Tinker, Tailor, Snowden, Spy
By that time, there was no point for China to give Snowden a Beijing palace where he could pet phoenixes.
"Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn't I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now." So wrote Edward Snowden in the middle of last month, in a live chat with readers of London's Guardian.
Today, the famous 30-year-old cuts a pathetic figure, presumably still marooned in the transit zone in Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport. He has, we are told, remained there since June 23, when he arrived, without passport or Russian visa, on an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong. Snowden, through the assistance of the WikiLeaks organization, has filed a reported 27 requests for asylum. Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, offered him refuge on Friday, and Bolivian leader Evo Morales followed suit on Saturday, but China has yet to welcome him.
Beijing's refusal to accept Snowden suggests he is not a Chinese agent, at least if we accept the premise of his argument outlined for the readers of the Guardian. Nonetheless, there are aspects of his relationship with the People's Republic of China that are, at the very least, unsettling.
As an initial matter, China may have helped him gather information from the National Security Agency. Sources in the American intelligence community suspect the famous "leaker" was really a "drop box," receiving information from others in NSA who were working for China. It was his job to act as the courier.
This theory explains how Snowden could possess information to which he did not have access. It is possible he figured out how to bypass barriers in NSA's systems, but it is more likely he had help. Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reports that the FBI is investigating whether Snowden obtained documents "from a leak inside the secret FISA court." Similarly, Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, has suggested Snowden probably had an accomplice in the NSA who gave him information.
Beijing may also have encouraged Mr. Snowden to leave Hawaii. One of my sources indicates that Chinese intelligence, either directly or through FBI personnel working for China, tipped Snowden off that NSA investigators were closing in on him.
There still is no proof of this allegation, but it is telling that Snowden chose to run to Hong Kong. At first glance, that city is a curious choice for someone trying to avoid American justice. It has the equivalent of an extradition agreement with the U.S. -- as a non-sovereign it technically "surrenders" suspects, not extradites them -- and a well-known history of close cooperation with American law enforcement. The Guardian, referring to Snowden, stated that "he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the U.S. government." In view of Hong Kong's record of regularly turning over suspects to America, this had to mean Snowden thought Beijing would step in to protect him.
Why would he ever think that? It seems clear that Snowden, if he did not actually work for the Chinese, at least did their bidding. He insisted, for instance, that the Washington Post time its initial disclosures so that they would occur on the eve of last month's "shirtsleeves" summit between President Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. When the Post refused to give a guarantee -- we learned this from Wolf Blitzer's June 10 interview with the paper's Barton Gellman -- Snowden dealt mostly with the Guardian, which evidently proved to be more pliable. The timing of the Guardian's disclosures benefited the Chinese enormously, changing the global narrative from Chinese hacking to American surveillance.
Similarly, in Hong Kong, Snowden's disclosures in the South China Morning Post also helped Beijing in its campaign to win hearts and minds there with his detailed allegations of U.S. surveillance of the city's people and institutions. And we should not be surprised: despite what Snowden said in the Guardian chat, he had met with Chinese officials. In fact, those officials encouraged him to give an interview to the Hong Kong paper's reporters, who then wrote a series of blockbuster articles about NSA surveillance of Hong Kong and China.
In his interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden turned over documents that contained detailed technical information about NSA activities, including specific Internet Protocol addresses surveilled. That information, almost needless to say, was enormously beneficial to Chinese intelligence. It was in that encounter that Snowden, if he had not done so before, then crossed the final line from "whistleblower" to traitor.
The Chinese then did their best to make sure that American officials did not get the opportunity to interrogate Snowden. The last thing they wanted was for the U.S. to have the opportunity to learn the extent of China's penetration of the NSA and the FBI in Hawaii. Therefore, they ensured he left Hong Kong before the city could "surrender" him. Albert Ho, one of Snowden's attorneys, has publicly stated that Beijing approached him through intermediaries who said his client should leave Hong Kong. And as we know by now, this is exactly what Snowden did.
By that time, there was no point for China to give him a Beijing palace where he could pet phoenixes. Ministry of State Security agents had been in contact with Snowden while he was in Hong Kong and probably obtained all they wanted from his four laptops and one thumb drive. Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon reports that U.S. officials say Russian and Chinese intelligence operatives obtained access to, in the words of Gertz, "highly classified U.S. intelligence and military information contained on electronic media" held by Snowden.
