This writing about the film Snowden will surprise because if its intention is make the audience feel that Edward Snowden is a hero for what he did, then in my case it failed. According to the information available to me as a member of the public, Edward Snowden, deliberately, and of sound mind, committed treachery of the highest level and unlike the fictional film Allied, which I cover separately and as part of the more general article, I am not convinced by his alleged motivation given that because of his training and subsequent work he must have known of the threat to his country from digital warfare and intelligence on behalf of China, Russia, and independent international bodies developing the abilities to the same levels of operation. His decision to seek sanctuary by travelling via Russia was at best, odd, in the circumstances. His residency permit expires in 2017 and President Trump may well express his view to his new chum at the Kremlin. As the Mafia are alleged to say, nothing personal, it is just business.
The extraordinary aspect of Snowden’s former role in devising ways to access the digital records and communications of anyone anywhere anytime is that within the past days it is this ability which enabled the Russians to hack the digital records of one of the candidates for the USA Presidency and said to have assisted in the unanticipated victory of Donald Trump given his self-destructive campaign. The work which Snowden is understood to have been personally responsible also explains how it was possible for several hundred thousand records to be quickly processed to clear the Democratic candidate of prosecutable wrong doing.
The world of fictional book, fictional theatre film, documentary, spying, surveillance, disinformation is blurred and it is impossible for anyone on the outside, or on the inside who does not have the clearance levels required to be able to separate truth from propaganda, from the role of the identified intelligence officer from those undercover, often appearing to be key figures in organisations and groups under surveillance, sometimes volunteer informants, sometimes blackmailed, and where every nation uses its diplomatic service, travelling business, financial and journalist people to spy on everyone else including its closest allies for to do otherwise goes against the first duty of government.
I will first explain my position on the issue of defence, policing and Intelligence which together provides the security which should be the basis for the contract between government and the governed in a democracy. It should be the first duty of government, and it does not matter what form of government, to protect the governed. This is the justification for an armed force to prevent invasion, for a police force to prevent crimes against the person within the state, and for the establishment of intelligence to provide advance knowledge of an assault against the state or of an assault against the individual governed. Intelligence also provides government with assessments of the need for the force required to protect the state and to protect individuals within the state.
The aspect of this which will surprise and indeed shock some is that given this duty I believe it is right that government use whatever means necessary in the prevailing circumstance and to keep what it does in this respect secret, providing lifetime protection for its agents in undertaking what is considered required.
Mistakes will be made by those authorised, and when established that the mistakes are genuine, cover up and protection is justified This should not be interpreted as a blank cheque and states will devise their own systems for self-governance and in a democracy, whatever its form it is the people through the Rule of Law, Parliament and the media that should Guard the Guardians.
Clearly if there is a prevailing law which prevents some action considered necessary by the state then the use of an arm’s length agency or a sympathetic other nation is an appropriate option especially if there is no time to change law or it could prove difficult to change the law without giving away to a perceived enemy what is proposed.
I will be writing separately at greater length about the issues which this position raises, including the subject of cover up. However, less what I say be considered fanciful or worse disclosure of information endangering the good workings of the state, I will at the end of this writing summarise the published authorized history of MI5- The Defence of the Realm by Christopher Andrew, an academic historian who specialised in International Relations and Intelligence and whose four works on the KGB have a worldwide reputation. The study which covers the creation of the joint service with what is now known as MI6 in 1909 ends in the 1980’s when the cyber warfare and intelligence changed the way countries engaged with each other, and when significantly in 1984 (Orwell) I first grasped the nature of the changes together with the plans for global business and finance , attending one of the leading International management courses in the world for Directors contemplating or being considered for the role of Chief Executives.
In some ways I am similar to Snowden, but no genius, alas, and without any technical skills, who appears to have experienced the same level of realization which I then had although it was only when on my own, swimming naked in the private pool of a hired villa in the South of France several years later, enjoying glasses of cold wine with chunks of French bread, salami and olives, looking across the vast plain below the hillside and I came to know my way ahead. This is something which I wonder if Snowden ever experienced or did he just act and run without any notion of how he would spend the rest of his life, perhaps like George Blake spending the rest of his life in Russia, a traitor in the eyes of his country and most of its population.
