Thursday Reads: Updates from Snowden-Greenwald Land and Other News


Good Morning!!

The photos in today’s post are from a project by photographer Mark Makela to take pictures of children “learning to read by reading to homeless cats.”

Last February, photographer Mark Makela traveled to Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, to photograph a reading group where the participants were grade-school students and a group of cats. The idea for the group, known as Book Buddies, was hatched at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County when the program coordinator Kristi Rodriguez’s 10-year-old son was struggling with reading. Rodriguez decided to bring him into the shelter, where he could be in what she called a “nonevaluative” environment in order to feel more comfortable practicing his reading skills. It worked.

According to ARL’s website, studies at Tufts University found that the more relaxed, nonjudgmental audience of cats helps students to sustain their focus, maintain a higher state of awareness, and develop an improved attitude toward school. In August of last year, ARL officially started the Book Buddies program, inviting students in first through eighth grades to read to the cats. As an incentive to continue, once the students complete five books, they receive prizes. “It’s one of those opportunities that is unique and humorous and so endearing,” Makela said about the assignment to document the Book Buddies program.

See more marvelous photos at the Slate Magazine link above. Even more at Buzzfeed–including more girls.

Now to the news:

I’ve long suspected that Edward Snowden interacted with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and others in the hacker community before he made his final decision to steal a massive trove of data from NSA computers and then abscond to Hong Kong at the end of May last year.

We know that Snowden was in touch with Jacob Applebaum and Laura Poitras early on, because they published an interview with him in Der Spiegel that they had conducted by e-mail in Mid-May, before Snowden fled Hawaii. But Snowden could have actually met Applebaum in Hawaii in April 2013 when Applebaum vacationed there by his own admission. Did Snowden and Applebaum discuss Snowden’s plans to steal NSA files? Did Applebaum suggest which items Snowden should take? Note that Applebaum is deeply involved with Wikileaks and has been a long-time, passionate defender of Julian Assange.

Glenn Greenwald revealed in his new book “No Place to Hide” that Snowden had used the code name “Cincinnatus” in early communications between the two. Interestingly enough, a “cyber-party” had been held in Hawaii in December 2012, and the host was someone who called himself “Cincinnatus.” Once this news came out, people began speculating on Twitter that perhaps this wasn’t a coincidence. Suddenly, on May 17, the cyber-party announcement was deleted by someone with the Twitter handle @jskuda. Fortunately Twitter user @ShrillBrigade located it on the Wayback Machine. And check out the title of Cincinnatus’ talk: “Painlessly setting up your own fast exit.” (h/t @catfitz)

Then yesterday, former criminal hacker and technical adviser to Greenwald and Poitras’ Freedom of the Press Foundation Kevin Poulsen published a limited hangout at Wired: Snowden’s First Move Against the NSA Was a Party in Hawaii.

It was December 11, 2012, and in a small art space behind a furniture store in Honolulu, NSA contractor Edward Snowden was working to subvert the machinery of global surveillance.

Snowden was not yet famous. His blockbuster leaks were still six months away, but the man destined to confront world leaders on a global stage was addressing a much smaller audience that Sunday evening. He was leading a local “Crypto Party,” teaching less than two dozen Hawaii residents how to encrypt their hard drives and use the internet anonymously.

“He introduced himself as Ed,” says technologist and writer Runa Sandvik, who co-presented with Snowden at the event, and spoke about the experience for the first time with WIRED. “We talked for a bit before everything started. And I remember asking where he worked or what he did, and he didn’t really want to tell.”


Runa Sandvik is a hacker who works at the TOR project along with Jacob Applebaum. TOR is a site (ironically funded by the U.S. Department of Defense) that provides free encryption software to people who want to hide their on-line activities (including drug dealers and child porn purveyors).

Poulsen writes:

The roots of Snowden’s crypto party were put down on November 18, 2012, when he sent an e-mail to Sandvik, a rising star in privacy circles, who was then a key developer on the anonymous web surfing software Tor.

