Tuesday Reads: The Snowden Conundrum

Assange and Snowden

Good Morning!!

I’m going to focus on the Edward Snowden/NSA leaks story today, because there has been quite a bit of news breaking about it over the past few days.

As of this morning, Snowden hasn’t decided whether to accept one of the asylum offers made by three Latin American countries, Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Bolivia. From NBC News:

MOSCOW, Russia – The status of Edward Snowden’s bid for asylum in Venezuela remained unclear Tuesday after the country’s apparent deadline passed.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Moscow said it had no information on whether the fugitive NSA leaker had completed a deal that would allow him to leave the transit area of an airport in the Russian capital.

In Caracas, President Nicolas Maduro confirmed late Monday that Venezuela had received an official request for asylum from Snowden, telling reporters at a news conference that the self-declared leaker “will need to decide when he will fly here,” according to Russia Today.

Even if Snowden agrees an asylum deal with Venezuela, travel problems could take time to resolve: His U.S. passport has been canceled and U.S. allies may deny airspace to any flight on which he is believed to be traveling.

According to Fox News,

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to decide if he wants to seek refuge in his country after the American reportedly sent an asylum request to Caracas.

Maduro told reporters at a press conference on Monday that the fugitive systems analyst must communicate his intent to accept Venezuela’s offer of asylum, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“He will have to say when he is flying here, if he definitely wants to come here,” Maduro was quoted as telling reporters.

He would probably have to take a private plane, which would be very expensive. Wikileaks is paying for Snowden’s expenses, but would they be able to spring for a private plane? Maybe. More on that in a minute.

One thing we know is very important to Snowden–internet access. One of the reasons he left Hong Kong for Moscow was his fear of not being able to get on the internet. From the Wall Street Journal on June 24:

A person familiar with Mr. Snowden’s case said his decision to get on a flight to Moscow was “very sudden,” made only in the day before departing. The decision was made in consultation with WikiLeaks, which encouraged Mr. Snowden to leave the city after communicating with others about his options abroad, the person said.

“He is very independent, but also very willing to listen to advice,” the person said, adding that Mr. Snowden was concerned that any further delay would result in his detainment by Hong Kong authorities. In part, Mr. Snowden’s determination to leave Hong Kong was based on the fear of losing access to the Internet—his vital link to the rest of the world—should he be detained, the person said. In part, Mr. Snowden’s determination to leave Hong Kong was based on the fear of losing access to the Internet—his vital link to the rest of the world—should he be detained, the person said.

Now Snowden is considering going to one of three countries that have limited access to the internet, according to an article by Alex Halperin at Salon. Venezuela is the best choice, with 40% of the population having internet connections. In Bolivia, it’s 30%, and in Nicaragua only 10.6%.

The Daily Beast has an article on “Wikileaks’ Money Trail” today.

Thankfully for WikiLeaks, its latest cause célèbre, Edward Snowden, is raking in some much-needed cash for the whistle-blowing organization. Snowden sympathizers have been donating generously since WikiLeaks decided to take on the NSA leaker’s case—and the organization desperately needs every dollar it can raise to stay in the black and pay for the legal fees and living costs of founder Julian Assange and now Snowden.

The money WikiLeaks has raised—nearly $90,000 in 2012, with about $1,300 coming in each day since it took Snowden under its wing—comes from people around the world, some of whom give just a few dollars to do their part in making the world a more transparent place.Assange and his team still say they need a lot more than they raise, and the organization always seems to be in the red. WikiLeaks’s operating budget was $510,197 in 2012, which is serious money, considering it is a simple .org with a staff of three paid software developers.

A look into how WikiLeaks is funded and how its money is spent reveals an irony that Assange has acknowledged: an organization dedicated to uncovering the truth keeps its finances intentionally complicated, and it’s next to impossible for donors to find out how their money is processed and where it goes.

Much more at the link. It doesn’t sound like Wikileaks would be able to fund a private plane flight, but maybe some wealthy person like Michael Moore would come through with the big bucks.

