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There are enough articles, editorials, books and documentaries on Edward Snowden to fill a library. Unlike the prior topics covered in True Lies, I haven’t reviewed the literature and tried to boil it down in a balanced fashion. While Snowden was interesting enough to include in fictional form in Sea of Lies, he wasn’t fascinating enough to devote a couple hundred hours into researching. So the source documents for this piece are eclectic, including a Washington Post interview with Snowden from December 2013, a comprehensive Vanity Fair article from May 2014, interviews with Snowden by Glenn Greenwald, extracts from Snowden’s biography The Snowden Files by Luke Harding (2014), and the Al Jazeera website which has the best Snowden timeline.


Mark Watermen (Snowden’s fictional incarnation) appears in Sea of Lies via his honorary godfather (and book anti-hero) Bob Nolan. Nolan arranges with the FSB (the KGB’s successor) to swap a copy of the NSA files Watermen stole for Mark’s freedom. Many wheels are turning behind this exchange. The purpose of this week’s blog is to give the non-Snowden conversant reader enough of a flavor for the man to appreciate how someone of Snowden’s intellect, rectitude, and self-righteousness could have been played for a fool. . . not just by one or two, but each of China, Russia and the USA. It’s all in fictional format as I have no evidence, but it also strikes me as more plausible than the version Snowden’s stuck to since May 2013 when he popped up in a Hong Kong hotel room and set the worldwide web alight with revelations of massive information gathering without significant checks or balances.


A PowerPoint slide Snowden purloined and made public said that the NSA’s collection philosophy is Order one of everything off the menu. I guess that sums it up best.


This week’s blog lacks photographs, endnotes and references. I’m operating on a dialup Internet connection with an average operating speed of 3.5kps so I’ve kept it short, too.

Bradley West, British Columbia, 5 July 2015


Putting warheads on foreheads,” NSA slogan

Each year, NSA systems collected hundreds of millions of email address books, hundreds of billions of cellphone location records, and trillions of domestic call logs. Pre-Snowden, the US public was vaguely aware of what was America’s largest, yet most reclusive, intelligence organization. Now everyone seems to know a lot more . . . and is by and large resigned to the omnipresent omnivore reading their emails and eavesdropping on their phone calls.


The NSA followed orders from President George W. Bush to begin domestic collection without authority from Congress and the courts. When the NSA won those authorities later, some of them under secret interpretations of laws passed by Congress between 2007 and 2013, the Barack Obama administration went further still.


Using PRISM, the cover name for collection of user data from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and five other US-based companies, the NSA obtained all communications to or from any specified target. The companies had no choice but to comply with the government’s request for data. There was then a further operation using the code name MUSCULAR that tapped into US company data from outside the US to circumvent Congressional approval or judicial oversight.


Damage done by Snowden likely was overestimated in immediate aftermath. One spook said, “People must communicate. They will make mistakes, and we will exploit them.”


A 4-star general said in July 2013, “We didn’t have another 9/11” because [the NSA’s] intelligence enabled soldiers to find the enemy first. “Unless you’ve got to pull the trigger, until you’ve had to bury your people, you don’t have a clue.”


On 6 Dec 2013 US District Judge Richard J. Leon described the NSA’s capabilities as “almost Orwellian” and that its bulk collection of domestic telephone records was probably unconstitutional.


Snowden: unrepentant, defiant . . . and possibly self-delusional

The following snippets come from a December 2013 interview of Edward Snowden by The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman:

  • Snowden, “The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy.” “That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that [my accusers in NSA] did not.”
  • Snowden, “I am not trying to bring down the NSA; I am working to improve the NSA.” “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”
  • US government officials anonymously stated that Snowden had arranged for the automated publication of the documents if he was arrested or harmed. Snowden’s confidants say that rigging such a “Dead Man’s switch” would be to invite anyone who wanted to read the documents to kill him. When asked, Snowden replied via email, “That sounds more like a suicide switch. It wouldn’t make sense.”
  • Former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden predicted that Snowden will waste away in Moscow as an alcoholic, like other defectors. To this, Snowden said he doesn’t drink and never has.

Shootout at the fantasy factory: Sea of Lies inspiration

Blog readers curious as to how MH370, Khun Sa/Shan State, Michael Hand and an NSA whistleblower tie together will need to buy the book. (Thanks in advance, but in current form Sea of Lies runs to over four-hundred pages while there may have been some artistry of interwoven plots, brevity suffered.)


The following material falls into the unprovable category, making it prime conspiracy theory fodder. Whether it’s plausible or implausible, I’ll leave for the reader to judge. Below is the gist of the Sea of Lies plot thread dealing with Snowden/Watermen.


Snowden was detected fairly early by the NSA’s version of Internal Affairs. He became the unwitting star of the biggest deception gambit since The Man Who Never Was. Ed Snowden will someday get an Oscar in a category that doesn’t officially exist, “Best Actor in a Movie He Doesn’t Know He Starred in.”


