Last night, I said of classified information discloser Edward Snowden: “To me, it sounds like the guy is full of it.”
Looks like I’m not the only one to say so:
[A]nalysts said that Snowden seems to have greatly exaggerated the amount of information available to him and people like him.
Any NSA analyst “at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere,” Snowden told the Guardian. “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”
Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the NSA and CIA, called the claim a “complete and utter” falsehood.
“First of all it’s illegal,” he said. “There is enormous oversight. They have keystroke auditing. There are, from time to time, cases in which some analyst is [angry] at his ex-wife and looks at the wrong thing and he is caught and fired,” he said.
Former NSA analysts agree:
NSA analysts who have the authority to query databases of metadata such as phone records — or Internet content, such as emails, videos or chat logs — are subject to stringent internal supervision and also the external oversight of the foreign surveillance court, former NSA officials said.
“It’s actually very difficult to do your job,” said a former senior NSA operator, who also declined be quoted by name because of the sensitive nature of the case. “There are all these checks that don’t allow you to move agilely enough.”
For example, the former operator said, he had go through an arduous process to obtain FISA court permission to gather Internet data on a foreign nuclear weapons proliferator living abroad because some of the data was passing through U.S. wires.
“When he’s saying he could just put any phone number in and look at phone calls, it just doesn’t work that way,” he said. ” It’s absurd. There are technical limits, and then there are people who review these sorts of queries.”
Whom to believe: Snowden or the former NSA officials? In this case, I think I am going with the latter. It’s not that I inherently trust these people; it’s that Snowden’s claims sound far-fetched on their face — especially the one about how he could have read anyone’s email for whom he had an email address, including Barack Obama.
But, of course, we don’t know for sure.
If Snowden is an exaggerator, where does that leave us on this story?