The Independent

The Snowden Operation

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden
Edward Joseph Snowden (born 1983) is an American technical contractor, whistleblower and former United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden released classified material on top-secret NSA programs including the PRISM surveillance program to the press. | Photo: | Edward Snowden, Cia, Press, Leak, Secret, Whistleblower,

How Snowden Enabled Russia's Seizure of Crimea

It's hard to tell precisely when Edward Snowden's 'moral motivations' were subverted and he fell under direct or indirect FSB influence. Was it before or after he arrived in Russia, when FSB lawyer Anatoly Kucherena became his de facto handler and began speaking for him? Or was it before then, when he traveled to India and took hacking classes, and then oddly failed to disclose the trip when renewing his security clearance? Perhaps it was when he stole his co-workers passwords, enabling him to take even more classified information to Russia. Was he already under FSB influence when left his job at Dell and applied to Booz Allen Hamilton, specifically to gain access to more documents that could be stolen, or when he used a crawler to automate the theft and steal as much as possible? Whether it was planned from the beginning or a 'coincidence' that turned into a plot of opportunism, Snowden's leakage of documents was crucial to Russia's seizure of Crimea. Is it surprising, then, that Snowden and Greenwald refuse to comment on Russia's violation of international law?

While it may not be immediately clear, a close examination of events reveals Snowden's role in creating the Ukraine crisis. Like many classic examples of Russian active measures, the Snowden Operation began by dividing America and creating doubt. By encouraging citizens to mistrust the American government and Intelligence Community, they reframed any potential warnings about or response to Russian aggression. Using the media to accomplish this is a classic technique of psychological and cognitive warfare, but in this case it went a step further. While the Intelligence Community needs reform to empower agencies while protecting civil rights, Snowden's over-inflammatory statements created a push to limit the NSA and CIA in ways that would have proved crippling.

Creating domestic problems for the United States is only one facet of Russian active measures, which give equal focus to creating geostrategic problems for the United States while disrupting its foreign policy. A series of disclosures about surveillance in European countries created problems for the United States, despite the NSA having the consent and cooperation of those countries. Simultaneously, Snowden and Greenwald managed to somewhat isolate Latin America from the United States. 'Coincidentally', Russia is now seeking new military bases in many of those countries. The divide and conquer strategy at play here should be easy to see.

It seems likely now that Russia made a deal to help Snowden leave Hong Kong, and to ensure the U.S.'s extradition request was not granted. Why would China allow Snowden to leave Hong Kong? By delivering him to the Russians, the Chinese were likely able to benefit from Russia's new asset without having to take the risks themselves. It's unsurprising that Putin is counting on China for support in the aftermath of Crimea.

Snowden wasn't merely crucial to Russia's active measures against the United States, his defection was a major blow to the U.S.'s counterintelligence efforts and a victory for Russia's. Snowden's taking millions of classified military and intelligence documents, an unknown number of them related to intelligence operations and surveillance, helped Russia learn four key things:
  1. What the Intelligence Community was monitoring and how to avoid it.
  2. What the US already knew about Russia's covert operations.
  3. How to exploit ongoing intelligence and counterintelligence operations.
  4. Details about the military's capabilities, operations, techniques, tactics and procedures.

Not only did this temporarily paralyze the Intelligence Community, it allowed Russia to prepare an agitprop operation with military and paramilitary support without allowing the West to gather anymore information than the Chekist apparatus wanted them to have.

Despite claiming to be motivated by morality, and a desire to expose mass surveillance, the majority of the 1.7 million documents he stole "had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities. The vast majority of those were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques, and procedures." This information surely proved vital for Russia when Putin decided to 'annex' Crimea, risking a retaliation from Ukraine, the EU or the United States. A precise understanding of what the U.S.'s military was capable of, as well as when and how those capabilities would be authorized, would allow Russia to carefully balance risk versus reward. Thanks to that data, Russia knew exactly what it could do without provoking an armed response.

Snowden doesn't seem interested in exploring the potential for Amnesty and returning to the United States, where he would be free of Russian control and free to speak out against the corrupt regime. Greenwald only seems interested in feeding his ego and dismissing the possibility that his revealing counterterrorism operations and details could help terrorists. Those who took Greenwald and Snowden at their word about being motivated by a desire to protect democracy must now question that in the wake of their deafening silence over the Crimean election fraud. Until Snowden or Greenwald speak out, we must assume that they are still proud of what they've done, even as Russia mounts its forces on the border while the Cold War 'reignites', threatening the stability of Eurasia.

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Updated May 10, 2017 9:58 AM EDT | More details

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