I do not have regrets about the decisions taken in 1984 and again in 1991 although when I stood on my own at the top of the Rock of Gibraltar in 2004 I saw what my life could have been had my father been almost anyone other than who he was and became. I experienced a great sadness which has been there since, but has influenced but not negatively, what I have considered necessary since.
Traditionally the way to collate intelligence was through the operation of undercover spies and informants but from about the mid 1980’s the ability to use digital became evident and this opened the door on mass global surveillance and once everything, everywhere as well as everyone commenced to become digital the ability to use aggressively as well as defensively became evident and in 2003 I commenced an art work project with one aspect that everything we did and said could be heard, viewed, recorded and revised by anyone, anywhere, anytime with the technology.
My assumption then was that this would be restricted to identified targets and only later to appreciate that improved data collation and analysis techniques would enable comprehensive material acquisition and processing. Those aware of the approach I took early in 2014 to calls for a nation inquiry into past child abuse have a copy of my letter to government in which I pressed for the collating and securing of all documentation not already digitalized. In this respect, I was only saying what government had said to me in 1991 in relation to the one matter about which I became known in some circles of interest. It was also the basis on which truths about the Hillsborough were uncovered following the intervention from Andy Burnham, then a government Minister and the prospective Mayor for the Manchester region.
Because of my experiences during the period of full time activism 1959-1961 and several subsequent situations and incidents I believed I had a good understanding of how MI5 worked, alongside special branch and the intelligence units of the armed services, and following my attendance at the International Senior Management Course in 1984, I understood the intelligence operations of global business and finance. However, it was not until 2009 and the publication of the authorised History of MI5, The Defence of the Realm that there was confirmation of what I had assumed, the placement of undercover operatives in any organisation considered a threat, including a potential threat to the state and where one of the key targets was always access to Membership and supporter lists. There is symmetry about the state using entryism to keep under surveillance the enterists. In the book, there are some surprisingly detailed accounts of who was targeted and in broad terms why, including the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt then of the National Council for Civil Liberties and Neil Kinnock’s role in combatting the Militant Tendency. I must remind Tom Watson of this.
I only recently acquired the reprint of Hammer of the Left by John Golding with an important update of Neil Kinnock’s original forward written before the attempted coup against Jeremy by the Parliamentary Party in which it is evident, his experience then, governed his belief that history was repeating but in my judgement this lacked appreciation of the fundamentally different circumstances and how the USA, China and Russia have been exploiting the digital explosion as a means for aggressive intelligence as well as defensive or that the rise of the left is essential if the new power of the right built up by stealth slowly since the mid 1980’s are to be countered. While my heart is with LoveLikeJo (Cox) my head is firmly with the state although the role of Parliament, organisation and individuals to ensure that the means remains committed to agreed values and standards is also essential, if the individuals or individual in association with other recognises the right of the state to act if the intention is to break or go outside the law, whatever the motivation or justification. I support in principal the proposed Loyalty oath for all public office holders announced by David Javid although I believe the way he would describe British values and standards is likely to be different from mine (Time’s article 18th December 2016).
In contrast to the fictional Allied and Ipcress File (also separately reviewed and part of the main article), Snowden is about a traitor who betrayed his country and his colleagues, breaking his oath of allegiance and playing international politics, attempting to evade justice by taking a transit flight to Moscow. A harsh judgemental but I believe the available information justifies.
Snowdon was born into a family of patriotic Americans who became employees of the state. His father served as a rear admiral in the Coast guard before moving to the CIA and was at the Pentagon at 9/11. His mother and older sister are lawyers holding important positions. His I Q is said to be at genius level but his education was interrupted at senior school, not taking a basic degree. He claims to have worked online for a master degree from the University of Liverpool concerned with computer studies but the University says that although he registered he was not active and did not complete the work. He is supposed to have attended computer training classes at the John Hopkins University but there is no record of this. He did attend a summer session at the University of Maryland.
He is said to have become proficient in understanding Chinese and Japanese and took up martial arts and went against the American grain by stating Buddhism as his religion because there was no provision for saying agnostic on the military recruitment form. I came across this rigidity in prison so put down Quaker which enabled peaceful breaks with others similarly registered.
