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<nettime> Cryptome's searing critique of Snowden Inc.
John Young on Sun, 14 Feb 2016 12:41:17 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Cryptome's searing critique of Snowden Inc.

Cryptome's searing critique of Snowden Inc.


Posted on February 13, 2016 by Tim Shorrock
The current corporate media business model of celebrity as an income
producer and celebrity as a sensationalizing, titillating device
for increasing the value of content is something we stay away from.
It's deeply cynical to sensationalize this trusted transaction, when
someone come to you with a document and puts it forward to you.

This week, John Young and Deborah Natsios, the founders of Cryptome,
one of the world's oldest and best-known repositories of leaked
intelligence documents, quietly posted a URL to an interview they
conducted on February 6 during a conference in Berlin, Germany.

Young and Natsios are introduced, correctly, as "renowned figures
within a larger community people interested in keeping governments
and institutions accountable, and using documents to do that." But
they also offer deep insights into the media and how it has handled
revelations about U.S. intelligence and the National Security Agency.
And their remarks, such as the quote above, clearly catch their host
by surprise.

In the 18th minute, they issue a scathing rebuke of "celebrity"
journalism as practiced, in their opinion, by The Intercept, the
publication owned by Pierre Omidyar's First Look Media. The interview
is worth hearing in its entirety, and I urge anyone who's had
questions and concerns about Edward Snowden and his relationship to
The Intercept's founding editors, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill and
Laura Poitras, to listen to it and carefully consider their arguments.

Why? Because Cryptome raises serious questions that nobody else on
the left or in the media want to talk about, including how Omidar
has created a business from Snowden's cache; what exactly Snowden
may have been doing while he was working for the CIA prior to his
time at NSA (and what else he may have been doing at NSA itself);
and why Snowden and The Intercept continue to proselytize for Tor,
the anonymization tool, despite its massive funding from the U.S.
government, the Pentagon and the national security state.

One of the most amazing moments comes when the host, Pit Shultz, grows
nervous about how his questions are being answered. It's a sad insight
into how the libertarian left responds to any criticism of its heroes
and the arrogance and vitriol that's been thrown to people who've
raised questions about Snowden, Tor or Omidyar's operations. To his
credit, Shultz soldiers on -- but only after Natsios assures him that
"robust debate" is crucial to democracy.

Cryptome's critique, as expressed in the interview, is not new.
Ever since Greenwald first wrote about Snowden's documents in The
Guardian in 2013, the organization has been keeping careful track
of the glacial pace of the documents' release and The Intercept's
almost-total control over the cache. Their latest tally, posted this
week, is 6,318 pages of what The Guardian first reported as 58,000

From the start, Young and Natsios made it clear that they strongly
disapprove of the fact that this cache has not been made widely
available to the public and posted for all to see -- as they have done
with the tens of thousands of intelligence files they have released
since the late 1990s (and as Daniel Ellsberg did with the Pentagon
Papers). Take a look at how Gawker, a publication very friendly to The
Intercept, reported on Cryptome in June 2013:

When the Guardian and Washington Post published their blockbuster NSA
reports based on Ed Snowden's leaks, journalists lined up conga-style
to congratulate them on the scoops. Not Cryptome. Instead, the
secret-killing site blasted the Guardian and Post for only publishing
4 of the 41 slides that Snowden gave them about PRISM, the NSA's
system for spying on the internet.

Mr. Snowden, please send your 41 PRISM slides and other information
to less easily cowed and overly coddled commercial outlets than
Washington Post and Guardian," Cryptome wrote in a June 10th dispatch
titled "Snowden Censored by Craven Media."

To longtime followers of Cryptome, this response was unsurprising.
Before Wikileaks, before Ed Snowden, there was Cryptome.
Manhattan-based architects John Young and Deborah Natsios founded
Cryptome.org in 1996 as a repository for documents no one else would
publish, including lists of CIA assets, in-depth technical schematics
of sensitive national security installations, and copyrighted
material. As leaking has created a vibrant media ecosystem in recent
years, complete with favored outlets, journalists and sources,
Cryptome has positioned itself as its curmudgeonly ombudsman, quietly
but blisteringly cutting down the hype and blather it sees in its
competitors while advocating a form of radical transparency as
straightforward as Cryptome.org's bare-bones website.

Until now, however, I've never seen an analysis like this. What
follows is my transcript of key parts of the interview.

Shultz, the host, begins with a discussion with Natsios, who grew
up "in a CIA family," about her art, and then focuses on Cryptome's
roots in the Cold War and its founding in 1996 (Young was also
active, with Wikileak's Julian Assange, in the "cypherpunk" movement
in the early 1990s). Throughout their organization's existence, Young
explains, "we did not seek celebrity. We thought we should do public
service quietly and non-ostentatiously. We don't like high-profile
activity because we think it disrupts the process."

This is already a huge contrast to the approach taken by the The
Intercept's founders. But what follows is stunning. After Natsios
makes her statement about "celebrity as an income producer," Young
opens up, first taking on the ACLU.