The NSA let Snowden take many of the jewels – not the crown jewels, but embarrassing and damaging materials – and salted the trove with disinformation aimed at China’s intelligence community, particularly the Ministry of State Security (“MSS”), the CIA-equivalent agency. The NSA was willing to sacrifice a lot in order to get a clear shot at the foe with the biggest cyberwarfare capability, as well as a nuclear arsenal able to destroy the US.


The NSA’s objective was to neutralize China’s cyber warfare capability (and probe the networks governing nuclear command and control) via a multi-stage deceit. Stage one was padding out the documents Snowden was taking with him with the forgeries designed for MSS’s consumption. A few were left where Snowden’s back traces suggested he’d find them. Ultimately relying on Snowden to find all the Easter Eggs was too risky. Missing even a couple of seemingly unconnected monographs or PowerPoints would be to leave out the key pieces in the incomplete mosaic they were presenting to the MSS.


So the NSA did what anyone else would have done under the circumstances: they sprinkled breadcrumbs along the garden path in a five-step deceit.


Stage One was figuring (correctly as it later transpired) that Snowden didn’t have an inventory of what he had taken. Ed was working fast and sweeping wide, not bothering to jot all the file names down on 3” x 5” index cards. The FBI (working at NSA’s behest) added the documents to the thumb drives and hard disks before Snowden fled Hawaii. Snowden’s otherwise irrational flight to Hong Kong fits perfectly with the idea that the NSA wanted his information to fall into China’s hands.


Stage Two of the ruse required the quarry to be flushed into the part of the game park where the hunters were lurking. Snowden’s three journalists had a mole among them, and the traitor lured Ed to Hong Kong in anticipation of Ed’s picking up a new 3rd country passport and tickets to his new home. Only the passport and trip fell through, leaving Snowden in the lurch in a Hong Kong hotel. The CIA presumably wanted him dead, and the MSS was circling, looking for its chance.


Stage Three was the copying of Ed’s NSA files by China as the price of a ticket out of Dodge. Note that Snowden has always denied giving China or Russia copies of the stolen NSA trove. And that’s pretty much where it should have ended, with Ed either locked up by China, expelled to some other country, or even extradited to the US for a show trial and incarceration. The botched Hong Kong detention request from the State Department to Hong Kong’s judiciary was a nice touch, an “Oh, so close” moment for those who subscribe to the Screw-up Theory. However, misspelling Ed’s middle name on the detention warrant, and the subsequent refusal of a Hong Kong court to have Snowden arrested on this technicality, was all part of the NSA’s scheme.


But Stage Three didn’t go as planned. The US cancelled Snowden’s passport while Aeroflot 312 was en route to Moscow. That shouldn’t have mattered: Snowden should have kept on going on the next day’s flight to Havana (where the US figured to pull the plug on his journey ahead of the final leg to Quito to preclude another Assange situation where a fugitive ends up in a high profile house arrest). Russia’s FSB now had Snowden, and the CIA wasn’t keen on their having the entire NSA cache, either. Ed has always maintained that he didn’t have the NSA files when he landed in Moscow. The US and UK intelligence communities assume that each of China and Russia has full sets… and June 2015 news reports suggest that both foes have broken the encryption. UK agents’ lifes were deemed to be at risk according to a report on the BBC website.


Stage Four was in the NSA trying to ensure that China took the bait by accepting the authenticity of the documents. That’s an ongoing operation, but with Snowden unaware that he’s being manipulated, it is seemingly going well. Except that neither China nor Russia hire imbeciles for counterespionage roles. And these paranoid types make a living suspecting the worst and making certain it isn’t the case. One of the better ways of determining whether or not the MSS had been scammed by the NSA was to make certain that the documents Snowden allegedly stole were authentic. (Meanwhile, the FSB wanted a set, too, for Mother Russia.)


Snowden was a patsy. Only some of the documents contained in Snowden’s haul were forgeries with 98% being as they seemed: a peek up the NSA’s skirt, warts-on-the-ugly bits and all. That last 2% isn’t completely phony: misinformation designed to tie them in knots in Beijing until it was too late.


Stage Five: The main objective was in providing the MSS just enough information that they could interpolate and extrapolate a complete (and ultimately fatally flawed) version of the NSA’s understanding of China’s cyber warfare capabilities. In response, the intelligence service mandarins would adjust their offensive and defensive capabilities in a manner that seemingly left them more protected. In fact, if China reacted as anticipated a version of Stuxnet (call it “v.3.0”) was lying in the weeds.


That seemingly small move from Point A to Point B left China vulnerable to Stuxnet 3.0. If the primary target is cyber warfare offense and defense, maybe passive monitoring (“one copy of everything on the menu”) by the NSA is enough. If it’s more targeted at nuclear command and control, maybe the ICBM launch computers won’t work, the missiles don’t fly or (diabolically) end up retargeted to land on other targets . . . including those in-country.

* * * * *

Watermen/Snowden is highly principled and patriotic. But as Grandpa used to say, “If you don’t know who the sucker is at the poker table, it means you’re the one!”