Commentary Magazine


Snowden Continues to Discredit Himself

Edward Snowden seems to be afraid that the CIA, NSA and other parts of the U.S. intelligence apparatus will mount a massive campaign to discredit him. Actually, they don’t have to bother. He’s doing an excellent job of discrediting himself. Notwithstanding his egregious violations of the security classifications that protect our most important secrets, Snowden had initially won some public sympathy, at least among libertarians of both the left and the right, for exposing U.S. government programs that, he claimed, spy on Americans.

In reality the programs he disclosed are focused primarily on foreigners and operate under strict safeguards to avoid violations of Americans’ privacy. But never mind–at least to the casual observer Snowden may have come across initially as a simply a concerned citizen, a whistleblower who had the country’s best interests at heart. Certainly that was how he tried to present himself.

That pretense has not survived Snowden’s second round of revelations, which is focused not on how the NSA spies on Americans but how it spies on foreigners abroad–which is precisely what it is supposed to do.

First the renegade NSA contractor provided the South China Morning Post with details about how the NSA monitors Internet activity in China. The Hong Kong-based newspaper reported: “The detailed records – which cannot be independently verified – show specific dates and the IP addresses of computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland hacked by the National Security Agency over a four-year period. They also include information indicating whether an attack on a computer was ongoing or had been completed, along with an amount of additional operational information.”

This is the kind of sensitive, operational detail that can only aid the Chinese secret police in protecting Chinese computer networks from American hacking–which is designed, in no small part, one suspects, to keep an eye on how the Chinese are penetrating U.S. computer networks. Note that Snowden revealed nothing about extensive Chinese attempts to penetrate American computers or to limit its own citizens’ access to the Internet with suffocating censorship.

Now, the Guardian has published two more stories based on information provided by Snowden detailing how the NSA, working hand-in-glove with its British partner, GCHQ, intercepted communications from diplomats attending G20 summits in London in 2009–and specifically their success in accessing communications from then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

Such intercepts are standard operating procedure among all of the major intelligence services of the world; there is no doubt that Russia, China, and even friendly states such as France and Israel try to intercept communications among American leaders, and we return the favor. There is nothing scandalous here.

But Snowden’s revelations could well tip off the Russians or others to holes in their electronic security and thereby make such operations harder in the future. Snowden’s leaks also provide propaganda points for Beijing and Moscow–two illiberal regimes that operate two of the biggest Internet hacking operations in the world. Now they can deflect attention away from their own activities and paint the U.S. as the bad guy when, in fact, Internet operations in the U.S. are among the freest in the world.

These are not the actions of a whistleblower concerned about American liberties. They are the actions of a traitor–now, quite possibly, a defector to China–who is trying to do as much harm as he can to American national security.

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