More of Snowden’s leaks about U.S. intelligence activities in other countries have been published over the past few days by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Greenwald published a report of Snowden’s allegations of U.S. spying in Brazil that appeared in the Guardian and in the Brazilian paper El Globo, and a report on US collaboration with Australia in collecting data was published by the Sydney Morning Herald. Snowden also released a top secret map of sites in a number of countries that collaborate with NSA in collecting intelligence data.

IMHO, it’s likely that Snowden is giving information to countries he’d like to go to. Greenwald lives in Brazil, and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is from Australia. I say this, because Greenwald explained on Twitter that Snowden revealed classified documents  in Hong Kong and in order to gain friendly treatment by the government.

The most revealing recent stories have been published by Der Spiegel, which has been given access to some of the documents Snowden stole from NSA. The latest Der Spiegel piece included a blockbuster revelation.  The German magazine published a previously unknown interview with Snowden that was conducted by Laura Poitras and Jacob Applebaum in mid-May, before Snowden left Hawaii for Hong Kong.

This is stunning news, because Applebaum’s name has never been mentioned in connection with the Snowden story until now, although he (Applebaum) has been very visible on Twitter defending Snowden and hyping Greenwald’s articles.

Applebaum is a  well known hacker who has been prominently associated with Julian Assange and Wikileaks. He is one of the founders of the Tor network , which promotes encryption method to help people and organizations maintain anonymity on the internet. Although he acknowledges that Tor could be giving aid an comfort to criminals such as child pornographers, he believes that privacy rights take precedence over such concerns.

Both Poitras and Applebaum have come to the attention of the U.S. government and both have been stopped and harassed on return flights to the U.S. from other countries.

From the Der Spiegel article:

Shortly before he became a household name around the world as a whistleblower, Edward Snowden answered a comprehensive list of questions. They originated from Jacob Appelbaum, 30, a developer of encryption and security software. Appelbaum provides training to international human rights groups and journalists on how to use the Internet anonymously.

Appelbaum first became more broadly known to the public after he spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a hacker conference in New York in 2010. Together with Assange and other co-authors, Appelbaum recently released a compilation of interviews in book form under the title “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.”

Applebaum explains how he got involved.

“In mid-May, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras contacted me,” Appelbaum said. “She told me she was in contact with a possible anonymous National Security Agency (NSA) source who had agreed to be interviewed by her.”

“She was in the process of putting questions together and thought that asking some specific technical questions was an important part of the source verification process. One of the goals was to determine whether we were really dealing with an NSA whistleblower. I had deep concerns of COINTELPRO-style entrapment. We sent our securely encrypted questions to our source. I had no knowledge of Edward Snowden’s identity before he was revealed to the world in Hong Kong. He also didn’t know who I was. I expected that when the anonymity was removed, we would find a man in his sixties.”

Please note the timeline: Poitras says Snowden contacted her in January, and Greenwald says he began working with Poitras and Snowden in February. Poitras also contacted Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in February–apparently without Greenwald’s knowlege. At some point Snowden was working for NSA as a Dell contractor, but he quit this job in order to get one at Booz Allen, where he would have access to more top secret information about U.S. spy facilities around the world. He took the job with Booz Allen sometime in March and went to a training course back in the U.S. that lasted a couple of months. According to Booz Allen, Snowden was employed by them for less than three months and was only on the job in Hawaii for about three weeks, during which time he stole four laptops full of classified documents.

There’s no doubt this operation was premeditated; Snowden admitted that in an interview with the South China Morning Post. The only real questions are whether it was initiated or aided by Julian Assange and Wikileaks and whether Jacob Applebaum aided Snowden in hacking into NSA computers. I’m not ready to argue that yet; but these new revelations, along with the fact that Wikileaks seems to have taken over communications with Snowden are certainly suggestive.

Here’s another possible piece of the timeline. In December 2012, Glenn Greenwald and some of his close friends started an organization called Freedom of the Press Foundation. Others on the board of directors of the foundation besides Greenwald are Laura Poitras and Daniel Ellsberg. According to their website, their purpose is to raise funds to support “public interest journalism.” Their criteria for choosing news organization to support is as follows:

Record of engaging in transparency journalism or supporting it in a material way, including support for whistleblowers.

Public interest agenda.

Organizations or individuals under attack for engaging in transparency journalism.

Need for support. The foundation’s goal is to prioritize support for organizations and individuals who are in need of funding or who face obstacles to gaining support on their own.

