New revelations of Russian and Chinese access to Snowden files raises questions

The Edward Snowden saga continues to percolate, even as the two-year anniversary of his disclosures looms. The debate over whether he is a traitor or a patriot has taken on a new dimension in light of recent reports that both China and Russia have accessed the files to the detriment of American and British security services .

Snowden allegedly stole up to 1.77 million documents while working at two consecutive jobs for US government contractors in Hawaii between March 2012 and May 2013. The theft and his subsequent flight are made more murky, as it appears that he took employment with one of the contractors, Booz Allen, after contacting and perhaps conspiring with journalists and reportedly reaching out to docu-journalist Laura Poitras in January 2013.

The Sunday Times is reporting that Russia and China de-encrypted files stolen by the former NSA contractor, forcing MI6 to pull spies out active assignments in hostile countries. The latest account is in direct contrast to the popular narrative that Snowden’s efforts were heroic and worthy of praise and recognition. Snowden himself disputed any claims that foreign governments could have received any information from his documents. In July 2013, he told US Sen Gordon Humphrey that,

No intelligence service, not even our own, has the capacity to compromise the secrets I continue to protect… I cannot be coerced into revealing that information, even under torture.”

Later that year, he related to New York Times reporter James Risen that there was “a zero chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents.” Many are unconvinced, believing that Snowden’s asylum in Russia is not for free- that there is some quid pro quo. Others, while wanting to believe Snowden, are less trusting of the journalists he met in Hong Kong, and to whom he turned over “all the classified documents he obtained” according to Risen. But he told NBC’s Brian Williams in May 2014 that he destroyed “the material that I was holding before I transited through Russia.”

If the UK government is correct that Russia and China obtained information from files Snowden stole, then it’s possible that data didn’t emanate from him, but from journalists working with him who are believed to have employed specious security practices. For example, the Guardian Glenn Greenwald’s cohort, David Miranda, who was detained briefly by security services, was said to have a password for one of the encrypted files written on a piece of paper.

A senior Home Office official accused Snowden – the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor responsible for the biggest confidential information leak in US history – of having ‘blood on his hands’ after they gained access to over one million files.

Snowden has done incalculable damage. In some cases the agencies have been forced to intervene and lift their agents from operations to prevent them from being identified and killed.

These allegations of Russian and Chinese penetration cast doubt on President Obama’s cavalier attitude toward the episode, and the tepid campaign aimed at Snowden questioning his patriotism. Be that as it may, senior UK officials allege that Moscow gained access to more than 1 million classified files with journalists receiving about 200,000. Which raises the question- where are the rest? In light of this, does Edward Snowden have some explaining to do?

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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