Edward Jay Epstein: The Fable of Edward Snowden

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As he seeks a pardon, the NSA thief has told multiple lies about what he stole and his dealings with Russian intelligence.

Edward Jay Epstein writes: Of all the lies that Edward Snowden has told since his massive theft of secrets from the National Security Agency and his journey to Russia via Hong Kong in 2013, none is more provocative than the claim that he never intended to engage in espionage, and was only a “whistleblower” seeking to expose the overreach of NSA’s Mini-Snowden-Meinformation gathering. With the clock ticking on Mr. Snowden’s chance of a pardon, now is a good time to review what we have learned about his real mission.

Mr. Snowden’s theft of America’s most closely guarded communication secrets occurred in May 2013, according to the criminal complaint filed against him by federal prosecutors the following month. At the time Mr. Snowden was a 29-year-old technologist working as an analyst-in-training for the consulting firm of Booz AllenHamilton at the regional base of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Oahu, Hawaii. On May 20, only some six weeks after his job there began, he failed to show up for work, emailing his supervisor that he was at the hospital being tested for epilepsy.

This excuse was untrue. Mr. Snowden was not even in Hawaii. He was in Hong Kong. He had flown there with a cache of secret data that he had stolen from the NSA.

This was not the only lie Mr. Snowden told. As became clear during my investigation over the past three years, nearly every element of the narrative Mr. Snowden has provided, which reached its final iteration in Oliver Stone’s 2016 movie, “Snowden,” is demonstrably false.

This narrative began soon after Mr. Snowden arrived in Hong Kong, where he arranged to meet with Laura Poitras, a Berlin-based documentary filmmaker, and Glenn Greenwald, a Brazil-based blogger for the Guardian. Both journalists unknownwere longtime critics of NSA surveillance with whom Mr. Snowden (under the alias Citizen Four) had been in contact for four months.

[Order Edward Jay Epstein’s book “How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft” from Amazon.com]

To provide them with scoops discrediting NSA operations, Mr. 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. One was the now-famous secret order from America’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court requiring Verizon to turn over to the NSA its billing records for its phone users in the U.S. 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 code-named Prism.

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

At the heart of Mr. 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 the malfeasance of the NSA and gave all of them to journalists.

Yet even as Mr. Snowden’s narrative was taking hold in the public realm, a secret damage assessment done by the NSA and Pentagon told a very different story. According to a unanimous report declassified on Dec. 22 by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the investigation showed that Mr. Snowden had “removed” (not merely touched) 1.5 million documents. That huge number was based on, among other evidence, electronic logs that recorded the selection, copying and moving of documents.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

The number of purloined documents is more than what NSA officials were willing to say in 2013 about the removal of data, possibly because the House committee had the benefit of the Pentagon’s more-extensive investigation. But even just taking into account the material that Mr. Snowden handed over to journalists, the December House report concluded that he compromised “secrets that protect American troops overseas and secrets that provide vital defenses against terrorists and nation-states.” These were, the report said, “merely the tip of the iceberg.”

The Pentagon’s investigation during 2013 and 2014 employed hundreds of military-intelligence officers, working around the clock, to review all 1.5 million documents. Most had nothing to do with domestic surveillance or whistle blowing. They were mainly military secrets, as Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on March 6, 2014. Read the rest of this entry »


‘I Think the German Press Has Now Officially Lost It’

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Monarchy Challenge: ‘Name That Crown’

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Can you name these crowns? Answers after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »


Museum Set to Accept Art Nazis Looted

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The Kunstmuseum Bern is expected to decide as early as Saturday to accept the estate of the late Cornelius Gurlitt.

BERN, Switzerland— MARY M. LANE reports: A small art museum in the Swiss capital is preparing to take possession of more than 1,000 artworks bequeathed to it by the son of one of Hitler’s main art dealers, unshackling Germany from an embarrassing burden that has weighed on it for a year.

Barring any last-minute legal objections, the Kunstmuseum Bern is expected to decide as early as Saturday to accept the estate of the late Cornelius Gurlitt, according to three people familiar with the museum board’s discussions.

‘When something like this falls into your lap of course you’re going to vote to take it.’

—A person at the Kunstmuseum Bern’s board meetings

That could expedite restitution for heirs of Holocaust victims, many of whom have seen their claims that the art was stolen from their families languish since the existence of the trove was publicly revealed a year ago. For some works, restitution could happen within days if the museum accepts the bequest.

Stuart Eizenstat, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ’s special adviser on Holocaust issues, called the prospect “tremendously welcome and wonderful.”

“It was obvious from the start, and a huge source of angst, that accepting the works would fundamentally change the identity of our museum forever.”