Young: Let me name some names. ACLU, one of the most corrupt
organizations in New York City and around the world. We detest how
they're handling Snowden. They're using him for funding purposes.
Meanwhile, they're turning down more needy people because they're not
good for fund-raising. Look at what these folks are paid. Phenomenal
salaries are being paid. Phenomenal salaries are being paid to The
Intercept. These are your corrupt organizations to get these kinds
of salaries out there while others who provide the information
are either going to jail or getting nothing. I think that's the
pattern that's going on now under the national security realm. Now
I should say the National Security Archives and the Federation of
American Scientists do not do that. But some of these newcomers to
the national security field are. ACLU is an old organization. But we
know people who've left ACLU over this issue, because they've become
money-driven and not public service driven. And they refuse to have
anything to do with ACLU. And that's a tragedy because it once had
a wonderful history. Now the question is, who else is on the list?
There are others who are smelling the coffee of money-makingâ?¦

The interview then turns to non-profit journalism, as practiced by
First Look.
Natsios: As you know, the neo-liberal model now includes the
non-profit world. But the non-profit world is now in a group-think in
terms of its operational practicesâ?¦

Young: You know, you get a lucrative tax write-off to set up a
non-profit journalism organization because it's considered a hardship
industry. Isn't that absurd? But it turns out Omidyar saved a lot of
money setting up First Look because he gets a tax write-off for a
hardship industry as though there some farmer out there somewhere. So
when you see [Amazon owner Jeff] Bezos and other people investing,
it's for a tax write-off. And so a number of non-profits in the media
world say, "Oh, the decline of investigative journalism" or blah blah
blah. Well, it turns out that's a result of heavy lobbying to be
declared a hardship industry. Bingo!

The next section (not transcribed here) focuses on Tor, the
"anonymity tool" promoted heavily by Snowden, Poitras and Greenwald
and financed by the U.S. government, primarily through the Pentagon,
as well as Omidyar himself -- a topic I'll focus on in a later
posting. The discussion appears to disturb the interviewer.

Shultz: We are loyal here to this community. But some inner criticism
can be seen as constructive. These questions are important. I suppose
you can say whatever you say. We have free speech here.

Natsios: You said that very tentatively and cautiously. You should
say that robustly, that robust dissent within any organization is
crucial in a democratic context. Don't apologize for it.

After that exchange, the conversation pivots to a discussion about
Snowden's role as a spy. Young mentions Snowden's experience before
NSA in Hawaii as a counter-intelligence operative for the CIA.

Shultz: [At the conference there was mention of] Snowden as a hero
for civil rights. But it was not mentioned he was a spy. How can you
trust a spy?

Young: You cannot. You cannot trust anyone with a security
clearanceâ?¦They have to lie to you. It's not a glorious role, it's a
dirty role.

Young then returns to The Intercept's relationship with Snowden. He
mentions two journalists who came way before Greenwald & Co. and
early on exposed the operations of the NSA overseas, Duncan Campbell
and Nicky Hager.

Young: I don't know why Snowden didn't go to them instead of those
assholes he went to. That's a story that hasn't been told. Why did he
go to these technologically illiterate people to reveal this stuff
to? Someone sold him a bill of goods. We don't know who fed him into
this group.

Shultz: So you're critical about him spoon-feeding the mass media?

Natsios: It's a second secret regime that's been imposed by the
media proxies. The assumption is there should be a media pathway to
the public. Well, that could be a fallacyâ?¦If we're to believes
Snowden's current media proxies and his testimony through them, he's
been extremely cautious and controlling about his release. He wants
to have his cake and eat it too. He's been extremely particular about
what he wants to let go evidently and what he keeps in reserve.
That's his choice. But these are taxpayer-paid documents belonging
in the public domain. What authority does he have to open the spigot
where he is now controlling in a fairly doctrinaire and authoritarian
way what happens to this trove, this cache?â?¦

Young: Snowden says he gave them to the public; no, he didn't. He
gave them to a bunch of self-interested journalists who decided to
run a certain story with it, i.e., to explain it to people. And their
fucking explainers really have a problem.

Natsios: It's a serious conflict of interest. They've written
themselves into the story as heroes, co-heroes of the story. It's a
conflict of interest. They're not at a distance from their source.
They've embedded themselves in the narrative, and therefore all
decisions are highly suspect because they benefit from the outcome of
the narrative in every sense.

Young: They should go to people who can read the documents, not
report on them. Reporting is not honesty. It is headline grabbing.
It is hyper ventilation. And they call it reporting, when in fact
it's highly selective. This is criminal behavior. [Note: in that
context, it's rather amazing to see this tweet from Snowden himself
chastising a Washington journalist for being directed in his
reporting by a White House official -- exactly what Snowden did with
his stenographers].

To get its full flavor, I again urge readers to listen to the
interview in its entirety. After I heard it, I passed part of this
transcript by Bill Binney, the legendary NSA analyst who once was
the Technical Director of NSA's Operations Directorate. He is
reknowned for blowing the whistle on corporate corruption and illegal
surveillance at the NSA, a story I documented in The Nation in 2013
(prior to Snowden's appearance on the scene, I might add).

Binney, always the humorist, reminded me of a notorious statement
made by Sam Visner, a senior NSA official, to a group of contractors
a day after the 9/11 attacks: "We can milk this thing all the way to
2015." Here's Binney's email to me about the arguments from Young and
Natsios: "As Sam said, â??we can milk this cow for 15 years.' It's
just business."

Cryptome puts it this way: "At Snowden current rate it will take
20-620 years to free all documents." That's really milking it. So,
yes, "money doesn't talk, it swears."

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