The Least Credible Accusation

Last night, the Inde­pen­dent — owned by Alexan­der Lebe­dev, a Russ­ian oli­garch and for­mer politi­cian — pub­lished a bomb­shell of a story. Sup­pos­edly cob­bled together from doc­u­ments Edward Snow­den stole from the NSA (and pro­vid­ing us with the first con­crete num­ber: they say 50,000), the Indy then doc­u­ments a GCHQ sur­veil­lance sta­tion being estab­lished some­where in the Mid­dle East.

If the story is true, then it is a shock­ing turn of events. Accord­ing to Glenn Green­wald, only four peo­ple have had access to the doc­u­ments Snow­den exfil­trated from the NSA: Snow­den him­self, Green­wald, Laura Poitras, and, to a degree, David Miranda (Greenwald’s part­ner who was used as a doc­u­ment mule). When you think about it, there are three pos­si­bil­i­ties for where these doc­u­ments came from:

  • Glenn Green­wald, Edward Snow­den, Laura Poitras, or David Miranda handed them to the Independent.
  • The UK leaked its own com­part­mented espi­onage pro­gram, expos­ing and thus nul­li­fy­ing its effec­tive­ness, to “dis­credit” some­how a guy who has already leaked and there­fore dam­aged other programs.
  • A new party, unknown to us, also has con­trol of said doc­u­ments and is spread­ing them to new out­lets. This would also imply that, con­trary to their con­stant pub­lic asser­tions, Team Greenwald-Poitras has lost con­trol of their cache of source material.

Green­wald, nat­u­rally, has a the­ory. He writes that Snow­den claims the UK gov­ern­ment itself leaked the doc­u­ments. Green­wald then goes on to con­coct some pre­pos­ter­ous the­ory ampli­fy­ing this idea, as if White­hall would delib­er­ately under­mine its own nascent intel­li­gence oper­a­tions just to score some minor point against Edward Snow­den. Con­trary to Greenwald’s claims, expos­ing a com­part­mented pro­gram located in a sen­si­tive coun­try does not, actu­ally, help them — in fact, by expos­ing sen­si­tive oper­a­tions in a sen­si­tive loca­tion it does the very harm that neces­si­tated clas­si­fy­ing the pro­gram to begin with.

Green­wald, Snow­den, very notice­ably, does not deny that he is the source of these doc­u­ments, he just con­flates the US and UK gov­ern­ments (yet again: they’re dif­fer­ent enti­ties with their own deci­sions to make, dude!), and waves his hands a lot.

After his part­ner was detained, Glenn Green­wald threat­ened to release more doc­u­ments expos­ing UK spy­ing activ­i­ties. He tried to walk it back — a cour­tesy he denies other jour­nal­ists all the time — but the mean­ing was clear. Green­wald was mad, and he was going to pun­ish the UK as a result.

Now, sud­denly, a new tranche of doc­u­ments expos­ing for­eign espi­onage facil­i­ties — for which there is no legit­i­mate pub­lic inter­est defense, since this sta­tion does not infringe on the civil lib­er­ties of British or Amer­i­can cit­i­zens — appears in the media, mys­te­ri­ously with­out any of the bylines nor­mally asso­ci­ated with such leaks. More­over, the story con­tains an alle­ga­tion the Guardian is accept­ing lim­its on its report­ing placed by the UK gov­ern­ment, a charge Green­wald went out of his way to deny in his col­umn this morn­ing while blam­ing Amer­ica, or what­ever, for the leak.

But really: does any­one take this non­sense seri­ously any­more? There is a clear chain of events tak­ing place right now, one Green­wald waves his hands around but did not address directly, and almost no mat­ter how you cut it the impli­ca­tions are really wor­ry­ing. That is of con­cern to every­one, not just those clos­est to these leaks.