This column, a regular feature, was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Snowden questions NBC missed:
In his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams last week, Edward Snowden tried to bolster his credentials this way: “I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word — in that I lived and worked undercover, overseas, pretending to work in a job … and even being assigned a name that was not mine …. Now, the government might deny these things. They might frame it in certain ways, and say, ‘Oh, well, you know, he’s a low-level analyst.’”
In that segment — and as best I can tell from watching what I think were all the segments of Brian Williams’ interview — three words never came up: Booz Allen Hamilton.
Booz Allen Hamilton is the government contractor that Snowden supposedly worked for. As Talking Points Memo reported a year ago in this article, in the video in which Snowden introduced himself to the world following publication of his initial leaks, he said: “My name is Ed Snowden, I’m 29 years old, I work for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for [the] NSA, in Hawaii.”
The same Talking Points article quoted Snowden and his collaborator Glenn Greenwald, writing in the Guardian, as saying that the only direct employment he had for any spy agencies was as a “security guard” at an National Security Agency facility in Maryland and as someone “working on IT security” for the CIA in Geneva.
Was he lying to the world and to Greenwald then, or to Williams now? Someone ought to follow up on the contradictions that Williams missed.
He also missed a more important area of inquiry related to Snowden’s credibility. Snowden maintained to Williams that he tried repeatedly, with emails and memos, to go through channels to blow the whistle on what he thought was improper and illegal NSA spying. The claim brought quick denials from the NSA, which pointed to one vague email that Snowden had sent to an agency lawyer seeking clarification about the legal status of executive orders.
NSA officials claim that this email — which Snowden sent on a Friday afternoon and the lawyer answered the following Monday, with an invitation for Snowden to call if he had further questions — was Snowden’s sole communication with any national security officials about anything even remotely questioning agency practices.
Of course, at the time Williams did the interview, he couldn’t know what the NSA response would be to Snowden’s adamant whistleblower claims. But he might have asked Snowden for proof.
After all, it would seem that someone who had managed to smuggle millions of highly classified documents out of the NSA’s computers might have been able, and eager, to keep some proof that he had tried to go through channels.
Let’s hope the next reporter who interviews Snowden will ask about that.
Finally, there’s the Booz Allen Hamilton angle. A year ago I urged that as a result of all the damage done by its employee, there has to be a great story related to the legal liability at risk for the consulting firm, which had $1.3 billion in national security-related contracts in 2012. I’m still hoping to read it.
Has the government gotten any of its money back? Has it tried?
2. Can the Republicans control the debates?
Last month, the Republican National Committee announced new debate rules for the candidates competing for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
The rules are intended to limit the bloodletting that took place during the 2012 cycle, when the GOP candidates seemed to be on television once a week attacking each other. One “underdog” far-out candidate after another became the frontrunner for a week or two after getting off a few zingers to the delight of activists in the audience. Remember Herman Cain? Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich? Representative Michele Bachmann?
This time the GOP is going to limit the number of debates to well below the 20 held in 2011-2012.
But there’s more to the new rules than lowering the number of on-air brawls. The party also intends to remake the debates in a way that will help the eventual nominee — not cripple him (or her) the way Mitt Romney was in 2012.