by David Phinney
Friday March 1st 2024



Edward Snowden Opens Can of Worms

Today, Edward Snowden claimed he is responsible for leaking the goods on the architecture of the U.S. PRISM program, an international surveillance program that monitors Internet traffic en masse.

The bold, ballsy admission opens a frothy can of wormy issues – from international relations between China and the U.S. to the nature of U.S. contractors and how much power they now have in vital and essential public missions.

Oh, and, then there are those unpleasant debates of just how much do we want the government to know about our private lives in the interest of our public “security.”

The 29-year-old former federal contractor confessed to the crimes of possible treason while hiding out in a posh hotel in Hong Kong. His said he is hanging onto the notion that he may be granted asylum and that the Chinese may decline to hand him over to the U.S. for prosecution. Certainly, the self-confessed leaker of national security secrets, and now key U.S. Justice Department suspect, provides a huge bargaining chip between the two world powers.

Let’s see…. Both countries are locking horns over cyber espionage and hacking of U.S. corporations emanating from China. The scope and reach of the U.S. PRISM program, often enabled by U.S. tech contractors with separate commercial interests, now blunts U.S. complaints of China. (Just imagine the commercial possibilities when you consider this CIA-funded company: Palantir. This gun-for-hire tech outfit outlined strategies to shut down Wikileaks. The Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post could be next.)

Extradition arrangements exist between the two countries, but get blurry for those seeking political asylum. China gets stubborn when it comes to giving persons the shove that may be useful to its own national security, international relations, and self-interest. Snowden just might fit the bill handily to these exceptions and, perhaps, even useful. (Wink, wink.)

Supporters of dissident activity and pro-democracy activists in China relying on the U.S. for backup also may be disappointed. Snowden is claiming that he, too, has serious a political compliant – of U.S. security policy. That offers the Chinese a chance to stick its tongue out at U.S. pressure.

In a fascinatingly rich video interview by the Guardian, Snowden laid out his reasoning for making classified material public. “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

Such claims may mute the already tepid human rights efforts of the U.S. to muscle any concessions from the Chinese on that front. Think otherwise? Then I have some U.S. T-bills to sell you.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, look for renewed scrutiny of U.S. government contractors, something we haven’t seen since the height of the U.S. occupation in Iraq.

At 29, Snowden was on a fast-track career in national security – especially for a guy who never completed college and holds a GED for a high school diploma. Formerly a CIA computer jock, his last job, a three-month stint with Booze Allen Hamilton offered a $200,000 a year salary, he claimed. Apparently, his biggest talent was the ability to work with computers.

“I had full access to the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world,” Snowden said, adding that he had the ability to hack almost anyone’s electronic data, including the U.S. president’s.

That is an enormous “back door” left open by Booze Allen Hamilton, even as the company is revolving door for former government officials who surely understand the myriad consequences of exposing a multi-billion-dollar secret surveillance program to the world. (Revolving door, i.e., John M. McConnell, R. James Woolsey, Jr., Dov S. Zakheim, Joan Dempsey, James R. Clapper, etc., etc. etc.)

It will be interesting to see what the repercussions are for Booze Allen Hamilton, a mega-defense and national security contractor valued at $2.5 billion. If past is prologue, there may be very few. Government contractors that are so firmly embedded in the workings of national security may get a slap on the wrist, but they are rarely cut off – unless the programs they are contracted for is stopped or cut back as well. And curtailing the U.S. government’s cyber dragnet is exactly what Snowden wants to achieve.