How Snowden orchestrated a blockbuster story: NYT ticktock on NSA Prism leaks

In the New York Times, Charlie Savage and Mark Mazzetti explain how Edward J. Snowden instructed three journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, to fly to Hong Kong about 12 days ago to "visit a particular out-of-the-way corner of a certain hotel, and ask — loudly — for directions to another part of the hotel. If all seemed well, the source would walk past holding a Rubik’s Cube."

They followed his directions, and encountered a man with a Rubik’s Cube. That man was Snowden.

In related news, NYT columnist David Brooks is an idiot: "He betrayed our privacy," Brooks writes about the man who leaked evidence of the NSA's secret and sweeping surveillance program. You have got to be kidding me.


    1. Yeah, its David Brooks, and he is a class A douchebag.  The best comment I read about his piece is:

      This column reads like a genteel rewrite of Nixon’s Enemies List. It spans the spectrum of the thin-skinned paranoia which the powerful exhibit whenever their predatory little worlds are exposed. To wit:

      –Blame the messenger instead of the malefactors (Snowden magically destroys privacy by reporting on the destruction of privacy!) — check.
      — Speculate about the messenger’s psychological state ( Watergate Rule #26, inspired by the Nixon Plumbers break-in of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist ) — check.
      — Denigrate the messenger’s lowly educational background and social status. Point out the faux pas of servants who betray their masters, who of course are not corporate welfare capitalist spies, but rather philanthropic humanitarian aid organizations.– check.
      — Question the messenger’s patriotism and loyalty to friends and family. — check. (These whistleblowers are always terrible sons, boyfriends and dressers – see Assange, Julian ; Bill Keller edition) 

      Edward Snowden deserves a medal not only for upsetting the security state apple cart, but for getting David Brooks so tied up in knots that his bromides and his platitudes are congealing into a bigger mess than usual.Snowden is guilty of the high crime of giving aid and comfort to the citizenry. He is a traitor to Brook’s class.

      1. Brooks has made a tidy little career for himself at the NYT by playing the reasonable centrist, but every now and then the mask slips, as when he endorsed the “plan” of zombie-eyed granny starver Paul Ryan. 

  1. He must have contacted the EFF first. I can’t believe they don’t have a hand in all this.

  2. I’m sorry but I think “orchestrated” is the most accurate thing on this guy that has appeared so far on this site.  Come on, all the cloak and dagger stuff (complete with Rubik’s cube yet) is just juvenile and over-the-top.  Not to mention pointless.  He knew (or could easily have found out, since he pretty much claims to have been able to access the information of anyone in the world) what these people looked like.  He could have just watched for them in this super-luxury hotel’s lobby or told them to be in the mall across the street which has a sort of balcony overlooking the floor below.  He could have paid one of the ubiquitous street vendors or tour hawkers to bring him “the guy in this picture.”  He’s just totally getting off on his 10 minutes of fame (10-1 the guy’s already writing his movie script and casting Brad Pitt to play him.)  

    Good for him if he has something of vast import to tell us but so far, I’m not seeing it. This is not really anything new. Now if it goes beyond metadata, or if it can be proved that the facility to drill down to the individual level is being misused, fine.  I’ll be up in arms.  But, folks, just as your conversations in the street are not private, anyone with a quarter ounce of sense knows that the Internet is one big giant public space that has NEVER been private.  Your data has been mined for commercial purposes from just about the word go.

    Am I dismissing this guy’s story outright?  No.  Do I think that, ultimately, it’s a lot less of a big deal than he has orchestrated it to be?  Unless new information comes up, I have to go with yes.

    1.  You think a contractor not assigned to research reporters interested in reporting on the U.S. espionage/security apparatus isn’t going to raise some eyebrows with an NSA sys admin if he starts researching said reporters?

      And, this is as big of a deal as people want to make it.

        1. And the NSA isn’t routinely tracking all use of the ‘net by its employees for the sake of security? Matched with keywords compared by algorithm to the content of your queries, browsing etc? I mean, thats EXACTLY what they are good at isn’t it?
          I imagine he had to be *very* careful about contacting the reporters, particularly paranoid even. I imagine he was only successful because he knew the limits of the system that is tracking every single one of us.

    2. I’m sorry but I think “orchestrated” is the most accurate thing on this guy that has appeared so far on this site.

      Should we make everything “spontaneous” and leave planning to the Nazgul?

        1. History has shown us that, when the Nazgul are abroad, wizards start fighting each other, conveniently trapping themselves in an impregnable fortress.

    3. I love the bipolar narrative.

      Nothing is more hilarious than seeing “this is nothing new, we already knew this” and “he is a traitor leaking important secrets!” sitting next to each other.  It is one or the other.  Either Americans knew that the NSA was running a massive domestic surveillance program, and this is not news, or Americans didn’t know and this hero just outed the government curb stomping the 4th amendment.

