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From Consortium News
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
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In depicting National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden as a Russian spy, author Edward Jay Epstein acknowledges his debt to the CIA's famously paranoid counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, who specialized in counterintuitive thinking that surely smeared more honest CIA officers than it snared actual spies.
At a recent book signing at the Hoover Institute in Washington, D.C., for How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft, Epstein proudly announced that he learned the tricks of the counterintelligence trade from the now-deceased Angleton.
But Angleton, like other counterintelligence sleuths, assumed the carte-blanche right to smother a slender fact with weighty assumptions and then weave upon them a hefty garment of allegations, speculation and imagination fitting with the occupational predisposition to detect a spy.
Over the decades, it's conceivable that this "methodology" may have caught a spy or two (although Angleton is perhaps best known for missing the notorious Soviet spy Kim Philby). But creating a counterfactual, evidence-free scenario seems an irresponsible way to write about Edward Snowden, a whistleblower responsible for the most consequential intelligence leak in U.S. history.
In his new book, Epstein spins his intricate web to prove Snowden's supposed treachery around the fact that after leaking secrets to Western journalists in Hong Kong, Snowden wound up in Russia. The well-known reality is that Snowden never intended to get stuck in Russia but was stranded there when the U.S. government blocked his path to South America. Yet, however clear the record regarding how and why Snowden found asylum there, Epstein sees a more sinister logic.
As a veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and a private citizen who has befriended many government whistleblowers, I happen to have known Angleton and currently know Snowden (whom I count among my friends).
I recall in 1974, when CIA Director William Colby finally fired Angleton, audible sighs of relief rippled through spydom. Angleton had ruined the careers -- and sometimes the lives -- of many conscientious CIA officers. When, finally, Angleton was not in position to do any more damage, many of my contemporaries recounted personal examples of how misguided and harmful Angleton's periodic witch hunts had been.
Like Angleton, Epstein also has a tendency to see spies where they aren't, including asserting that Lee Harvey Oswald was a Soviet spy, a claim that finds zero support in the KGB records now available. That proclivity is also evident in Epstein's new book.
Before the book signing at the Hoover Institute, a New York Times review and Pulitzer Prize winner Barton Gellman had thoroughly panned Epstein's book, and more recently New York Times journalist Charlie Savage picked it apart. Their indictments suffice; I feel no need to again recite Epstein's errors of fact and analysis.
Squeezing in a Question
But I did squeeze a question in at the Hoover book event. Epstein's interviewer, Ben Witte of Brookings, had served up a few innings-worth of softball pitches but allowed no questions from the audience. However, when Epstein claimed that his best source on Snowden's perfidy was Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Epstein proceeded to quote -- incorrectly -- to the effect that Snowden had met with Russian officials in Hong Kong. I spoke out, saying, "Putin did not say that."
Shock hit the audience at my impertinence, and Witte's eyes scoured the back of the room apparently looking for Security. But the ever-genteel Epstein saved the day by admitting that I was right and that he had misspoken.
After the Witte-Epstein dialogue, the audience was allowed to approach Epstein for conversation. I introduced myself and noted that I had joined other former intelligence officers in visiting Snowden in Moscow.
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