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Book preview: Edward Snowden's 'litany of lies' about his Moscow defection

A new book debunks claims the Moscow-based whistleblower never intended to engage in espionage.

Nevil Gibson
Tue, 03 Jan 2017

The author of a new book on whistleblower Edward Snowden has dismissed claims he never intended to engage in espionage.

Edward Jay Epstein’s How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft, also alleges nearly every element of the narrative reiterated in Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden is also demonstrably false.

Epstein has spent three years investigating Snowden’s activities since his May 2013 defection to Russia and the release of closely guarded communication secrets through Wikileaks and selected western media outlets.

Snowden spoke directly to New Zealand voters through a video-linked appearance in support of the Mana Movement in the 2015 election and is implicated in the recent hacking by Russia of Democratic Party emails in the US presidential election.

President Barack Obama has retaliated to that by expelling 35 Russian diplomats, a move President Vladimir Putin says he will not respond to until after the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump on January 20. 

Epstein’s account starts when Snowden was a 29-year-old technologist working as an analyst-in-training for the consulting firm of Booz Allen Hamilton at the regional base of the National Security Agency [NSA] in Oahu, Hawaii.

On May 20, about six weeks after his job began, he failed to show up for work, telling his supervisor he was being tested for epilepsy in hospital. Snowden was not even in Hawaii, Epstein writes; he was in Hong Kong, where he had flown with a cache of secret data stolen from the NSA.

Hong Kong connection
There, he arranged to meet with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, a Brazil-based blogger for the UK Guardian newspaper. (Greenwald appeared in person in the Kim Dotcom-sponsored Auckland Town Hall election rally on September 15, 2014.)

“To provide them with scoops discrediting NSA operations, Snowden culled several thousand documents out of his huge cache of stolen material, including two explosive documents he asked them to use in their initial stories,” Eptein says.

One was the secret order from America’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court requiring Verizon to turn over to the NSA billing records for its phone users in the US. The other was an NSA slide presentation detailing its ability to intercept communications of non-American users of the internet via a joint program with the FBI codenamed Prism.”

These documents were published in 2013 on June 5 and 6, followed by a video in which Snowden identified himself as the leaker and a whistleblower.

“At the heart of Snowden’s narrative was his claim that while he may have incidentally ‘touched’ other data in his search of NSA files, he took only documents that exposed NSA malfeasance and gave them all to journalists,” Epstein says.

“A secret damage assessment done by the NSA and Pentagon told a very different story. According to a unanimous report declassified on December 22 by the house permanent select committee on intelligence, the investigation showed Snowden had ‘removed’ 1.5 million documents. That huge number was based on, among other evidence, electronic logs that recorded the selection, copying and moving of files.”

The committee’s report concluded that Snowden compromised “secrets that protect American troops overseas and secrets that provide vital defences against terrorists and nation-states.”

A Pentagon’s investigation 2013-14 revealed that most of the 1.5 million documents were mainly military secrets and had nothing to do with domestic surveillance or whistle blowing.

“Snowden’s theft put documents at risk that could reveal the NSA’s Level 3 tool kit — a reference to documents containing the agency’s most important sources and methods. Since the NSA was created in 1952, Russia and other adversary nations had been trying to penetrate its Level-3 secrets without great success. Yet it was precisely those secrets Snowden changed jobs to steal.”

Passage to Moscow
On June 23, less than two weeks after Snowden released his video, he left Hong Kong and flew to Moscow, where he received protection by the Russian government.

“In much of the media coverage that followed, the ultimate destination of these stolen secrets was fogged over by unverified claims Snowden was spoonfeeding to handpicked journalists,” Epstein says.

“Snowden always claimed he was a conscientious whistleblower who turned over all the stolen NSA material to journalists in Hong Kong. He has insisted he had no intention of defecting to Russia but was on his way to Latin America when he was trapped in Russia by the US government attempting to demonise him.

“According to Snowden, the US government accomplished this entrapment by suspending his passport while he was in midair after he departed Hong Kong on June 23, thus forcing him into the hands of President Vladimir Putin’s regime.”

None of this is true, Epstein contends, echoing the "litany of lies" finding on the Mt Erebus crash .

“The State Department invalidated Snowden’s passport while he was still in Hong Kong [on June 22], not after he left for Moscow on June 23. Snowden could not have been unaware of the government’s pursuit of him, since the criminal complaint against him, which was filed June 14, had been headline news in Hong Kong.

“That the US acted against him while he was still in Hong Kong is of great importance to the timeline because it points to the direct involvement of Aeroflot, an airline the Russian government effectively controls.

“Aeroflot bypassed its normal procedures to allow Snowden to board the Moscow flight — even though he had neither a valid passport nor a Russian visa, as his lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said on July 12, 2013.”

Wikileaks' role in deception
Apart from the involvement of the Russians, Epstein says Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange dispatched his deputy Sarah Harrison to Hong Kong to pay Snowden’s expenses and escort him to Moscow. Wikileaks also provided a smokescreen for Snowden’s escape from Hong Kong by booking a dozen or more diversionary flights to other destinations for him.

“In short, Snowden’s arrival in Moscow was neither accidental nor the work of the US government.”

Epstein then debunks Snowden’s assertion he came to Russia not only empty-handed but without access to any of the stolen material. He wrote in Vanity Fair in 2014 that he had destroyed all of it before arriving in Moscow.

Epstein quotes two Kremlin “insiders” as confirming Snowden did pass on information to Russian intelligence.

“This disclosure filled in a crucial piece of the puzzle. It explained why NSA files Snowden had copied, but had not given to the journalists in Hong Kong — such as the revelation about the NSA targeting the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — continued to surface after Snowden arrived in Moscow, along with NSA files released via WikiLeaks.

“Snowden claims he was neither debriefed by nor even met with any Russian government official after he arrived in Moscow. But according to the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report, Snowden ‘has had, and continues to have, contact with Russian intelligence services.’ This finding is consistent with Russian debriefing practices, as described by the former KGB officers I spoke to in Moscow.”

Nevil Gibson
Tue, 03 Jan 2017
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Book preview: Edward Snowden's 'litany of lies' about his Moscow defection