      Even more hilarious is claims that this guy did it for fame.  There are lots of ways to get fame.  I am pretty sure getting yourself added to the top of the hit list of the largest spy agency in the world that is literally tracking every single piece of information it can get its grubby hands on is the singularly most insane way to achieve fame.  He can never step foot in any nation with a rendition treaty with the US, and he isn’t like he is going to be sleeping well at night even in places where there is no rendition treaty.  The NSA doesn’t give two shits about what Iceland’s opinion is on torturing the person who exposed the greatest mass violation of the 4th amendment in the history of the US.

      You can think that this guy is a traitor.  I’ll call you a fucking coward for it, but you are free to be a coward who wants to live in a surveillance state because of the absurdly small risk of the scary terrorist.  I am not a fucking coward, so I rate terrorism on my list of “shit I worry about” somewhere below slipping and falling in my bathtubs.  Bathtubs murder more people per year in the US than terrorist, yet I am not crying for the government to install cameras to watch my shower.  Different folks, different strokes.  Like I said, you might just be a fucking coward.

      So, you can be a fucking coward and call this guy a traitor, but you are either being an intellectually dishonest piece of shit or are so cowardly that you can’t contemplate someone doing an act like this out of a love for liberty.  Maybe you are a cowardly piece of shit who doesn’t value liberty, which the only reason  you can think of for kicking the NSA in the teeth is for fame.  Let me assure you though, that this kid didn’t basically end his life for fame.  

      It is sad that you can see a clear act of self sacrifice and can’t fathom it in any other way than to come up with an absurd theory of fame seeking.  Then again, you do appear to be a coward, so maybe it is beyond your ability to empathize with someone who is so vastly braver than yourself.  You apparently piss yourself over a 1 in a few million chance of a terrorist killing you and hand over your liberty without complaint.  Snowden sees the greatest violation of the 4th amendment in US history personally signs his death warrant in a way that would make John Hancock proud.  Few people are braver and bolder than Snowden.

      1. Just for the record, your comment is supposedly a reply to mine but I said nothing about his being a traitor or leaking secrets.  And terrorism comes way down on the list of things that I worry about.  (Although I might worry about you if you believe bathtubs “murder” people — anthropomorphic bathroom fixtures are a scary fixation!)   As such I am not a coward and name-calling is unnecessary and childish.  
        But you have to admit that people have done far stupider things in the name of, or for the sake of, fame (e.g., killing John Lennon.)  And that some people just have delusions of grandeur.  And that there are always pathetic people who will insist on buying the books that attention-seekers write or movies based on their actions. 

        And just as you must admit that this may be the case with Snowden — I admit the possibility that his whistle-blowing may actually make a difference.  (And, at the very least, I already give him credit for focus and process that Manning utterly lacked.)  

        And if it does end up making a difference, and if he exposes something that we did actually not know in 2006, then I will check my skepticism and join in the hosannas.

        1. You think that the largest violation of the 4th amendment in the history of the US is not a big deal.  You think that the government knowing every single call  you have made, who you made it to, and where you were standing when you did it (location is some of that useless metadata they took) is a big old ‘meh’.  If tracking every single Americans location and who they are talking to in a secret program with no oversight that can’t even be challenged in courts due to state secrets or lack of standing is no big deal, what would it take for you to go “holy shit!”?  Do men in black suits need to physically hold you down as they slam a tag into the back of your neck?

          The guy is a fucking hero.  Already his leaks have made a noticable difference.

          His leaks have let a number of civil rights organizations (namely the ACLU and EFF) sue the government and let them reopen cases that had been tossed.  They had already tried to bring this crap to court because of the rumors, but those attempts were tossed out of the court because what you consider to be “common knowledge” in fact wasn’t.  They got tossed for a “lack of standing” because they couldn’t prove that the spying existed.  Now they have proof that the government has taken a #2 on literally every single persons 4th amendment rights and cast a chilling effect on everyone’s 1st amendment rights, and we will at least get this shit into a public court, if nothing else.

          Frankly, I consider a dude with EFF stickers smeared all over his laptop who has just punched the largest and most dangerous spy agency in the world in the nose to likely be a guy who cares for liberty.  Your theory is that the guy is bat shit insane.  My theory is that he is exactly what he appears to be.  Which one seems more likely?  

          Even if in the unlikely possibility that the guy turns out to be a completely insane media whore who is willing to die for attention, who despite being a clearly smart dude, decided the best way to be famous was to slap the largest target on his back possible, he will still be a hero.  I’ll take a hero doing heroic things that have already made a difference for stupid reasons over the tens of thousands of other Americans who saw this horror and took the money and kept their mouths shut.

