Edward Snowden recently told James Risen of The New York Times that he gave all of the classified documents he had taken from the National Security Agency's internal systems to the journalists he met in Hong Kong and kept no copies himself.
That does not jibe with what is known about his time in Hong Kong and subsequent stay in Russia, where he is currently living under asylum. And that is troubling, given that the documents in question are the blueprints to the world's largest spy agency.
Laura Poitras, one of the journalist who met Snowden in Hong Kong, previously told the New York Times that she and reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill left Snowden's company after his identity was revealed in a video Poitras filmed on June 9.
“We knew that once it went public, it was the end of that period of working,” she said.
On June 10 Snowden checked out of his Hong Kong hotel and went underground. The journalists were mobbed by the Hong Kong press.
Consequently, according to what Snowden told the Times, he gave up his entire cache of NSA documents on June 9 or 10.
On June 11 MacAskill reported that Snowden arrived in Hong Kong "carrying four computers that enabled him to gain access to some of the US government's most highly-classified secrets."
Last week Snowden reportedly told ex-CIA official Ray McGovern that there was "nothing on" his laptops. In any case — whether MacAskill or Snowden is correct — there are other indications that Snowden had access to classified information while he hid out in Hong Kong.
On June 12 Snowden leaked specific IP addresses in China and Hong Kong the NSA was hacking to the South China Morning Post. Snowden also told SCMP that he intended to leak more documents later.
"If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment," the 30-year-old said.
Greenwald told The Daily Beast that he wouldn't have disclosed the IP addresses, and that Snowden did it "to ingratiate himself to the people of Hong Kong and China.” That indicates Snowden was capable of leaking classified information after parting ways with the Greenwald, Poitras, and MacAskill.
Furthermore, Greenwald believed Snowden had even more secrets on him than he gave the Western journalists: "“I don’t know for sure whether [Snowden] has more documents than the ones he has given me. I believe he does."
On June 23, after he reportedly spent several days in the Russian consulate in Hong Kong, Snowden flew to Moscow with WikiLeaks adviser Sarah Harrison.
On July 14, Greenwald told the Associated Press that Snowden "is in possession of literally thousands of documents ... that would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it."
Once again, Greenwald suggested that Snowden hadn't given up all of the NSA documents in his possession.
There are other contradictions that raise red flags about Snowden's control over his situation.
Lon Snowden, Ed's father, said his son told him that he had had no contact with Russian security or intelligence. (In August WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Russia hadn't interviewed Snowden.)
But as soon as Snowden arrived in Moscow, a local radio host "saw about 20 Russian officials, supposedly FSB agents, in suits, crowding around somebody in a restricted area of the airport," according to Anna Nemtsova of Foreign Policy.
And Snowden's lawyer in Russia is Anatoly Kucherena, a Moscow lawyer who works for Russia's Federal Security Service. The FSB, established by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2006, is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
Furthermore, McGovern told Reuters that he had to pass through metal detectors before meeting with Snowden and that the former CIA technician appeared to be attended by some kind of official Russian security detail.
All of that makes sense since the information Snowden possesses — even without documents — is valuable to any U.S. adversary.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin denied caring about Snowden, Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told Russian media: “The special services understand that this person knows a lot and that it would be useful to talk to him. Snowden is not a human rights defender, and in fact there is something to shear from him.”
Snowden asserted to the Times that there is "zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents."
That may be true, but given all of the discrepancies in his story, the claim cannot be taken at face value.
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