This Guardian/Snowden thing just gets weirder and weirder.
Today Britain’s Independent published its own NSA story:
Britain runs a secret internet-monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, telephone calls and web traffic on behalf of Western intelligence agencies
The station is able to tap into and extract data from the underwater fibre-optic cables passing through the region.
According to the Independent, the operation is run by the NSA’s UK satellite, the GCHQ, which of course shares information gathered by the station with its US counterpart.
In addition to being a decent story in its own right, what makes it really interesting is the Independent’s claim that it is based on information “contained in the leaked documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden” even though Snowden has issued a statement claiming that the Independent never spoke to him.
As reported by Glenn Greenwald this morning in The Guardian, Snowden said:
I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.
There are all kinds of possibilities here for why a story based on Snowden’s docs emerged without Snowden’s involvement but he and Greenwald are keen to promote the idea that it’s some kind of GCHQ false flag operation intended to discredit them. Snowden again:
It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others.
As false flag operations go, this seems a little amateur — at least as Greenwald and Snowden interpret it — considering they can credibly deny all involvement and did within hours of publication. If indeed it is a false flag, the resulting story seems to aim more at painting Greenwald and the Guardian as rather too beholden to government oversight in the development of their stories but high security risks nonetheless by virtue of Greenwald’s hot temper and a husband who carries top secret documents in his backpack:
Scotland Yard said material examined so far from the computer of Mr Miranda was “highly sensitive”, the disclosure of which “could put lives at risk”.
The Independent understands that The Guardian agreed to the Government’s request not to publish any material contained in the Snowden documents that could damage national security.
As well as destroying a computer containing one copy of the Snowden files, the paper’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, agreed to restrict the newspaper’s reporting of the documents.
The Government also demanded that the paper not publish details of how UK telecoms firms, including BT and Vodafone, were secretly collaborating with GCHQ to intercept the vast majority of all internet traffic entering the country. The paper had details of the highly controversial and secret programme for over a month. But it only published information on the scheme – which involved paying the companies to tap into fibre-optic cables entering Britain – after the allegations appeared in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. A Guardian spokeswoman refused to comment on any deal with the Government…
A senior Whitehall source said: “We agreed with The Guardian that our discussions with them would remain confidential”.
But there are fears in Government that Mr Greenwald – who still has access to the files – could attempt to release damaging information.
He said after the arrest of Mr Miranda: “I will be far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I have many more documents on England’s spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did.
Having decided that the story aims simply to discredit their meticulously cultivated super-responsible, not-Manning brand, Snowden/Greenwald are now bending over backwards to show that they would never ever never no never be so reckless as to risk the messing of a single hair on a single snoop’s head pursuant to telling the people of the Middle East that they are all under surveillance. Greenwald’s piece today is strikingly free of any suggestion this story has any meaning or importance beyond its impact on his credibility.
As to the allegations that he and the Guardian are squashing stories at the government’s request he writes:
Speaking for myself, let me make one thing clear: I’m not aware of, nor subject to, any agreement that imposes any limitations of any kind on the reporting that I am doing on these documents. I would never agree to any such limitations.
When an ex-lawyer starts in with the ‘speaking for myself’s, ‘aware of’s and ‘subject to’s it’s time to consult other sources, like perhaps the June interview Charlie Rose did with Greenwald’s bosses Alan Rusbridger and Janine Gibson:
Rose: Do you think national security has been damaged?
Gibson: I do not. We’ve consulted with the authorities about everything we’ve published. With the NSA, with the White House, with the DNI [Director of National Intelligence]…we’ve invited specific national security concerns…we’ve let them know what we’re going to publish…we talk to them regularly.
[Video embedded at end of post. Remarks start at 4:25]
Elsewhere in the interview, Rusbridger and Gibson brag of the extent to which they head off national security concerns on their own before their regular consultations with officials take place. Now, of course this doesn’t say that there is any hard and fast agreement in place, but there is enough here in the way of both routine government oversight and pre-emptive subservience to render Greenwald’s dudgeon over the Independent’s statement a little excessive, especially given that he doesn’t deny the particulars about suppression of the Vodaphone story.
What’s especially weird, though, is that Greenwald and Snowden think the damning national security risk of the Independent’s story is self-evident. “Harmful information” says Snowden. “exactly the type of disclosure the UK government wants but that has never happened before” says Greenwald. But why? There are no supporting documents. No methods are revealed. No personnel are named. The Independent doesn’t even say what country the station is in. But, you know, those Arabs are crazy when they’re angry.
If this story is really so far outside Snowden and Greenwald’s agreed-upon limits that they regard it as a smear, good luck with your Drip Drip® revolution, folks.
Greenwald is walking back his remarks on the damning nature of the Independent scoop.