Yesterday I wrote the first of a multiple part series raising the possibility that Edward Snowden was unwittingly played by Russian intelligence and didn’t end up in Moscow by mere coincidence. I am generally glad that Snowden leaked state secrets but the canonization of Saint Edward by his fans is sad and stupid.
Snowden is a man and, like the rest of the human race, he’s not a saint. He has desires — i.e. financial, sexual — and an ego. The Russians would have been stupid not to target him and he was vulnerable to manipulation. Furthermore, his own story doesn’t add up in places and that has to make you wonder why he’s being dishonest and what he’s trying to divert attention from. (I’ll expand on all this below.)
Furthermore, as an investigator it’s always important to look and see who benefited from the operation or scenario you’re examining. In this case Russia is the chief beneficiary.
Snowden revealed a treasure trove of secrets about U.S. intelligence and various Western counterparts — and you have to be remarkably naive to think that the Russians didn’t get their hands on his best information, just as the Chinese surely did before them when Ed was holed up in Hong Kong. And even if they didn’t, they’ve got it now, along with the rest of the world. (Incidentally, if Snowden was indeed played, the stop in Hong Kong might have been staged to make it appear that Moscow was not his first choice for refuge and that he ended up there merely by bad luck.)
Furthermore, Snowden has been a huge propaganda win for Vladimir Putin — and whatever you think of him, this guy is an intelligence genius. It’s gold for Moscow every time he makes one of his now familiar video appearances to accept an award from a civil liberties group or speak to a group of students.
Snowden’s own integrity and honesty, as I’ve noted before, are very shaky. For example, he obtained some of the documents he leaked by tricking as many as 25 colleagues — he lied to them, to be more direct — into giving him their logins and passwords and many of them were fired as a result. I guess we’re just supposed to say it was all for the public’s good and the people who were fired were evil — or just hadn’t yet seen the light like Snowden? — but what would you think of a colleague who did that to you? It’s not heroic behavior, to put it mildly.
Snowden says that the March 2013 congressional testimony of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was a “breaking point” for him, and that’s when he began his mass downloads of information. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report on Snowden says that he began downloading information eight months prior to Clapper’s testimony. The Committee could be incompetent or lying but it’s been reported by others that he began downloading classified material as early as April 2012.
As I wrote yesterday, I’m not sure Snowden was played by the Russians but there are a lot of unanswered question about him and I think it’s at least a 50-50 possibility and a question worth addressing honestly. But even raising such a prospect is offensive to Snowden’s legion of admirers, led by his chief PR man, Glenn Greenwald. One has to wonder if Greenwald et al at The Intercept ever did any vetting of Snowden during all these years of shoe shining on bended knee.
OK, let’s get this out of the way, if I’ve never mentioned it before. I can’t stand Glenn — I know him and to know him is to loathe and disrespect him — or The Intercept, but I could’ve written this series ages ago if I just wanted to rant.
Greenwald, a former lawyer, sees the world in black and white and cannot tolerate any shades of gray. For Greenwald, his opinion is the only correct one and if you disagree you’re a whore or a liar. Nothing he writes or says can be trusted, even when he’s right, because he doesn’t reach a single conclusion honestly. His conclusions are determined before he begins to report, and he does very little of that; he’s essentially a shrieking, uninformed op-ed columnist.
(Somehow I have a feeling I’ll be cutting and pasting this section in a story — spoiler alert: yes, The Intercept and Greenwald will be on Hack List 2017 — I’m writing later this week. And someone remind me to put in the Hack List 2017 item the story of Greenwald talking about Saint Edward in Washington a few years ago. Or who knows, maybe seeing that line when I cut and paste in these words will remind me. It’s a great story but I don’t want to include in this long story. )
Anyway, back to the main story.
Honeypotting is a time-honored tradition with intelligence agencies and the Russians are especially adept practitioners. As an aside, the Israelis are too, as seen, for example, in the case of nuclear weapons whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu. Also see this article on a rabbi certifying Honeypot sex as kosher.
A former U.S. intelligence officer told me that he once sat on a plane to Tel Aviv and a gorgeous Israeli woman took the seat next to him. Amazingly, she loved the same outdoor activities he did and had the precise same taste in movies and books, and she thought it would be great if they got together after landing in Israel. It didn’t take long for him to conclude she was with the Mossad and he politely told her to drop dead.
The Soviet Union routinely used honeypots to ensnare U.S. soldiers and intelligence officials during the Cold War. Famous victims include Clayton Lonetree; here’s a roundup of ten cases; and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Daily Mirror, in writing about one honeypot incident, used the headline, “Dirty Hari Was A Mata To The Cause.” (Which of course referred back to the real Mata Hari, “a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was convicted of being a spy for Germany during World War I.”
The CIA used honeypots as well. In one case, it compromised Aleksandr Ogorodnik, a Soviet diplomat in Bogota, who the agency matched up with Pilar Suarez Barcala, an employee of the Colombian Institute of Culture and a U.S. intelligence asset. “Then they blackmailed him with photographs of the romantic romps – a classic honey trap.”
For a variety of reasons, Snowden would have been an ideal candidate for Russian intelligence to target and honeypotting would have been the perfect approach. Let’s face it, Snowden is not the ugliest guy in the world but he’s no beauty. He’s not charismatic, he’s preachy and self-righteous and a bit of a bore, not to mention a nerd. Now that he’s a celebrity he might have better luck with the ladies, but let’s just say that back in his earlier years he was not a big catch.