The collection includes masterpieces by Claude Monet, Henri Matisse and Pierre Auguste-Renoir and was amassed during and shortly after World War II by Mr. Gurlitt’s father, a museum director turned art dealer for Hitler. Historians and lawyers have already concluded the trove contains several pieces stolen from European Jews by the Nazis.

The Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland.European Pressphoto Agency

The Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland.European Pressphoto Agency

The German government has been quietly urging the museum to accept the art, according to the people familiar with the discussions. Since the existence of the trove was revealed a year ago, Berlin has been under pressure from Holocaust victims’ families as well as the U.S. and Israeli governments to return all stolen pieces to their original owners.

“One of the prime pieces is an Henri Matisse portrait of a creamy-skinned brunette that a German-government appointed group of experts has already determined is looted.”

Mr. Gurlitt unexpectedly bequeathed his estate to the museum shortly before he died May 6 at 81. According to the will Mr. Gurlitt signed on his deathbed, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the Kunstmuseum Bern would be required to conduct this research and restitution. Museum director Matthias Frehner has pledged that it would do so if it accepts the bequest.

If the museum were to decline the collection, it would go to Mr. Gurlitt’s distant relatives, who are dispersed in and outside Germany. While his will stipulates that they also return Nazi-looted art, lawyers say there is no way to make sure the multiple heirs conduct such research properly or efficiently outside of going to court, meaning individual cases could drag on for years.

One of the prime pieces is an Henri Matisse portrait of a creamy-skinned brunette that a German-government appointed group of experts has already determined is looted. Read the rest of this entry »


N.S.A. Breached Chinese Servers Seen as Security Threat

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 and  reporting for the NYT: American officials have long considered Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, a security threat, blocking it from business deals in the United States for fear that the company would create “back doors” in its equipment that could allow the Chinese military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and government secrets.

“The documents were disclosed by The New York Times and Der Spiegel, and are also part of a book by Der Spiegel, “The N.S.A. Complex.” The documents, as well as interviews with intelligence officials, offer new insights into the United States’ escalating digital cold war with Beijing.”

But even as the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from Huawei, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks.

Ren Zhengfei, founder of Huawei, is seen as a Chinese version of Steve Jobs. Credit Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

Ren Zhengfei, founder of Huawei, is seen as a Chinese version of Steve Jobs. Credit Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen, China’s industrial heart, according to N.S.A. documents provided by the former contractor Edward J. Snowden. It obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.

One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawai and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear. But the plans went further: to exploit Huawai’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries — including both allies and nations that avoid buying American products — the N.S.A. could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.

“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products,” the N.S.A. document said. “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products,” it added, to “gain access to networks of interest” around the world. Read the rest of this entry »


How Much Did President Obama Know About the N.S.A. Eavesdropping on Angela Merkel?

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13:  In this handout from the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama talks on the phone while in the Oval Office with British Prime Minister David Cameron on February 13, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

 (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

 writes:  This has been the traditional mid-scandal question for some thirty years, ever since Senator Howard Baker, of Tennessee, posed it during a hearing of the Senate select committee on Watergate. (The question was provided to him by Fred Thompson, then the committee’s Republican counsel, later a United States senator and a successful movie and television actor, currently a cable-TV pitchman selling reverse mortgages to the elderly.)

In the case of the N.S.A.’s eavesdropping on the cell phone of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the answers seem to be: “a lot, but only about the content” and “pretty recently.” On Saturday, Der Spiegel broke the Snowden-brokered news that the agency has been an avid listener to Merkel’s mobile since 2002. On Sunday, Bild am Sonntag, a mass-circulation sensationalist tabloid, asserted that President Obama was told about this in 2010 and did nothing about it, but, later that day, the Wall Street Journal reported that the White House didn’t learn about the tap until last summer, at which point it told the spy agency to hang up. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that anonymous “current and former U.S. intelligence officials” are “pushing back against assertions that President Obama and his aides” were really in the dark.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Internet Is Making Us Dumber

Many scholars and critics warn that TV and the Internet are dumbing us down…

But, if thats true, why are children around the world performing better on IQ tests? Are we actually getting smarter, or are we merely thinking in different ways?

One thing stands out, though: While young test subjects are particularly good at solving visual and logical tasks quickly, their vocabulary is increasing only minimally — unlike that of their parents.

“Linguistically, the generations are growing apart,” Flynn states. “Young people can still understand their parents, but they can no longer mimic their style of speech. That was different in the past.”

One possible reason for the change is that today’s young people read and write many short messages on Facebook and on their cell phones, but they rarely immerse themselves in books anymore….

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