In early May 2013, employees of the National Security Agency knew something big was up. Rumors began flying around the agency that there had been a massive security leak. Although few of NSA’s civilian and military rank and file knew the extent of the compromise, NSA director General Keith Alexander, his closest aides, and NSA’s internal security “Q Group” knew the ramifications about what was known to them about the leak.
Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman had received a number of classified documents from a source in Hawaii. After Gellman shared the documents with his editors at the Post, the newspaper, rather than treating the documents and details about their release as a protected First Amendment issue, decided to contact NSA. Senior Washington Post officials described to NSA the nature of the documents and details about what they contained.
According to WMR’s sources at NSA, the revelations by the Post sent the NSA into a frenzy of counter-intelligence activity. The NSA also alerted the FBI, which also mobilized its resources to find the leaker.
The actual source of the leak, Honolulu-based Booz Allen Hamilton contractor Ed Snowden, never planned on fleeing the United States to escape what would have been a certain arrest and incarceration. However, even off in Hawaii, the NSA Regional Security Operations Center in Kunia on Oahu was made aware of the fact that NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland was putting out the word that there had been a major leak of classified information and that “all hands” should stand by for the inevitable fallout.
Upon hearing of the compromise of the leak by the Post to NSA, Snowden reasoned that it would not be long before he would receive the dreaded “knock on the door.” It is believed by some within NSA that Snowden never intended to leak the entire tranche of documents at one time to the media, but, when it was apparent that NSA security and the FBI were on the case, Snowden quickly downloaded tens of thousands of pages of classified documents to a few high-capacity thumb drives, booked at flight on Cathay Pacific, and flew off to Hong Kong on May 20. As part of the disinformation campaign against Snowden, the media began circulating stories that Snowden abandoned his girlfriend without notice and left boxes filled with items in his garage.
It was not until June 1 that The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and filmmaker Laura Poitras met with Greenwald at a hotel in Hong Kong. There was some cloak-and-dagger involved in the meeting, with Snowden identifying himself to the three journalists by displaying a Rubik’s cube. Snowden provided the three journalists with a week’s worth of interview and the tranche of classified documents obtained from NSA’s computers.
The Guardian ran its first exposé garnered from Snowden’s documents on June 5. However, Snowden had not yet been publicly identified. However, thanks to the Washington Post’s leak to NSA, Snowden’s identity as the leaker was already known to NSA and the FBI, which had alerted U.S. and allied intelligence and law enforcement agencies everywhere to be on the lookout for Edward Snowden. In Hong Kong, the noose on Snowden was already tightening.
On June 9, with NSA and its FIVE EYES intelligence partners of Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand aware of Snowden as the leaker of the reports being carried by The Guardian, Snowden went public. He announced in a video, “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.” However, had the Post not burned its source, Snowden had every intention of hiding who he was.
Snowden quickly checked out of his hotel and went into hiding in Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China. The U.S. Justice Department sent an extradition request to Hong Kong authorities but it was rejected because the request was illegitimate according to Hong Kong law. After revealing to the South China Morning Post details of NSA’s signals intelligence operations against China, Snowden, who reportedly had security and travel support from the governments of Hong Kong, China, and Russia, boarded an Aeroflot flight from Hong Kong to Moscow. Snowden was eventually granted political asylum by the Russian government.
Not to be outdone by the Post’s secret cooperation with NSA, The New York Times published an account leaked to it by NSA that Snowden permitted Chinese intelligence to “drain the contents” of his laptop computer before leaving Hong Kong. Not only was the account false, but Snowden’s information was contained on thumb drives, not on a laptop computer.
Today, Barton Gellman is being touted as this year’s winner, along with Greenwald, of the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in the public interest. It is doubtful that Joseph Pulitzer contemplated that burning sources would qualify someone to receive a Pulitzer Prize for journalism.
With Amazon owner Jeff Bezos’s acquisition of The Washington Post, the relationship between the newspaper and the U.S. intelligence community can only grow closer. Amazon inked a $600 million deal with the CIA to provide the agency with cloud computing services. In the future, NSA will not even have to expend any shoe leather to find the source of a leak, it will merely delve into the same “cloud” provided to the Post and the CIA by Amazon to find out who has been talking to or e-mailing reporters at the Post.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
Copyright © 2014 WayneMadenReport.com
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).