(Hey, I’m not claiming aesthetic superiority here. You should have seen what I looked like in high school, weighing in at 84 pounds and standing in at just shy of 5 feet in my freshman year, my head topped with an Afro-Jewish Fro — credit: Philip Roth — clad in bellbottoms and corduroys, and…..Hold on, Ken, cut it out, you’re digressing again.)
Consider here a brief bit of biographical material — of Snowden’s, not mine. The nerdy, tech-savvy youngster dropped out of Arundel High in 1999, his sophomore year. That same year “Eddie” enrolled in Arundel Community College, at the age of 16.
The NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland is in Anne Arundel County — which may become relevant later because there are strip clubs, pole dancing venues and dive bars in Edward “Eddie” Snowden’s stomping grounds where Russian intelligence has very likely had assets working. These assets may offer moral support and a shoulder to cry on, and possibly a lap to dance in, for men who normally aren’t very outgoing or attractive to the ladies. “The Russians like to place someone in those types of milieus, maybe an access agent, not a case officer, and look for exploitable relationships,” one long-time intelligence pro told me.
(Though not as relevant at the moment to Snowden’s potential recruitment by the Russians, Anne Arundel Public Schools boasts of its close relationship with the agency and its ability to get students gigs with it. Also, I don’t know or believe that Snowden was recruited, if he ever was, in Anne Arundel County and he doesn’t seem much like a strip club or dive bar guy. A likelier recruitment spot might have been Geneva, Switzerland.)
Snowden has said he considered joining the Army after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 because “I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression.” Anyway, he leaves the area but returns to Maryland in 2005 and begins working as a security guard at the University of Maryland and then as an IT security specialist, which is generally an intermediate level job.
In mid-2006 Snowden gets a job in information technology at the CIA. His account: “First off, the degree thing is crap, at least domestically…I have no degree, nor even a high school diploma, but I’m making much more than what they are paying you even though I’m only claiming six years of experience. It’s tough to break in, but once you land a real position you are made.”
In 2007, 24-year-old Edward “Eddie” Snowden, a high school and college drop-out, is sent to Geneva by the CIA to maintain the agency’s computer network and keep watch on computer security for U.S. diplomats. By this point, and we’ll discuss this more in Part III, he has quite the attractive dancer girlfriend. But think about it: this has to be a huge ego boast for Snowden because rather quickly and mysteriously (and with little formal education) he’s got a hot companion and has shot up in the world of government intel security.
During conversations in Geneva, Snowden came off as free-market capitalist who believed the U.S. government should be the “world’s police.” Online, where he spent a lot of his time, Snowden expressed anger at the New York Times for uncovering a story in which government officials leaked classified information that detailed a plan by Israel to attack Iran.
Snowden has said he was stationed with diplomatic cover in Geneva, telling The Guardian that his few years with the CIA “led him to begin seriously questioning the rightness of what he saw.”
Lots of other things happened to Snowden in Geneva. First of all, by his own online submissions, under “TheTrueHOOHA,” he talked about how rich, racist and “horrifically classist” the Swiss were. In 2009, Snowden claims he quit the CIA job in Geneva, however two senior American officials have said he was let go because of insubordination and suspicion that he was trying to download information he didn’t have access to.
OK, let’s stop with the bio material here and let me explain why Snowden would have been an ideal candidate for Russian intelligence to monitor and target. First off, if you are looking for someone you can easily manipulate, a person with a sense of duty but who also feels he has always been underrated or overlooked is a great combination. Likewise, someone who doesn’t feel like they are living up to their full potential.
Snowden is just that guy. He was incapable of serving in the military because of weak eyes and narrow feet. He was incapable of finishing school even though he was intelligent enough to do so. If I were to profile someone to manipulate and turn, he fits it to a tee. All he needs are a few ego boosters, like a hot girlfriend and an unbelievable job offer.
And what about Geneva? One extremely knowledgeable former CIA official told me:
A low level IT guy is better than anyone. It’s a dream come true. You almost never know who the IT guys are in diplomatic or intelligence stations, especially in a place like Geneva. He could have made mistakes and become known to the Russians.
Geneva is a place you can do anything and it would have been easy to get close to him. During the Cold War we’d haul off UN members to whore houses and gambling dens before votes on Vietnam. The city is wide open. That’s where we’d go to hunt for Russians and where they sent their best guys to hunt for our people. Snowden would have been below the radar at the CIA station and that would have made him even more perfect because no one would have paid much attention to him.
The Russians are very patient. They could have spotted him in Geneva, but their practice would not have been to charge in. They’d take time to assess him and cultivate him. It would be very easy to use a woman with him. That’s what I would have done. Initially you don’t need to get him talking, just picking his brain on world issues. Then you get a get a picture of him and develop a profile.
You’d send multiple assets to meet him. Maybe a Swiss waitress or maître d at a hotel. You get him to open up to a woman. He feels under-appreciated. The motivation is always the same. I’m the smartest guy in the room, no one appreciates me. You gradually reel him in. And you’re using Westerners so he doesn’t even know he’s been approached by the Russians.
You also have to wonder, given Snowden’s rather swift and abrupt conversion from free-market crank to stern critic of American foreign policy and intelligence gathering practices, who radicalized him? A scantily, clad seductive female??? Like the innocent woman whose image we’ve used to illustrate this story???
Part III: If he was Honeypotted, who was the Honey who potted Snowden? I can’t promise this for tomorrow as I have a few other deadlines, but it’s definitely coming soon.