DOD Investigation Into Snowden Leans Toward Foreign Spy Allegations

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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The U.S. Department of Defense’s investigation into the intelligence leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden is leading further toward the possibility Snowden was a spy working for the Chinese or Russian government, according to a senior DOD official with ties to the inquiry.

“Snowden specifically exhibited a pattern of behavior indicative of someone who had extensive tradecraft training in espionage,” the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, told The Daily Caller.

Despite Snowden’s recent claims on his first U.S. network television interview Wednesday with NBC’s Brian Williams that he was “trained as a spy” and stationed overseas under a false name and occupation, the official said such measures were standard procedure for all CIA and NSA communicators and technicians abroad.

That indicates the adept espionage tradecraft the ex-contractor demonstrated when he downloaded thousands of classified documents detailing secret surveillance and defense programs, fled the country, handed them off to journalists and escaped notice even after the first leaks began, all came from somewhere else.

Distinguished and longtime former CIA field officer Robert Baer made similar speculation on the BBC’s “Today” program Thursday, and said that Snowden’s positions within CIA and NSA did not make him a spy. According to Baer, Snowden relayed messages and served as an embassy technician in his CIA and NSA postings overseas.

Baer similarly speculated that Snowden had been tapped by Russia as early as 2007 while stationed in Geneva.

“I can’t prove it. But this was such a brilliant operation,” Baer said. “And his landing in Moscow just makes old Cold War warriors like me very suspicious.”

Beyond the expanded training Snowden seemingly exhibited and wouldn’t have received from the U.S. government, the intelligence he stole appears to go far beyond the bulk surveillance programs leaked so far.

“[Snowden] specifically sought out jobs to give him ever expanding access to intelligence information that have nothing to do with programs that either collected on American citizens or violated their Fourth Amendment rights,” the DOD official told TheDC.

“The size and scope of collection he engaged in was so large he couldn’t have possibly known what he was taking, which is again a counter intelligence indicator that he was engaged in espionage. When the number of files he stole is in the millions or billions, it’s humanly impossible for him to know what he was passing because he wouldn’t have had time to read the documents themselves.”

(The official noted that the number of “files” taken is not indicative of the number of individual “pages” within each.)

Agencies, officials and lawmakers at all levels of government have been unclear and contradictory on multiple accounts alleging what Snowden actually took.

Citing a classified DOD report assessing the Snowden leaks in January, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said some of the stolen intelligence “concern vital operations of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.”

“This report confirms my greatest fears — Snowden’s real acts of betrayal place America’s military men and women at greater risk,” Rogers said. ”Snowden’s actions are likely to have lethal consequences for our troops in the field.”

Though specific details were withheld, 12 heavily-redacted pages from that report were released under the Freedom of Information Act late last week, two of which described Snowden’s leaks as “staggering” and “grave.”

In contrast, in April former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander said he doesn’t “think anybody really knows what he [Snowden] actually took with him, because the way he did it, we don’t have an accurate way of counting.”

In spite of the government’s conflicting accounts, Snowden himself implied he stole such damaging Defense Department documents during his NBC interview.

“A good gauge of what information was provided to the journalists is representation of what you see in the press,” Snowden told Williams. “The NSA and the Defense Intelligence Agency and some of these other organizations have claimed that lives are at risk that all of this military information was out there – you know, I took all this information about missiles and warheads and tanks… But we don’t see any of that in the newspaper.”

Snowden said that one of his stipulations for agreeing to be a source for journalists like Glenn Greenwald was that they consult with the government before publishing stories “to make sure that no individuals or specific harms could be caused by any of that reporting.”

“To your knowledge there is nothing in what you’ve handed over to the journalists materially damaging or threatening to the military or national security?” Williams asked.

“No, there’s nothing that would be published that would harm the public interest,” Snowden said, and as Williams later pointed out he “didn’t deny turning over military secrets, he [only] asserted they wouldn’t be published.”

“It’s one thing for a journalist not to publish war plans, applications of military technology or sensitive collection programs overseas,” the DOD official said. “It’s another to make it accessible to foreign governments that are enemies.”

During the interview, Snowden stated unequivocally that he has “no relationship with the Russian government at all,” that he’s never met Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that he receives no support from the Russian government.

Williams followed up by referencing a conversation he had with a U.S. intelligence official, who said were the roles reversed, the U.S. government would be working “mightily” to befriend a Russian leaker on the level of Snowden, and obtain whatever information he knew or had.

Snowden explained his own counter-intelligence experience safeguards him from such manipulation, and that he gave away or destroyed all of the information he stole prior to traveling through Russia in anticipation of such attempts.

“The amount of circumstantial evidence pointing, in bright neon letters, to some sort of relationship is so abundant, and so unqualified by even the slightest bit of competing evidence beyond Snowden’s word, that it is just very difficult to believe he is telling the truth here,” Vox’s Max Fisher wrote Thursday, calling Snowden’s denial of any relationship “bullshit.”

During the interview, Snowden said he ended up in Russia by accident, and that the U.S. State Department revoked his passport before he could fly on to Cuba and eventually Latin America. The government, however, states that the leaker’s passport was revoked before he left Hong Kong, which if true, leaves unanswered the question of how he traveled to Russia in the first place.

Despite his ability to leave Hong Kong seemingly without trouble, Snowden was unable to leave Moscow and assigned a security detail inside the airport shortly after arriving. He was assigned a curious choice of Russian legal counsel – lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, a member of the board that oversees the FSB, Russia’s post-KGB internal security service.

Putin discussed Snowden’s presence on state television and the two publicly negotiated the ex-contractor’s application for asylum, which the Russian president said on national TV he would only get if he agreed to “stop his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners.”

Snowden initially withdrew his application, then two weeks later, reapplied with Kucherena and requested the case go before Putin personally. He was subsequently given asylum, a secret apartment, a full-time “escort/guard” and a job at a Russian Internet company, despite his inability to speak Russian.

“Andrei Soldatov, a journalist who has written extensively about the security services, said that the FSB, the domestic successor to the Soviet-era intelligence service, clearly controlled the circumstances of Mr. Snowden’s life now, protecting him and also circumscribing his activities, even if not directly controlling him,” The New York Times said about Snowden’s daily life in October. “’He’s actually surrounded by these people,’ said Mr. Soldatov.”

Suspicion regarding Snowden’s presence in Russia grew last month after the former contractor appeared on Russian television to ask Putin if Russia conducted bulk surveillance on its citizen in a style similar to that of NSA, which Putin denied.

The former NSA contractor was widely criticized for participating in the annual question and answer session with the Russian president, and representatives in the media and government alleged it made him look like a Russian instrument of propaganda.

Snowden would likely have to have some form of relationship and arrangements with the Russian government to make a video appearance alongside Putin on live television and ask the Russian president a question.

“The fact that Snowden made the strange and categorical insistence that they have no relationship at all, despite the abundance of evidence that they do, raises questions about why he would assert something so implausible, and what this means for how we should take his many other claims,” Fisher said.

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