          Finally, even if this guy turns out to eat babies and rape unicorns, his message is still completely valid.  The government has admitted at least a small and horrifying part of what it has done.  The character of the messenger (which is currently impeccable) is moot.

    4. Well Lynda, I for one am totally persuaded by your forthright discourse.

      *oh wait* actually, no I’m not.

      Going back to the dawn of man, all power structures crave knowledge and insight into all areas.  Particularly people, and most particularly people who might usurp them or their objectives.  That needs information gathering.

      This slams head first, 1,000 mph, in a brain-spattering mess, into the absolute and fundamental requirement for privacy, without which a population will tend to tear itself apart at the seams.

      One insight might be that we all, every single last one of us, harbour some thoughts, memories, ideas that would make some other person murderous should they know it.  That other person might be sane, crazy, Sarah Palin, whatever – but with that knowledge, they’d kill us.

      Without privacy, a population cannot co-operate.  One facet of privacy is the friction-reducing quality it has on the interactions we have with eachother.

      George Orwell and Aldous Huxley intelligently educated the popular mass in the 20th Century as to the risks of surveillance states.  The Nazis demonstrated the modern capabilities of states to implement abhorrent policies.  Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Mugabe, Pol Pot, Videla – the list goes on.

      If you allow a state to surveille a nation constantly, you must consider what will happen when you, your loved ones, your interests, your society fall out of grace and into a database to be parsed and interned, executed, disappeared, whatever.

      The bland words “the state is watching us!” may have been floating around for years, but the population has not connected that with a potential negative fate – the evidence being that the population has not fought off this invasion of privacy, and clear abrogation of their rights under the 4th Amendment, and under Articles 12 and 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

      Constitutions and UN declarations aren’t just candy floss.  They’re considered and thought-through, thorough and meaningful responses to cure ailments seen throughout the history of man.

      So go with Yes, Lynda, and if the USA ever practices discrimination against people with hispanic names, be comfortable that whatever the outcome, at least you made a choice and stood your ground.

      1. Of course every single last one of us, harbors some thoughts, memories, ideas — and when I see anyone implementing a way to access those, I’ll let you know because I’ll be at the front of the protest.  But the minute something has been moved from our brains to the outside world, via speech or written word, it is no longer a thought.  And, as such, it becomes public.
        But I always wonder why those who cry “George Orwell” aren’t more upset about Facebook or app “check-ins” that tell people where you are at all times, or Xbox Kinect, (which, if you’ve experienced it is seriously creepy — trying not to move at all because it will trigger an action, or seeing the blurred images of everyone in the room that you know is being “viewed” by Xbox or its agents.)  To me, that’s far more intrusive (and far more like Orwell’s visions than metadata analysis.)

        Congratulations BTW on the first use of “Godwinning” on this thread — Nazism, however, essentially proves what vast evil can be perpetrated by simply employing broad-reaching, general efforts . . . without bothering with pinpoint-focus surveillance.

        And, while it might be amusing if I were the target of an anti-Hispanic-surname scheme since I’m as Spanish as Wonder Bread, if that were to happen, it wouldn’t be because of what I said via email or telephone. 

        1. The issue seems to escape you.

          The NSA and the government have breached the rights afforded the citizenry by the Constitution and its amendments.  Those rights were drawn up to eliminate historic problems with societies.

          What is out in the open is the term ‘meta-data’.  That’s already concerning, however I can guarantee they’re willfully not disclosing what else they capture.  Cast-iron guarantee.

          IBM provided the equipment and techniques to the Nazis (oh, Godwin again!) to catalogue and manage their victims.  You’re right, no need for pinpoint data – metadata was adequate.

          As for your parry to the idea that some administration might come after you or yours, do you think none of the tyrants I listed committed atrocities based on arbitrary, incidental or accidental categorisation of individuals into a target sector?

          Pol Pot killed people with spectacles on the basis they were intellectuals.  Really, you don’t need much range to do this stuff.

          Do a little reading on who the USA interned when the Pacific theatre of WW2 opened, and consider the speed with which they did it, and how easy it was to do.

          So bless you, I leave you in peace to toast your rights like marshmallows at the happy campfire of corrosive ingress into your privacy.

          Bon appetit!

          1. I am very well aware of the internment of the Japanese (and, to a far lesser extent, Germans and Italians) in the US.  And I am aware that just about every atrocity has its roots in some sort of “fear of the other” — and that people are targeted for who they are and what they believe.  It’s just that none of this requires combing through records.