At this moment, we do not know whether Snowden, during his time in Hong Kong, actually traveled to China, as some believe, and we do not know the extent of his dealings with the Chinese. Yet the information we do possess -- and the suppositions we can reasonably make -- point to troubling conclusions.
We know Snowden revealed technical information of particular value to the Chinese, lied about his contacts with them, and helped them further diplomatic and public relations objectives. We know Beijing not only permitted him to leave Hong Kong but also ensured that he did so. Perhaps the relationship between Snowden and China was even more insidious than this, but even if it were not, he prejudiced American security and long-term interests to a significant degree.
Snowden was working for Chinese intelligence or alongside Chinese intelligence. In either event, the damage to U.S. security interests has been incalculable.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China and a columnist at Forbes.com. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.
Reader comments on this item
|Ghost of Christmas Future [85 words]||John||Jan 3, 2014 17:24|
|The damage is, in fact, calculable - after all, the NSA is keeping records, right? [288 words]||H Luce||Jul 8, 2013 06:03|
|↔ Mr. snowden's problem [105 words]||Kaz||Jul 9, 2013 11:46|
Comment on this item
by Burak Bekdil
So in the EU-candidate Turkey, a pianist should be punished for his re-tweets, but a pop-singer should be congratulated for her first-class racist hate-speech. This is contagious.
No reporter present at Mr. Ihsanoglu's campaign launch speech thought about asking him if his commitment to the "Palestinian cause" included any affirmation of the Hamas Charter, in particular a section that says, "…The stones and trees will say, 'O Muslims, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'"
Turkey is also the country where a few years earlier, a group of school teachers (yes, school teachers!) gathered in a demonstration to commemorate Hitler.
by Debalina Ghoshal
Despite Chapter VII of the UN Charter and UNSC Resolutions, it seems that North Korea will continue developing its missiles -- and eventually weaponize them with nuclear warheads.
"North Korea's ballistic and nuclear threat is very much a near-term threat. ... Steady progression in their program is not harmless." — Victor Cha, Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
On March 26, 2014, North Korea reportedly test-fired medium-range ballistic Rodong missiles -- capable of reaching Japan and U.S. military bases in the Asia-Pacific region.
Since February, South Korean officials claim that North Korea has confirmed at least 90 test-firings, among which ten were ballistic missiles.
by Khaled Abu Toameh
It is important to note that these cease-fire demands are not part of Hamas's or Islamic Jihad's overall strategy, namely to have Israel wiped off the face of the earth.
Many foreign journalists who came to cover the war in the Gaza trip were under the false impression that it was all about improving living conditions for the Palestinians by opening border crossings and building an airport and seaport. These journalists really believed that once the demands of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are accepted, this would pave the way for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
To understand the true intention of Hamas and its allies, it is sufficient to follow the statements made by their leaders after the cease-fire announcement this week. To his credit, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's leader, has never concealed Hamas's desire to destroy Israel.
Hamas and its allies see the war in the Gaza Strip as part of there strategy to destroy Israel. What Hamas and its allies are actually saying is, "Give us open borders and an airport and seaport so we can use them to prepare for the next war against Israel."
by Burak Bekdil
A front-page headline was particularly revealing: They (Israel) bombed a mosque in Gaza! Including the exclamation mark!
A quick internet search, if you typed "mosque bombing Shiite-Sunni," would give you 782,000 results on July 16.
Why did we not hear one single Turkish voice protest the death of 300,000 Muslims in Darfur?
Hamas's Charter is must-read fun.
by Bassam Tawil
What is sad is that the Gazans have not yet been able to free themselves from the yoke of Hamas.
The world seems not to understand that Hamas, like ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood, does not exist in a vacuum. It is one cog in the radical Islamist wheel that threatens the Arab and Muslim world and the major cities of Europe.
The Western world also seems not to understand that it has to incapacitate or totally neutralize the countries funding terrorism, such as Iran, Qatar and Turkey, for whom the Palestinian problem is only a pretext on the way to destroying the Western world as we know it and replacing it with only Islam.