As the Pulitzer Prize board meets this week to consider its 2014 winners, many eyes are on the journalists who conspired with former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, and the secret documents he stole and then disclosed to them.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Ricks was initially sympathetic to Snowden. But he has grown suspicious of Snowden’s Russian connection and debt to the Vladimir Putin regime. Ricks asked whether Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, his main collaborator, would denounce recent crackdowns on press freedom in Russia. Ricks said, “If they [are] acting on moral beliefs, now would be the time for both of them to speak out against Putin. It could have a great impact, I think.”
Later, he expanded his concern, saying that the longer Greenwald and Snowden “remain silent on events in Ukraine, the more I suspect their previous motives.”
The Moscow connection for Snowden stands out like a sore thumb.
Almost a year ago I wrote, “…the Snowden case looks increasingly like the NSA equivalent of Philip Agee, who defected from the CIA and became a Soviet and Cuban agent. Agee died in Havana after writing several books with the help of Cuban intelligence.”
Another comparison is provided by Logan Beirne, an Olin Scholar at Yale Law School who wrote that Edward Snowden is a modern day Benedict Arnold, the notorious traitor to the American Revolution.
He writes, “Born and raised in America, both men held positions meant to bolster U.S. national security. However, disillusioned with the political system, they came to see America’s adversaries as their salvation. Seeking out positions of trust, they collected sensitive intelligence, which they then divulged. Both fled to hostile nations as the U.S. government hunted them. Whatever justifications we concoct to explain their actions, Snowden and Arnold betrayed their country.”
Beirne’s book is Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency.
His column, published last year, goes on to say, “Just as Snowden sought out a position with inside access to the National Security Agency, Arnold lobbied for command of West Point. Knowing the installation was crucial to the American cause, he collected intelligence on its fortifications as well as on Continental Army movements. He delivered this information to a British agent, but American forces intercepted it just in time to prevent the British takeover. Rather than stay to defend his actions, Arnold fled to British-controlled territory, providing our foes with more secrets.”
He adds, “Our founding fathers faced men like Edward Snowden. They sentenced them to death.”
Before the Snowden scandal developed, the NSA had published its own informative guide to espionage in the American Revolution entitled Revolutionary Secrets. It states, “Communication plays an important role in both a country’s diplomacy and its wars. Keeping those communications secret and understanding the adversary’s communications can make the crucial difference in a leader’s actions and abilities.” For instance, General George Washington received intelligence, gained partially through the decryption of captured British messages, that gave him the assurance he needed to complete his move on Yorktown, Virginia, the booklet says.
Washington discovered Benedict Arnold was a spy, but Arnold was by then on the run, mounting up and riding away to the nearest British outpost. He eventually arrived safely behind British lines aboard the HMS Vulture on the Hudson River.
In Snowden’s case, of course, he went to Russia. Liberal columnist Richard Cohen had said, “Snowden’s residency in Russia has been forced upon him—he had nowhere else to go.” But Edward Lucas notes in his book, The Snowden Operation: Inside the West’s Greatest Intelligence Disaster, “If he were truly keen to portray himself as a whistleblower, why did he fly to Hong Kong? For anyone involved in American cyber-security, China is the biggest threat—bigger even than Russia. Though autonomous in economic terms, Hong Kong is firmly under the thumb of the Chinese authorities when it comes to security.”
Regarding those who find it somehow accidental or coincidental that Snowden ended up in Moscow, Lucas counters: “People who are so highly (and I would say unreasonably) suspicious of Western governments become bizarrely trusting where the interests and abilities of Vladimir Putin’s regime are concerned.”
This is a point that Thomas Ricks seems to be grasping.
In fact, Snowden’s leaks seemed designed to embarrass the United States and enable Russia to evade U.S. electronic intercepts. Consider the Guardian story, “G20 summit: NSA targeted Russian president Medvedev in London,” based on a Snowden leak. The document shows the agency believed it might have discovered “a change in the way Russian leadership signals have been normally transmitted,” the story said.
Leaks like these help explain The Wall Street Journal story about Russian war planners catching the U.S. by surprise prior to the invasion of Ukraine.
By the way, the AMC cable-TV network is airing “TURN,” based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies. It seems that spying has become fashionable again, at least on television when the enemies are British, and not Russian or Chinese.
Brian Kilmeade of Fox News co-authored the great book, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, and openly thanks the CIA for providing information.
The CIA had published its own report, “Intelligence in the War of Independence,” back in 2007 that included a Washington letter saying, “The necessity of procuring good intelligence is apparent & need not be further urged—All that remains for me to add is, that you keep the whole matter as secret as possible.”
The booklet notes that the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution creating the Committee of Correspondence (renamed the Committee of Secret Correspondence). It authorized “secret agents,” covert operations, the use of codes and ciphers, “propaganda activities,” and even “the opening of private mail.”
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, some members of the Communist Party helped create the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, in order to undermine U.S. defenses against communist subversion. This Communist Party spin-off was named after the Committee of Correspondence formed during the American Revolution.
Comparing communists to American patriots is like calling Edward Snowden a whistleblower.
We shall see on April 14, when the Pulitzer Prizes are announced, whether the American media establishment falls for it.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at email@example.com.