About that Glenn Greenwald “Dead Man’s Switch” claim
I was just skimming Bart Gellman’s Snowden interview again and something caught my eye:
Some news accounts have quoted U.S. government officials as saying Snowden has arranged for the automated release of sensitive documents if he is arrested or harmed. There are strong reasons to doubt that, beginning with Snowden’s insistence, to this reporter and others, that he does not want the documents published in bulk.
If Snowden were fool enough to rig a “dead man’s switch,” confidants said, he would be inviting anyone who wants the documents to kill him.
Asked about such a mechanism in the Moscow interview, Snowden made a face and declined to reply. Later, he sent an encrypted message. “That sounds more like a suicide switch,” he wrote. “It wouldn’t make sense.”
This claim about a Snowden “dead man’s switch” originated with Glenn Greenwald (though for whatever reason Gellman attributes it to “U.S. government officials” in his interview article):
Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who Snowden first contacted in February, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that Snowden “has taken extreme precautions to make sure many different people around the world have these archives to insure the stories will inevitably be published.” Greenwald added that the people in possession of these files “cannot access them yet because they are highly encrypted and they do not have the passwords.” But, Greenwald said, “if anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he told me he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives.”
The arrangement to entrust encrypted archives of his files with others also sheds light on a cryptic statement Snowden made on June 17 during a live chat with The Guardian. In the online session he said, “All I can say right now is the U.S. government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”
A few weeks later, in his Guardian column, Greenwald linked to the above article and again referenced the “dead man’s switch”:
That Snowden has created some sort of “dead man’s switch” - whereby documents get released in the event that he is killed by the US government - was previously reported weeks ago, and Snowden himself has strongly implied much the same thing. That doesn’t mean he thinks the US government is attempting to kill him - he doesn’t - just that he’s taken precautions against all eventualities, including that one (just incidentally, the notion that a government that has spent the last decade invading, bombing, torturing, rendering, kidnapping, imprisoning without charges, droning, partnering with the worst dictators and murderers, and targeting its own citizens for assassination would be above such conduct is charmingly quaint).
So is there a “dead man’s switch” or isn’t there, or in other words, is Greenwald telling the truth or is Snowden?
Here’s one other inconsistency I noticed between the Snowden and Greenwald narratives. Again from the Gellman interview:
In a previous assignment, Snowden taught U.S. intelligence personnel how to operate securely in a “high-threat digital environment,” using a training scenario in which China was the designated threat. He declined to discuss the whereabouts of the files, but he said that he is confident he did not expose them to Chinese intelligence in Hong Kong. And he said he did not bring them to Russia.
“There’s nothing on it,” he said, turning his laptop screen toward his visitor. “My hard drive is completely blank.”
And again from Greenwald’s Guardian column linked above:
The US government has acted with wild irrationality. The current criticism of Snowden is that he’s in Russia. But the reason he’s in Russia isn’t that he chose to be there. It’s because the US blocked him from leaving: first by revoking his passport (with no due process or trial), then by pressuring its allies to deny airspace rights to any plane they thought might be carrying him to asylum (even one carrying the democratically elected president of a sovereign state), then by bullying small countries out of letting him land for re-fueling.
Given the extraordinary amount of documents he has and their sensitivity, I pointed out in the interview that it is incredibly foolish for the US government to force him to remain in Russia. From the perspective of the US government and the purported concerns about him being in Russia, that makes zero sense given the documents he has.