He was accepted for basic Special Forces Training and in the film, was given an administrative discharge after breaking both his legs caused by stress fractures. He had wanted to serve in Iraq.
It is accurate that he joined the CIA where he demonstrated talent in computer technology and was singled out to attend the top-secret training programme which lasted for six months and the film suggests he was the brightest of the students completing an early test in an extraordinary quick time by approaching the task outside the box. The way he did the test, just as Harry Palmer tracked down the target in the Ipcress File and the hero of Allied risks his life to protect his wife when revealed to be a German wartime agent, is indicative of the assessment as a Creative, that is, people with the ability to create originality and this assessment is confirmed when it is said he was responsible for ensuring that everything was backed up in such a way so that if an external assault was made to the system it did not go down.
The film also discloses his role in establishing the ability to shut down the systems in other countries alleging this was achieved unintentionally in relation to Syria and that it took time to rectify. The ability to suddenly close digital systems in an emergency has profound implications for things that move at speed on land and in air as well as those dependent on electronic devices such as in hospitals. It is also my understanding that because of the implications of complete switching off with the internet and mobile phones being the main targets, the focus has been on the ability to target shut down and in the recent TV second series of Our Girl, the ability of a terrorist to trigger a bomb via his mobile phone was stopped remotely.
The recent film Eye in the Sky focuses on the controllable Drone combining the pilotless delivery of a lethal weapon with the on the ground control of a camera disguises as an insect capable of entering through a window to check who is inside a building before it is demolished, one of over 40 of films featuring the remotely controlled devices since 2010 and with only half a dozen before although interestingly the earliest is Back to the Future II in 1989.
The film covers something of the assessment required for someone to gain the highest level of state security and this includes a polygraph test with the questions designed to establish his loyalty, honesty and integrity to the state and where later he admits that at one point he faked a response intended to explain to the audience that he could cover up something which helps explain what he came to do. This is nonsense because Creatives especially those at the genius level, have their own sense of right and wrong and will do whatever is necessary or required for what they believe in or have committed themselves including self-sacrifice and deceit. This will have been known and monitored another aspect of Who guards the guardians?
This brings me to the other issue of how it is alleged Snowden removed a copy of the information on a micro disk from such a top-level establishment. I just do not believe that such an establishment did not explore all the possibilities of how someone might want to remove stored data or that there would have an instant notifying of any copying of data information to a 24/7 monitoring and alert system unless of course they were in the position of responsibility to guard against such action, but which in turn they would have created or been asked to create a fail system to ensure that the Guardian is also guarded. It should be potentially criminally negligent to do otherwise. The film alleges that he removed the data into a Rubik’s cube which he tosses to a gate guard while he goes through the scanner and where the guard then tosses the cube back to him when he has passed through. This is absurd.
The development of digital technology will have changed the whole approach of the British government to security and may have led to the decision to change the way the Home Office is physically structured although my knowledge of the new building comes from a TV news item. In 2015 I gave thought to my experience of visiting the old Home office building arising from the national interest in missing Home office files which were thought to provide important information concerning the cover up and protectionism which took place in relation to crimes against children in the past. Despite the presentation of several reports including an independent investigation and report under all party-political pressure there has never been a satisfactory explanation why over a hundred Home Office Files could not be accounted for, although some information was subsequently traced to National archives and Libraries. The holding of a manuscript for the double spy Keeper of the Royal Art (after he was outed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher within months of her coming into office) in the safe of the National Library makes me wonder about the size of the safe and what else is being kept there.
I thought of my own experience of visiting the former Home Office building in the late 1980’s was instructive when I had been granted a car park pass for attending a meeting of a national advisory committee and followed someone else who had exited a car through a doorway into the building. Previously I had arrived from the street at the front reception desk which controlled entry two the two parts of the building with the Ministers and their immediate staff separate from the rest and which included meeting rooms. I found myself in a corridor with individual rooms marked by levels of security required and quickly concluded that I was not sure I should be where I was so I retreated into the car park, through the entrance gate where the written pass was shown and into the reception area from the street where I was escorted as I had been previously to the meeting room. The point being that I had a brief case with me so that even if my entry and walk within the building was camera monitored the contents of my brief case was not and therefore anyone with a car park permit could remove files/papers from the building without a check.
