Snowden’s files as the worst nightmare for US government?

It was said that Snowden’s documents could be worst nightmare for the U.S. government if revealed. But saying this sounds as a potential danger not as an insurance for Snowden. By this I mean that the US might be not the only problem for Snowden as others could be very interested in what he got. May I ask what do you think about it?

Michael Smith,  Intelligence expert, Author of various books including – The Spying Game

I’m not taking any moral position on this actions. I personally think that it is good that people know the extent to which the authorities in the UK and the US are capable of intercepting communications. The laws need to be changed to ensure this cannot be misused or we could easily find ourselves in a dystopian state. But I don’t think this is going to end well for Snowden. From the very start, he has been extraordinarily naive. This is not Hollywood. He has chosen to take on the big boys, and he might think that is just the US and the UK. It isn’t. It also includes China and Russia. He is reportedly carrying four laptops with this information on it. Leaving documents in places around the world isn’t going to help him. Nor is using them as some kind of ‘let me get out of here and into Venezuela’ threat. Given the amount of time he spent in Hong Kong, the US and the British authorities will already be working on the basis that the Chinese managed to get hold of any information that was on those computers, whether or not he thinks they got it. Why else would they let him fly out when they had the perfect excuse to keep him, if they didn’t have all the information he had? The Russians aren’t letting him fly out and they are playing hardball with his attempts to leave for Venezuela, and most recently his statement that he would now seek asylum in Russia. That suggests that he will only get asylum if he gives them access to the material. Asking for asylum in Russia was also a game-changer legally in the US. How will he now persuade a jury in the US that he was a whistleblower, not a traitor?

The US and the UK have faced numerous espionage nightmares over the years. Black Friday in October 1948 when the Russians changed all of their machine ciphers because William Weisband, a lowly Russian linguist had told Moscow that the UK and the US had broken them, through Kim Philby and on to Aldrich Ames, all of them true traitors. The world moved on and new intelligence successes were achieved. The real threat right now (rather than in the future) is not the Russians or the Chinese, it’s terrorism, whoever the perpetrators might be. Maybe he can reveal that some super-computer enciphered Russian or Chinese traffic has been broken. They’ll introduce something new and someone or some computer program, will break it. In my view, Snowden revealed things that needed to be revealed, but the damage he now has the capacity to inflict is minimal. Whatever it is, doing so would at any event turn him from a whistleblower into a man who no longer has any justification for what he has done and certainly no legal defence. Unless it is some scandalous behaviour towards Americans or their allies, like the surveillance, it will do more harm to Snowden than to the US.

Anthony GleesProfessor, Director, Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, University of Buckingham

From Snowden’s point of view what is his best ‘insurance’ depends on what he really wants to do (he is a young man with a life ahead of him). If he wants to try to get back into the world he knows, he must try to convince the USA (and the West) that he has nothing more to reveal that he was genuine when he claimed he wanted to be a ‘whistleblower’ who could prove the NSA and GCHQ were breaking the respective laws of their countries and/or that everyone was now under surveillance. The Americans have already tried to lure him back to the USA and suggested that whatever he has done that has been treacherous, he has initiated a useful and reasonable debate about what the NSA does and whether inadvertently (in their view) he has shed light on lawbreaking (by showing that the NSA has read electronic communications coming from Americans in America and that GCHQ has monitored electronic communications coming from British citizens inside the UK).

Of course, once he is back in the USA he will risks being tried as a major traitor. However if wants to stay in Russia (!) or go to Venezuela or elsewhere in a Socialist Latin American state, he will have to convince people that he still have major things to reveal and that he can be relied upon to damage the USA and the West for many months, perhaps years, to come.

From the point of view of someone like myself, Snowden is not a whistleblower. Whistleblowers are people who (at great personal risk) tell us about acts of serious criminality or abuses that are being committed sub rosa. So far there is no evidence that the NSA or GCHQ have contravened the laws of their respective lands. Even Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker 24 June writes that there is absolutely no evidence that of illegality or wrong doing — and Hertzberg is no friend of the secret state. I’d describe Snowden as a traitor who if he wants to live in the USA will have to throw himself at the mercy of the USA authorities or risk exile for the rest of his life.

Whilst I can understand that people will wonder what else Snowden has to reveal — as per pro the Reuter’s report you point me to — my feeling is that what Snowden has told us are essentially the details of things we already knew our intelligence agencies were doing. For example, like everyone who travels to North Cornwall and passes Bude, I have seen the signposts saying ‘GCHQ Bude’. What I didn’t know what was that what went on at Bude was codenamed Prism and Tempora. But we did know that this kind of thing was happening and not just in Britain or the USA but also in Germany, for example, where cables from across Europe go from east to west and north to south.

Also: data collection has become a fast-moving enterprise. Snowden was only ever a free lance, not an officer. What he knows will soon become out of date; things will soon be done very differently.

In short, I’d say that like other in who have done what he has done, Snowden has a very limited ‘sell by’ date; the future looks bleak for him and the pictures from Moscow show the strain he is under.

To seek asylum in Russia because of what Snowden says is its fine record on human rights, for Goodness sake, shows he has already begun to lose track of reality. This is a country that gives women like the Pussy Riot singers long prison sentences for singing in church. Human rights in Russia? You’ve got to be joking.

No, he is someone who is immature, narcisistic and has done some real damage to the people who gave him a job. Either way his future is as bleak as bleak can be. This is truth will soon dawn on him. And we can rest assured that our spooks will continue to do what we pay them to do, and what we expect of them.

This is a British view of course. Yesterday I took part in an hour long discussion on DeutschlandRadio on this subject: Germans do feel differently about Snowden and are far more hostile to the NASA and GCHQ (and to the BND if they understand its tasks and duties).

Robert DoverSenior Lecturer in International Relations, Loughborough University

I think what you suggest is very standard (certainly in the Cold War). His skill as a negotiator (if he has any) will be at the fore because foreign agencies will want his knowledge but only a few will want a toxic issue residing with them. A few Latin American countries will think it worth doing.

Two questions: at his level is he likely to know where the skeletons are buried? If the answer is yes, US intelligence needs to have a think about how that happened.  If no (more likely) then Snowden will be trading with a weakening hand. His asylum bid with Russia is probably a  recognition of this and a desire to ‘go quietly’.

Matthew Aid, Intelligence Historian, Author of The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency

I can tell you that NSA officials are very very worried about the documents that Snowden took from the NSA computer systems in Hawaii. What has appeared in the press so far is just the tip of the iceberg of what Snowden took. But what really worries NSA the most is that if The Guardian publishes some of the more revealing documents that Snowden has given them, the damage to US intelligence operations could be very severe. For example, The Guardian so far has released just a few documents concerning which specific countries NSA is listening to, and what are NSA’s best sources of intelligence information. The Guardian has a lot more documents that could, if released, prove even more damaging that the metadata and PRISM materials released so far.

Bear in mind, this is just the concern of NSA and the US intelligence community as a whole. You have to remember that for many of us outsiders, we tend to view these materials differently than the intelligence professionals. Personally, I am not sure that the revelations so far stemming from the materials that Snowden has divulged have been as damaging as NSA says, but this is difficult for me say because I obviously do not possess all the facts.


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