By Stuart Herrington
Foreign Policy, 11 June 2013
Unless he was an asset of the Chinese or some other foreign intelligence service prior to “coming out” as he did, I don’t think it’s likely any foreign intel service is going to latch onto Edward Snowden.
If he were already a recruited asset, one would think that his case officers would have given him a better exfil plan than “fly to Hong Kong and hold a press interview.” In fact, were he already on some service’s payroll, the counsel would have been “stay right where you are, you can do us the most good in your current Booz Allen position.” He is a “property,” but don’t think it likely that he would be picked up in such a short time by any country’s service, China included.
To use jargon, Snowden is “blown” — that is, he is a hot potato, with many downsides politically and from almost any perspective. My guess is that he realized after his flight to HK and going public that this was not a very swift move, and that he was in danger of being picked up by the authorities, acting on behalf of the local U.S. mission there (or, in his paranoid mind’s eye, snatched and rendered by the hated CIA) — and he was relentlessly besieged by media — so he disappeared himself for the moment, which won’t last in Hong Kong, a very well-organized society with a super security force. In short, any service that might like to contact him for a debriefing or other relationship would right now be appealing to its highers (the very top) with arguments as to just why they would wish to touch this guy at this time.
Based on what we know now, which could change in a flash, I would vote that no service, Chinese or otherwise, will touch this fellow; and, if they do, it would be a quiet interview, just to sniff out what, if anything, he might have that would merit undertaking political risks to touch him.
Stuart Herrington is a former commander of the U.S. Army strategic counterintelligence unit within the US Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) and also the former commander of the foreign intelligence command (a Brigadier slot) . He is the author of several books about intelligence, including Traitors Among Us: Inside the Spy Catcher’s World.
Phi Beta Iota: An informal discussion among professional counter-intelligence officers suggests that Snowden may be a self-dangle. As one officer who desires to remain anonymous put it,
He’s a young twerp, full of himself, caught a dose of Manning-itis, complicated by a dose of Assange-itis. In his twisted mind’s eye, he seeks his fifteen minutes of fame, and entertains delusions of being a hero (and lots of Lefties out there are beginning to embrace him as the second coming of Daniel Ellsberg). As for going to Hong Kong, a fairly dumb choice, he may have had it in his delusional brain that the Chinese, known for their commitment to cyber espionage and tactics, would somehow appreciate him, even protect him, so in that limited sense, he is a “self-dangle.”
A further discussion of the manner in which he jumped from security guard to IT suggested that NSA laziness in taking a “pre-cleared” lesser-qualified individual from in-house, rather than seeking a properly qualified individual, may have had a lot to do with his progress. In general it is assumed that Booz went with what the client wanted rather than Booz itself falling prey to an inflated resume or a desire to place a lesser qualified person (although many vendors are doing this now, letting everyone over $100K go, and back-filling at the $80K rate). Booz is on record as saying that Snowden’s actually earnings in Hawaii were on the order of $120K not $200K.
ROBERT STEELE: The timing — and the availability for Snowden in Hawaii, one of China’s best hunting grounds for contractors that have already been vetted (as with the Soviets before them, they go after folks who have just passed all vetting and are unlikely to be looked at for another five years or more) — also suggest to me that this could have been a $1 million quick pitch to Snowden, along with the offer of a hacker job and a government-issued mistress for life. Hong Kong — and the bullshit Snowden has been spouting about Hong Kong — lead me to this tentative conclusion. If NSA and CIA make the mistake of trying to rendition young Snowden out of Hong Kong, they will be caught on camera as my classmates were caught in Cuba, and China will enjoy a double coup. American intelligence “professionals” consistently over-estimate their own capabilities and under-estimate those of their opposition.