At the top of the list of organizations they support is Wikileaks.

Please note that I’m not yet proposing some grand conspiracy theory here. I’m just laying out the facts as I know them so far and connecting some dots. But some people are suggesting Wikileaks could have directed this operation. I was very surprised to see this article by Walter Pincus at the Washington Post yesterday: Questions for Snowden. Basically Pincus connected some dots and is asking some of the same questions I am asking.  I’m going to excerpt a little more than I normally would from the Pincus piece. He writes:

Was he [Snowden] encouraged or directed by WikiLeaks personnel or others to take the job as part of a broader plan to expose NSA operations to selected journalists?

In the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier on trial for disclosing thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, it was Julian Assange and his organization who directed the collection of documents, U.S. prosecutors have alleged. While Manning’s lawyers contend there is no evidence to support that finding, prosecutors have said there are hundreds of chats between Manning and Assange and WikiLeaks lists of desired material.

In Manning’s case, WikiLeaks and its founder, Assange, determined the news organizations that initially would receive the materials.

Pincus wants to know how Snowden decided to leak to Poitras, Greenwald, and Gellman.

Did Assange and WikiLeaks personnel help or direct Snowden to those journalists?

Poitras and Greenwald have had close connections with Assange and WikiLeaks. In December 2010, Greenwald said of the British arrest of Assange: “Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from [the] Internet . . . their funds have been frozen . . . media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization.”

In a June 2012 Guardian column, Greenwald wrote, “As a foreign national accused of harming U.S. national security, he [Assange] has every reason to want to avoid ending up in the travesty known as the American judicial system.”

On April 10, 2012, Greenwald wrote for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog about Poitras and WikiLeaks being targeted by U.S. government officials.

Pincus also suggests that Julian Assange knew the contents of Glenn Greenwald’s first article on Snowden’s leaks.

Poitras has been working on a film on post-9/11 America, with a focus on the NSA and in which Assange and WikiLeaks are participating. Assange confirmed this in a May 29 interview on Democracy Now’s Web site.

In that same interview, Assange previewed the first Greenwald Guardian story based on Snowden documents that landed a week later. Speaking from Ecuador’s embassy in London, Assange described how NSA had been collecting “all the calling records of the United States, every record of everyone calling everyone over years. . . . Those calling records already [are] entered into the national security complex.”

Did he know ahead of time of that Guardian story describing the U.S. court order permitting NSA’s collection of the telephone toll records of millions of American Verizon customers and storing them for years?

This post is getting way too long, but just to be fair I’ll offer another conspiracy theory from Pepe Escobar of Asia Times. I’ll quote the first few paragraphs and you can go read the whole thing if you’re so inclined.

The working title of the Edward Snowden movie is still The Spy Who Remains in the Cold. Here’s where we stand:

– Snowden could only fly out of Hong Kong because China allowed it.

– Snowden could only arrive in Moscow because Russia knew it – in co-operation with China. This is part of their strategic relationship, which includes the BRICS group (along with Brazil, India and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. No official source though would ever confirm it.
With the Latin American offers of asylum (Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua; even Uruguay would consider it), we’re approaching the clincher: Moscow is now calculating whether – and how – to help Snowden reach his final destination while extracting maximum political capital out of Washington.

Into this script comes roaring the coup-that-is-not-a-coup sub-plot in Egypt. Cynics’ eyebrows will be raised that just as the Barack Obama administration was going mental over the National Security Agency (NSA) spy scandal a revo-coup-o-lution explodes in Egypt. New revelations about the extent of the NSA-centric Orwellian Panopticon keep on coming, but they have been totally downgraded by US corporate media; it’s all Egypt all the time. After all, the Pentagon – to which the NSA is attached – owns the Egyptian military, something that even the New York Times had to acknowledge. [1]

Yet they don’t own Snowden. This has nothing to do with “terra”.

Meanwhile, the US intelligence gambit of intercepting a non-adversarial presidential plane spectacularly backfired in true Mad magazine Spy vs Spy fashion. Obama had said he would not “scramble fighter jets” to catch Snowden; of course not, just ground them.