Tor is free software that lets you go online anonymously. The software is used by a wide swath of people in need of extreme anonymity, including human rights groups, criminals, government agencies, and journalists. It works by accepting connections from the public internet, encrypting the traffic and bouncing it through a winding series of relays before dumping it back on the web through any of more than 1,000 exit nodes.

Most of those relays are run by volunteers, and the pre-leak Edward Snowden, it turns out, was one of them.

How about that? Snowden was already deeply involved with TOR in December 2012–and Jacob Applebaum of TOR just happened to travel to Hawaii a few months later in April! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

In his e-mail, Snowden wrote that he personally ran one of the “major tor exits”–a 2 gbps server named “TheSignal”–and was trying to persuade some unnamed coworkers at his office to set up additional servers. He didn’t say where he worked. But he wanted to know if Sandvik could send him a stack of official Tor stickers. (In some post-leak photos of Snowden you can see the Tor sticker on the back of his laptop, next to the EFF sticker).

Well, well, well. Now we know how Snowden got his TOR sticker. Did Runa give him the EFF sticker too? Read the rest of the Wired piece for more details.

Phew! I hope that made sense. This stuff is difficult to write about.


Also yesterday, well-known and respected journalist and New Yorker writer George Packer published a no-holds-barred review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book in the UK Prospect: The errors of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. Among other things, Packer accuses Greenwald of “a pervasive absence of intellectual integrity,” and provides numerous examples. He characterizes Snowden as someone who lives on the internet, detached from the realities of the real world. Here are a few excerpts, but please read the whole thing.

Snowden’s leaks can be seen, in part, as a determined effort to restore the web to its original purity—a project of technology rather than law. “Let us speak no more of faith in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of cryptography,” wrote Snowden, in an early message to his collaborators. In March of this year, appearing remotely from Russia on a robotised screen onstage at a TED talk in Vancouver, Snowden said that the single best solution to the NSA’s abuses is stronger encryption: “The internet that we’ve enjoyed in the past has been exactly what we, as not just a nation but as a people around the world, need.” In taking nearly two million highly classified documents from the US, he was grabbing back the key to heaven.

As I’ve written previously, Snowden’s solution to the problem of government interference with its citizens is impenetrable universal encryption–never mind the fact that this would allow vast numbers of vicious criminals to hide their actions from law enforcement.

As I suspected, Packer writes that Greenwald’s book “contains no major scoops.” He does, however, praise Greenwald’s argument for the primacy of privacy as central to a “free society.”

Greenwald also makes a powerful case—all the more so for being uncompromising and absolute—for the central role of privacy in a free society, and against the utilitarian argument that, since the phone companies’ metadata on Americans hasn’t been seriously abused by government officials (not yet, anyway), none of us should be too worried. In a chapter called “The Harm of Surveillance,” he cites Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous opinion on the basic “right to be let alone,” and writes: “The desire for privacy is shared by us all as an essential, not ancillary, part of what it means to be human. We all instinctively understand that the private realm is where we can act, think, speak, write, experiment, and choose how to be, away from the judgemental eyes of others. Privacy is a core condition of being a free person.”

I would argue that these considerations are of vital importance to people like Greenwald who are financially secure. Those Americans who must deal with racial and gender discrimination, long-term unemployment, and especially grinding poverty have other, more urgent concerns. Can one be a “free person” under those conditions?


Along similar lines, Packer writes:

If Greenwald and others were actually being persecuted for their political beliefs, they would instinctively understand that the rule of law has to protect people regardless of politics. The NSA disclosures are disturbing and even shocking; so is the Obama administration’s hyper-aggressive pursuit of leaks; so is the fact that, for several years, Poitras couldn’t leave or re-enter the US without being questioned at airports. These are abuses, but they don’t quite reach the level of the Stasi. They don’t portend a totalitarian state “beyond the dreams of even the greatest tyrants of the past,” as Greenwald believes is possible. A friend from Iran who was jailed and tortured for having the wrong political beliefs, and who is now an American citizen, observed drily, “I prefer to be spied on by NSA.” The sense of oppression among Greenwald, Poitras, and other American dissenters is only possible to those who have lived their entire lives under the rule of law and have come to take it for granted.

