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Commentary: Snowden/Greenwald profiting off NSA leaks; NSA spying in The Bahamas...?
Published on May 23, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

Glen Greenwald was all over the media last week promoting the first of what he undoubtedly hopes will be many books mined from the NSA data Edward Snowden leaked to him. His book is titled No Place to Hide, but the irony seems lost on Greenwald that it is belied by the fact that Snowden found a place to hide … in Russia.

For the record, let me hasten to reiterate that:

I too would be championing Snowden’s professed cause if he had taken his treasure trove of NSA secrets to a reputable newspaper, like the New York Times or Washington Post, instead of entrusting it to a news hustler like the then-obscure lawyer/journalist/blogger Greenwald.

Recall that Snowden initially claimed his only mission was to inform the American people about the NSA’s surveillance activities. Well, with apologies to George W. Bush, he had just cause to declare, ‘Mission Accomplished,’ six months ago.

Moreover, rather than fleeing like a fugitive, Snowden could have become a confidential informant (like a latter-day Deep Throat), continued on with his seemingly idyllic life in Hawaii, and left it to his newspaper of choice to expose all of the secrets that are fit to print … in a manner that does not compromise national security.

Instead, this narcissistic, self-righteous, naive and self-appointed arbiter -- not only of what metadata the government can collect, but also of what documents it can classify as top secret -- conspired with Greenwald to make his face every bit as famous as his leaks. In the process he wittingly (or unwittingly) handed the ‘NSA’s crown jewels’ over to America’s two most-formidable adversaries, China and Russia, on a silver platter. No Chinese or Russian spy could ever have achieved such a feat – even in his wildest dream.

(“Judge Ruling on NSA Spying…,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 18, 2013)

Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at
To be fair, Snowden insists that he has not shared one iota of NSA data with agents of any foreign government, and he dares anyone to cite a single case where his leaks have gotten anybody killed.

The problem is that, even if Snowden disclosed more to China and Russia than he did to Greenwald, neither of them would ever admit it. On the other hand, even if terrorists derive no direct benefit from his published leaks, they might still claim they did as part of their psychological warfare against Western countries.

But frankly, Snowden insisting that he’s not a traitor is rather like Donald Sterling insisting that he’s not a racist. More to the point, Greenwald insisting that he’s providing a public service by publishing NSA secrets reeks of similar incredulity and disingenuousness.

This is why I am so stupefied and dismayed that Greenwald is not being more pilloried in the media for peddling NSA secrets, which have compromised national security and undermined foreign relationships, than Sterling is for venting racist comments, which have brought the NBA into disrepute. Continuing from my commentary “Judge Ruling on NSA Spying…” quoted above:

Nothing infuriates me more than watching Greenwald spew self-righteous indignation at anyone who questions the propriety, ethics, and national-security implications of his and Snowden’s crusade. After all, the only thing Greenwald is doing now is peddling his country’s national secrets like a street vendor selling hotcakes…

Just imagine the windfall Greenwald is enjoying or counting on – having convinced some misguided, open-society do-gooder to donate $250 million for him to set up his own online portal to trade on the million-plus bits of NSA documents he keeps teasing/threatening to release from his journalistic quiver. And if you don’t think Snowden himself expects to be greatly enriched by this enterprise, then you probably think people rob banks for charitable purposes…

In any event, I challenge anyone who supports Snowden and Greenwald to explain how peddling US top secrets, the way Chinese peddle pirated Apple products, furthers any constitutional or journalistic cause. Frankly, Benedict Arnold will go down in the annals of American history as having nothing on these two shysters.

Oh, I neglected to mention the inevitable movie rights:

Shaken or stirred? Glenn Greenwald’s new book on NSA leaker Edward Snowden is bound for the big screen -- and it’s set to be produced by the same team behind the James Bond franchise.

Sony Pictures Entertainment just snapped up the movie rights to Greenwald’s ‘No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State,’ Variety reports, with 007 producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli signed on.

(The Washington Post, May 14, 2014)

Never mind the brazen insult inherent in making any comparison between James Bond, who spied for his country, and Edward Snowden, who spied against his. I cannot overstate that, as alluded to above, Snowden has more in common with a traitor like “Tailor” in John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than with a patriot like Bond in Ian Fleming’s novels.

I asserted early on, in “I said Putin Would Hand Over Snowden. I Was Wrong,” October 25, 2013, that Snowden’s leaks were/are doing far more to aid America’s enemies than inform the American people. Here is an excerpt:

I fully appreciate that millions now consider Snowden a heroic, whistle-blowing defender of freedom and democracy. But the ultimate irony is that he is a self-righteous narcissist who is nothing more than a useful idiot to (de facto and de jure) totalitarian regimes (like those in Russia and China) whose very existence depends upon the doublethink his leaks are now fostering, as well as systematic violations of the very civil liberties he presumes to be championing…

Snowden seems destined to emulate British double agent Kim Philby, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963 and lived there (in Moscow) free of reprisals until his death in 1988. It is instructive to note, however, that this fabled “Third Man” lived out almost all of his 25 years in relative obscurity and penury, and not without palpable regret:

‘Kim Philby, the most successful of the Cambridge spies, tried to drink himself to death in Moscow because he was disillusioned with communism and tortured by his own failings, his last wife has said in an interview.’ (London Guardian, March 30, 2011)

So don’t be surprised if a disillusioned Snowden ends up drinking himself to death too. After all, Philby’s Russian spymasters had just cause to treat him like a national hero, yet he still felt like little more than a Western mascot almost from day one. By contrast, Snowden’s Russian wards have no reason to treat him like anything but a traitorous rat.

