- - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

NBC News will air Wednesday an hourlong special with anchor Brian Williams in Russia interviewing former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. I’m not exactly enthused by the prospect, but I am hoping that Mr. Williams asks some tough questions.

There are things about the Snowden saga that still puzzle me. In fact, if Mr. Williams had asked me, I would have suggested some specific things to raise.

Mr. Snowden, you’ve cited what Director of National Intelligence James Clapper calls his “least untruthful” response to Sen. Ron Wyden on NSA surveillance as motivating your actions. That happened in March 2013. Yet you began offering to reveal documents to Glenn Greenwald in December 2012 and to Laura Poitras in January 2013. Weren’t you already committed?


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While you were in Hong Kong as the United States was pushing for your extradition, you personally told the South China Morning Post that the National Security Agency was hacking into Chinese computers. On the surface that looks like you were trying to buy safe passage. Were you?

A week before you fled Hong Kong, the London Guardian (based on documents you gave them) claimed that the United States had intercepted Russian President Dimitri Medvedev’s satellite phone while he was at a G-20 summit in England. This is quite different from the mass, suspicionless surveillance you have railed against. Was this another example of trading secrets for passage?

You claim that you raised your concerns about NSA activities within the system and that you were told, in effect, not to rock the boat. NSA says that it has found no evidence of that. You have taken tens if not hundreds of thousands of documents. Do any of them show a record of your raising concerns? A single email, perhaps?


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It’s been reported that NSA fired one of your former office mates because he allowed you to trick him into revealing his password to you. You have publicly denied that you tricked “an army of coworkers.” That seems carefully crafted. Did you trick anyone?

Gen. Keith Alexander, former head of NSA, has been critical of you. But so, too, has Gen. Mike Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. A DIA report by says that in addition to scraping documents from NSA’s network you did the same to a Department of Defense network called JWICS. And the report describes the damage there — separate from NSA — as “grave” and “staggering.” Why did you access American military secrets?

Glenn Greenwald has been especially complimentary of how you organized the data you passed on. He has described it as files and subfiles. In your public commentary you have sounded quite authoritative about what NSA does and how it operates. Yet some of the press stories based on your documents have been wrong. Did you know that? Did you try to correct them? How much of this do you really understand?

The first stories about NSA’s PRISM data system, for example, claimed that NSA had free access to the server farms of Google, Hotmail, Yahoo and the like. The Washington Post later walked that back. Had you misread the slides, too?

Le Monde and El Pais, based on your documents, claimed that NSA was collecting tens of millions of metadata events on French and Spanish citizens each month. It turns out those metadata events were collected by the French and Spanish in war zones and provided to NSA to help military force protection. Didn’t you know that?

You recently appeared on what looked like a Vladimir Putin infomercial, asking the Russian president a softball question about domestic surveillance there. Even many of your supporters thought it made you look naive. What were you thinking? Were you asked to do this? Whose idea was it?

Although he doesn’t offer any evidence, Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general who defected from Russia to the U.S., claims you are now a kind of technical adviser to the FSB (the KGB’s successor). Are you? Did you meet with any Russian officials in Hong Kong before you traveled there?

Jack Devine, a career CIA case officer, recently described you as the kind of individual prone to disclose state secrets, someone in the class of “narcissistic underachievers.” Any thoughts?

In March The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and Glenn Greenwald used documents you provided to claim that NSA’s Mystic program was digesting the contents of all phone calls in one country. They declined to identify the country for fear that disclosure would increase violence there. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks condemned the self censorship and unilaterally claimed that the country was Afghanistan. You have worked with Mr. Gellman, Mr. Greenwald and WikiLeaks. If Mr. Gellman and Mr. Greenwald were right to withhold, how do you view your moral responsibility here?

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