Note: I had begun this post back in mid-December. It has regained relevance with the recent NY Times and Guardian editorials calling for amnesty for Snowden. The Guardian might be acting out of altruism, but I wonder about the motives at the Times. Is this a big sea-change at the Grey Lady? Or are they sending some kind of message to Snowden–this is your best offer, take it or bad things might happen–?
Lost in all the reportage about Nelson Mandela’s passing (and released on a Sunday night) is the news that there may be plans afoot to offer whistleblower Edward Snowden amnesty for everything he’s done. Richard Ledgett told CBS news as much: “My personal view is, yes, it’s worth having a conversation about,” Ledgett, up for the top civilian spot in the agency, said in an interview on 60 Minutes. “I would need assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured, and my bar for those assurances would be very high. It would be more than just an assertion on his part.” Not sure if this is offer for real, since Ledgett’s boss, NSA Director Keith Alexander, seemed to have a very different point of view. “I think people have to be held accountable for their actions,” Alexander said. “Because what we don’t want is the next person to do the same thing, race off to Hong Kong and to Moscow with another set of data knowing they can strike the same deal.”
By the way, CBS News has taken a big publicity hit for the folks on 60 Minutes giving the NSA a cream-puff piece where no critical voices were heard. Commentator John Miller should’ve been kept off the story–in his time prior to the story, he stated “Full disclosure: I once worked in the office of the director of National Intelligence, where I saw firsthand how secretly the NSA operates.” The story, following so soon after the Lara Logan Benghazi debacle a few weeks ago, doesn’t exactly burnish the Tiffany Network‘s reputation. Glenn Greenwald tweeted “That 60 Minutes access-for-uncritical-reverence NSA propaganda piece was a new low for US journalism“.
Ledgett said his big concern about shutting off the leaks now is that Snowden’s future leaks may give our enemies information about US intelligence gathering which they could then use to better protect themselves. To an adversary, Ledgett said, “It is the keys to the kingdom.”
I doubt this is about ‘keys to the kingdom’. I’ve followed the Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond and the Paypal 14 cases, and none of the hacktivists have released the kind of operational details that would compromise ongoing legitimate work. This is all about the fact that embarrassing details of all the nefarious business the NSA was up to are now in the hands of hackers who are willing to go public. The government is worried, all right. But it isn’t about the release of operational data. It’s about the public finding out about NSA spying on everyone who used any technology product more complicated than a pocket calculator. It’s the uproar over revelations that we were spying on our NATO allies–their leaders AND their citizens.
The government cracked an important cell of Anonymous by turning ‘Sabu’, but there are many more out there. And the government’s pursuit of whistleblowers instead of the villains exposed by the leaked documents is feeding the anger of many Americans both in and out of the hacker community.
My love for conspiracy theory tells me that Snowden must have something really juicy in what’s left to release. And nobody should take the government’s word on anything–while under FBI control, ‘Sabu’ gave other hackers countries to target and details of their security. Convicted hacktivist Jeremy Hammond has tried to detail all of the websites he attacked thanks to Sabu. None of that was allowed to be heard in open court. If Snowden were to be put on trial, what would Discovery be like? Is the Amnesty/Pardon offer a way to keep what secrets aren’t already on the table from being heard? What’s left for Edward Snowden to release? The mind boggles.
Don’t believe anything the government says about its motives.