Therefore, I suppose I should feel somewhat vindicated that a growing number of non-government security experts are now expressing similar misgivings about Snowden (and his mercurial enablers like Greenwald, the Guardian, and Washington Post):

Some experts even believe Snowden may have been working for Russia or China all along without knowing it.

‘It is possible for a person to have met someone who is empathetic to their cause, who might give them some ideas, without them even knowing that is how they recruit,’ said Richard Bejtlich, a chief security strategist at the cyber-security giant FireEye.

He added that Snowden ‘falls into the useful idiot model’, that passively helped the Russians and Chinese without being given specific instructions.

(Daily Mail, May 16, 2014)

I cannot overstate the universal truth that all countries spy, or try to spy, the way the United States does -- as I delineated in “I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy,” July 2, 2013. Indeed, what Churchill said of Western democracy can be said, in essence, of American spying: it appalls and unnerves me to think that America is spying on me; except that it appalls and unnerves me even more to think that other countries (like China and Russia) are too.

In which case the only purpose Snowden and Greenwald could have at this point for continuing to serialize NSA secrets is to inflict as much reputational damage on the United States as possible and, of course, to make themselves as rich and famous as possible.

It is immaterial to them that, in doing so, they are sowing discord between the United States and friendly nations. Except that this is having the Orwellian effect of making some of those nations think that there’s really no principled or qualitative difference between being allied with the United States or with Russia (or China, especially with China wooing them like the non-judgmental sugar daddy the United States never was).

The irony, of course, is that Russia’s equivalent of the NSA is busy eavesdropping not only on every word Snowden says on the phone and every key he strokes on his PDA or computer, but also on every word says or sound he makes in the “safe house” Putin built for him. Fool.

But even those who would still accord him hero worship worthy of James Bond must concede that Snowden’s leaks will have the sadly foreseeable consequence of crushing the democratic aspirations of people in places like Russia and China. After all, totalitarian regimes everywhere are not only using his leaks, but also pointing to his refuge in Russia to brainwash their people — through state-controlled mainstream and social media -- into thinking that the United States, the purported beacon of democracy, is even more of a police state than they are: how’s that for doublethink.

NSA recording every phone call in The Bahamas

I know firsthand the prevailing suspicion in The Bahamas, my birthplace, that workers at the state telephone company (BATELCO) routinely eavesdrop on our phone calls. Mind you, their only reason for doing so is to pick up idle gossip.

This is why Greenwald’s latest blog post, “Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in The Bahamas,” The Intercept, May 19, 2014, evoked little more than quizzical indifference.

Here, in part, is what he disclosed as a shocking breach of Bahamian sovereignty:

Beyond a desire to bust island pot dealers, why would the NSA choose to apply a powerful collection tool such as SOMALGET against The Bahamas, which poses virtually no threat to the United States?

The answer may lie in a document that characterizes The Bahamas operation as a ‘test bed for system deployments, capabilities, and improvements’ to SOMALGET. The country’s small population -- fewer than 400,000 residents -- provides a manageable sample to try out the surveillance system’s features.

A breach? No doubt. Shocking? Hardly. Frankly, Bahamians should be less surprised or angered by the US government recording their phone calls (for security reasons) than they are by Goggle recording their internet searches (for commercial reasons).

But I know my “bigetty” fellow Bahamians will want to cuss me out -- not only for airing our dirty laundry like this, but also for not calling on the Bahamian government to stop the US government from spying on us.

They would do well to recall, however, the hissy fit the Brazilian government threw after Greenwald disclosed that the NSA was eavesdropping on Brazilians, including the president. Because misguided national pride caused President Dilma Rousseff to reject President’s Obama’s invitation for an historic state visit to the United States, which amounted to nothing more than Brazil cutting off its nose to spite its face.

So I urge my fellow Bahamians to be cautioned, if not instructed, by the ‘Serenity Prayer.’ After all, if the American government can’t stop the Chinese government from spying on Americans … and vice versa, the Bahamian government doesn’t have a prayer of stopping the American government from spying on Bahamians.

And this is a case where even feigning outrage for local political purposes, as so many countries (think Brazil) are wont to do, can unwittingly aid Snowden and his Russian CONTROL in inflicting unwarranted reputational damage on the United States – our only indispensable ally in so many respects.

NOTE: This is my last commentary on Snowden and all his NSA leaks have spawned; that is, until news leaks from Russia about him ending up dying much as Philby did: discarded, destitute, and disillusioned. In which case my opening line to his obit will be, I told you so.

Related commentaries:
Judge ruling…

Complaints about NSA

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