Austrian paper Die Presse revealed that the US Ambassador in Austria, William Eacho, was responsible for spreading the (false) information about Snowden being on board Bolivia President Evo Morales’ Falcon out of Russia – leading to the denial of overflying rights in France, Spain, Portugal an Italy. [2] Eacho – a former CEO of a food distribution company with no diplomatic experience whatsoever – was appointed by Obama to go to Vienna in June 2009. Why? Because he was a top Obama fundraiser.

Read the rest at Asia Times. BTW, I’m not sure both of these conspiracy theories couldn’t be at least partially true.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your reactions.


Independence Day Reads

4th of July and NSA

Good Morning!!

So Egyptians staged a whole lot of protests and with the help of the army, overthrew the president they elected about a year ago. From the Boston Globe: Egypt’s army ousts Morsi, who calls it a ‘coup’

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s first democratically elected president was overthrown by the military Wednesday, ousted after just one year in office by the same kind of Arab Spring uprising that brought the Islamist leader to power.

The armed forces announced they would install a temporary civilian government to replace Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who denounced the action as a ‘‘full coup’’ by the generals. They also suspended the Islamist-drafted constitution and called for new elections.

Millions of anti-Morsi protesters around the country erupted in celebrations after the televised announcement by the army chief. Fireworks burst over crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where men and women danced, shouting, ‘‘God is great’’ and ‘‘Long live Egypt.’’

That sure sounds like coup. The army overthrows an elected leader and appoints a new one, while suspending the constitution. What else would you call it? And then there’s this:

The army took control of state media and blacked out TV stations operated by the Muslim Brotherhood. The head of the Brotherhood’s political wing was arrested.

It’s like Groundhog Day. A year from now will the whole thing happen all over again?

Morsi Dud by Jeff Darcy

From BBC News: Egypt swears in Mansour as interim leader after Morsi ousted

The top judge of Egypt’s Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmud Mansour, has been sworn in as interim leader, a day after the army ousted President Mohammed Morsi and put him under house arrest.

Mr Mansour said fresh elections were “the only way” forward, but gave no indication of when they would be held.

Mr Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, is under house arrest after what he says was a military coup.

The army said he had “failed to meet the demands of the people”.

So it’s as if the Pentagon overthrew President Obama and installed Chief Justice Roberts as temporary president, while at the same time suspending the Constitution and shutting down the media.

The Dark Side of Egyptian “Revolution”

There’s also another similarity to the previous Egyptian “revolution” an outbreak of sexual assaults and gang rapes targeting women in public. From Human Rights Watch:

Egyptian officials and political leaders across the spectrum should condemn and take immediate steps to address the horrific levels of sexual violence against women in Tahrir Square. Egyptian anti-sexual harassment groups confirmed that mobs sexually assaulted and in some cases raped at least 91 women in Tahrir Square, over four days of protests beginning on June 30, 2013, amid a climate of impunity.

“The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country’s development.”

The Egyptian group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault, which runs a hotline for victims of sexual assault and seeks to intervene to stop attacks, has received scores of reports of attacks on women in Tahrir Square over the past three days. The group confirmed 46 attacks on June 30, 17 on July 1, and 23 on July 2. The group’s volunteers intervened to protect and evacuate women in 31 cases of sexual assault. Four of the women needed medical assistance, including two who were evacuated by ambulance. The women’s rights group Nazra for Feminist Studies had confirmed another five attacks on June 28.

One woman required surgery after being raped with a “sharp object,” volunteers with the group said. In other cases, women were beaten with metal chains, sticks, and chairs, and attacked with knives. In some cases they were assaulted for as long as 45 minutes before they were able to escape.

Please go read the rest at Human Rights Watch.

At CNN, writer Nina Burleigh puts the sexual violence in Egypt in the historical context of male efforts to control women’s access to the public sphere.

Last week, a 22-year-old Dutch journalist was gang-raped in Tahrir Square and had to undergo surgery for severe injuries. The assault reminds us yet again of an often overlooked aspect of the Egyptian revolution.

When Egyptians overthrew their dictator in 2011, one of the first celebratory acts in Tahrir Square included the gang beating and sexual assault of American journalist Lara Logan, who, like the Dutch journalist, landed in the hospital.

