA’s computer systems and vetting structure make him a very valuable asset to a U.S. adversary.
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