In the year since the first NSA disclosures, Snowden has drifted a long way from the Thoreauvian ideal of the majority of one. He has become an international celebrity, far more championed than reviled. He has praised Russia and Venezuela’s devotion to human rights. His more recent disclosures have nothing to do with the constitutional rights of US citizens. Many of them deal with surveillance of foreign governments, including Germany and Brazil, but also Iran, Russia, and China. These are activities that, wise or unwise, fall well within the NSA’s mandate and the normal ways of espionage. Snowden has attached himself to Wikileaks and to Assange, who has become a tool of Russian foreign policy and has no interest in reforming American democracy—his goal is to embarrass it. Assange and Snowden are not the first radical individualists to end up in thrall to strongmen.

Snowden looked to the internet for liberation, but it turns out that there is no such thing as an entirely free individual. Cryptography can never offer the absolute privacy and liberty that Snowden seeks online. The internet will always be a space controlled by corporations and governments, and the freedom it provides is of a limited, even stunting, kind. No one lives outside the fact of coercion—there is always a state to protect or pursue you, whether it’s Obama’s America or Putin’s Russia.

I’ve barely touched the surface of Packer’s scathing critique of Greenwald’s “journalism”; I enourage you to go to Prospect link to read more.


I have a few more stories for you that I’ll list link-dump style:

It appears that the prosecution in the Boston Bombing case decided to leak some previously secret information–most likely to counter the defense’s argument that Dzhohar Tsarnaev was illegally questioned by the FBI when he was in the hospital with terrible injuries.

Reuters: Accused Boston bomber admitted role in attack, prosecutors say

NBC News: Government doc shows how closely Boston Marathon bombers followed al Qaeda plans.

NY Daily News: Boston Marathon bombers used ‘sophisticated’ bombs made of parts from Christmas lights, model cars: prosecutors.

Boston Globe: Christmas Lights Used in Boston Marathon Bombs. Feds: Boston bomber’s hideout note says he wanted to be martyr.

ABC News: FBI Feared Boston Bombers ‘Received Training’ And Aid From Terror Group, Docs Say.

This is encouraging from the Boston Globe: Oakland Examining Pension of FBI Agent who Shot Todashev

Other News:

The Economic Times of India: Google wants to show ads through your thermostat and car. (You though the NSA was bad?)

Information Week: Google Outlines Advertising Vision. (How would you like targeted Google ads appearing on your refrigerator or watch?)

The Atlantic: It Wasn’t Household Debt That Caused the Great Recession; It was how that debt was disproportionately distributed to America’s most economically fragile communities.

NYT: U.S. Sends Troops to Chad to Aid Hunt for Nigerian Schoolgirls.

USA Today: Thai military declares coup, detains party leaders.

Science Recorder:  ‘Aliens of the sea’ could lead to breakthroughs in regenerative medicine.

What stories are you following today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.

32 Comments on “Thursday Reads: Updates from Snowden-Greenwald Land and Other News”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    How Big Data Could Undo Our Civil-Rights Laws

    Big Data will eradicate extreme world poverty by 2028, according to Bono, front man for the band U2. But it also allows unscrupulous marketers and financial institutions to prey on the poor. Big Data, collected from the neonatal monitors of premature babies, can detect subtle warning signs of infection, allowing doctors to intervene earlier and save lives. But it can also help a big-box store identify a pregnant teenager—and carelessly inform her parents by sending coupons for baby items to her home. News-mining algorithms might have been able to predict the Arab Spring. But Big Data was certainly used to spy on American Muslims when the New York City Police Department collected license plate numbers of cars parked near mosques, and aimed surveillance cameras at Arab-American community and religious institutions.

    Until recently, debate about the role of metadata and algorithms in American politics focused narrowly on consumer privacy protections and Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA). That Big Data might have disproportionate impacts on the poor, women, or racial and religious minorities was rarely raised. But, as Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange, a civil rights organization that seeks to empower black Americans and their allies, point out in a commentary at TPM Cafe, while big data can change business and government for the better, “it is also supercharging the potential for discrimination.”

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras are in Moscow today.