The Logan rape has always been portrayed as another unfortunate byproduct of mob violence. In fact, it was much more than that. It was a warning shot fired by men whose political beliefs are founded on a common pillar: Women must stay out of the public square.

One of the hallmarks of revolutionary victory in Tahrir Square has always been rape and sexual harassment. Mobs of men routinely set upon women, isolating, stripping and groping. No one is ever arrested or held accountable, and elected officials shrug their shoulders and blame the victims….

Egyptian women are the primary victims of sexual violence, and ultimately they are the intended recipients of the message: Stay home, your input in government and politics is not wanted.

Read the rest of Burleigh’s analysis at CNN.

In other news,

Bolivian officials laughing hysterically at the media for buying their tall tale

Bolivian officials laughing hysterically at the media for buying their tall tale

We learned yesterday afternoon that the claims that Bolivian president Evo Morales’ plane was refused permission to fly over France, Italy, and Spain were totally false and that no one forced his plane to land in Austria. See this article at The Atlantic for a complete debunking of the story.

But many so-called progressives are still pushing the false narrative that President Obama somehow was responsible. I was surprised to see Taylor Marsh hyping it this morning, and there has been no correction to Kevin Drum’s nasty claim that Obama behaved like “a Chicago thug.” That was originally in Drum’s headline until commenters told him he was pushing a Tea Party meme and he moved the accusation to the end of his post.

Marsh is also claiming we didn’t know about the extent of NSA spying a year ago. Really? If you agree with her, you might want to check out this detailed article on the NSA spying programs in the Wall Street Journal–dated March 10, 2008. And of course that wasn’t the first time the corporate media covered the story either. All the progs claiming utter shock and awe over Snowden’s revelations should be ashamed of themselves.

I don’t want to completely depress you, so let’s turn to some non-political news. I found a couple interesting science stories on Google this morning.

Here’s some exciting news out of Boston (NYT): After Marrow Transplants, 2 More Patients Appear H.I.V.-Free Without Drugs.

Two H.I.V.-infected patients in Boston who had bone-marrow transplants for blood cancers have apparently been virus-free for weeks since their antiretroviral drugs were stopped, researchers at an international AIDS conference announced Wednesday.

The patients’ success echoes that of Timothy Ray Brown, the famous “Berlin patient,” who has shown no signs of resurgent virus in the five years since he got a bone-marrow transplant from a donor with a rare mutation conferring resistance to H.I.V.

The Boston cases, like Mr. Brown’s, are of no practical use to the 34 million people in the world who have H.I.V. but neither blood cancer nor access to premier cancer-treatment hospitals.

But AIDS experts still find the Boston cases exciting because they are another step in the long and so-far-fruitless search for a cure. They offer encouragement to ambitious future projects to genetically re-engineer infected patients’ cells to be infection-resistant. At least two teams are already experimenting with variants on this idea, said Dr. Steven G. Deeks, an AIDS researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

It’s real progress, even though the treatment won’t be widely available for a long time.

From BBC News:  Active brain ‘keeps dementia at bay’

A lifetime of mental challenges leads to slower cognitive decline after factoring out dementia’s impact on the brain, US researchers say.

The study, published in Neurology, adds weight to the idea that dementia onset can be delayed by lifestyle factors….

In a US study, 294 people over the age of 55 were given tests that measured memory and thinking, every year for about six years until their deaths.

They also answered a questionnaire about whether they read books, wrote letters and took part in other activities linked to mental stimulation during childhood, adolescence, middle age, and in later life.

After death, their brains were examined for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as brain lesions and plaques.

The study found that after factoring out the impact of those signs, those who had a record of keeping the brain busy had a rate of cognitive decline estimated at 15% slower than those who did not.

That’s some impressive empirical evidence for something many of us have long suspected. So maybe we are helping keep our brains young through our obsession with reading and arguing about politics on the internet!

I’ll end with a recommendation that you listen to this NPR story on the history of “The Star Spangled Banner” and how it became our national anthem. It’s only about 8 minutes long. Or you can just read the article. I thought it was really interesting.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? If you’re headed out for barbeques and family gatherings instead of surfing the net, have a wonderful time and drop in for a minute if you can.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY EVERYONE!!