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.

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