            The fact is, there has always been spying on and observation of people whose activity sends up red flags, whether by police or by military or government personnel.  (And, yes, this “dragnet” approach does scan records of innocent people while looking for the baddies — but highway drunk-driving blockades similarly pull everyone over while looking for those breaking the law and putting others’ lives at risk.)

            It is just a fact that technology has changed the world exponentially (and in ways that our forefathers could never have imagined) and it is unreasonable to expect the police, military, and/or government to operate at a lower level of sophistication than everyone else.  

            Yes, there must be rules governing official use of this technology (and reportedly there are.) Arguably, those rules should be debated (although we all know how effective debate is once politicians get on their soapboxes.)  But how many worse things are being perpetrated on the American public without demur?  Personally, I’m far more concerned about secretive, last-minute, anonymous, and unrelated additions to bills before they are made laws.  Now, THAT’s scary.Look, I keep saying that I am not saying that the loss of privacy is not a potential problem.  I just think spinning out worst-case scenarios of internment camps is a pointless exercise.

          2.  With the greatest of respect, you’re either a lost cause or some kind of eloquent troll.

            Why do you think your forebears spent so much time diligently working all this out?

            Do you think they did it in a vacuum, or possibly, they did it by reverse-engineering worst case scenarios to figure out how they could be prevented?

            What is reasonable is to expect your rights to be respected.

            If you don’t care, send me all your money.

          3. It’s just that none of this requires combing through records.

            How about forcible internment of people with HIV, which does exist in some parts of the world?

        2. That’s the funny thing about secret and classified programs
          and data, how would you know that something of ‘vast import’ has occurred or
          that ‘it goes beyond metadata’ or that it’s ‘being misused?’ How would it be
          possible to prove any of these things without someone coming forth and leaking
          this information?

          Since when is using Facebook or owning a smartphone and
          being forced to do app check-ins or buying an Xbox Kinect become mandatory?
          That’s why no one here is up in arms over these voluntary actions. If you are
          concerned about these things, then it’s exceedingly easy to avoid them.
          Avoiding the NSA’s dragnet however, well, that appears to be pretty much
          impossible under their current standard operating procedures. I’m firmly
          convinced that you don’t understand the issue at hand.

          Let me guess, you’re not doing anything wrong so you have
          nothing to hide from Big Brother? Take down all the curtains in your domicile,
          and install cameras in every room of your house, including your bathroom. Let
          the government monitor and insure your safety from terrorism.

          1. Just curious — even if someone comes forward with leaked information how will you really, really know it’s the *whole* story?  There could be a deeper level of “truth” that still lay underneath to be found.  And one beneath that.  And beneath that.  There comes a point that you have to believe something or you descend into an endless, recursive spiral of conspiracy theory.  And that way madness lies.

          2. Or, you see the warning signs and conclude that someone is breaching your rights, and you’d better do something.

            Who needs the whole story?  Partial abrogation, full abrogation, it’s all abrogation.

          3. “If you will not fight for your rights when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than live as slaves. ” – Winston Churchill
            “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” – George Washington.

  3. David Brooks isn’t an idiot; he’s just wrong. (And making stuff up, as Ygret points out.) A confrontational, name-calling approach might be best for some fights, but I doubt it’s best for this one. Most Boingers, including me, are arguably closer to Glenn Beck’s opinion on this issue than to Barack Obama’s. That doesn’t make us wrong, but I think it might suggest that we approach the public debate soberly.

    1. Manners are an invention of the aristocracy, which is a similar reason to why James Clapper isn’t charged with perjury yet.

      1. Aren’t there reasons beyond manners not to say untrue, negative things about people?

        1. Not really now.

          In past years some victims to particularly vicious slander would insist on “defending their honor”.

    2. No, David Brooks is an idiot.  A high-level one, just like Tom Friedman..
      He’s a suck ass to the ruling class, and a class A apologist for war mongers and the greedy.  Fuck him.

    1. He always seems to have that facial expression that makes you want to kick him in the shins.

  4. Well, if nothing else, I wrote to the NYT blasting Brooks for his high school jock-esque ridicule hit piece on Snowden. They probably won’t ever dump Brooks, but maybe they’ll print my letter.

  5. I think Idiot is a little harsh for Brooks.

    If you want the opinions of an Idiot, I’ll put my money on Ross Douthat every time.

  6. It’s easier to call someone an idiot than it is to confront the more complex reality that intelligent people say and do stupid things all the time.

    1. There’s nothing complex about David Brooks.  He’s a paid shill for some of the wealthiest Americans, a complete war monger and an apologist for whatever political party currently holds the seat as the Executive.  

  7. I agree with Brooks. And while we’re on the subject, those folks who dumped all that tea into Boston Harbor betrayed the government and the citizens, causing the King to only impose higher taxes. BASTERDS!

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