When I hear the corporate media and even most of the blogosphere say that Edward Snowden was a “CIA agent” or “NSA agent” with access to some super dooper secret information I smile: this is mostly likely not the case at all. Yes, sure, Uncle Sam AND those who dislike the US Empire all have a stake in presenting Snowden as a real hot potato, but in real life he probably can tell the Russians or the Chinese very little which they would not already know. Why?
Ok. First look at his resume according to Wikipedia. Certainly nothing very interesting here: had an early interest in computers, but flunked his first course; then got a GED and then he took a “MS Windows 2000 Systems Engineer w/ Exchange” course at a for-profit entity known as Advanced Career Technologies from February 2002 to May 2002.” W2k + Exchange?! Hardly something very advanced! Then he goes to the US Army, fails a Special Forces training (Tim McVeigh anybody?), then he worked as a security guard for the NSA and later the CIA. He saw himself as such a IT genius that he felt the need to brag about it online. Then he does twelves month of work in network security for the NSA, in the USA and overseas, before joining Booz Allen Hamilton. Does that really strike you are the career path of a computer genius?
Or does anybody seriously believe that the Chinese never suspected that the Anglosphere spied on their telephone network?
I guess is that Snowden probably was a competent IT security admin who did a good job learning at his job and who was tasked with mid-level sysadmining at the CIA, NSA and Booz Allen Hamilton. So, of course, he knew about PRISM and all the rest of the US surveillance system. But if for the general public his revelations are sensational (and they are in the political sense), there was nothing new in them for either the Russians or the Chinese. In fact, Putin openly said so at a recent press conference where he said that nothing of what Snowden had “revealed” was new to them.
Furthermore, let me tell you this. In the real world technical collection capabilities like PRISM, ECHELON, Carnivore, etc. are all really part of a much bigger system and the folks who actually operate these machines know *nothing* about “who does what” with the information they collect. Nor are these folks privy to any decision-making mechanisms and nor can they influence them. Intelligence agencies are highly compartmentalized and folks like Snowden or Manning, for that matter, have only access to a big volume of relatively uninteresting information. The real “hot” stuff is handled much higher up in the hierarchy, in very separate branches, in highly compartmentalized teams where “need to know” is the key and where regular security clearances mean nothing. This is why Wikileaks did not contain any really highly classified information.
Now, if Snowden had been a Russian agent, and if he had been deliberately executing intelligence collection requests for them, he could have done a lot. But in that case he never would have defected or gone public. The fact is that Snowden never was a Russian or Chinese “agent” and that he is not a spy at all, but a typical whistleblower. While he never was allowed anywhere near the real world of deep secrecy of intelligence agencies, he did find out enough to be disgusted and he decided to go public. Good for him!
But to say that he – or Manning – leaked any real secrets to the Russians, or anybody else, for that matter, is ridiculous. The damage he – and Manning – did to the USA was purely a political one. This is why neither the Chinese nor the Russians have shown any big interest in him or what he knows.
Apparently Putin has said that he would rather not deal with such matters – it’s like shearing a piglet, lots of sqealing and very little wool. I took that to mean that Snowden has nothing to trade.
I loved the quote about the piglet! I would say Snowden’s int value lay more in his access than his knowledge. If he had access to voluminous information on the program so that he could copy and save large blocks of text, he would not need to be able to understand it in order for it to be of value to someone who did. I read that the Chinese drained everything off his laptop, and I imagine one of the biggest reasons the USA wants to collar him, quite apart from the embarrassment, is to learn what exactly he revealed.
His revelations about specific targets of the program in other countries suggests he had a fairly high level of access, and although U.S. Defense information is usually strictly compartmentalized on a “need to know” basis, some of those special projects are a law unto themselves and are run mostly by civilians like Snowden.