This was also in the days just before the lap top computer reduced in size sufficiently to be in transported within a brief case although I used the Amstrad floppy disk to record my work at the office to a similar machine at my home. I have always had problems with my memory and my hand writing is indecipherable me let alone to anyone else so the development of the word processor changed my life in many ways.
I will concede that the jumps in digital storage and communication technology have been such that it will have been a challenge for all government and other bodies to catch up with the security implications, but it is not unreasonable to expect that those responsible for national security would have been at the cutting edge in this respect, so I still do not understand how Snowden got away with it without help.
Nor am I really concerned with why he did it. Motivation may contribute to mitigation of whatever penalty the justice system process may conclude is merited but being well motivated should never be the basis for deciding to break the law and expecting the justice system not to take its course. If you set out to break the law even if the law is a bad one you should expect to face the stated consequences. Throughout recorded history individuals because of patriotism, for a religion, to protect those for whom they have responsibility, for their families and those they love, have broken the law, sometimes hoping not to pay the price for what they do, but always in the expectation that a price may be exacted. In simple terms two wrongs do not make a right.
There are other aspects of his story which merit scrutiny especially the circumstances which led him to resign from the CIA and move to a security agency employed by the state. In the film and the Wikipedia account, he was sent to the CIA office in Switzerland to maintain computer security, providing him with a diplomatic passport and a four-bedroom apartment near Lake Geneva. He had been assigned to the U.S mission to the United Nations and had been responsible for providing support to the US President when attending a NATO summit in Romania. The film gives the impression that his interest in working as a field agent was taken up by a senior colleague in Geneva who had been tasked with finding a way to persuade a leading banker to become an informant. The film suggests that Snowden was so shocked by the methods used that he resigned in February 2009 without knowing what he will do next.
The film suggests that it is his former training chief who introduces him to a top-level subcontractor agency for the government and where he is based in Japan near Tokyo to advise how to defend system from Chinese hacker. After two years, which one can assume were successful he returns to the USA and promoted to a more senior position concerned with cyber intelligence and strategy. It is during this period that the film suggests he became concerned that the programmes he had helped to create, if not create, were being used not just to target the digital communications and records of those under surveillance in accord with nationally agreed procedures, but were tracking the records of everyone worldwide and film provides figures about the scale of the operation and where what is said to have triggered his rebellion is the number on USA citizens being surveyed which was against the law and about which when challenged the government is said to have lied.
It is alleged that he commenced to copy records. He moved to the firm’s office in Hawaii which concentrated on surveillance of China and North Korea. He also moved between contractors, with a loss of salary, in order, it is said, to continue to acquire documentation he needed.
Snowden is said to have used his position and reputation to persuade between 20 and 25 colleagues to give him their passwords so he could independently monitor their records and copy those which presumably he decided would provide the evidence required from him to substantiate what he had decided to do. This story via Reuters is said to have been rejected by Snowden and that he was responsible for his own for the copying of documents said to have been be between 50000 and 200000. Instead of as suggested in the film passing everything out in on one occasion as mentioned previously with the Rubik cube the possibility of finding a way to transfer documents via the passwords of his colleagues is the more obvious pathway, even if they were aware he was hacking them.
However, there are different accounts of the scale of his treachery. The Australian government have said he made available to unauthorised parties 15000 of their intelligence files. The British Government put their figure at 50000. USA figures have put the number of their documents at 1.7 million. The clear majority of these documents were nothing to do with political acts of government but covered military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures. I rest my case against him.
Dr Kermode in his film review argues that despite those going to theatres knowing the basics of the story and his escape from Hong Kong to Russia the documentary about the escape provides a more engaging experience than the film and on this I, disagree. Both are effective in persuading the audience to his perspective and make the USA government the villain. I am surprised that the good Dr did not point this out and that both works are therefore questionable in this respect. Now to my summary of Defence of the Realm in relation to issues which interest me.