    Here’s Edward Snowden Taking A Selfie With Glenn Greenwald In A Moscow Reunion

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Evidence Collected By A Private Investigator Suggests That OJ Simpson’s Son Was The Real Killer

    Read more:

    • joanelle says:


      • bostonboomer says:

        I don’t believe it. I’ve heard that theory before. I haven’t read the article yet though.

    • RalphB says:

      If that’s remotely true, the LAPD royally screwed the pooch in more ways than one. They probably never considered investigating an obvious suspect and then tried to “frame a guilty man” and OJ was acquitted.

      I have a vague recollection of a TV commentator mentioning OJ’s son once but that’s all. Such staggering incompetence is amazing!

      • bostonboomer says:

        There was plenty of evidence against OJ.

        • RalphB says:

          There was but I think some of it was phonied up. They darn near admitted that after the trial.

        • RalphB says:

          Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought he was guilty. I thought he got off because some of the evidence was a little hinky and gave the defense the ability to get him off. A few years after the OJ trial, the LAPD did a little housecleaning in the Hollywood and Ramparts Divisions because some of the detectives had a nasty habit of finding the guilty party, but if the evidence wasn’t quite good enough they would make it better. Thus the “framing a guilty man” phrase.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    Michael Kinsley reviews Greenwald’s book:

    • bostonboomer says:

      “My position was straightforward,” Glenn Greenwald writes. “By ordering illegal eavesdropping, the president had committed crimes and should be held accountable for them.” You break the law, you pay the price: It’s that simple.

      But it’s not that simple, as Greenwald must know. There are laws against government eavesdropping on American citizens, and there are laws against leaking official government documents. You can’t just choose the laws you like and ignore the ones you don’t like. Or perhaps you can, but you can’t then claim that it’s all very straightforward.

      • bostonboomer says:

        It’s a great yarn, which might be more entertaining if Greenwald himself didn’t come across as so unpleasant. Maybe he’s charming and generous in real life. But in “No Place to Hide,” Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss, convinced that every issue is “straightforward,” and if you don’t agree with him, you’re part of something he calls “the authorities,” who control everything for their own nefarious but never explained purposes.


        • RalphB says:

          Stupid beyond belief…

          Greenwald’s determination to misinterpret the evidence can be comic. He writes about attending a bat mitzvah ceremony where the rabbi told the young woman that “you are never alone” because God is always watching over you. “The rabbi’s point was clear,” Greenwald amplifies. “If you can never evade the watchful eyes of a supreme authority, there is no choice but to follow the dictates that authority imposes.” I don’t think that was the rabbi’s point.

      • ANonOMouse says:

        Has there ever been a POTUS/Administration in modern times that didn’t use questionable methods of getting information to trap the “bad guys”? I’m just befuddled by Greenwald’s piety as he is aiding and abetting a man, who in my opinion, is a spy. There were too many documents taken/stolen to my mind for it to have been solely about exposing the NSA illegal listening and data gathering. Greenwald is hiding behind “Freedom of the Press” and Snowden is hiding behind “patriotism” and “freedom of speech”. What I see is one man who thinks he’s some sort of Super-hero freedom fighter, and another who thinks his reporting on the clandestine activities of our government is the equivalent of Woodward & Bernstein.

        Like I said yesterday, I’m more concerned with the intrusion into my private life by Internet Service Providers, Google and Social Media then I am the NSA.

  5. joanelle says:

    Thanks, BBQ, great compilation of this morass, I fear that privacy is gone for ever. I love the kid pictures.

    • joanelle says:

      Darn, spellcheck, sorry BB

    • ANonOMouse says:

      Yep, We pretty much opted out of privacy when the internet exploded, When social media replaced talking to people in person, when cellphones became the communication device of choice, when we began buying cars with GPS systems. If they want you bad enough, they can figure where you’re parked in the parking lot at Costco.

      • RalphB says:

        The “they” who can find in that Costco parking lot includes private companies like the auto manufacturer. It would not surprise me if they were keeping track of the location data, speed data, etc.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    “Drunk and Belligerent” Fox News Anchor Arrested in Minnesota Airport.

