FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Blaming Snowden for the Paris Attacks

by

When intelligence services fail their calling; when institutions armed to the teeth with surveillance capacities and anti-terrorism laws falter in preventing what was their purpose to prevent, the cult of blame is bound to surface. Given his role in blowing the lid off the surveillance complex of infinite growth and finite gain, Edward Snowden was always fair game after the Paris attacks.

The wounded within the intelligence fraternity strike out with inevitable fury. They were caught with their pants down, an observation more acute given the French surveillance padding introduced after the Charlie Hebdo killings of January this year. This supplemented a 2013 law permitting warrantless surveillance of Internet usage. The French surveillance state was found wanting.

Ha’aretz, through Associated Press, revealed the rather uncomfortable fact that Iraqi intelligence had warned of an ISIS attack a day prior to the slaughter in Paris, conveying a dispatch by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that coalition countries were in for blows. The attacks “in the coming days” would be deployed against countries fighting in Iraq and Syria, and would also include Iran and Russia, employing “bombings or assassinations or hostage taking in the coming days.” [1]

The response? This is the sort of communication French intelligence receives, according to a French security official quizzed on this, received “all the time” and “every day”.

This was subsequently disputed by four Iraqi intelligence officials who conveyed warnings that France was specified in the listing, with details about where the attackers may have trained for their Parisian terror sojourn. Given that the venue was Raqqa in Syria, the Islamic State’s declared de facto capital, eyes should have opened wide in anticipation.

The intelligence also featured warnings about how a sleeper cell would be triggered to assist the attackers, an enterprise involving 24 people, with 19 attackers and five others steering the endeavour and responsible for logistics. This, it would seem, is a bloated security complex so overdeveloped it has lost sight of its feet.

But Snowden, in type and motif, comes to the rescue, co-opted by the vengeful and the exposed. Central Intelligence Agency heads current and former, insist that the whistleblower carry their overburdened can, notwithstanding the fact that Snowden is not linked to any terrorist group.

Current director John Brennan trots out the usual line intelligence agencies do when they feel the liberty faction is winning, and their powers are waning.   A post-Snowden world, frets Brennan, saw an environment that led to a thriving terrorist hot house ever more opaque and undetectable.[2] (He chose not to mention the consequences of foreign policy actions or reactions.)

Former director, James Woolsey, is even more adamant. Snowden, he told MSNBC, had “blood on his hands,” as his disclosures had yielded information on terrorist tracking, which led to an alteration of tactics. No credit, of course, could be given to the jihadists for actually outwitting security services with more material and resources at their disposal. That concession, though credible, would be inconceivable.

This has various consequences. Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept suggests that this empowers ISIS. It might not go that far, but it does reveal, in not so subtle ways, a loss of means within the intelligence community.[3] And such a loss of means displayed itself starkly at several stages prior to Snowden’s disclosures. The Madrid train bombing of 2004, the attacks in London the following year, and the Mumbai assaults of 2008 suggest intelligence services asleep at the wheel.

The terrorist operating manual has certainly long featured a warning against using communication devices that reveal material and location. In Greenwald’s sharp description, “Any terrorist capable of tying his own shoe – let alone carrying out a significant attack – has known for decades that speaking on a open telephone and internet lines was to be avoided due to US intelligence” (The Intercept, Nov 15).

Intelligence services naturally seek the lowest gradient of accessibility, encouraging their masters to override encryption protections that have become standard fare in the world of private communications. But states cannot have their security cake and wolf it down too – commercial interests, business transactions and private interests will seek ever more secure channels of communication. The onus is on the intelligence community to get shrewder, seeking ever increasingly unpopular forms of “human” intelligence. The fat cats, in other words, need to get fit.

Alex Shephard in The New Republic sees the “Snowden effect” here as similar to the “Ferguson effect,” thrown up in response to a more relentless critique of policing brutality.[4] The latter claims, without palpable evidence, that police subsequently withdraw in a huff and the criminals rejoice; the former, that intelligence services retreat, or are clipped, and terrorists celebrate.

Such effects tend to assume rhetorical force rather than quantitative credibility. They detract from the structural and procedural failings that have dogged the sharing of intelligence.[5] Europe, it would seem, is not merely struggling to have a unified front on such matters as refugees. It lags in such areas as cooperative security.

Inadvertently though, these spilt milk advocates prove far more revealing than they might wish. The ISIS establishment may well be the only one chuckling with grim satisfaction at this point. Intelligence services, it would seem, are being subjected to a law of diminishing returns, despite larger budgets, roomier facilities, and surveillance powers.

Notes. 

[1] http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/1.686257

[2] https://newrepublic.com/minutes/123888/john-brennan-and-james-woolsey-think-edward-snowden-should-be-blamed-for-the-paris-attacks

[3] https://theintercept.com/2015/11/15/exploiting-emotions-about-paris-to-blame-snowden-distract-from-actual-culprits-who-empowered-isis/

[4] https://newrepublic.com/minutes/123888/john-brennan-and-james-woolsey-think-edward-snowden-should-be-blamed-for-the-paris-attacks

[5] http://www.ibtimes.com/paris-terror-attack-intelligence-failure-not-snowdens-fault-break-down-communication-2185255

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail