Snow(den) Job

Snowden pulled a couple of stunts in the last couple of days. The first was to release a document describing British and US successes in hacking into the communications of other nations-including Russia’s Medvedev-during a G20 Summit in London in 2009.

A couple of things stand out about this.

First, the timing.  The Guardian released the information just when Cameron and Putin were meeting.  Meaning that Snowden is either willingly or witlessly participating in political games to discredit Cameron.  (BTW: why didn’t Greenwald have a byline in the article disclosing this information?)  (And it also undercut Obama, who met with Putin on Monday, a day after the Guardian story.  A meeting which gave the world this priceless photo of two people who would rather be anywhere than with one another.  Like getting a root canal or colonoscopy.  Anything.) (Note too: undermining Cameron and Obama, and boosting Putin and Russia enables slaughter in Syria.  Just saying.)

Second, this has nothing-zero, zip, nada-to do with alleged invasions of the privacy of ordinary individuals, let alone the violation of the Constitutional rights of American citizens.  This is about as shocking as gambling at Rick’s Cafe Americain.

So much for Snowden’s high-minded principles and delicate conscience about the violations of privacy and Constitutional rights.  Political manipulator or political tool of the likes of Greenwald and the Guardian?  Does it mattter?

His second stunt was a webchat from Hong Kong. Most of it was additional unsubstantiated and lurid accusations for which he claims he will provide confirming evidence “later”. The rest of it was more grandiose statements about his impending martyrdom, e.g., his claims that the US government was going to murder him, and his justification for taking flight, stating that the US government was “openly declaring me guilty of treason.” Um, the “government” can’t “declare guilt” on anything, least of all treason, a crime that is unique in that the Constitution specifically sets out requirements for conviction (which is different than “declaration of guilt”). You’d think that someone who pontificates on the intricacies of FISA and the 4th amendment rights of Americans would be aware of the black letter Constitutional language on treason.

In other news related to Snowden’s credibility, or lack thereof, the President of Switzerland expressed doubts on Snowden’s account of an alleged CIA operation in Geneva, and said that the Swiss government would support his prosecution:

“It does not seem to me that it is likely that this incident played out as it has been described by Snowden and by the media,” Maurer was quoted as saying in the Der Sonntag and SonntagsBlick newspapers.

“This would mean that the CIA successfully bribed the Geneva police and judiciary. With all due respect, I just can’t imagine it,” SonntagsBlick quoted him as saying.

He added that Snowden was just 23 at the time, and unlikely to have had knowledge of such an operation, and that the CIA usually dealt with terrorism rather than financial espionage.

Most of Maurer’s argument is circumstantial, but that’s to be expected.  No doubt he’s been briefed by American officials (recall that Switzerland demanded an explanation), and more importantly, by the very excellent Swiss intelligence and law enforcement services.  He would not be pulling a statement like this on such a highly charged issue out of his . . .ear.  (And don’t tell me that the Americans have coerced him into covering up.  That would just mean you don’t have a refutable hypothesis, and it’s no point engaging you.)

Another interesting aspect of Snowden’s webchat.  He explained the discrepancy between the Guardian report that he earned $200K at Booz Allen Hamilton with BAH’s statement that he earned only $122K thus:

I was debriefed by Glenn and his peers over a number of days, and not all of those conversations were recorded. The statement I made about earnings was that $200,000 was my “career high” salary. I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I’ve been paid.

Pursuing specific work.  Very, very interesting.  Like, maybe, taking a  job at a big pay cut for the specific work of getting access to classified information with the intent of releasing it?  Note well: he was in touch with Poitras (and perhaps Gellman) and Greenwald before he took the BAH job.  Hatching a little plot were they, perhaps?  If not, what was so appealing about the “specific work” he took (and left after a little more than a month) that made him willing to take a 40 percent pay cut?

One last thing.  For Beck and various libertarians who are grabbing the Snowden-Greenwald banner, perhaps you might want to take a close look at whom you’re bedding down with. Greenwald spoke at a meeting of the International Socialist Organization (a hardcore Marxist group), and defended Al-Awaki, and said that the damage from 9-11 attacks was “minimal in scope.” He also endorsed the view that the US is the “most brutal, sprawling prison state on earth” (though perhaps he’ll take the “retweets are not an endorsement weasel”, though the “Yep” in his RT kind of forecloses that option). Greenwald is virulently anti-American (as is the other pusher of this story, Poitras). That’s material in assessing the credibility of Greenwald and Snowden. Again, fools rush in where angels fear to tread.  Beware snow jobs. Or Snowden jobs, as the case may be.

One last last thing. Scroll to about the last 20 minutes of this podcast with Richard Epstein (and John Yoo).  Epstein rightly excoriates the foolish-consistency-is-the-hobgoblin-of-little-minds libertarians, and advances a very persuasive classical liberal position on NSA surveillance that is predicated on the fundamental libertarian/liberal position that protection of human life and property from violence is the primary principle that should guide policy.  For his labors (notably his Chicago Tribune oped on this issue with Roger Pilon of Cato, for crissakes) Epstein has been subjected to shrieks of outrage.  Libertarian stridency on this issue also brings to mind my post from a couple years ago: “What’s My Name Again?” (Warning! Hyperbolic comparisons of Ron Paul-esque libertarians to the Khmer Rouge! Make sure you take these totally literally! Totally!)

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About Craig Pirrong 238 Articles

Affiliation: University of Houston

Dr Pirrong is Professor of Finance, and Energy Markets Director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. He was previously Watson Family Professor of Commodity and Financial Risk Management at Oklahoma State University, and a faculty member at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and Washington University.

Professor Pirrong's research focuses on the organization of financial exchanges, derivatives clearing, competition between exchanges, commodity markets, derivatives market manipulation, the relation between market fundamentals and commodity price dynamics, and the implications of this relation for the pricing of commodity derivatives. He has published 30 articles in professional publications, is the author of three books, and has consulted widely, primarily on commodity and market manipulation-related issues.

He holds a Ph.D. in business economics from the University of Chicago.

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