    Gregg Jarrett had requested personal time off. I’ll be he was supposed to go to rehab in Minneapolis.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    Attorney General Holder Announces New Policy on Recordings of Interviews of Individuals in Federal Custody

    May 22, 2014

    Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new policy for the Department of Justice that creates a presumption that statements made by individuals in federal custody, after they have been arrested but before their initial appearance, will be electronically recorded. This new policy will document that detained individuals are afforded their constitutionally protected rights, and provide federal law enforcement officials with clear and indisputable records of important statements and confessions made by individuals who have been detained.

    Holder doesn’t specifically mention the FBI, but this must have come out of the Todashev and Tsarnaev cases.

  8. RalphB says:

    GOP-led House orders the Pentagon to build more ‘Growler’ planes than it wants

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives rejected Pentagon cost-cutting proposals on Thursday with a $601 billion election-year defense policy bill that offered bigger military pay raises and blocked a politically tough bid to eliminate planes, ships and bases.

    The chamber voted 325-98 to pass the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which rejected Pentagon plans to save tens of billions of dollars over the next five years as the department tries to meet a congressional mandate to cut nearly $1 trillion in defense spending over a decade.

    To offset the increased spending, the House cut money from Pentagon accounts used to pay for maintenance, training and other activities to ensure troops are ready to go into combat. Those accounts were hit hard in previous years, and the Pentagon was trying to rebuild readiness by cutting spending elsewhere.

    Congress sucks! Once again load the Defense Authorization up with pork while doing actual harm to the military personnel by cutting the readiness budgets. Assholes!

  9. RalphB says:

    President Barack Obama took an impromptu stroll Wednesday along the National Mall, and some bystanders freaked out at the prospect of meeting their commander in chief.

    “It’s good to be out,” Obama quipped to reporters. “The bear is loose.”

  10. RalphB says:

    The Baffler: Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream Of A Silicon Reich

    One day in March of this year, a Google engineer named Justine Tunney created a strange and ultimately doomed petition at the White House website. The petition proposed a three-point national referendum, as follows:

    1. Retire all government employees with full pensions.
    2. Transfer administrative authority to the tech industry.
    3. Appoint [Google executive chairman] Eric Schmidt CEO of America.

    This could easily be written off as stunt, a flamboyant act of corporate kiss-assery, which, on one level, it probably was. But Tunney happened to be serious. “It’s time for the U.S. Regime to politely take its exit from history and do what’s best for America,” she wrote. “The tech industry can offer us good governance and prevent further American decline.”

    Welcome to the latest political fashion among the California Confederacy: total corporate despotism. It is a potent and bitter ideological mash that could have only been concocted at tech culture’s funky smoothie bar—a little Steve Jobs here, a little Ayn Rand there, and some Ray Kurzweil for color. …

    The next Koch Bros type movement needs to be stomped down hard before they catch hold too much.

  11. bostonboomer says:

    Former KGB general: Snowden is cooperating with Russian intelligence

    Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden probably never envisioned that he’d someday be working for the Russian federal security service, or FSB.

    But according to former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin, he is now, albeit as a consultant or technical advisor.

    “These days, the Russians are very pleased with the gifts Edward Snowden has given them. He’s busy doing something. He is not just idling his way through life.”

    “The FSB are now his hosts, and they are taking care of him,” Kalugin boldly claimed in an interview with VentureBeat.

  12. RalphB says:

    Hewlett-Packard will cut at least 11,000 more jobs in reorganization

    U.S. computer giant Hewlett-Packard announced Thursday it was cutting an additional 11,000 to 16,000 jobs in its restructuring plan.

    The new cuts, announced as HP revealed a slump in revenues, come on top of 34,000 job reductions planned under a program begun in 2012.

    “As HP continues to reengineer the workforce to be more competitive and meet its objectives, the previously estimated number of eliminated positions will increase by between 11,000 to 16,000,” said a statement released with its quarterly results.

    “With the first half of our fiscal year completed, I’m pleased to report that HP’s turnaround remains on track,” said Meg Whitman, president and chief executive officer.

    Appears as if Meg Whitman is doing as good a job as the last Republican politician CEO Carly Fiorina. “Turnaround remains on track” my ass!