Monday, 7 April 2014

Reader reply: Edward Snowden is not a Whistleblower

Dear Sir,

I found your recent article (March 28) on Edward Snowden to be the first media analysis of the real effect of his revelations. I have the benefit of being a director of a US network security company operating in Washington DC and have over a decade of understanding the issues facing US cybersecurity at both a Government and Military level.

Edward Snowden is commonly referred to in the media as a “whistleblower”. Legal protection for whistleblowers, including in the US, normally requires elements of an existing employee learning of some illicit activity of the employer, raising it with management to no avail and then informing authorities. Edward Snowden meets none of these requirements.

Edward Snowden was not an employee of the NSA nor of a contractor to the NSA. He met with representatives of WikiLeaks in Hong Kong to conspire with them how to steal information from the NSA. Based on that plan, he gained employment with a contractor and set about the theft, largely by the improper use of legitimate employees’ passwords. He then used that stolen information for gain. His denials are contradictory. He lied on his resume.

If anyone in New Zealand did the same he would be liable for criminal action, not lauded as a ‘hero’. It seems that for certain people any illicit behaviour is somehow acceptable if it is seen as anti-US. If media accuracy is important, the use of “whistleblower” should be reserved to those employees who deserve it, not to criminals like Edward Snowden.

Huawei came from nowhere to its major commercial position today by copying Cisco products. A US Government audit a few years back found that much of its network which was thought to be Cisco product was in fact Huawei – how they fooled the trusted suppliers to Government into believing Cisco provenance is another story.

Cisco subsequently changed key elements of its platform. It is still the number one provider in the world and the bulk of networking is Cisco-based. For the New Zealand Government to rely on Huawei for networks here is foolish not only from the ‘back-door’ aspect (there is no question of Huawei’s Chinese Government role) but also from a business perspective – New Zealand has effectively selecting a redundant system.

We are somewhat naive on cybersecurity in New Zealand – the stakes are very high even for us as you have indicated.

Yours faithfully,
Patrick Wilson

Patrick W Wilson
Apartment 2308,
1 Courthouse Lane,
Auckland CBD
368 4131
021 978268

Thanks for writing in Patrick,

The Snowden issue is horrible for the intelligence community. Right now, I suspect the NSA is basically back to square one with their sources and methods. They are trapped because they simply do not know what material he took. As long as Snowden refuses to tell the NSA exactly what he has, the NSA will produce faulty and suspicious product for the US government and its allies. If he was a whistleblower, he would have told the NSA by now, either confidentially or overtly, because his job is done. The US people know about the privacy breaches. He has won. The NSA should now be plugging the gaps and breaking off their old compromised sources and methods and starting afresh. 

But it’s worse than that because Snowden is not working for himself on behalf of freedom any longer (I doubt he ever was). The NSA has to operate on the assumption that everything is compromised, from programs to methods, all the way to actual people on the ground all throughout the world who’ve risked everything to give information to the US Government. If Snowden and Greenwald - his vitriolic media lackey - don’t think their leaks have hurt real people, they are even more stupid and childish than they realise. 

And it goes even deeper. The NSA simply has no way to know whether the intelligence they’re listening to is disinformation or real information. They have no way of knowing whether their target has learned of the NSA’s methods and changed their protocols or whether they still have an opening. Everything they hear and see must be rigorously checked and verified, far more than it ever has been in the past, but they cannot know to a certainty that this product is accurate. Non-state actors and lone-wolf terror groups and individuals are learning how to conceal their communications and planning cycles to best conduct attacks away from the eyes and ears of the NSA. That’s extremely worrying for all of us.

Snowden spent over a year, at different listening stations, trying to extract the most that he could from the NSA databases. I’m comfortable with his initial reasons for doing this (to expose NSA efforts to monitor US domestic traffic), but only if this motive turned out to be the driving force behind his actions. I have my own views on privacy and Snowden’s information was unnerving for those of us around the world concerned about unreasonable search and seizure. But that motive was never in his mind, or if it was, it was a fleeting idea. His theft is a carefully managed attempt to disrupt and degrade the NSA’s abilities. 

Some have pointed out that Snowden ending up in Russia is no accident. Perhaps he was controlled by officers from the FSB (which is different only in name from the KGB) and directed to steal the files from the beginning. That would probably be a little too far than I’m willing to go to explain his actions. The FSB wouldn’t want this to come back on them. Especially with all the smearing and propaganda being thrown about the media. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the hypothesis of Russian intelligence assistance is a blown-up American disinformation theory containing only a kernel of truth. 

Either way Snowden’s original idea has been co-opted by people and powers he perhaps used to believe didn’t exist anymore. That’s where his idealism and naiveté have coincided to make the world a much more dangerous place for all of us. He’s little more than a useful idiot in the eyes of some of the world’s oldest and nefarious intelligence services. The FSB and Chinese intelligence agencies probably will have access to all of Snowden’s information eventually. If they don’t already, they are far more incompetent than any of us ever expected, which is certainly not the case given their espionage history.

There are now reports the Russians may have used new methods of communication to conduct the recent annexation of Crimea. They slipped right passed the NSA eyes and ears. Snowden being in Russia is an intelligence coup for the FSB. Clearly they are willing and able to use the stolen information to immediate and devastating effect. They’ve learned a lot of new tricks from the Snowden leaks, and if this news is correct, then it’s very worrying for international security. After all, this is only the news that makes it into the media. All the other moves going on behind the scene - diplomatic, economic, political, etc – are concealed and likely even more dangerous.


Nathan Smith

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